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Filtering by Tag: LMP1

2017: Year In Review

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 92

JT – As 2017 comes to a close we’re going to look back at the year’s racing a bit and look forward to 2018.

In recent action, the 2017 Macau Grand Prix F3 feature race was absolutely marvelous. Sette Camara and Ferdinand Habsburg had an amazing battle for the lead over the last two laps of the race. Habsburg overtook Camara at the final corner but both carried so much speed they the barrier at the corner exit leading to the finish line. Daniel Ticktum in 3rd position suddenly found himself crossing the line first to win. Lando Norris finished in 2nd while Habsburg made it over the finish line on three wheels to finish 4th.

SJ – Yes definitely! F3 in general is just great racing and always has been. All the kids at the sharp end of the grid are all super talented with a real fighting spirit. They haven’t been jaded by the experience that every move you make may not work out so they all just have a go. There is also a great camaraderie there that seems to get lost the further up the ladder you go, with the added pressure from both the teams, sponsors and the media.

I remember when I was doing British F3 and won the championship in 1980 (driving for Ron Dennis’ Project Four team), my two golf buddies were Kenny Acheson and Roberto Guerrero, they were also my biggest rivals to win the Championship that year. All three of us were fighting tooth-and-nail for the championship. But we were all best mates and the day before the races we’d be playing golf together. Of course, on-track we gave it all we had and never gave each other an inch, but it was always very fair and whomever of us got it right on the day ended up winning the race. It was very pure and it’s the way things still are to a large degree in F3. It’s no coincidence that the majority of all the greatest drivers in recent history all cut their teeth in Formula 3 to begin with.

F3 British GP - 1980 (Archive)

JT – As a fun aside, I happened to be watching a program on YouTube recently called “Ten Forgotten Group C Racers - LM24 Legends You've Never Heard Of”. One of the cars covered in the program was the 1991 Konrad Lamborghini KM 011, a Group C racer Franz Konrad created with the same Lamborghini V12 that powered the machines fielded by the Ligier and Modena teams in Formula 1. Apparently, Franz hired you as co-driver for the season. It didn’t go too well did it?

(Time code: 8:33-9:33)

SJ -  Oh dear! I will never forget that car! That had to be hands-down the worst car I ever drove – that and the Ligier F1 car from 1988 in their respective categories. They went hand-in-hand in terms of being unbelievably bad.

It was almost comical because we had that Lamborghini engine and there were no restrictors or anything back then. It was whatever power you could get out of the engine within a certain range and it had pretty good power. But the car had zero downforce - none.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I think the car must’ve been 50 km/h quicker than the Mercedes (C291 prototype), which was the fastest car at the time, down the straights but about 8 seconds slower per lap! It was ridiculous! I don’t think it had ever been within a hundred-mile radius of a wind-tunnel. It was eyeball design all the way and it had no grip whatsoever. There were so many things that were wrong with this car, apart from the poor handling. The cockpit had virtually no seal to the engine compartment which meant you were constantly breathing all the petrol fumes and the heat and noise inside the cockpit was insane. After about three laps in the car you lost your will to live!

Again, in sort of comedic terms, it would be difficult to make a race car that bad today with all of the advanced tools you have available now, like windtunnels, CFD, Simulators etc, or even just armed the basic knowledge on aero, chassis dynamics etc that exist today compared to back then.  Yet, you can still end up with something like the Nissan Le Mans prototype (2015 NISMO GT-R LM) which we all know was a complete donkey but with a full manufacturer backing. If I remember correctly, someone from Nissan proudly announced at the launch of the project that this car would win the 24 hours outright in two years. Oh well…

JT – Which professional series do you think offered the best racing in 2017? Which was most fun to watch?

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

SJ – I would say IndyCar again. It has always been enjoyable to watch. The series is very competitive and there’s always good battles throughout the field, and some of the races are real cliff hangers. You often don’t know what the outcome will be until the very end of each race.
I’ve been saying this for years now, IndyCar has by far the best racing overall but unfortunately only a fraction of the global race fans watch it. If they could only get more people to tune in so everyone can see how good it really is. I’m not a marketing expert and I certainly don’t claim I have all the answers, but it’s the best kept secret in global motorsports as far as I’m concerned. They need someone like Liberty to come in and really push the series to where it used to be and beyond. Of all the series out there, I think it’s one that need the least amount of changes in terms of the overall product, but they need all the help they can get in marketing themselves.

JT – The 2018 IndyCars with their now-standard lower downforce universal aero kits have received positive feedback from the drivers who’ve tested with them so far. Apparently they will force drivers used to the downforce-heavy Chevrolet and Honda aero kits of recent years to adapt their driving, requiring more finesse and patience. The cars should also move around more, making for more visually exciting racing. What’s your take?

3D Design by:  Chris Beatty

3D Design by: Chris Beatty

SJ – It certainly looks like this package will sort the level of driving out a bit more than what we’ve been used to seeing in 2017 and the last few years. It definitely looks like the cars are not as easy to drive as what we’ve been used to the past couple of years with the huge downforce cars.

They will demand more finesse and car control from the drivers and that’s good. That’s the problem with all of the high downforce cars of today. They can make an average driver look quite good. By definition, if you have more grip you don’t have to balance a car the way you would without it. It’s the same situation you have in F1 and it shows, DTM is the same as well as the WEC prototypes. Yes, the cars were quicker in 2017 and maybe fractionally more physical to drive but with all of the downforce and grip they have, they require less driving skill or feel for the car.
The new IndyCars will force the drivers to work a bit harder to get the last 5% out of the car and they will all have to develop that feel again. They’ll also have an impact on the tires. You will have to manage the tires more with your driving to make sure you don’t slide around too much but always keep them just below the point of losing the grip. This will inevitably lead to more small mistakes by some drivers which is often the chance you’re looking for when you’re battling another driver in a close race. I don’t know if the new car will make the racing any better, it’s already quite good. But I do think it will separate the good drivers from those who are average more than what we’ve been used to seeing the past few years.

And if the cars move around more, that’s what fans want to see. They want to see drivers fighting to control the cars.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2018 IndyCar season in another way, it’s intriguing to see how it’s shaping up with drivers switching teams, new drivers and new teams like Carlin joining the series.

SJ – I think it’s good. It’s probably time there was a bit of a shake-up in the ranks across the board. I think Carlin joining the series will be great. Trevor Carlin is one of the best Team Owners out there, period. They’ve won in everything they’ve ever competed in and they know what they’re doing. I think they’ll add a lot to the series.

JT – Formula 1’s 2017 season started off in interesting fashion with Ferrari able to challenge Mercedes for victory regularly. At the midway point however, Mercedes gained a clear advantage. The result was an early season that featured battles on track at times. After the early races, there was very little excitement. This was confirmed by data Pirelli released in December, showing that there were half the number of overtakes in F1 in 2017 compared to 2016. As you predicted, the larger, higher downforce cars the series switched to this year made passing more difficult.

SJ – Yes, this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. It should have been obvious to anyone who write the rules that this was not the way to go to improve the racing. There’s no way to escape the effects of aero unfortunately.

Now they are talking about generating downforce from underneath the cars rather than from the top. That might help limit the turbulence a little bit but it won’t eliminate it. If you follow another car there will still be dirty air. As long as you have a lot of aero, you’re always going to have this problem, and the more complicated the aero is, which an F1 car is the epitomy of, the more affected your car will be from the dirty air. So unless they simplify the front wing considerably, I am certain they will still have the same problem.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record. The easiest way to get more grip – and it would be so easy – is to simply improve the tires. Even on a much lower level than F1, like when we used to run LMP2 in sports car racing, you could easily spend a million dollars developing the aero of the car to gain, maybe half a second. Then you bolt on a different set of tires that cost maybe $2,000 and you pick up a second-and-a-half.

Source: Pirelli

Source: Pirelli

It’s beyond me that improving the tires is never even mentioned in F1. There are three things that make a race car go faster or slower not counting the driver of course: Chassis, Engine and Tires. The first two are open for anyone who wants to compete, yet the tires are restricted to one manufacturer, to whomever is willing to bid for the exclusivity. As it is today, I don’t think many tire companies would be interested in competing against each other in F1 with the current rules that mandate the same old 13-inch balloon tires they’ve continued to use since the 70’s or maybe even earlier, because they are completely irrelevant to any tire on the road anymore. But if they could change to tires that look at least remotely like what you see on a road car now then I’m sure the tire companies would jump right in. Michelin have already made that statement.

But it’s the Engineers that effectively write the rules today, and for them all the emphasis is on aerodynamics. So for the time being we are stuck with the current rules and the insane amount of money being spent on aero development. I guess if the focus changed from aero to tire and more mechanical grip more than half of them would be out of work immediately. That’s when you need someone with a birds-eye view who can step in and say, “This is what it is, these are the new rules. Deal with it.”

I’m sure that if you took away 60 or even 70 percent of the aerodynamic grip the cars have now and opened up the regulations to allow different tire manufacturers to compete against each other, you would easily gain back 3-4 seconds per lap, maybe more – almost immediately. Then give the cars an extra 300 horsepower and you gain another 3-4 seconds on an average length track.

There’s another thing which is curious in my mind with the current cars and regulations. Seemingly, someone in a high tower has decided that electric cars are the way to go and that’s it. Across the board, road cars, race cars, it doesn’t matter. No other alternatives are available. Anyone who has even the remotest interest in engineering knows that there are a ton of other alternative technologies out there which could be far more interesting and environmentally friendly and for sure more efficient than electric.

But we now have these so-called environmentally friendly hybrid cars with batteries that add nearly 50 percent more weight to an F1 car. The F1 cars used to weigh 500 kilograms. That alone made the cars way more exciting to watch than what we have now.  They were lively. They were moving around, twitchy and nervous all the time. You could really see the drivers working the cars.

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

I remember when I came from F1 to IndyCar. The IndyCars were quite a bit heavier. Everything happened so much slower in the IndyCar and that made it a lot easier. Now the F1 cars weigh as much as an IndyCar. In the bigger picture where F1 claims to be road relevant – which it isn’t – If you applied the concept of saving weight rather than adding it, let’s assume hypothetically, if you halved the weight of every road car and put the focus on weight loss can you imagine how much that would mean in terms of efficiency and for the environment just in terms of fuel consumption?
It would be massive. That should at least be an alternative direction F1 should be going in but they’re now doing the exact opposite.

If you allowed all the brilliant engineers in F1 to tap into the materials science that already exist out there and let the teams to focus on weight savings as an option in designing their cars. And then work out a target number for thermal efficiency and energy consumed that each car was allowed to consume over the course of a race distance. Then leave it up to the teams whether they want to run a normally aspirated engine in a car that will be lightweight and far more fuel efficient or a battery-hybrid car that’s maybe 200 kilos heavier but might also generate more power in an efficient but different way.

From an engineering point of view that’ll help sort everything out because you’d soon find out what approach was the most efficient. That would also provide interest for the fans with cars that were conceptually different from each other and that also looked and sounded a bit different. As it is, all the cars look virtually the same and truthfully F1 has been nothing more than a glorified spec series since the introduction of the latest engine formula. The rules a written so tight that each team has an extremely narrow window to work within, both on the chassis and the engine, hence all the cars looking and sounding exactly the same.

Take away a lot of the downforce, add an extra 300 horsepower, lighten the cars by 200 kilos and put some proper tires on them. You could soon be back near the same lap times they run today but with cars that were mega-exciting to watch. They would run close to 400 km/h down the straights, have much longer braking distances which would encourage more overtaking under braking, and the cars would move around a lot more so you could really see the drivers trying to tame their beasts. It would be awesome!

Another thing with all this, and maybe the most important aspect of all. Every single race track today, is either modified or built to specifically suit these high downforce cars, full of low speed corners and boring chicanes, in order to slow the cars down because of the high grip they generate from the downforce. If the cornering speeds were lower, but straigthline speeds were much higher we could gradually go back to the type of tracks that were far more exciting to watch, where you could really see a drivers laying it on the line with great car control in a series if medium and high speed corners, but with the modern safety standards applied. Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi is a perfect example of this, how is it possible to build something that awful when you have a clean sheet of paper, it’s probably the worst race track I have ever driven on in my entire career. It has 3 chicanes, and 4 first gear corners! Why would you even put one chicane when you build a new track and you have an endless choice if options.

JT – 2017 featured lots of sports car racing with GT racing remaining strong globally while top tier prototype racing gasped for air. The LMP1 class of the WEC looked less vibrant on and off track than it had for several years, demonstrating that the championship had finally drained the resources of the category’s remaining manufacturers, Porsche and Toyota, with its hugely expensive hybrid-prototypes. Porsche announced its P1 exit in late summer.

The situation was brighter in IMSA with the series’ DPi/P2 class gaining entrants even in a transitional season. IMSA’s GT classes remained strong and the outlook for 2018 looks very good with new teams and cars joining . Contrast that with the WEC where the LMP1 class will consist of Toyota and several privateer squads running non-hybrid ICE-powered machines. There’s little doubt Toyota will dominate.

The upcoming 24 Hours of Daytona should be one for the books with a historic line-up of star drivers and teams that will surpass what Le Mans can offer in the 2018/19 “Super Season”. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I agree. The formula that IMSA have come up with for prototypes is great and it’s clearly working, with more teams than ever joining the series. It’s just a shame that there can never be an agreement between Europe and America on the overall rules for prototypes.

It’s sad that egos have to get in the way all the time because I think they have the foundation here in the U.S. for something could be fantastic for everybody. Now the ACO is talking about a silhouette GT formula which is just going to be another money pit for a few manufacturers as far as I’m concerned.

Source:  Scuderia Corsa

As we’ve discussed before, my point has been for some time now, why not just unleash the current GT cars? If you take the restrictors off them they would have another 200-300HP or more in some cases, then give them maybe another 10 percent more aero and some wider tires and wheel arches that would make them look more aggressive also, and they’d be flying around Le Mans. They’d be in the mid to low 3:30s in no time, and that’s always been the target lap time the ACO wants to see for them to feel the track is safe. Make every manufacturer that wants to compete homologate a car to those specs, the road car version of the Le Mans spec car would be sold out in no time and every manufacturer competing would have their own version of the LM supercar. Each manufacturer would be spend serious money on activation if they were competing for the overall win in the 24 hours. So instead of Audi, Porsche and Toyota being the three manufacturers that had by far the biggest presence for years at Le Mans, you would now have maybe 10 or more manufacturers really using the event as a major marketing tool. The costs would of course go up from the current GT development programs for the cars, but this would be amortized over a period of time by all the private teams buying the same cars and spares as the factory teams were using. Even so, it would never get anywhere close to the money that was spent on the current LMP1 cars over the past 4-5 years. You would have the entire field racing with the same cars you can effectively buy, with the best drivers racing them.

With silhouette GTs, what happens to the existing manufacturer-based GT class? You’ll have the current GTE/GTLM cars and then these similar silhouette GTs? I think It’ll be very confusing.
For this year, unless the Toyotas break in one race or another, no one else has a chance of winning in LMP1. Of course, Audi won lots of races when they were the only manufacturer in P1 years ago but even that was a little different. The technology gap wasn’t as big as it is now and the amount of money the manufacturers have spent in P1 in recent years is on a completely different level.

JT – Still, there is a good level of excitement in sports car racing domestically and we even see the emergence here of touring car racing with TCR-spec cars slated to race more extensively in IMSA and with Pirelli World Challenge in 2018. In some ways, the possibilities for racers are opening up, even as the economic climate for racing remains challenging.

SJ – There’s definitely some exciting stuff and I think it’s great what [Fernando] Alonso is doing, trying other categories. That opens up the eyes of all the guys around him. All of a sudden they realize what’s possible. Alonso is maybe the most respected driver in the world, so when all these other guys in F1 especially see him trying these other categories it will for sure make them curious if nothing else.

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

I know for a fact from a couple of drivers I’ve talked with in F1 that they hate the current format. They’re just not having fun. The cars aren’t fun to drive and they’re not finding the whole experience enjoyable. Even some of the young drivers who are just getting started are seriously contemplating doing something other than F1. They just want to go drive something they can enjoy.

On the other hand, after having gotten a taste of what Super Formula and Super GT in Japan are like working with Felix [Rosenqvist], I think Japan has got it right on many levels. Both their series are full-on racing with no restrictors or BoPs, etc. You have brand new tires every time you leave pit lane and everybody’s going for it, all the time. It’s really good, hard racing. And now Jenson [Button] is there (in Super GT) and that’s going to open the eyes of a lot of European drivers and others. There are definitely some good things happening.

Source:  felixracing.se

JT – Formula E built some momentum over 2017 with the defection of Porsche from the WEC LMP1 ranks benefiting the electric championship and other marques joining as well. It’s not the most compelling racing but it has drawn the interest of manufacturers.

SJ – Yes, in a way Formula E isn’t really a series for the crowd on-hand at any race, not yet anyway. The tracks are relatively small so it’s not that easy to pack in a huge crowd even if you tried. The manufacturers are really what will drive the series in my opinion. They will no doubt start spending serious money not only on the racing but also on activation, as they always do when they get involved with a new category.

You’re going to have a war between Mercedes, Audi, Porsche and BMW – all the German makers who have mostly left DTM and will use this as their new arena to compete. You can already see it starting. And then you have Jaguar, Renault/Nissan and Citroen already there and several other car brands looking at it. It’s definitely the place to be at the moment. Typically, the manufacturers go for it while they are in and committed and then there’s a board decision by one or more of them and boom, they’re out. As quick as they arrive, at some point when it doesn’t serve their purpose anymore, they’re gone. It will be interesting to see how all this will develop.

From a driver’s point of view like Felix’s, it’s an interesting place to be, the teams are starting to get serious and as such they want the best drivers they can get their hands on. That’s why there are so many of these great drivers in the series already.

JT – Looking back at the global racing landscape in 2017, which driver do you think did the best job? Which driver from open wheel, sports cars, NASCAR – you name it – which racer performed best?

SJ – It’s always a very difficult questions because each championship and car requires you to become an expert in that particular category. Take a championship like the Australian V8 for example, it’s super competitive with some really great teams and drivers, I mention it just as an example, because they don’t get the recognition over here or in Europe because it’s a local championship. Any driver that do a guest appearance there generally speaking are nowhere. Indycar is a bit the same, it’s so hard to win consistently because the cars are so close and the race strategy plays a huge part in the overall results. We often see drivers qualifying in the back and then roll the dice on pitstops and end up winning races because they got it right. But in the end it will probably have to migrate back to F1 and Lewis Hamilton, he’s now getting to that point where he’s starting to break one record after the other, and that never happens by accident. He’s always had the ability to dig just a little deeper when it matters and this year he had to dig a lot deeper than usual when the car was not always underneath him.



Reflections on the current state of Motorsports

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 89

JT – After several weeks off, the blog is back. Given the number of interesting motorsports stories that have made news over the last month, we’re going to focus on the racing world/industry in general in this installment.

We begin with last week’s admission by Liberty Media that not a single current F1 team has opted to buy shares which the sport’s new owner set aside for them. Liberty made 19 million shares of common stock available over a six month period but there were no takers. That’s obviously not a positive development for Liberty Media and something of a “no confidence vote” by the teams. Do you agree?

SJ – I don’t know enough about the “ins and outs” of it to really gauge what’s going on but at face value it tells me that none of the teams have enough faith in the business if they’re not willing to buy into it, or maybe the deal just wasn’t attractive enough.

When Champ Car did this (1998 CART/Champcar goes public on NYSE) it was different because at the time the teams were given X-amount of shares when the series did its IPO. A few of the team owners were smart enough to cash out after a short period. They all did very well and the rest used the stock to help keep their teams alive and eventually ran out of money when the series started to decline.

JT – As the embarrassing lack of performance by Honda and McLaren continues, it was recently revealed that the deal struck by Sauber F1’s ex-team principal Monisha Kaltenborn to run Honda power units in 2018 was canceled. Apparently, Sauber’s team owners called off any Sauber-Honda link following Kaltenborn’s departure from the team.

The reversal leaves McLaren as the only Honda-powered team. That casts further uncertainty into McLaren’s future with the Japanese manufacturer and the paddock as a whole. It’s perhaps likely McLaren will continue with Honda but not certain. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso has said Honda must show improvement this year and real potential for 2018 if he is to remain with McLaren.

SJ – Again, it’s difficult to comment without knowing more details. You can be sure there’s more than meets the eye to this whole situation. It seems odd to me that an announcement was made by Sauber or Honda or jointly – it’s hard to say who announced it – but with that possibility now gone, it’s hard to know what to make of this. The dominoes will have to fall at some point for the teams and drivers.

But it looks difficult for anyone at the top end of the driver market to move much in the current situation. If Alonso were to leave McLaren, where would he go? I doubt neither Mercedes or Ferrari have a seat open for him, Red Bull is already full. In my opinion it would be better to stay patient one more year with McLaren as I still believe they will eventually get it right rather than go with any of the options that are left of which only Renault would make any sense. If McLaren were to ditch Honda and go with a different engine I think Hungary already showed that they will be a serious contender almost right away. Both Red Bull drivers are probably frustrated with their results and the reliability from their car, but they are both under contract, and again, where would they go. There are only two obvious teams for anyone who wants to move and the chances a seat will open in either of them are very small in my opinion.

JT – Mercedes would seem to be pretty set with their drivers currently. Valtteri Bottas may be on a one year contract but he’s done pretty darn well this year, winning in Russia and Austria and finishing on the podium regularly.

SJ – Yes, I don’t see any reason why they would want to change. I think Bottas has done a phenomenal job. He’s certainly keeping Lewis on his toes and there seems to be good harmony in the team. The love fest is still going on between the team and the drivers, which Lewis showed by doing the honorable thing in Hungary last weekend in letting Bottas by in the last corner which was agreed at some point in the middle of the race. I can’t for a moment think he would have done the same for Rosberg. That’s 3 points left on the table which could very well mean win or loose the championship at the end of the season.

JT – At the halfway point of the 2017 season, the Drivers championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton has tightened with just a single point separating the pair. Ferrari and Mercedes are likewise locked in battle for the Manufacturers championship. What do you make of the contest?

SJ – As usual, the media is saying Ferrari is “finished” after one bad race. There’s a “crisis” and on and on. They’ve had one bad race (Silverstone) effectively. I don’t think the championship fight is over by any means which Ferrari also showed by totally dominating the Hungarian GP from qualifying to the race.

I’ve been saying since the first race of the season that thanks to Vettel doing extensive testing of Pirelli’s new tires for this year, Ferrari clearly had an early advantage. The team knew more about the tires than anyone else. It’s hard to believe they would not have learned things that others wouldn’t by being the only team with a regular driver doing all of the running.

Now that we’re halfway through the season it looks like Mercedes has caught up and understand their car and the tires much better than they did at the beginning of the season. But that doesn’t mean the battle is over by any means. I suspect it will go down to the wire.

JT – A related subject in the overall picture of Formula One and other series now across racing is the unprecedented number of drivers who are effectively paying to race at the professional level. In June, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the following regarding Valtteri Bottas.

“Today the revenue model for some of the teams, for most of the teams, is also actually to generate income,” he said. “Even if we look at a Red Bull or a Mercedes, I would rather have a driver with some sponsorship than not. Even Valtteri for example, part of his value proposition for this year was that he came with a sponsor and clearly we would rather have the money than not.”

If one of the two drivers in what has been F1’s top team in recent years is bringing money with him to the team, what does that say about F1 and professional racing in general?

SJ – I’m not sure the money Bottas brought was tied to him getting the drive. I think it’s more that he just happened to have a sponsor who wanted to be involved and that’s obviously a bonus for the team no matter how you look at it.

But yes, things have changed in general. Outside of Formula One, even the drivers who are getting paid, the money they’re getting is almost equivalent to what drivers were getting paid in the 1980s with the exception of the guys up at the very top end in F1, who get paid ridiculous amounts. So the contrast between the very few guys at the top and the back end where so many drivers now have to bring financial backing of some sort is huge.

The fundamental problem in general for pretty much every level of racing is that technology has taken over. Everything is driven by technology. Every racing series is driven by the engineering side instead of the drivers and the sporting side. The cars are far too expensive to run. All of the electronics, all of the aerodynamic development, all of the extra stuff which has become part of the cars today makes them massively more expensive to operate. Then we have all the various methods of simulation which effectively have replaced on track testing, this again is driving up the costs as all this equipment is constantly evolving, and anything involving R&D is never cheap.
Not only are they more expensive as a whole, components are more expensive and the cars require three to four times the amount of people to run compared to what they used to. In the end, there’s nothing left over due to the costs. The money’s got to come from somewhere. Teams are operating more and more in survival mode, and as such they have to rely more and more on drivers bringing money.

There’s no real sponsorship in F1 anymore, not at the level it used to be at least, nowhere close. The dynamic has shifted for a number of reasons, one of them being the introduction of pay TV which means there are significantly fewer eyeballs than there used to be. On the flip side the series is making more money because of the pay per view but the overall number of viewers is obviously a lot less.

Sponsors obviously look at eyeballs as one of the main gauges for engagement. If the number of people watching is small, the rate card (for advertising) goes down of course. Hence the constant arguing now about what the distribution of money from F1 is for each team because that is now the main source of income for many of the teams. This never used to be mentioned before, as each team had a reasonable level of sponsorship and the F1 money was almost like the icing on the cake. In addition we have all the social media and other disruptive technologies pulling people in all sorts of directions and there is no longer a fixed medium to get your information or entertainment from.

I don’t envy Liberty trying to find the right way forward, I don’t think there’s anyone today that has the complete vision to see where this is heading and what the end result will be.  There is no doubt a number of very competent people capable to put their foot down and say, “Stop. Let’s rethink the whole thing.” But what is the answer? There are so many moving parts to every aspect of this, every person you speak to have their own view of how to go forward, each manufacturer have their ideas ( biased to suit their own agenda of course), the teams have their views (even more biased), The FIA another one, and on and on it goes. No wonder the Strategy Group can barely agree on where to have their next meeting let alone agree on anything constructive.

JT – As we’ve discussed previously, another contributor to the muddle racing is in is a strange kind of political correctness.

SJ – Yes I agree, now it’s permeating racing just as it is in every other aspect of life it seems.
I think we’re at the point where we can’t defend this whole argument that racing has to lead the technology for the road car industry. In fact, right now it’s the exact opposite. The road car industry is actually far more advanced today in many ways than the racing industry, especially in the electronics/powertrain side.

Race cars are made to go fast as they always have been. Nowadays the main emphasis seems to be that road cars are supposed to save the planet, whether that’s valid or not but that’s the argument. Racing and road cars ought to be heading in two completely separate directions, if there is anything to be learned from Racing that could benefit the road car industry, great, but I don’t think the focus should be on that.

Hybrid technology isn’t particularly good for a race car. And the race cars and series using it aren’t inventing anything, they are in fact forced to use it by the rules. So even if a team wanted to develop a different concept or technology they wouldn’t be able to. They’re basically borrowing the technology from the road car industry to apply to a race car.

The whole concept with this technology – the philosophy of what race cars are meant to be now - is going completely in the wrong direction in my opinion. This insanely complicated and expensive hybrid technology really doesn’t benefit anyone in racing. The development of the technology for road cars is already as advanced if not more than what we see in the F1 or LMP1 cars. So there’s really no gain. Then you can look at the whole aerodynamic thing on top of it – useless for a road car.

Part of the problem is the PR the manufacturers produce. Their PR departments have an agenda and of course there’s the political side and that’s another agenda. There are all of these marketing efforts and the racing is just the tiny little bit at the bottom of it. Everything has to conform to all of the non-racing agendas.

From a PR point of view it may be great to talk about these amazing power unit that produce virtually zero emissions, the carbon footprint is almost nothing and so on. But all it is, at the end of the day is just that, a PR exercise. I asked someone just for fun to walk over to the parking lot at the British GP where the teams park all their transporters, there were 350 Diesel trucks there to service the 20 cars that were racing on Sunday afternoon. The top teams are using 9 trucks just to carry the Hospitality units and the equipment, which these days are essentially there to feed the journalists and team members as virtually no one else have access to the paddock area. I know this may be an irrelevant argument, but nevertheless it’s a sign of the general hypocrisy surrounding this subject.

The money being spent is crazy and that’s not sustainable. The ACO/WEC still seem insistent on having P1 and having some sort of hybrid formula for privateers. That makes even less sense than having the manufacturers do it. Why should a privateer want to run a hybrid car? There’s zero benefit to it unless it’s an open formula where that is one option of many others. But as it is, the rules are very strict and that is basically the only option which means that everyone will spend a lot of money for nothing as they will all run the same spec engine in the end.

On top of it, I was talking to a couple of the drivers in the P1 factory teams and they hate the cars. They’re just an engineering exercise. You have to memorize all of the hybrid system stuff instead of just driving the car fast and hard. You’re like an airline pilot on a passenger jet. You’re just constantly going through checklists.

In Formula One, the top teams employ 250 designers and engineers to design a car, this does not include the engine, there’s a massive amount of complexity, and costs obviously. There’s no real innovation in F1 at any level anymore, they’re not allowed to innovate anymore because the rules are so strict. So it’s just an endless refinement of what already exists, with all the teams, designers and engineers pigeon-holed into a tiny little box in which they can work.

It’s about optimizing every half-percent you can rather than coming up with something really new that while not completely developed, still gives you an advantage. That’s how the pioneering days of F1 used to be. We had Colin Chapman advancing winged F1 cars, six-wheelers (from Tyrell) and other new things and ideas tried.

Obviously, it’s harder to find really new ideas as the technology is far more advanced today but racing should always have a measure of that. And it shouldn’t have to get to the point where it is now when a top F1 team employs over 2,000 people in total.

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In a few more years, we’ll have some form of self-driving cars and where does that leave racing? Again that’s where road car technology and racing should go in totally different directions. The essence of racing should always be cars that are fast and spectacular to watch, driven by these exceptionally talented young guys that are putting it on the line.

I’m sure if you let all the clever engineers loose and give them some more freedom there will be a number of new and fresh ideas instead of them working within the narrow box they’re forced to work in now, just optimizing technologies that are already here. The entertainment side of racing comes more naturally when you make cars fast and challenging to drive, that everyone can immediately appreciate rather than having to explain what the technology is all about and a bunch of artificial rules to make the racing more exciting, like DRS and some guy in a blue FIA shirt sitting in a control tower watching a TV monitor determining when a driver has gone too far outside the track limit instead of the driver simply being out of the race because he either pushed to hard or screwed up somehow and simply went off.

Anyone, even a layman with no knowledge of racing, can appreciate the effort and skill of a driver wrestling a car to make it perform as well as possible at the limit. But a car that does almost everything for a driver, that’s stuck to the road on a track with so much run off area that is virtually impossible to hit anything if you try too hard and go off, that any driver with a small amount of skill can jump in and get within half a second of a three-times world champion - that doesn’t excite people. It doesn’t have the same appeal.

It’s now also been confirmed that the Halo head protection will be mandated. It was an inevitable decision in my opinion, once the knowledge is there and it’s for safety there’s no turning back. It’s a knee jerk reaction to something that should have never happened in the first place if any level of common sense had been applied at Suzuka when Jules Bianchi had his accident. But it happened, it was a freak accident and will in most likelihood never ever happen again, halo or no halo.

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The reality is that the only fatal accidents in F1 since the early 1980’s have all been a freak accident of some sort, as such it’s impossible to predict what will happen next time. In general terms though, I could probably mention at least 10 sports, maybe even more that are far more dangerous and have more serious injuries and fatalities per participant than motor racing and F1 in particular today. The general perception that racing drivers are these dare devils risking their lives every time they step in a car is more or less just a myth today, there is zero bravery or bravado involved in being a fast driver today and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s made that observation. Fans are not stupid, they want to see their favorites wrestling their machines on the ragged edge, that’s what motor racing has and should always be about. Like all sports, it’s the heroes that make the fans come and watch, not the boffin in the back of the garage, or in the case of football or any other sport, the coordination trainer in the back of the changing room.
Ironically, the only level of motor racing where the danger is still a concern that’s on the back of anyone’s mind is probably Indycar, and the drivers there probably get less credit for what they do than pretty much any other series out there. When you watch the pack racing at some of the ovals it really makes you appreciate what these guys do.

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This is a very touchy subject of course, but I am convinced that every single driver worth his salt would still be out there if the tracks where more punishing if you made a mistake, the cars were far more difficult to drive, with much higher top speeds and less grip.

All drivers in the past, even those that complained the most about the safety, still kept racing and lost friends almost every weekend, for virtually no money. Today, we have a situation where other people are deciding what is safe for us. So instead we now have drivers racing cars that are ridiculously easy to drive in comparison, almost totally safe and make $40M a year. This is of no fault of the drivers but merely a reflection of society in general today.

JT – That kind of challenge – the kind which makes racing appealing broadly could return. As we’ve discussed many times, aerodynamics have had a very corrosive effect on racing. But the possibility exists that technology applied to other aspects of vehicle performance could restore the spectacle, correct?

SJ – Yes, it will take a while but I’m convinced that with a shift of development focused on better tire and power plant technology in particular, better suspension technology and better materials - all these factors – you could gain back amazing performance. The performance lost by eliminating a large portion of the aerodynamics could be found through these other areas to produce cars capable of amazing speeds and lap times. If they are worried about the lap times being much slower by taking away a good portion of the downforce, don’t forget that every modern F1 track today is built the way they are simply to slow the cars down, hence we have a bunch of Go Kart tracks on big parking lot tracks with 1st and 2nd gear corners and chicanes with only the odd high speed section that are still not very challenging for a modern F1 car. We could easily solve that problem by going back to a layout with more high speed and flowing corners, where a combination of great car control and big balls will determine the lap time. If your cornering speed is maybe 2/3 of what it currently is, but the driver has 1200-1300HP that he’s balancing on the edge in a 4th or 5th gear corner anyone can certainly appreciate that.

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They would be spectacular to watch and they would weed out the really good drivers from those who don’t have the same level of talent. You might see the rise again of all the really fast guys who disappear these days before they even get to F2 in many cases. Any average driver can be quick today in an aero car.

This is a complex subject of course and everyone has their own views on how it should be done. There’s no strict formula but that’s where I think we should head. I don’t want to sound like some old nostalgic yearning for the “good old days” because that’s not the case at all, but I really believe it’s time for a complete recalibration on nearly every level of motor racing, certainly in single seaters and prototype cars. Aerodynamics was a great idea when it was first invented, but I think everyone except maybe the engineers agree that it’s ruining the racing at every level, at an astronomical cost to everyone involved. We need to be clever and come up with a better alternative.

JT – IndyCar and sports car racing have made news as well lately in both separate and related ways. IndyCar debuted their new universal aero kit to positive reviews from teams and drivers. Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia did the first test of the new oval kit at Indianapolis and were comfortable going fast almost immediately.

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On the sports car side, the long awaited announcement was made that Team Penske would field Acura-powered DPis in IMSA. Another announcement which came as something of a surprise was made when Mazda revealed that it would end its relationship with Speed Source and withdraw from IMSA competition for the remainder of the 2017 season. In 2018, famed sports car team Joest will become the Mazda factory team.

The announcements add some momentum on the American sports car side for the DPi prototype formula and show the way for coming years in IndyCar.

SJ – Estethically the new car certainly looks a lot better than the previous ones, it would have been nearly impossible to design one that could look any worse though. I guess this also fixes the disparity between the Chevy and Honda aero but what a pointless exercise the manufacturer aero kits were.

As we’ve discussed before, the total cost of this very bad experiment must have been somewhere in the range of 30 million dollars cumulatively. Imagine if they had spent that money of marketing instead. They already had and still have a Championship with the best racing out there, but sadly it seems they are still incapable of getting the message out there to the general masses. IndyCar can fiddle with the cars till they’re blue in the face but it won’t matter if there’s only a relative handful of people watching. The die hard fans are always going to have a point of view and they’ll also turn up no matter what. Consider for a moment the reception of the new car design compared to the first test Alonso did for the Indy 500 this year, where more than 2,5 million were watching the live stream online. This should tell you everything, and if the penny hasn’t dropped that maybe it’s not new car designs we need, but instead a much bigger focus on the drivers, who are the heroes that people want to watch. The value of Fernando Alonso racing at Indy this year is probably the best marketing IndyCar has had for the last 20 years.

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The racing is still the best in the world as far as I’m concerned. The formula works as it is – in fact, it’s one of the few that works in all of auto racing. Stop tinkering with something that works and try to market it to the biggest audience you can. That would help teams attract more sponsors which would allow them to hire more high profile drivers. If I were Indycar I would do everything possible to lure Alonso over to the series for 2018. Look at what happened when Mansell moved from F1 to Indycar in the 90’s, in one year it catapulted the series and it was actually a minor threat to F1 until the split came which of course killed it immediately. If Alonso would come over to Indycar, he would soon be followed by other F1 guys who are equally frustrated by the current cars in F1 and the lack of real racing and real race tracks.

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With the sports car end of things, the DPi is a great concept which I think any manufacturer could embrace. With both Penske and Joest now joining it will give IMSA a huge boost without a doubt. It would be great if the ACO would accept it too, if they did you could have a global prototype formula that could be affordable enough for both manufacturers and privateers with privateers able to buy the same cars the factory teams used. It would be brilliant and you’d have a natural feeder system.

JT – Porsche confirmed what most expected at the end of last week when they formally announced that they would be leaving the World Endurance Championship at the end of the season. This obviously is a significant blow to the WEC and could spell the end of the LMP1 Hybrid category for now. The question hanging in the air is whether Toyota will return for 2018. It’s hard to see any incentive for their continuing.

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SJ – I can’t see the WEC surviving. If Toyota follows Porsche what is there? What they should do is a pan-American/European championship of some kind. They should create some kind of hybrid series that brings IMSA and the ELMS together, spanning both continents.

And get rid of the LMP1 and LMP2 categories. Simplify it and make it one category. You don’t need both. Teams that are serious will hire the best drivers they can and for drivers that will pay to drive there will always be a team that will take them. And this will be at a reasonably affordable level unlike the P1 Hybrid class.

Look at Le Mans this year. The race was almost won by an LMP2 car at almost exactly 100 times less than the budget of the P1 teams – 100 times less! That should tell you something. Sports car racing has to be much more reasonable in terms of the costs. Look at the LMP3 class.

They’re fantastic cars and you can run them for a full season for about $700-800,000. The grids are full. And if you unrestricted the engines or put different engines in them they could be 10 seconds per lap quicker than a GT car in no time. The cars could handle that easily. It’s do-able if they try.

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JT – The other racing force looming on the horizon is Formula E. Manufacturers from Audi, Renault and BMW to now Mercedes and Porsche are jumping into the series. This despite the fact that recent reports in a number of financial publications reveal that Formula has a total net loss of $110.5 million currently.

SJ – Formula E definitely has momentum. With the latest announcement from Mercedes and Porsche not only joining but also pulling out of the other major series they were competing in before this, following Audi’s decision to do the same earlier in the year, it definitely looks like the series is set to grow significantly in the next 3-5 years. I think the budgets will probably triple in the next three years, maybe even more. You know that the manufacturers are going to spend a fortune coming into the series. Once they’re committed to any series all bets are off and the technology will improve drastically in the next three to four years.

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The battery specifications are fixed which is kind of strange because that’s the only thing you can gain significant performance from. But there are some interesting developments in the drivetrains otherwise.

Obviously, there are a number of reasons why the racing format is the way it is now in Formula E but having been to a few races now, the racing is tight with plenty of action. The cars are relatively slow but there are some tough battles on track and because the tracks are small so it doesn’t look that slow. It’s possibly the only series in the world where not one driver is bringing any money to race, every driver on the grid gets paid and the level of the drivers is very high.

It is extraordinary how far the series has come in just a few years. Alejandro Agag and his team have done an amazing job so far to get it where it is today, and they have great momentum now. In a way, Formula E is everything that Formula 1 is trying to be right now, in terms of being with the times and doing the right thing for the environment etc. Maybe this is the opportunity F1 need, to leave Formula E, the Manufacturers and the FIA with the political agenda to save the planet and instead go back to basics with brutally fast, noisy and spectacular cars and tracks, not worrying so much about the political side of things. Wouldn’t that be something!

 

Nico Rosberg retirement, I meet an old friend at Adelaide & Felix Rosenqvist finishes 2nd at the Macau Grand Prix

Stefan Johansson

JT – It has been a couple weeks since the last blog and a lot has happened. Nico Rosberg was crowned F1 world champion at the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi. Then late last week Rosberg shocked everyone with the announcement that he is retiring from F1. Meanwhile, Audi finished 1-2 in their final race in prototype competition at the Six Hours of Bahrain. And the Macau Grand Prix was a topsy-turvy event with plenty of carnage, controversy and a smattering of competitive racing.

While much of this played out you were Down Under, having been invited to the Adelaide Motorsport Festival to drive the No. 28 Ferrari F156/85 you piloted for Scuderia Ferrari during the 1985 F1 season (scoring two 2nd place finishes).

Given that Rosberg’s news is so unexpected, let’s begin there. Then we’ll reflect on your experience in Australia. What are your thoughts on Nico’s retirement?

SJ – It is obviously a shock announcement and a major surprise to everyone. It’s also likely a testament to how intense the situation at Mercedes has been all along. You can sympathize with him, having to go through that again is a major thing to consider.

Still, I would have thought that now having one title in the bag it would have been a lot easier to carry that momentum forward. But more than any other influence, I think it’s an acknowledgement of just how hard he had to work and how much it took out of him to win this title.

JT – In addition, I think we all recognize the maturity and guts it took for Nico Rosberg to make this decision.

"We said we'd be champions back then, now we both are! Congratulations Nico, you did everything a champion needed to do. Well deserved." - Lewis Hamilton

"We said we'd be champions back then, now we both are! Congratulations Nico, you did everything a champion needed to do. Well deserved." - Lewis Hamilton

SJ – Yes, that’s my next point. You really have to admire the strength of character it takes to make that decision at this stage of his career. You might say it’s early in his career but we can’t forget that Nico and so many of these guys started racing at a pretty high level in their early teens. (Rosberg mentioned that he has been racing for 25 years in comments on his retirement.)

So this has been pretty much all that Nico has been involved with his whole life. Since he was a little kid he’s been racing – and on a very intense level. So it may be a bit easier to understand his perspective when you think of that. However, I also think he might get the itch again after being away for a year or so, which we saw with a number of the guys who retired at an early stage in their careers. It’s an enormous hole to fill when you have been used to the intensity and focus every minute of your life pretty much for most of your life. I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see him back in some form of racing after a year or two.

JT – Nico always seems to have been a bit underrated. If we look at his time at Mercedes GP alone, realize who his two teammates have been – Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.

Source: F1 Fanatic

Source: F1 Fanatic

SJ – Exactly, it isn’t as if he hasn’t been tested. Look back to what he did while Michael was in the team. He made Michael look pretty average overall. Looking back now, Nico is probably the toughest teammate Michael ever had, certainly a lot more competitive than Eddie Irvine or Rubens Barrichello ever were.

I’d say most people have underestimated how good Nico really is. Let’s not forget that Lewis is already the second most winning driver in F1 history, and to be basically on even par with him every weekend is definitely not something that just any driver would be capable of doing. I also feel that maybe this was Nico’s way of finally sticking it to Lewis as he won’t be there to defend the title. In 2016 he was the best driver in the world, he rose to the occasion and had a string of very strong races midseason which effectively built the foundation for the Championship, when Lewis then retired in Malaysia all he had to do was drive intelligently without getting into it with Lewis every race like he was forced to do every time before that. It took him two years to figure out how to deal with that, starting with that race in 2014 in Bahrain where Lewis sort of moved the goal post and showed what he was prepared to do to win, team mate or not. I think it caught Nico by surprise and you could tell after that in both 2014 and 2015 he was not comfortable going to the length he had to do to either defend or attack against Lewis, and as such, we saw some moves that weren’t going to stick and Lewis generally seemed to come out on top. 2016 was different however, he changed his strategy and it worked out. I can sympathize 100% that it must have been difficult if it doesn’t come natural to you.

JT – Rosberg’s decision really is unexpected but as you mention, this has probably been brewing for some time. In published comments last week, his father Keke Rosberg may have alluded to Nico’s decision, saying “He has a lot of seasons behind him and I'm sure that, especially, the last three seasons have taken a high toll."

"They've been very hard seasons, because you're fighting for the championship for three years in a row, constantly." Keke said. "It's much tougher than trying to finish sixth. I don't know how much it's taken out of him."

SJ – I am sure it was not a rash decision but something that’s been on his mind for a while. I know his father Keke quite well. He’s an incredibly smart guy and has a very strong character. He’s very firm in his beliefs and if you take that into account, that could give insight into Nico’s logic.

JT – Everything is speculation at this point but the show goes on in F1. With Rosberg vacating his seat at Mercedes GP you would expect there to be a major amount of scrambling by top drivers to perhaps fill the vacancy. Of course, Mercedes has its own bench to draw from as well.

SJ – There will be a lot of action right now from every quarter, no doubt. I would imagine there are some guys, maybe like Nico Hulkenberg, who are having second thoughts about their decisions for next year. By the same token, they couldn’t have known what would happen. No one did, except Nico.

I am sure there a lot of the top guys reading their contracts with a fine comb right now to find out if there’s any way they can wiggle out of their existing deals. But more than anything the biggest dilemma is really for Mercedes to fill the gap from Rosberg, there is no one obvious to replace him with that is not already under contract, and I would imagine it would be problematic for them to put any of their Junior drivers in the car as it’s a huge step with enormous pressure. I feel for the Management at Mercedes too, they’ve had to deal with the constant battles and conflicts between these two guys in the past three year, and now they’re stuck in a situation where there is no obvious candidate to take Nico’s seat. Both Toto and Niki have certainly had their work cut out dealing with all this and when you weigh up all the circumstances I think they have done a great job in managing the situation.

JT - Returning to Australia, on the Friday before the Adelaide Motorsport Festival, you drove the Ferrari F156/85through the streets of Adelaide among the public which must have been a blast. Then on Saturday you ran the car around a portion of the Victoria Park street circuit which played host to the Australian Grand Prix from 1985 to 1995 – one of the tracks you raced it on. That must have been a great deal of fun too.

Did you enjoy driving the Ferrari again?

SJ – Yes, it was a great weekend – only there could you do something like that. It was Adelaide just how I remembered it from all those years past. It was a lot of fun and quite emotional to drive the old car actually.

I last drove that car up the hill at Goodwood a few years ago but that doesn’t really count as you can’t really lean on the car there as you do on a real race track. Apart from that my last drive in it was 30 years ago! It started to feel familiar after a few laps. It was kind of emotional when I started pushing it a bit and getting into the performance window of the car a little. Lots of memories… It was great using a manual gearbox and going through the gears and everything. By the end of day two I was getting some small blisters in my right hand from the gearshift which is how it used to be back in the day. They didn’t have it cranked up to full power but it was still enough to get a good feel for it.

JT – As usual we begin with Formula One, however let’s rewind to the penultimate race of 2016, the Brazilian GP – a race held amid off-and-on rain showers. It was notable mostly for the stop-start nature of the racing, a few on-track incidents and lucky escapes, and Max Verstappen’s drive.

He was widely lauded for his march through the field in the wet after good fortune in not wrecking somehow when his Red Bull spun on the on pit straight early in the race. During the last safety car period Red Bull Racing pitted Verstappen to fit extreme wet tires, changing from the intermediate wets he had been running on. He made a succession of passes, going from 14th to 3rd in the final 15 laps.

It was certainly an impressive drive though his cause was aided by having newer tires than any of those he passed. As you mention, there was also another key advantage for him.

SJ – There’s no question, he drove a fantastic race. His car control is amazing and he absolutely deserved the podium finish, but the thing I absolutely cannot understand is why no one else drove on the wet racing line? That’s racing in the rain-101.

In every category I’ve ever raced whether that’s sports cars, Indy Cars or F1 and all the way down to Karting, if it’s raining hard you never drive on the dry racing line. It’s full of rubber and it’s always way more slippery. I just don’t get why everyone else was on the regular line – it’s fundamental.

Verstappen was passing guys like they were standing still and you’d think the penny would drop and they would all start doing what he was doing. It boggles my mind. I don’t understand what the rest of them were doing.

Toto Wolff said what he did “defied physics”. It didn’t really defy physics. Verstappen had much more grip out there off the regular line – simple as that. There’s always more grip on the outside line in the rain. He was carrying more speed than anyone else and you would expect that the other drivers would have thought, “Hmm… maybe I should try that.” But in the end, it was a very impressive drive by Verstappen in extremely difficult conditions. His race craft is already up there with any of them and he showed an incredible amount of car control especially on that save he did where everyone else ended up smacking the wall.

Among all this everyone also seemed to forget what Lewis did, he had the entire field completely covered and drove an incredible race in very difficult conditions. The situation for him was far worse than any other driver in the field as he basically had no option but to win in order to keep the championship alive, so the pressure on him was immense.

The race management was also odd. I’ve certainly been in races where conditions were way worse and these are supposed to be the best drivers in the world. You’d think they should be able to handle it. If it’s gotten to the point where the cars are un-drivable in that kind of weather then maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board, at least with the tires.

If there is a problem with the wet tires, the testing ban probably accounts for a large part of that. There’s no doubt that if there was still competition between tire suppliers in F1 none of this would happen. Wet or dry, the tires would be way better.

JT – The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was interesting chiefly as the deciding race for the 2016 championship. What drama there was stemmed from Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, and their duel for the title. The race marked the last outing for Jenson Button and Felipe Massa but they were largely overshadowed by the title fight.

Rosberg prevailed in the championship, finishing second to Lewis Hamilton in the race. Sebastian Vettel came home 3rd. One big talking point afterward was Hamilton’s attempt to back Rosberg up, slowing his pace so much that Rosberg would be vulnerable to those behind. Hamilton has drawn both criticism and support for his tactics.

Meanwhile Rosberg held his nerve, passing Max Verstappen to reclaim 2nd position on lap 20 after his first pit stop. He also fended off Sebastian Vettel in the waning laps.

Though Hamilton said prior to the race that he wouldn’t slow his pace if he led Rosberg during the grand prix, he did exactly that. I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised by his decision apart from Rosberg perhaps, and it’s debatable whether he should or shouldn’t have done that. But his comments in response to team orders seemed a bit petulant.

What did you think of the race and Hamilton’s conduct?

SJ – It certainly got a bit exciting when Lewis started backing Nico up to the rest of them. Any little mishap and the race could have gone pear-shaped for Nico or for both of them. So the last portion of the race was very exciting and in many ways the scenario that most people probably was hoping for in a weird way.

Lewis’ tactics were to be expected despite the strict orders from the team. In the heat of the battle you can react in many different ways. It seems that in all sports today it’s gotten to the point where the moral side of things is almost irrelevant. Winning at any cost is the course of action most often. What was interesting to me was the parallel between this championship and the one in 1984 where Prost and Lauda had a similar situation. They were team mates at McLaren and if Prost won I think Niki had to finish 2nd to clinch the title.

I don’t recall one single person ever mention or speculate about Prost backing up Lauda into the pack, the term “backing up” didn’t even exist. No one thought of doing that, Prost basically disappeared into the distance and Lauda as it were had a big dice with me for most of the race for 4th place. I eventually got a slow puncture and had to pit, and then Lauda managed to pass Senna for 3rd and then inherited 2nd when Mansell spun towards the end of the race. I honestly don’t think it ever entered anyone’s mind, that Prost backing Lauda into the pack was even an option.

As it were, it all worked out ok and I think Nico very deservedly won the championship. He rose to the occasion more than once this year and did an excellent job overall.

JT – Rosberg’s title clinch also made history and positive headlines for F1. He and his father Keke (1982 World Champion) are just the second father-son pairing, along with Graham Hill and Damon Hill, to win the F1 driver’s championship. It’s a warm and welcome story for a series that has had so many negatives recently. In addition, you’ve known Keke for a long time so it’s a nice thing to see from that perspective as well.

SJ – Yes, for sure. As I mentioned earlier, Keke’s a very old friend of mine – since we were teenagers when we first got to know each other. I’m really happy for him and I’m sure it must be an incredible feeling to see his son repeat what he was able to do.

JT – On the other hand, much of the talk following the Abu Dhabi GP tends toward how glad fans are that 2016 is over. There’s a natural tendency to look toward the future of course and the new style of F1 cars next season. But 2016 was widely seen as a boring season with a lack of competition on-track and leadership off-track that doesn’t seem to know what to do next. In fact, F1’s principals still seem to have difficulty acknowledging that there are big problems.

SJ – Yes and this has been a trend for some time now. You really can’t control the domination of one team because everyone is and should be doing their best to win consistently. But any time you have one team being dominant for a number of seasons it’s generally not a good thing.

Unfortunately I’m not sure if next year and going forward is going to be any better. I think the outcome of the races may change somewhat with the new cars but I think the racing won’t be any better with the new rules package they’ve chosen. The cars will be much faster, but only in the corners, which will make it even more difficult to pass than it is already.

We’ve gone over the issue of having all of this downforce and how that kills the racing several times already. This is true across most all categories of racing today, and especially in single seater formulas where the front aero is critical to how the car will perform.

JT – It’s not easy to say with certainty what the pecking order will be next season in F1 given the new format for the cars. What do you expect?

SJ – I don’t think Mercedes will have the advantage that they’ve had over the last couple years. They’ll be at the front no doubt but I think Red Bull will be very strong, Ferrari will hopefully improve and I am certain that McLaren will catch up and close the gap to the front teams. As usual we can probably count on one of the mid-pack teams getting their cars somewhat right and they’ll be there fourth or fifth in the points. That includes Williams and Force India, maybe Sauber.

Every season one of these teams seems to hit the right combination whether they know it or not beforehand. They go out on a limb between seasons and try to do something clever. Usually it doesn’t work and they lose all the momentum they had and fall back to the back of the pack. But every now and then they hit on something good or they carry the momentum they’ve managed to build over a few seasons of rule stability.

JT – I guess Haas F1 could be considered among the mid-pack teams now. Though their performance suffered from mid-season forward, you’d have to say that 2016 was pretty impressive for Haas given that it was their first year in F1.

SJ – Very much so, I think everyone will agree it was unexpectedly good for them. They did particularly well at the beginning of the season. As I’ve always said, the early races are the easiest ones to score big points in. The fact that they were able to do that with a brand new team was very impressive.

And the way they came into F1 was very intelligent. They made use of available resources allowed by the rules from an already established team and why wouldn’t they? Why would you employ a huge group of people and spend an enormous amount on development if you can purchase intelligence that already exists from someone else. That’s something you’d want to leverage as much as possible in my opinion.

Ferrari struggled this year but they’re still a top-three team so making use of their technology and expertise made a lot of sense.

JT – In off-track news, Zak Brown has been appointed executive director at McLaren while long time McLaren Group chairman and CEO Ron Dennis has been dismissed. Presumably Brown’s role will be to exercise his considerable marketing expertise (Brown is the founder and CEO of JMI, the world’s largest motorsport marketing agency) to bring sponsorship and financial resources to McLaren – something the team/Group have fallen behind with in recent years.

You know Zak well and have raced with him for his United Autosports team. I imagine he’ll be working hard in this capacity while Eric Boullier continues as Racing Director for McLaren. How do you see it?

SJ – Yes, I assume that’s what he’ll be doing and I’m sure he’ll do a terrific job. The momentum for the team and the car next year seems to be going in the right direction. With the new rules there’s a better opportunity for McLaren to get the car right or “right-er” than it has been, assuming that Honda make similar improvements as well.

JT – Bernie Ecclestone recently floated the idea of having Formula One chop the length of its races in half, effectively going to a format where there would be two sprint races per weekend. This is something IndyCar has already done with varying degrees of success. It’s hard to tell what Bernie’s real reasoning is but what do you think of this idea?

SJ – The correct answer is somewhere out there. The problem is that the teams don’t seem to be able to agree to change the things that aren’t working, whether it’s the way races are run or the technical regulations or the format of the points system, whatever. They always seem to want to come up with their own answers rather than looking at other successful series and simply copy what’s good and what works. So inevitably, we end up with some odd experiments from time to time. 

I actually think that NASCAR’s Chase format isn’t a bad way to go. It makes the racing pretty exciting towards the end of the season. Certainly it engages fans right up to the end of the year and ensures that the championship isn’t over until the last race. Of course, everyone in F1 says it isn’t fair. But of all the systems out there I think it’s the one which retains the most excitement over a whole season and keeps building momentum up to the last race.

It may be worth trying a different format at one or two races to see what the reaction is. I think the idea of two sprint races over the course of the weekend would be great at places like Monaco and Singapore for example.

JT – The 2016 Grand Prix of Macau was a pretty fraught event. There was some good racing here and there but there were also a lot of wrecks and lengthy delays caused by them. That interrupted the racing to a great degree and made the individual races less enjoyable. There were also incidents in the F3 race but Felix Rosenqvist drove well to finish second behind Antonio Felix da Costa.  Is the Macau GP outgrowing itself?

SJ – I saw the F3 final. I didn’t see the GT race. Felix did really well but yes, these are the usual issues at Macau. The track is seriously dangerous and accident-inducing but at the same time it’s one of the best tracks in the world for the same reasons. I hold Macau as one of the top 5 tracks in the world, maybe even higher. It’s an awesome and very challenging and difficult track to do well on. Felix did a great job again and had it not been for the exact reasons you just mentioned he would have most certainly qualified much closer to the front which then would have made life much easier to get to the front than what was the case now. To work your way up to 2nd from 8th is extremely difficult there.

JT – The finish of the FIA GT World Cup race at Macau was bizarre. Porsche factory driver Earl Bamber passed Audi factory driver Laurens Vanthoor cleanly after a restart on Lap 5. Vanthoor then clipped curbing, hit an Armco barrier and wound up on his roof.

The race was immediately red-flagged. Bamber was leading when the race was stopped but Vanthoor was awarded the win as per FIA rules that revert to the running order on the previous lap. In most series, the driver causing a red flag is excluded from the results. It’s seems illogical that Vanthoor would be awarded the win for a race he failed to complete after crashing while in 2nd place. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Yes, I can’t understand that one. I saw Bamber at an event after that and he was understandably unhappy.

JT – Early testing of the new global LMP2 cars has shown them to be significantly faster than their predecessors. Rumors are already circulating that the FIA/ACO may step in to slow them down, fearing that gentlemen drivers will not be able to handle them properly. The speed of the new P2 cars has also rekindled ongoing concerns about the FIA driver rating system.

Wouldn’t it be sensible to simplify the ratings system and have just two categories? The Pro category would include anyone who makes their living racing professionally. The Am category would include everyone else. Or how about just doing away with the highly abused ratings system altogether? If gentlemen drivers choose to race in categories where Pro drivers compete shouldn’t they accept that the results? They didn’t seem to have a problem with this in the past.

SJ – Yeah, that’s how it used to be and it was just a process of natural selection. Teams that weren’t as eager to win took on drivers who could pay a bit. And teams that wanted to win put the extra effort in to find a way to pay professional drivers to drive for them.

That was simple and it worked. It was a natural and I think fair way to go about it. You’re never going to have a fair system with driver ratings. As we’ve seen far too many examples of already, some drivers have made getting downgraded to Silver status into an art form.

JT – Following up on the new LMP2 machines, why slow them down? In fact, wouldn’t it be reasonable to shed the LMP1 class? P2 could be the premier class using the DPi formula that IMSA will use. That way you have the potential to attract manufacturers while having a limited number of platforms and a chance of controlling costs. Done right, it could lead to large, competitive prototype fields. They might not be as fast as current P1 hybrids but the racing should be much more competitive.

SJ – I keep saying that and I think many people agree. But the ACO and FIA don’t seem to agree with anything IMSA proposes, and vice versa. In WEC, seemingly they really only care about LMP1. It’s clear that both the ACO and the series need the big manufacturers involved and have them spending very serious money not only on the cars but also on the activation around the Le Mans race and the series events.

But maybe they could shift the manufacturers to GTE instead. I think they’d have a lot more participation from a lot more manufacturers. If you take off the restrictors and open up the GTE cars the lap times could improve by 10 seconds almost immediately - even more after another year or two. By then they are down to what they seem to consider the ideal lap time around Le Mans, somewhere in the 3.30’s range. I personally can’t see any new manufacturer wanting to step into the LMP1 category right now, the commitment is huge and the chances of succeeding against either of the two that’s left (Porsche and Toyota) will take several years.