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Filtering by Tag: Jules Bianchi

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Jules Bianchi's unfortunate death, British GP, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indycar's latest & LMP2

Stefan Johansson

RIP Jules Bianchi

Jan Tegler – We begin this extra-large edition of the blog with the sad news that ex-Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi passed away last weekend after head injuries he sustained last October in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. His car impacted a mobile crane being employed to recover Adrian Sutil’s Sauber which slid into a runoff area the previous lap in rainy conditions.

Many have observed that the race should have been under a safety car at that point. What’s your view?

Stefan Johansson – Obviously it’s very sad and a strong reminder that Formula One and Motor Racing in general can still be dangerous when the circumstances are not right. Maybe now is not the right time to discuss this matter but I do agree the race should have been under the control of a safety car after the first incident. That’s an aspect of competition American racing has gotten right. Any time there’s recovery or safety equipment on-track or anything that does not belong on the track for that matter, there should be a full course caution or a safety car. I think that should be a standard around the world. If you try to use any form of subjective judgment of the situation, things like these can and will happen from time to time.

Massa and Bottas

JT - The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was somewhat more interesting than most of the F1 races this season. The Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas managed to get past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg by lap three. They held off the Mercedes until the first pit stop cycle but once the cycle was complete Hamilton was back in the lead. Notably, neither Mercedes driver was able to pass the Williams on-track. Conversely, both Williams passed the Mercedes on the circuit.

There was some controversy over Williams’ decision to allow their drivers to race even though Bottas lobbied to have Massa let him go past. Some thought the team handled the situation incorrectly, arguing that if Bottas had been allowed to go by Massa he could have gapped the Mercedes enough to stay in front after the first round of pit stops. By the finish, the Williams had dropped to 4th and 5th respectively.

SJ – Apart from the fact that Mercedes is still clearly dominant, it’s hard to say where Williams are now. They’ve obviously caught up a bit from where they were at the beginning of the year when they were down on performance compared to Ferrari. I don’t know if Ferrari has lost a bit of pace or if it was just Silverstone that didn’t suit them. But in the end, I don’t think any of them have closed the gap to Mercedes at all.

I think Williams made the right decision with Massa and Bottas. You should let the drivers race, especially in the situation they are. It’s not like they have any chance of winning the championship. I think sooner or later Mercedes would have gotten by them anyway.

It’s true that the Mercedes weren’t able to get by the Williams before the first pit stops and it comes back to the typical scenario I’ve been talking about for years now. When almost all of the cars’ aerodynamic downforce is dependent on the efficiency of the front wing you’ve really got to get a good run on the guy in front of you to get by when you’re in dirty air behind them.

I guess the DRS (drag reduction system) helps at some tracks more than others but Silverstone has such fast and flowing corners that if you don’t get really close to the car in front of you, you can’t get a good run. The straights aren’t long enough for the DRS to make a difference.

Silverstone is unique because of its combination of fast and medium-speed corners and aero is king. Had it been a more twisty track with lower speed corners, harder braking zones or 90-degree bends, I don’t think it would have been a problem to pass. But you’re completely dependent on aero to get good mid-corner speed and have proper acceleration from a corner. Every corner at Silverstone demands that. If you’re in dirty air you can’t attack early enough and you’re just sitting behind the other car waiting for your front end to take a bite.

Alonso and Button - McLaren

JT – As you mention, Ferrari doesn’t seem to have made much progress recently after having made consistent gains in performance earlier. Where are they in terms of their speed? More disappointingly, what is the situation at McLaren? You and many others expected them to be better by this point in the season but Alonso was only able to manage a 10th place finish (scoring his first point of the year) at Silverstone. Jenson Button didn’t even complete one lap, crashed-out ironically after Alonso spun into him.

SJ – Again, it’s hard to say. All of the teams are now developing their cars at a high rate, particularly the top teams. But really, the gaps between them are remaining about the same.

Scuderia Ferrari - Monaco GP

It seems Ferrari have taken a step backwards if anything. The gap certainly has not closed. There is no doubt they have been made to look better than you would normally expect by the fact that Red Bull and McLaren are both completely lost.

The gap to pole in Monaco for this year’s race was seven-tenths of a second, which is exactly the same gap Alonso (in his Ferrari) had to the pole last year (Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing machines qualified third and fourth) - the only difference being that the cars in between (the Red Bulls) were further back this year so instead of being fifth, they (Ferrari) were now third.

At McLaren there are a combination of problems, all made more challenging by the current rules. If you don’t get a car right from the moment the season starts you’re almost buggered the whole year. Renault is kind of in the same boat as Honda, not as bad – but there are really only two manufacturers who’ve got their engines sorted – Mercedes and Ferrari.

Everybody keeps talking about the “golden era” of the McLaren-Honda relationship when they basically cleaned up for a couple of years with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. What people tend to forget is that relationship didn’t start until Honda had already spent five years in F1, developing their engines to what they finally became. The early days were no walk in the park. I know that very well as I drove the first car they entered in 1983 with Spirit and the scenario was not that much different than it is today.

I used to joke at the time that I stopped doing all my physical training during the week because I got more than I needed on the race weekends with the engines blowing up in every session and I had to run back to the pits to get in the spare car to finish the session. Eventually they got it right of course, and then dominated before they decided to pull out. It was a similar scenario the second time when they poured enormous resources into the F1 project for several years with nothing to show.

They then decided to pull out again and more or less gave the team to Ross Brawn. And we all know what happened after that. Had they stayed in another year they would have won the World Championship! The bones of the current Mercedes Team are effectively what Honda started, and paid to set up!

McLaren-Honda F1

And with these rules, I can’t understand why you’re allowed to do as much as you want with the car (the bodywork, etc) – you can bolt new parts on every session – but you’re not allowed to touch the engine. And it’s not like this aero and chassis development costs nothing. When you’re already spending nearly $500 million, who cares? Let the teams go at it. The concept of saving money is already completely broken.

It’s always more expensive for teams to try to circumvent rules than it is to have more open rules. That’s why it’s ridiculous to talk about cost-capping F1. There are so many clever people in each team that you’re never going to be able to stop them spending money to find ways around the rules. The only way to manage it in my opinion is to make as many of the parts on the cars which are irrelevant to their overall design common parts, and pick out the most costly development areas and limit those. Everyone knows what they are but it’s almost like no one wants to give up their toys.

Max Mosley

Or, you don’t limit the teams at all. Let them go until they all kill each other. Some people worry about the manufacturers leaving. But if you look at their presence, as Max Mosley said years ago, the manufacturers don’t care really. They just throw money at F1 as long as it serves their purpose, and when they change their mind, they’re gone, in literally one board meeting – they’re out. This is exactly what happened to Toyota, Honda and BMW. From one moment to the next, they were all gone.

Audi Spots

JT – The same appears to be true for sports car racing. And if you look at the LMP1 class in the WEC now, some of those manufacturers are spending just about as much as the top teams in Formula One.

SJ – Yes and they do it for one race essentially, Le Mans. The way the manufacturers view racing has always been the same. In every series where manufacturers involve themselves heavily and start duking it out they basically ruin it eventually.

They all pull out at some stage and then it takes about three or four years to rebuild. At that point the racing is great with a lot of privateer teams with some factory backing whether it’s for the engine or whatever. Then the manufacturers return and you have another cycle.

The only manufacturer who’s been different in that regard is Audi. They stayed committed to Le Mans even when they had no one to race and afterward when rules were clearly stacked against them. They fought on and managed to win partly by being clever on strategy and great execution, and by the other teams simply screwing up when they should have won.

Sauber F1

JT – Discussions among F1 manufacturers, top teams and those at the back of the pack continue on the issue of “customer cars”. What’s your view?

SJ – Well, I don’t understand the attitude of some the smaller teams. They say customer cars will ruin Formula One and that they have 300 people employed and what will happen to them? At the same time they’re scrambling for every penny because the cars are so expensive to make now and they can’t afford to pay their people or their suppliers in many cases.

Back in 2003, I came up with the idea of a “B” team or “shared resources” concept (a customer car, essentially). We were going to do it with one of the top three teams at the time. Unfortunately, the sponsorship fell apart so the project never happened. Our budget then was $80 million in total – engine, car, travel – for the whole thing, and it would have been a potentially winning package.

It’s important to remember that none of the back marker teams out there now would exist without a whale of some sort. That whale might be a wealthy individual who buys into the team and then hangs around for two or three years before he disappears. These days, it’s mostly Bernie [Ecclestone] or FOM who end up being the whale for everybody. Or, it’s the drivers bringing the money.

None of these lower tier teams have any real sponsor now. Look at Sauber, they don’t have one sponsor except for what the drivers have brought with them. Manor’s the same and Lotus has been scraping the barrel for years now. So why wouldn’t these teams like the idea of a customer car?

Niki Lauda - F1 1978

If I was Manor and I was offered a Ferrari I’d jump at it! Who wouldn’t? Their budget would be less than it is now. The car would already be developed and sorted and you could run the team with probably 60 people. It just makes business sense.

And with the limited resources these teams have they’re never in this lifetime going to design and build a car that’s going to be competitive with a Ferrari or a Mercedes anyway. They won’t be able to afford it. The traditionalists argue that F1 has always been about innovation and new technology but that’s complete nonsense.

There really hasn’t been any breakthrough innovation or new technology developed in Formula One since the 1970s. They’ve basically been fine-tuning existing technologies. There has been some development in aerodynamics specific to the race cars but mostly that technology has been borrowed from other realms (the aerospace industry).

And ridiculously, even that borrowed technology is banned in F1 before it’s fully developed for the sport. The blown-diffuser technology Red Bull was using (2010, 2011) gave them an advantage for a year essentially and then it was banned.

With a customer car you still get to be part of the show, you still get money from Bernie and you could actually make some money if you do it right. As far as I’m concerned it’s the way to go.

Haas-F1-Ferrari.jpg

JT – Isn’t that what Haas F1 is trying to do with Ferrari currently?

SJ – Exactly, they’re pushing it as close to that as the rules will allow currently. They’ve done their homework, they’ve listened to the right people and it’s the way to do it.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – Recently, Juan Pablo Montoya suggested a simple solution for improving the racing in F1 remarking, “If you take away the tire sensors, the temperature sensors, and just leave the pressures, the racing will get better by 10 percent straight away. I’m certain of that.” What are your thoughts on his idea?

SJ – Yes, that could improve the racing but that’s only one small item. I think the first thing they should do before anything else is get rid of all the nonsense on the steering wheels (differential settings, ignition timing, brake balance, energy storage, DRS, fuel consumption, engine modes, and much more).

The driver should be able to manage the car himself without all of these aids or settings. I guarantee any driver worth his salt would love it. The bravado that’s been a traditional element of racing is a huge part of its attraction. I know as a driver how good it feels when you’ve been taming a car and you’ve had it on the ragged edge, controlling it with the throttle and steering. That’s what it’s all about. The fans can see that too.

All the driver aids can be great to help you go faster and it makes the driver’s job easier. In the early stages of development you might have an “unfair advantage” which is great but from a pure pleasure point of view of driving and in terms of a challenge it’s all nonsense.

NASCAR Sprint Cup

JT – The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway last week saw the series using a lower downforce package for the Cup cars. The drivers reacted very positively, saying it was much more satisfying to drive cars that must be tamed and which penalized drivers for overdriving or under-driving.

SJ – Exactly, and it’s not surprising. The type of pack racing we saw at Fontana (IndyCar) might satisfy spectators but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with skill. You could put literally anyone in a car under that kind of racing condition and they would be in the middle of the pack. It’s a recipe for disaster.

It surprises me when some people suggest that this was the best race IndyCar has ever had. It was exciting to watch in the beginning but soon there was the realization that something ugly was about to happen. Is that what we want – a gaggle of 26 cars where it’s pure luck if you get sucked up to the front of the pack? There’s no difference in the handling of the car from the first lap to the last during a stint - every car is exactly the same speed as the next.

On the other hand, you don’t want racing where it’s impossible to attack. You have to find the right balance and a car should be at least somewhat difficult to drive, deteriorating as a stint goes on. When you have ten laps remaining before the end of a stint your car should be a bit of a handful.

You could de-emphasize aero or give cars another 200 to 300 horsepower. Find a balance between power and downforce. People keep saying cars will be too fast if you give them more power. Who says what’s too fast?

Have there actually been any measurements of how much greater an impact is if you’re doing 238 mph instead of 226 mph? I doubt it’s much. If you have an accident at those speeds it’s going to hurt no matter what. Who can say what the magic number is for cars being too fast? I think it’s great if they’re faster.

F1 Tires Issue

JT – You also mention the role tires could play in all of this.

SJ – Yes, we’ve talked about how much people are spending on aerodynamics in Formula One many times but what strikes me is that simultaneously, they have a tire that is very bad. The series mandated that the tire should be terrible, in a way. What kind of logic is that? Teams are spending hundreds of millions on aero and other developments to make the car go faster. Then, they are forced to run a tire that is artificially made to be bad in order to help the show? It makes absolutely no sense.

If you opened up the tire supply in F1 to several manufacturers the tires alone would improve lap times by 6-7 seconds in no time. And they could last as long you wanted. Just look at the tires the P1s run at Le Mans – four stints on one set! That’s four hours of running and they do the quickest lap times on the fourth stint sometimes. And that’s with cars that are both heavier and have more horsepower than an F1 car.

So I would get rid of a lot of the aero – half of it. If you have that kind of grip in the tires you don’t need as much aero. A lot of the dirty-air problem cars following other cars experience will be gone. You can gain all of the lap time and more back with tire grip. Give the cars another 200-300 horsepower, better tires and you could easily go 10 seconds faster than they do now.

That brings the driver back into the equation more because they’d actually have to look after their tires over a stint. Now, the tires just fall off a cliff after five laps which leaves you cruising along slowly trying to make it until the next pit stop. You could have tires that would last a stint, two stints or possibly a whole race.

It will be a no-brainer for tire companies to make tires that allow the cars to be six to seven seconds a lap quicker. Think about how much F1 teams spend now to gain one second of lap time. We always used to joke when I was racing about how much money the teams would spend on wind-tunnels and other developments, huge amounts, and yet you bolt a new set of tires on a car and you’re two seconds quicker right away - for a cost of $2,000.

I can’t understand why no one is thinking about this. The tire companies would enjoy developing tires like they used to and not being strangled by a bunch of restrictions and they would get great marketing from it as a result.

Indycar Iowa

JT – IndyCar has raced on two ovals in the last two weeks - the Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway. Addressing last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 first, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport finally turned their season around with a win.

Meanwhile, there was potential for a big shakeup in the championship after Juan Pablo Montoya’s Penske suffered a suspension failure early in the race. Scott Dixon would have gained considerably in points with a good finish but he too did not finish due to component failure. Scott now finds himself third in the standings behind Montoya and Graham Rahal who finished in fourth place at Iowa.

SJ – Iowa was interesting. It’s ironic that there were a bunch of mechanical failures - failures that you never see in IndyCar these days – and that both of the main contenders for the championship experienced the failures. When Montoya crashed we all thought this was going to be the first weekend he actually had a problem all year and Scott could finally gain on him.

But it was straight back to square one again - a seal on Scott’s right rear half-shaft failed and that was it.

After having so many problems early this season it looks like the Hondas are finally catching up to the Chevrolets. Ryan won and Graham Rahal was quite strong again. The Rahal team’s strength looks like it’s bled over a bit to the other Honda teams because they all seem to be running stronger. Maybe Iowa was more suited to the Hondas as some tracks might favor their aero kit.

In Scott’s case, he was sort of chasing the track all night. He started out with the car being quite loose and the team dialed that out with wing and tire-stagger. Then it started pushing like crazy and they were trying to dial that out. But he was making the car better, waiting to pounce at the end of the race. Then the shaft failed and well, that’s racing.

Sage Karam and Ed Carpenter

JT – Near the end of the race, rookie Sage Karam made some moves on track that displeased several drivers including Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal who both voiced their displeasure with him strongly. What did you think of his driving?

SJ – I completely sympathize with Carpenter. I think what Sage did was absolutely over the limit and it wasn’t just Carpenter he screwed up. He was chopping a lot of people all day long.  On ovals in particular, there is a certain code of conduct, especially when you run more than one line around the track. You can’t just move up and down the track and take the air off the other drivers’ cars.

It’s not fair to the other drivers because particularly on an oval you have to pay some respect to each other. If everyone drove that way, there wouldn’t be one car left on track. You could see very well on camera that Karam just drove Carpenter up into the wall basically. You stay in your line and you race hard but it was already tight when he decided to move Carpenter all the way up. Carpenter had the choice to either keep his foot in it and crash or lift and actually get on the brakes. I would certainly have been plenty angry too.

Indycar - Bourdais

JT – IndyCar’s Wisconsin 250 at the Milwaukee Mile was a fun race to watch with good competition. Sebastian Bourdais drove very well, scoring an upset win. His KVSH Racing team was fined after the race for violating the minimum car weight rule, however. Nonetheless, Bourdais’ driving and Jimmy Vasser’s strategy worked to a tee.

Scott Dixon finished seventh. Pole-winner Josef Newgarden finished third and continues to show that he’s matured as a racer.

SJ – I enjoyed it too, it was definitely fun to watch. Bourdais did a great job and when you’re that hooked up (Bourdais almost lapped the field) on an oval it’s awesome. Scott had a similar experience back at the Texas race. He just checked out. When the car is working that well, it feels amazing.

Bourdais’ team made a really good call as well. Pitting out of sequence and putting him in clean air was the way to go, much better than being in the middle of a pack. Even with a good car, by the time you work your way through that traffic the tires go off.

Scott got shuffled back in the last laps due the air being taken off his front wing on a couple occasions. He wasn’t happy but that’s racing sometimes.

LMP2 - 2017

JT – The FIA, ACO & IMSA recently announced the four chassis constructors (Onroak, Oreca, Dallara, Riley/Multimatic) eligible to build LMP2 prototypes under new global regulations for the class in 2017. IMSA P2 cars will be able to utilize engines from multiple makers but the FIA/ACO will mandate a single engine/electronics supplier for the WEC, ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series. American teams will be able to compete at Le Mans and in the ELMS using the U.S.-based engine packages but will have to revert to generic bodywork from the chassis constructor they choose.

The sanctioning bodies claim the new regulations will bring stability to the class, creating economic conditions under which the chosen constructors can build cars for a global market profitably. One has to wonder if it will work out the way officials imagine it will. It will certainly limit the diversity which makes sports car racing appealing.

SJ – I don’t agree with the limit of four cars. I don’t see why you can’t have the class be more open. If you can and are willing to build a car to the regulations you should be able to do so.

You know what’s going to happen anyway. Out of the four constructors, one or maybe two will be the car/cars to have. Then the other two or three constructors won’t be able to sell cars anyway.  It’s the natural culling that happens in every championship. You’re always going to have one car that’s a little better than the rest. Look at CART and IndyCar. First the car to have was the Reynard, then the Lola and in more recent years, Dallara. The same in F3, and on and on it goes, it happens in every championship.

Dallara has basically decimated everybody in whatever category they’ve entered. So chances are that the same thing will happen again. Whether it’s Onroak, Oreca, Dallara or Riley, you can be sure there will be one car that’s going to be quicker than the rest. All you need to do is look at the history in every racing series.

If someone’s willing to put the money and effort into building a car why not let them do it? That’s what the spirit of racing is all about.

Stefan Johansson shares his thoughts about the 'radio ban' in F1, the unfortunate death of Andrea De Cesaris, and Vettel leaving Red Bull

Stefan Johansson

JT – You’ve had a busy schedule since our last blog including attending the Italian Grand Pix at Monza as a guest of Ferrari. The weekend was a poor one for Ferrari on-track and was not without news behind the scenes as well. Ferrari president and chairman Luca di Montezemolo was reported to be leaving the marque and the Scuderia. He eventually resigned the following week. What was the atmosphere like at Monza?

SJ – Monza is always and will always be a bit special, the atmosphere is great with all the Ferrari tifosi. There is no other track in the world that has the energy like Monza does, there is something very special when you drive through the gates into the huge park where the track is, I get goose bumps even to this day. It’s the only race track I know of that has soul, maybe because it’s been around for so long and there’s been so much triumph and tragedy there that somehow this collective energy is still there. For Ferrari though it wasn’t the best. I was with the team the whole weekend and it was probably one of the worst weekends they’ve had in a long time. All of their weaknesses showed, as it did for many other teams too of course. Clearly the engine is their biggest Achilles heel and Monza with its long straights demonstrates that better than just about any other track.

I was in the pits during qualifying with a radio on, it was very interesting to listen in and one thing that really struck me is that there’s absolutely no feedback from the drivers when they come in after a run now. They don’t say anything. Their engineers have already looked at the data and know what’s going on with the car. The engineer might say, ‘We can see that you have a small understeer in the second Lesmo (Curva di Lesmo corners). We’re going to put half a degree more front wing in for the next run. We think the differential will be better on setting four...” And so on.

The drivers don’t say a word, nothing about how the balance is on the car. They just look at the monitors in the pits. I don’t think it’s even a matter of Alonso or Kimi offering an opinion. I assume that’s just the way things are done now. I’m sure if they disagree they’ll say something but as it was they didn’t. The data corresponds to what’s going on with the car as it should and that’s it.

But it’s fascinating to me because normally after a run in any race car you’re just spewing out information, giving feedback on steering input, corner entry, car balance, power down on exit and much more but these guys didn’t say a word. I guess that’s the norm now in Formula One but it’s weird.

It was great to be back at Monza. I think 2003 was the last time I was there – with Scott [Dixon]. It was right after he won his first IndyCar championship and we were talking to a number of [F1] teams.

JT – Mercedes continued its winning ways last weekend in Singapore with a victory for Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, when teammate Nico Rosberg’s car failed to make the grid and then retired with a faulty wiring loom the race was essentially gutted. Mercedes clearly still has a large advantage in performance and there was little doubt Hamilton would be able to get the gap over the field he needed to make his strategy work. It left me and many others feeling a bit bored. What was your impression?

SJ – Again, that’s the nature of the beast this year. Mercedes has the performance and if they wanted to they could probably show even more. It is what it is. We knew pretty much what would happen at the beginning of the season. I think they are about even now on DNF’s so the Championship standings are a good reflection of where they both are. It’s so close between them each time it’s crazy, and it will always come down to the minor details of who get’s it right on the day. The final race will be the big showdown if they are still this close.

JT – On the bright side, the championship battle between the Mercedes drivers is closer with Hamilton leading Rosberg by three points. That should be enough to maintain some interest.

SJ – Yes, like I said in the previous question, there is so little between the two of them. One would hope that the other teams are catching up little by little but the championship is between the Mercedes guys and it’s most likely going to go to the final race with its double-points payoff – unless there are more DNFs from Mercedes in the five races left.

JT – Red Bull Racing had a good outing, finishing on the podium with Sebastian Vettel second and Daniel Ricciardo third. The Singapore circuit certainly didn’t hurt their performance as it’s not a power-track like Monza. A second-place for Vettel must be a breath of fresh air.

SJ – Obviously the car was more to Vettel’s liking in Singapore than it has been. I think the same was true for Räikkönen. He was very quick in practice. Those are the two top guys who really seem to have been struggling to find their true pace this year. Tiny nuances make a big difference to the balance of a car, especially in making it comfortable on the entry to a corner.

I noticed that with Räikkönen in Monza too. It’s so easy to overdrive the car and try a little bit too hard when you’re not comfortable or the pace is not there. And when you try too hard you end up going slower. It’s that tricky balance of feeling like what you’re doing is slow but it actually makes a faster lap time. When you have confidence in the car and you feel comfortable with it, you don’t have to trash it to get a laptime, you just slow everything down and it flows.

Pat Symonds [Williams Technical Director]

JT – Williams F1’s performance has been quite good this year. That’s a big turnaround from 2013. It looks like both of their drivers will return for 2015 and the team is much more confident. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I think it’s fantastic. Pat Symonds (Williams Technical Director) is my old buddy and engineer from the Formula 2 days with Toleman. I think he’d worked with Formula Fords before that but my Alan Docking car with Toleman was where he really began engineering. He was sort of Rory Byrne’s protégé at the time.

He’s an absolutely fantastic engineer, very pragmatic - a bit like Ross Brawn. He dials out everything that’s superfluous and focuses on what matters. That has clearly paid off for Williams. And obviously the Mercedes engine has been a big plus. Anyone who’s had their power unit this year has been made to look probably better than they really are.

McLaren & Honda F1

JT – The situation at McLaren continues to evolve. Honda has said they will be fully prepared for 2015 and the team is pressing ahead despite lackluster performances this year. It’s not certain what their driver lineup will look like and they seem to have lost Johnny Walker as a sponsor recently. What’s your take?

SJ –No one knows except them, but one thing is for sure, they’re not sitting still. They achieved all their success in the past through hard work and they’re probably working harder than they’ve ever worked. They’re all racers at heart and an absolutely great organization so I have no doubt that they’ll make a comeback and be a top team again in time. There will be a new era for them starting with this Honda relationship and it will probably take a little while to get to the top but I have no doubt in my mind that they won’t be back as a top team again.

JT – You mentioned Ross Brawn. He’s been on the sidelines all season on his sabbatical or retirement or whatever he considers it. One wonders if he might return to F1?

SJ – I haven’t really heard anything about Ross. I’m sure the teams are all trying to get him, as they should, but whether he wants to participate again, I don’t know. He seems to be enjoying being away from the sport quite well at the moment so who knows?

JT – Having observed F1 close up at both Montreal and Monza this year, what do you think of the sport currently?

SJ – The thing you take away when you talk to the drivers is that they’re not happy because they’re not able to race the way they would want to race. It’s managing the output from the power unit, the tires – there are so many other things to think about these days rather than just driving the race car flat out. But you have to adapt. It comes back to my earlier comments about the Engineers having too much say in the bigger picture of the Championship.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – F1 has raised eyebrows recently with its announcement of a “radio ban” after the Italian GP at Monza. The ban would no longer allow teams to send messages to drivers relating to car performance or driver-coaching. The FIA reversed course partially for the Singapore GP, allowing teams to message drivers about car performance. However, plans remain to ban both types of communication for 2015 in the interest of “fairness”. What do you think of the ban?

SJ – The FIA just decides to do this overnight. It’s a classic F1 knee-jerk reaction without much logic. In my opinion it’s like giving someone with a broken leg an aspirin. The problem is not with the radios and communications as such; it’s all the stuff behind that causes them to have this never-ending flow of information to the drivers. The cars have become so complicated to run that they literally need to give the drivers a lot of this information in order to keep the cars running to the end of the race.  As you know, I have been going on about the steering wheels for some time now and I believe if you banned all of the dials, knobs and switches on the steering wheels to start with you wouldn’t have to worry about the radio because there would be nothing to adjust. Just ban all of the adjustments in the cockpit, end of story. Let the engineers build a car that don’t need all that stuff, and let the drivers sort it out by using throttle control, steering input and let them adjust their driving style in accordance with how the car is performing under different condition in a race situation. It would make the cars a lot simpler, but a lot harder to drive, which of course all the good guys will love. A proper racecar should be a beast to drive, that’s what every driver worth his salt wants. And it would be so much more exciting for the fans to watch a driver wrestling with his car getting the maximum out of it.

The problem today is that the engineers basically write the rules in F1. As I’ve said many times, I respect and admire the engineers tremendously. They’re fantastic people but you can’t allow them to have this much influence. Any successful racing series has to be run like a benevolent dictatorship and it used to be. Now it’s turned into more of a democracy and it’s just not working.

The technology in F1 is out of hand. I don’t know how many options there are for differentials now. That should be banned. Put a standard differential in the cars. These complex, variable diffs have no benefit to anyone. They’re there for the engineers to tinker with and come up with a smarter solution than anyone else, basically because they can.

Just get rid of all the technology that you don’t need. Ban all of the buttons on the steering wheel. Radio and pit-speed are all that’s needed. Let the drivers sort the rest out. If they can’t drive a car with 850 horsepower and three-times the grip they used to have. I hate to sound like an old crank, saying “it was better in my day” but if we could handle 1500 horsepower in the cars we drove with hardly any aero grip, I’m sure these guys could. The top drivers today are all fantastic drivers and I’m sure they’d love it.

It would be fantastic to see Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton power-sliding these things with 1200-1300 horsepower. Let the drivers figure the cars out and get rid of all the extra stuff – the technology that has nothing to do with being a skilled racing driver. Let a little bravery figure into the racing again. That’s what it should be all about.

JT – The debate about some F1 teams fielding three cars each to make up for any shortfalls in the field should struggling teams drop out has flared recently. Not all teams see it as a positive with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff opining that he doesn’t think it would be healthy for F1 or cost effective for teams. What do you think of the idea?

SJ – In some ways I think it would be better because there would be more stability long term. You’re always going to have the stragglers at the back of the grid and they will always be the clowns that make up the show.

The way F1 has progressed it’s becoming more and more difficult to be in that position. None of those teams make any money. It’s a money-losing proposition at best. That puts the series in the position of having another rich guy come along – and there always seem to be another one right around the corner – who has enough money to buy a team and have a bit of an adventure.

Of course it’s not until they actually get a team and own it that they realize they’ve got the tiger by the tail. At that point they better hold on because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Typically the life span of those teams is three to five years then they disappear having burned through a few hundred million.

If you had the top teams field a third car, economies of scale would kick in and it would be a great way to get better talent into the championship, I think – young drivers who are really talented and give them a proper go. There could be a lot of other benefits as well and I support it. There would still be eight teams and I think it would be better for the championship. The value of each franchise would be higher and I think the income from the series would be better for everyone as well.

JT – You were in Austin, Texas at Circuit of the Americas last weekend for Tudor USCC race and the WEC round there. What was your impression of the weekend?

SJ – There were a lot people and a lot of buzz in the paddock but there weren’t many fans in the grandstands. But historically, sports car racing in an endurance format has never been about spectators. A few of them become kind of cult events, like Le Mans, Sebring and recently also Petit Le Mans. The six-hour WEC races are tough to fill the stands except for the die-hard fans.

The balance of performance difficulties in Tudor continues. There aren’t many happy campers in the paddock let’s put it that way. When you try to balance different cars it’s always the same. Only one team or driver is happy – the people on top of the podium. Everyone else thinks they’re being shafted.

In my case, being with Scuderia Corsa now, the Ferrari teams are extremely unhappy because all of the Ferraris qualified at the back of the grid in both the GT categories. It’s clear that the balance of performance is not in their favor.

Mike Conway

JT – The WEC race was interesting until the rains came. Then it was wacky. Then the WEC’s odd pit/red flag rules wound up gutting the race up front, leaving cars that had made it into the pits to put on wet tires just before the red flag stuck there when race began again. As a result, several cars went laps down. Not a particularly logical rule-set in my view.

SJ – Yes that’s their rules but they’re really not sensible are they? That did benefit Audi as well but you’ve got to hand it to them. They know how to execute and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. For Toyota, it came down to driver error again. They fell off left, right and center. That probably had more bearing on the outcome of the race than anything else.

Mike Conway’s spin (when the rain began) was amazing. He managed to slide through like six corners without hitting anything. He went sliding through the Esses – straight through every corner. If that had happened on an old style track the outcome wouldn’t have been good. I guess that’s a benefit of the new style tracks.

I can sympathize though because it literally feels slower than walking when you go at the speed he was going and still it’s way too fast to keep the car on the road, and you have literally zero control of the car, none!

JT – Not surprisingly, Toyota and Audi have a gap to Porsche. Do you think Porsche will close the gap next year?

SJ - Yes, I’m sure Porsche will catch up and make things closer but one team will always have an edge. Really though, in those races ultimate speed is not the most critical thing. I think it’s down to how well you execute on-track and execute strategy; the team that spends the least amount of time in the pits is generally the winner.

JT – As in F1, the WEC drivers and teams have to manage the energy their hybrid powerplants produce so as not exceed what’s allowable by rules. I’d rather see them just be able to go racing without that arbitrary restriction.

SJ – Yes, true. Another interesting thing I learned when I was talking with one of my former engineers with Audi – he said the they don’t even change springs or roll bars or anything like that on the cars now. All the adjustments are made using the hybrid power systems. They don’t touch the car really – no mechanical changes, mostly changes to electronic settings.

There are downforce settings but most of that is done before any race. They may do a bit in practice but really they just rely on the computers now for settings of the battery and power supplied to each wheel from the electric motors. It’s ridiculously complicated. The prototype sports cars are probably even more complicated than the F1 cars these days.

Andre Lotterer (Audi Sport driver) said he was shocked at how the Caterham F1 car he drove underperformed compared to both the sports cars and especially the Formula (Japanese Super Formula) car he races in Japan. The Super Formula cars are real, proper racecars – mega quick.

Scott Dixon & wife Emma celebrate with Chip Ganassi

JT – Will Power finally clinched the IndyCar championship at the MAVTV 500 finale at Fontana last month. In fact, three of the top four drivers in the championship were Penske drivers, making Scott Dixon’s third place finish in the championship even more impressive - especially considering Ganassi Racing’s struggles in 2014.

SJ – It was a pretty stellar comeback for Scott considering where he was with even just three or four races remaining. It’s a pity they weren’t able to get on top of the weaknesses they had in the car sooner. He could have had a good shot at the championship. Still, to finish third in the championship after a season like this one was quite impressive.

As we’ve said, 2014 was a year where no one seemed to want to win the championship. The main contenders all kept tripping up. It was a weird championship but there was certainly no weakness on the racing side of things. Every race had great competition, and the Championship went down to the wire yet again.

Andrea De Cesaris

JT- Finally, last weekend was very bad for F1 in many ways, with the horrible accident of Jules Bianchi, and then the passing of Andrea De Cesaris in a motorcycle accident.

SJ- Yes, if we start with the accident in the Japanese GP from Suzuka. As usual, the media and internet has been inundated with comments and views about this, that and the other regarding the accident. To me it’s very clear and very simple, as soon as there’s a track worker or any form of equipment on the track there should be a full course yellow and the safety car should be deployed immediately, no discussion or personal opinion from anyone should ever enter into this decision, it should be automatic. It’s incomprehensible that they allow the race to run with only a local yellow when something like this happens. Drivers will only slow down to the bare minimum without being penalized as the race is still effectively running at full speed, except at the post where the local yellow is displayed. If they know there is a full course yellow, they can automatically back off completely and then slowly catch up with the pace car knowing it won’t affect their position or outcome of the race. The safety car method has been used in all forms of racing in the US for as long as I can remember, and it works. The other thing I don’t understand with F1 is that every race has it’s own local safety crews apart from the doctor and the pace car that goes to each race. In Indycar they have the same safety crew that travels to every one of the races, they are extremely well trained and know exactly what to do in every situation, they fly them and the safety cars and all the equipment to every race even when it’s Trans-Atlantic, which is a minor cost in the overall scheme of things. When you see some of the local safety crews in F1 it looks like amateur hour out there, which is mind boggling in itself considering how much has been done to improve the safety both on the cars and the tracks themselves.

On top of all this we then found out on Sunday evening that Andrea De Cesaris had been killed in motorcycle accident. This was shocking news and it made me really sad, as we have been great friends for more than 30 years now. We were roommates when we both started out in F3 in England, driving for Ron Dennis Project Four team. Andrea was one of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever met and although we were not in regular contact anymore it was like yesterday every time we met. We used to play Golf and Tennis and Ski together, needless to say every time it was like the World finals but so much fun at the same time. I could write a whole book about all the stuff we used to get up to. Everybody that was close to him in the racing community loved him and he will be missed by all of us. I think of all the drivers from that generation, he might have been the one who really had it all figured out in the end, many years ago he basically sold everything he had and decided to travel around the world following the surf crowd as he had at that point become an avid surfer and wind surfer, moving from one great spot to the other around the world depending on where the big waves were. At the same time he had become a very good day trader and spent the mornings doing some trading online, and then the rest of the day on the ocean, not a bad way to live your life if you ask me. He was a free soul and a wonderful guy to be around.

Vettel

JT - We then had the shock news about Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari, within hours after Alonso had resigned from the team.

SJ- Yes, at first sight it looks like Vettel has played his cards very well in this game of poker that’s been going on for a couple of months now. It’s clear the deal between him and Ferrari has been in the pipeline for quite some time in order for him to announce his departure to Red Bull at such short notice after Alonso told Ferrari he was leaving. Likewise, I am sure Alonso has some ace up his sleeve or it will certainly look like he might be left in the cold with the only real option being McLaren, which at the moment would be a bit like jumping from the fire into the frying pan, although I’m sure it won’t be long for either of the two teams to catch up and become real contenders for the title again. Interestingly, they both had a year left on their contracts but were both able to exercise some performance clause in their contracts to allow them to leave. The final piece of the puzzle is of course Lewis Hamilton, who has not yet done his deal with Mercedes going forward.

It will be interesting to see how Vettel will adapt to the Ferrari situation and if he will bring any key people with him from Red Bull, much like Schumacher did when he left Benetton, basically bringing both Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne with him, which then formed the nucleus together with Jean Todt of the “dream team” that ended up dominating F1 for a very long time.


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