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Filtering by Tag: Lewis Hamilton

Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist at Laguna Seca, McLaren joins IndyCar and F1 Recap

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 104

JT – Indy Car’s season finale at Laguna Seca – the series’ first trip to the circuit since 2004 – was an interesting, tension filled race. Josef Newgarden ran a conservative pace, finishing 8th but close enough to championship rivals Scott Dixon (3rd), Alexander Rossi (6th) and teammate Simon Pagenaud (4th) to secure the title. 

Scott had a good race but had to battle for his podium finish, fighting with winner Colton Herta, 2nd place finisher Will Power and Pagenaud from the drop of the green flag to the checkers. Felix Rosenqvist had a terrific race, finishing 5th after starting 14th. Rosenqvist claimed the Rookie of the Year title and 6th in the championship standings. Scott finished 4th in the championship.  

What did you think of the race and the season for Scott and Felix?

SJ – There was a great energy and a lot of action in the paddock all weekend with lots fans coming to see the cars and teams. Overall the event was great and the racing was pretty good – better than expected as Laguna Seca is notorious for being a very difficult place to overtake. Due to the flowing nature of the corners and no real straights it’s never been an easy place to pass.  With that in mind I thought Felix did a great job, he pretty much passed every car he got by on-track. It wasn’t strategy calls that got him to 5th place. 

Had he not made the small mistake in the first round of qualifying and then receiving a very strange penalty, and instead started where he could have – I’m sure he could have been on the front row because he was super quick all weekend – in which case he would have been in with a shot to get his first win. But the little things make a big difference in Indy Car, everyone has to execute perfectly to get a good result, drivers, pit crew and the guys on the scoring stand. If any one of them messes up it’s very hard to recover because the racing is always so close. In my opinion, Indycar is by far the most difficult series in the world to get consistently good results. This is why you rarely see anyone win more than 3 or maybe 4 races in one season, it’s nearly impossible to get a consistent edge on the rest of the competition.

Scott did a superb job in qualifying getting on the front row, he wasn’t that happy with the car all weekend up to that point, but he seems to always find that little bit more when it really matters. He fought hard first with Herta and then both Power and Pagenaud, it was a great battle throughout the race, with really close racing but no blocking or touching from either of them. It’s great to see when three really good and professional drivers are racing hard, and they showed how it can be done without contact or penalties, great stuff. Overall it was a pretty good season for Scott and Felix but it wasn’t great for either of them, it could have definitely been a lot better. At Indy, Felix had his accident and then in the race, neither he nor Scott had a good day with both of them getting caught up in the Rahal/Bourdais accident (Scott finished 17th, Felix 28th) and that hurts at Indy because it’s a double-points race. Anyone that scores well at Indy carries that points advantage the whole year. If you don’t score well, or at all at Indy, that really puts you on the back foot for the rest of the season. 

Scott had kind of an unlucky year with two mechanical failures in a row right at the tail end of the season (at St. Louis and Portland). Again, that meant no points at all and when you don’t score in Indy Car it really hurts you. If you keep scoring at every race you pick up decent points and you stay in contention.

And all of the teams in Indy Car are catching up to the top teams. Scott agrees that the competition is tougher now than it’s ever been. When you have a car design where it’s relatively difficult to make any big gains, it’s difficult to gain an edge. Any small gain one team or another has soon gets caught up to by the other teams. But that’s one of the great things with Indy Car. It’s incredibly hard to win consistently because there are so many good cars and drivers. 

JT – It’s now official that McLaren will be a full time team in Indy Car next season with the merger of McLaren and Arrow Schmidt Peterson for 2020. 

SJ – I think it’s great news for the series, to have a team of that caliber and history to enter Indycar is good sign in every aspect. If they could get one or two more and some big name drivers they will be right back where they were in the early 90’s when Mansell came over. Big sponsors and a lot of manufacturers pouring big money into the series. I think it’s a smart move for them to join forces with SPM as they are already a well established team with a good engineering group, if they can add more resources and some of their F1 engineering expertise they will be a real threat to rest of the top teams.

JT – There were 24 cars on the grid at Laguna Seca and as you’ve said there’s a possibility there could be even more at many races on the 2020 Indy Car schedule. That’s a possibility Formula 1 does not have. FIA chief Jean Todt recently said he does not expect any new manufacturers to enter F1 in 2021 and he has not seen “solid” contenders to become new teams in F1 in 2021. “At the moment we are happy in having ten teams,” Todt says. “Time will tell if things will change in the future, knowing that the good figure is between 10 and 12 teams.”

Those aren’t encouraging statements. F1 not only needs an overhaul of its technical formula, it needs to cut the cost of participating sharply. Shouldn’t the series be looking to attract new blood? New competitors?

SJ – Not necessarily, I think if you have 22 really strong cars you don’t need more. On the other hand, yes, the barrier of entry has become almost impossible now to start a team from scratch. You either buy one that’s on the brink of going out of business, like Racing Point did with Force India, or you have to spend an insane amount to launch a new entry. It’s no surprise that manufacturers or teams aren’t lining up to give F1 a shot. 

It’s clear that the teams are no closer to agreeing on anything regarding the new rules package so the chances of seeing any new teams before that get’s sorted out are virtually nil. 

Some teams are worried about losing the “technical freedom” of Formula 1 and then there are others who are in favor of more standard parts, but no one seems sure how to formulate that and what parts should be standardized or not. As far as the argument about technical freedom, there really is no technical freedom, the rules are so strict that every team essentially is making the same thing, at an enormous cost of course. Every now and then, one of the top teams, who can afford to spend the money on R&D will discover some version or angle within those rules that gives them an edge for a while until everybody catches up again. But conceptually, there is zero room for innovation, everyone is using the exact same engine layout and they are all powered by the same energy source. The cars all look the same except for minor aero widgets that are different at every race, but again there is no room for innovation, just fine tuning the same concept. As I’ve said repeatedly, the only difference is that in F1 the teams have to make everything themselves rather than buying it from a supplier. But you end up with components that are only slightly different from one another between teams. One of the arguments I keep hearing is that if they all use the same components from one manufacturer, and there is a failure, then all the cars will fail. It’s strange in that case that they manage to make that work in pretty much every other championship without any real problems.

JT – The most recent F1 round was Russian Grand Prix, a race which Ferrari seemed to have in its control. Sebastian Vettel leapt ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at the start and lead until his first pit stop. Leclerc, having pitted earlier and setting fast laps, looked set to undercut Vettel and take the lead. But on his first lap out of the pits the hybrid energy recovery system in Vettel’s Ferrari failed, causing him to stop on-track and trigger a Virtual Safety Car. Hamilton and teammate Valterri Bottas who had been unable to challenge the Ferraris had not pitted yet. The VSC effectively gave the two free pit stops and they both leap-frogged Leclerc. The order remained unchanged to the finish with Mercedes scoring an unlikely 1-2 (Hamilton/Bottas) and Leclerc relegated to 3rd. 

There was also controversy after the start when Vettel – with the aid of the slipstream he gained from Leclerc – continued to increase the gap over his teammate without handing the lead back to Leclerc as had supposedly been agreed before the race. The controversy dominated TV coverage of the first half of the race. Among the top four cars - the Ferraris and Mercedes -  there were no passes for position on-track throughout the race. Changes of position only occurred via the pit stops. What did you think of the Russian GP?

SJ – Well, it was certainly a perfect example of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I can relate to what happened before the race. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat in meetings before races where the engineers and also some drivers are trying to plan out the start and the first lap. Every single time that I can recall, by the time you let the clutch out at the start, whatever plan was in place went out the window. 

There are so many variables that you just cannot predict what will actually happen. To try to make a plan like Ferrari did with the slipstream for Vettel and then what would come next with Leclerc, it’s doomed to fail. Then there are all the permutations of what was agreed and what wasn’t agreed. But what was Vettel supposed to do? He got a blinding start and got a great run by everyone. Was he supposed to back off immediately? 

And so Ferrari’s race went completely pear shaped from then on. It looked early on like Leclerc had the race pace. I would have thought he could’ve gotten into DRS range with Vettel. And you would have thought he could draw into DRS range of Hamilton or Bottas later on. But it looked like he just didn’t have the pace when he needed it this time. Vettel looked like he really had the bit between his teeth and was back to being the guy we’re used to seeing so it was a shame he didn’t have the car to take it to the end. 

It looked like whoever was following the lead car had a really hard time staying close in turbulence. I think it’s partly just the nature of that track. 

JT - Watching the situation between Vettel and Leclerc unfold and hearing the TV commentators wheeze on at length about whether Vettel would or should give the lead to Leclerc quickly became annoying for me as a spectator. Yes, F1 is a manufacturer’s championship and there are intra-team dynamics because of that. 

But as a fan, those team or manufacturer dynamics make zero difference to me. I do not watch racing to see competition decided by agreements made before or during a race. That’s not what racing is supposed to be about for spectators and team orders have never been popular with fans. Yet they still persist in F1 and it makes the series look extremely weak. Shouldn’t this be embarrassing for what is supposed to be the world’s top category of racing? 

SJ – I think it’s part of the show. Since they added the radio communications to the TV feed we get to hear all this, but it’s always been the same more or less.  What confuses me with F1 is, wasn’t there a rule several years ago that no team orders were allowed? Did that just fade away or did they actually change it? I can’t recall if, why and when they took that rule out. In a way I think it’s a good thing they did, it’s better to be transparent about it and make it a part of the show, because the teams will always find a way to make it work either way. Remember Multi 21 with Red Bull a few years back?

The other one that confuses me is that there always used to be the rule that you cannot rejoin the track after going off without a flag marshal waiving you back onto the track. But it seems there are cars flying all over the place now like a swarm of bees and they just come back on track wherever they choose. Leclerc went off in the chicane at Monza, rejoined and won the race. He clearly made a big mistake and should have been penalized but nothing was done. Whereas Vettel who went off in Montreal and also rejoined without waiting for a clear track got penalized.

What’s really worrying though when you look at the upcoming rules for 2021 is that the teams all disagree. They all have their own interests at heart not surprisingly but as long as they’re allowed to be part of the rule-making, nothing will change in Formula 1. When I look at my crystal ball, I can see ten years in the future and basically nothing’s changed. We’re still complaining about no one being able to pass, the racing’s still boring and the budgets are even higher than they’ve been before. And we’ll have about three to five big rule changes on the cars, all in the interest of making the racing more interesting, all based around Aerodynamics of course. But none of them will change anything. The events will get bigger with more celebrities, concerts and other gimmicks to attract a big crowd. The actual race will become the side show to the whole GP event. They’re already talking about qualifying races and reverse-grids instead of getting to the root of the problem which is the cars. Fix the cars and everything will sort itself out.

JT – McLaren has announced that it will switch engine suppliers for 2021. Next year, the team will fulfill the last year of its contract with Renault but will once again have Mercedes power in 2021. It’s slightly surprising given that previous McLaren leadership said a customer engine deal would never enjoy the same kind of performance as the works team. What do you make of it?

SJ –  I think it makes sense, they will finally have a proven race winning engine, along with the rest of the packaging to build a race winning car. It’s now up to them to get their part back to where they used to be. The wheels are already in motion and new team principal Andreas Seidl is clearly doing a great job getting the team back on track. 

JT – Prior to the Russian round, the Singapore Grand Prix was won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (his first win of 2019). At the front, Ferrari turned the tables on Mercedes with better strategy, pitting Vettel early. He undercut Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas and his teammate Charles Leclerc. When the others pitted he emerged in the lead - a lead he never relinquished. But the passing was done in the pits, not on-track. Prior to that Leclerc led, lapping at such a slow pace that everyone, including the back-markers, bunched up behind him.

There was some passing among the midfield contenders with Daniel Ricciardo making his way up the order early in the race but then making contact that ended his night. Others made passes as well but it was a bit hard to follow on the TV coverage. What did you think of the race?

SJ – The beginning of the race was just ridiculous. The last place car in the field had the fastest lap. How is that even possible? All the drivers were on their team radio asking, “When can I go, when can I go?!”

I think Vettel’s win may help put him back in his groove a little bit. He drove a good race and Ferrari made the right call for him. What I don’t understand is how Mercedes could get their strategy that wrong. You would have thought that they’d split the strategy between their two cars and have one mark Vettel and the other mark Leclerc. 

It’s crazy when you consider there’s 40 people sitting behind computers at each of the top team’s home base and they’re all looking at endless streams of data and they still manage to get it wrong, not just once, but quite consistently in fact. Not just Mercedes but generally speaking across all the top teams. Had they just had an engineer on pit lane and the driver evaluating the situation you would never have made the decision Mercedes made. Either the drivers would have said, “I’m coming in because Vettel’s coming in.” Or the engineer would have made to the call to pit immediately. 

You have about five seconds at best to make that decision and you just have to go from experience by the seat of the pants sometimes and make the call. That’s what Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher were so good at back in the day. A lot of that comes from doing sports car racing for a while. You get used to strategy calls like that because you can’t mess around during an endurance race where you have to pit multiple times. You’ve just got to go for it. 

If you try to look at all of the data and factor every single scenario in, it’s already too late. That was clearly the case here. Mercedes blew it because they didn’t or couldn’t react quickly enough. 

When everybody was going that slowly it was obvious to me just sitting at home watching on the TV, that whomever came in first would get a huge jump on the rest, so when Vettel pulled the trigger you would have thought at least one of the Mercs would follow asap.

Leclerc clearly wasn’t happy with the decision to pit Vettel first and I can definitely understand why as it was obviously the right choice to go after the win. It’s hard to say if that was a team-wide decision or just made on the spur of the moment by Vettel’s side of the garage. 

JT – Sadly, the lack of race craft of several drivers was on display again at Singapore. There were at least three instances of contact that seemed easily avoidable including Haas’ Romain Grosjean’s collision with Williams’ George Russell. 

SJ – Yes, it’s sometimes mind-boggling how poor the race craft is among these guys. You’re almost lost for words. You see stupid moves you don’t see in a Formula 1 race at times. And it just keeps happening over and over again. They’re blindingly quick on a lap but their race craft is non-existent, but somehow that seems to be enough to keep the team owners happy. I would have thought points, as valuable as they are for the teams, would have more emphasis than a few quick qualifying laps. Interestingly though, the new crop of drivers that has come along in the last couple of years all look extremely good, which makes me think that in 3 years or so when they have the experience and are ready to be champions assuming they’re in the right car, the racing could become really good.

Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen, Beginning of a New Era? Exciting Races in Both F1 and IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 103

JT – Formula One has staged three Grand Prix since we last chatted for the blog. The most significant news off-track is reporting that the FIA and Liberty Media plan to adopt ground effects for the 2021 cars. The goal is to do away with many of the complex aerodynamic devices found atop the cars currently. Instead there will be a simplified, less sensitive front wing and a series of Venturi tunnels feeding a deep twin diffuser that will produce much of the car’s downforce. The concept is reminiscent of the ground effects F1 cars that raced between 1979 and 1983, and similar to what the Dallara’s currently fielded in Indy Car employ to produce downforce. 

The FIA says the combination of ground effects, simpler aerodynamics and front wheel deflectors will all work together to help cars to follow each other much closer. In addition, the series will feature low-degradation tires that have far less drop off than the current high-degradation tires from Pirelli. The changes are similar to what you have been arguing for, for several years now, though they don’t go as far. What do you think of the changes?

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SJ – Some of the points in their plan are similar what I’ve been suggesting for a while, which is not surprising as it’s just common sense really. What’s interesting is that they (Liberty Media] actually did the exercise that I’ve been asking about for some time now – which is to paint all of the cars white and then see if anyone can tell them apart. Apparently there were only three people in their office who could tell the difference between them. I think the comments I’ve made for a while are now becoming clear to lots of people, I’m not trying to say that I’m the only who thought of this as I’m obviously not, but if the engineers and technicians can’t even tell the cars apart it’s safe to assume that not very many of the millions of fans will be able to.

Their proposal to maintain the level of downforce with more ground effects rather than getting all of the downforce from the top of the car looks better but I still think as long as you have a car that relies primarily on aerodynamics for its performance – which the cars will even with ground effects – I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the problem of turbulent air. Computer modeling, wind tunnels and everything else the aerodynamicists have can never simulate well enough what’s going to happen in the real world. Once cars are on track together there are so many factors which upset the ideal circumstances they have when they use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind tunnels.

I still strongly believe that a huge reduction on aerodynamic downforce which is then countered by less weight, more tire grip and more power is the way to go to retain the same performance we see now but with much better racing and more interesting cars to watch both on the track and estethically.

JT – Apparently, F1 hopes to reach agreement with teams about the new rules by September 15. But how likely is that? And how much of what they’ve proposed will be negotiated away?

SJ – If they’re waiting for a set of rules that everyone will agree on, it will never happen. They can continue to have meetings until the year 3000, and nothing will change apart from some minor pointless details. They need to get the teams and the engineers out of the decision-making process. It should be up to the governing body and the commercial rights holders to come up with a set of fair rules that make sense to everyone who participates, not just the top two or three teams – something that’s more controllable and makes sense financially for all participants. If the teams don’t trust the people that is running the championship they shouldn’t take part in the first place. As soon as the teams get involved it’s inevitable that they will serve their own interests first and as such we end up with a grid-lock and eventually a set of rules that is full of compromises mostly in order to please the manufacturer teams. Teams and manufacturers always come and go, Ferrari being the only exception, which makes it even more important that they will come up with a well thought out set of rules that will stay in place for a considerable amount of time, as this is always the best way to control both the level of competition and the costs. Rules stability have always proven to be the most efficient way for a successful series.

JT - The races at Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, and Hockenheim featured more action than the season’s preceding eight races. Red Bull racing’s Max Verstappen took the win in Austria after overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc two laps before the checkered flag – the first victory for a team other than Mercedes in 2019.

In England, Lewis Hamilton won, taking his seventh victory in 10 races. Teammate Valtteri Bottas led from pole and looked to have control of the race until a safety car was called for Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo which spun off. Hamilton dived into the pits, essentially getting a free pit stop, and leap-frogged Bottas. Behind, Charles Leclerc and the two Red Bulls fought for the podium. 

In Germany, rain came, leading to a variety of errors from drivers and teams. Max Verstappen survived a spin and five trips to pit lane for wet, medium and dry tires to win the race. Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas both spun off track in the wet with Bottas’ off ending his race. Hamilton finished 11th on track after multiple offs and a penalty for entering pit road beyond a cone denoting its limit. Post-race penalties to the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Giovinazzi promoted him to 9th. Sebastian Vettel stayed on track to finish an unexpected 2nd after starting from the back of the grid. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat rounded out the podium with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll finishing 4th.

Following the races, Liberty Media’s Ross Brawn said the excitement they provided was a great response to the “vitriolic criticism” of F1 this season. But of course, the only reason Hockeheim had any “excitement” was because of rain. What’s your impression of the last three races?

SJ – Yes, the last three have all been terrific races with plenty of action and some surprising results, especially the last one at Hockenheim. F1 typically has two or three great races every year – always when the unknown enters into them - weather conditions or something else that can’t be simulated or predicted beforehand. Taking the predictability out of the racing is exactly what we’re looking for. The race at Hockenheim was a classic example of this. It was simply that the rain came and went and the teams had to adjust accordingly. Most of them got it wrong at least one and some of them many times. I think they changed tires like five times. But nevertheless it turned out to be a very entertaining race to watch, with several surprises in the end result. It’s great to have a race like this once in a while regardless of what the category is, but wouldn’t it be great if every race could come down to drivers competing hard on the track in equal cars, and different strategies on both fuel and tires played a big part of the end result. 

Austria started out being kind of boring and then it came down to the tire situation. Verstappen was on fresher tires and he was catching everyone hand-over-fist. At every race, whoever can make the tires work is so much quicker than the rest. The Red Bull chassis are always very  good too and the Honda engineers are really starting to get the job done.

I think this result is the beginning of a new era. As I said a year ago when the switch from McLaren to Red Bull happened, eventually Red Bull, Verstappen and Honda will dominate, probably for four or five years once they get it right, which they will. When Honda is committed they always get it right in the end, and once they do they are very hard to stop. I think the combination of Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda might be the new Dream Team that will be very hard to beat in the next 5 year period, as long as all the main people stay committed. 

Ferrari continued having their problems at Hockenheim too. Both cars had issues in qualifying for Hockenheim and then in the race they were better. Vettel did a great job moving forward with some brilliant moves especially in the first few laps. Leclerc got schooled by Verstappen in Austria and realized he had to roll up his sleeves and get a bit more aggressive. I think he did a great job at Silverstone (Leclerc finished 3rd) but obviously he made a mistake at Hockenheim, like several others did in the same spot. I think they all got caught out by how incredibly slippery the track surface was once you got into the runoff area, under normal circumstances theirs is no real change in the grip level once you go into the runoff, but here it was like ice.

There was more dicing at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring. Maybe it’s the nature of those tracks because they’re fast and flowing. There aren’t really any stop-and-start corners at either track. And with the amount of downforce the cars have now, you don’t really have to be on the racing line to carry the speed through the corners. It’s almost like oval racing, the way they drive around some of these corners – one car on the outside and the other on the inside, doing the same speed. Normally if you’re not on-line you lose your pace. We’re seeing some outside passes that we didn’t see before at a few of the tracks, which is great to watch, so maybe the high downforce is actually working better in that regard at these specific tracks and corners. It certainly provided some great racing and passing.

Bottas did a good job at Silverstone but the safety car just came at the wrong time. It certainly worked in Lewis’ favor and he obviously got a bit lucky which he admitted. But when things are going your way, almost everything you do seems to work. When they’re not, everything you try seems to go wrong. Vettel on the other hand is definitely on the flip side of that cycle. I also don’t think Vettel is comfortable with the car now. 

I don’t think he’s ever been really comfortable with the cars of this era – the hybrid cars. They clearly don’t suit his driving style. I don’t think he can get the cars to operate the way he wants them to, to have confidence and be comfortable with them. The Red Bull he had with the blown diffuser and everything, it obviously suited his driving style perfectly.

JT – You think Mercedes set up was wrong for both drivers at Hockenheim?

SJ – It looked to me like Hamilton and Bottas had very similar problems. They went off at the same corner in almost identical circumstances where the rear just snapped without even a wiggle, it just went into a full spin immediately. That would lead me to believe something wasn’t right with their cars. Whatever set-up they had was affected worse than anyone else, maybe the car bottomed out in that particular spot or something else went wrong. It seems strange though that both drivers would do identical mistakes in exactly the same place in the same corner.

JT – Whatever the case was for Mercedes and the rest at Hockenheim, the Indy Car race at Mid-Ohio was far more exciting. There was fantastic racing throughout the field. Scott Dixon won after some terrific dices with Will Power and even his own teammate Felix Rosenqvist. It was proper nail-biting racing. 

Source: @scottdixon9

Source: @scottdixon9

Congratulations go to all of the guys on the podium with Scott finishing on top, Felix in 2nd place and Ryan Hunter Reay in 3rd. But special congratulations to you. You’ve had a role in all three drivers’ careers. Of course, you manage both Scott and Felix. And though many may not remember, Ryan Hunter Reay came into Indy Car racing with your American Spirit Team Johansson in 2003. Ironically, Hunter Reay’s first-ever Indy Car podium came with your team at that season’s Mid-Ohio round where he finished 3rd! He went on to win the 2003 season-ending race at Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.

SJ – Yes, even when you have three great races in F1, you turn on Indy Car on any weekend and the race is nearly always a nail biter which is rarely over until the last few laps. Every race ends up being exciting right until the end. Mid-Ohio was another brilliant race! Felix was on a different strategy than Scott. Rossi and Newgarden and Power were on different strategies and everyone was racing hard on track, and it went right to the finish line with only 0.09 separating the first two cars. If F1 ever had one race like that people would go ballistic!

When Felix and Scott were racing each other at the end, I seriously thought I was getting a heart attack! I was freaking out but it was great! For me personally it was fantastic obviously to see them get a 1-2. And I believe that’s the first 1-2 finish Ganassi has had in Indy Car since Scott raced with Dario [Franchitti]. And with Ryan finishing third as well it was an amazing day.

JT – Even the previous round, on a completely different type of track – the short oval at Iowa Speedway – was exciting and unpredictable. Scott had a very difficult night with the car not responding to a host of set-up changes and was running in 16th place. But pit strategy and a caution flag at the right moment late in the race allowed him to charge up to 2nd place! Josef Newgarden won the rain-delayed race and was doing donuts 1:15 am central time

SJ – It was a crazy race and I still can’t believe Scott managed to pull his way back to 2nd after being a couple of laps down at one point, but again, this is what makes Indycar the best racing in the world right now, it has all the right ingredients for close and unpredictable racing. As far as the competition side of the business goes, they are doing pretty much everything right. The only thing I’m having a hard time to understand is the lapped car rule, where the backmarkers can still race the leaders even when they are about to go a lap down. I don’t think it’s fair that they should be able to effect the outcome of the race. If it’s not your day, you should just move over and let the leaders continue to fight until the end, rather than getting caught up for laps behind someone who’s over a second a lap slower. 

JT – Haas F1 continues to struggle on track. Their car, the VF-19, is obviously part of the problem. But the drivers are another liability this year. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen can’t seem to stop running into each other. They have an open rivalry of course but what’s taken place between them at nearly every race of the season seems illogical. Gunter Steiner recently said he was more than frustrated with their behavior and shouldn’t have to be mediating between them when he should be focused on making the car and team better. Why not sack both Grosjean and Magnussen and perhaps replace them with Indy Car drivers?

SJ – Unfortunately for them, the situation at Haas is almost comical. I can see it being justified if they are fighting for the lead or the championship, like Lewis and Nico was a few years back, but I think even those two had better discipline and race craft than the Haas guys do. It’s ridiculous to be fighting as teammates over 10th position and keep bouncing into each other race after race. Something’s not right there. These guys just have no race craft. And how much patience can Haas have, it’s not like either of them are World Champion material or ever will be? Haas shouldn’t have to be thinking about them in addition to making the car better or whatever else, if you are paid driver you are there to enhance the overall performance of the team, not give them an added headache to deal with pretty much every weekend. 

If any of these guys were to race in Indycar, not just the Haas guys but in general, they would have to make some major adjustments in order to be competitive. Execution is everything in Indy Car. If you or the team get one thing wrong you lose several positions immediately and fighting your way back from that is almost impossible as close as the racing is. And at most of the tracks you don’t have run-off areas where you can rejoin the rack after bouncing off someone else or missing the apex, so if you tangle or have to go off track for any reason, your day is pretty much over. 

The irony is that F1 teams are now considering guys like Pato O’Ward who left to join Red Bull in Super Formula in Japan and Colton Herta is being considered by a number of teams. Both of them are super talented but if you look at what they have done in Indy Car – for an F1 team to consider them kind of sums up the mentality of Formula 1. Neither one of them is ready for F1. They have one good race in Indy Car and then a series of others with mistakes or poor execution. It’s the most bizzare situation at the moment, where Formula One has now become some kind of training ground for young talented drivers. Every now and then you will find a Unicorn, like Hamilton or Verstappen for example, but for everyone of those there’s a graveyard of other really talented drivers that got spat out of the system very early on for a variety of reasons but primarily because they simply weren’t ready either mentally or technically. 

But this is how they think in F1. It’s all about really young and fast drivers. If you’re over 20 years old, no one in F1 will even look at you it seems. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be patient and take a driver who’s 23, 24 or 25 years old who’s had four or five years of hard racing behind them duking it out in other series and has shown that they’re a proven winner. 

JT – That’s a great point. Why wouldn’t F1 teams be looking at relatively young Indy Car drivers like Josef Newgarden or Alexander Rossi? Rossi’s been in F1 before but only with a back-marker team. Both guys are proven winners. Newgarden already has an Indy Car championship under his belt (2017) and Rossi is a threat at every race. Both are competitive with the series’ most decorated and experienced racers like Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter Reay, etc. Felix Rosenqvist is another possibility. He’s really beginning to show his talent in Indy Car. 

SJ – Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. These guys have been in Europe in the early days of their careers and now they’ve been racing hard for a few years and have a lot more experience. Now is the time that F1 teams should be looking at them not when they started their careers over there and had virtually no experience with either the tracks or the people they were racing against.

The Star Drivers of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, F1 News & What to Expect in 2019

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 99

JT – The Rolex 24 at Daytona kicked off the 2019 season for many this year. The field was stacked with competitive cars, teams and star drivers from the DPi ranks down to the GTD cars. Just a few of the famous drivers racing included two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, five-time IndyCar Champion Scott Dixon, CART champion and F1 star Alex Zanardi, DTM champion Rene Rast, Rubens Barichello, Kamui Kobayashi, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastian Bourdais, Romain Dumas, Felipe Nasr, A.J. Allmendinger, Simona De Silvestro and Timo Bernhard with many more on hand.

Video via NBC Sports YouTube Page

In fact, with its early season date and the quality of competition (with very few gentleman drivers these days), it’s reasonable to argue that the 24 Hours of Daytona now boasts a higher level of driving talent than the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, you’re absolutely right. Because it takes place in January there is no conflict for any drivers apart from the one’s racing in Formula E, which means we get some really high quality drivers from every category of racing. Daytona is always a great way to start the season, because it’s a 24 hours race you get a lot of seat time and most of the time the conditions are far from ideal which means you have to improvise quite a lot both with the handling issues of the car and also with the constant traffic between faster and slower cars.

There’s a very good mixture of single-seater guys, NASCAR guys and sports car drivers. It’s a very strong field of drivers that’s for sure, and you often find yourself in a group of 3-4 great drivers duking it out over a double or triple stint. It’s a lot of fun and it really gets you in racing mode before the real season starts.

JT – The race itself was very interesting and very competitive throughout the field until rain began falling near 5 am. Ultimately, Fernando Alonso, Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi won overall. That means that Alonso now adds the Rolex 24 to his two F1 championships and his Le Mans 24 win last year. Next up for him is the Indy 500 this year.

What did you think of Alonso’s drive and the competition overall?

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Unfortunately, Scott, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lost five laps in the No. 67 Ford GT due to early contact with the wall by Briscoe. But they rallied back to 4th place overall, just a lap behind the GTLM class-winning No. 25 BMW M8 GTE. It’s a shame the race had to end under red flag.

SJ – It was a pity the rain came, it really ruined what could have been an epic race, with great battles going on in all the different categories, but it was sort of an anti-climax at the end. Alonso had some fantastic stints and really put on a clinic at one point. Being the great racer that he is, he must have been loving it out there, actually racing hard against some of the other top guys in the prototypes. It was a tough one to swallow for Scott and the guys, fighting back from where they were laps down, had they stopped one lap later for what became the last stop in the race, they would have won. Scott had a couple similar monster stints as Alonso in the middle of the night where he was just flying.

JT – In pre-season F1 news, the Formula One Promoters Association (FOPA) recently complained that Liberty Media would significantly harm the series if it proceeds with a plan to move to more pay TV for coverage of the series globally. FOPA is concerned that such a shift will dramatically decrease the number of viewers of F1 on TV.

The group also protested an apparent deal between Liberty Media and the promoter of the upcoming F1 street race in Miami. The promoter was offered a profit share partnership rather than the more traditional model where races pay tens of millions of dollars for the right to hold the event. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I have to agree with the promoters. In terms of TV, this is a dilemma that started a while back. Now the promoters are starting to feel the crunch too but I think the teams have already felt that for some time.

It may be coincidental but since F1 started being televised on pay-TV (cable TV) rather than broadcast TV the eyeballs have dropped dramatically. So has sponsorship. What used to be a $100 million title sponsorship deal is now in the range of $15 million. It’s totally changed the dynamic because sponsorship is so much harder to come by. It has completely changed how revenue flows to the teams.

Every team, apart from the manufacturer teams, is now 100 percent dependent on Liberty Media or the series to fund the bulk of their programs. Sponsorship used to be what kept the teams going and whoever was willing to work a bit harder was able to find more money and hire the best people, etc. The money that came from Bernie [Ecclestone] at the time was the icing on the cake. That’s definitely not the case now.

A pay-wall might help the bottom line for Liberty Media short term but at the same time the whole eco-system of the series is shrinking. The more viewers you lose – at some point a line is crossed and that model can’t work, so unless they are able to find another method, whether that is through digital media or other forms of generating real interest and growth it will be problematic.

I never understood why Liberty made it public knowledge that they’ve offered Miami a race essentially for free? No wonder the promoters are frustrated. It’s inevitable that they’re now all asking “What about us? We’ve been paying you tens of millions per year to host a race with fees on top of that.” There is most likely more to this story than we know and we have to assume they are on top of this situation.

Personally, I am not convinced all the effort of cracking the US market is really worth it in the end, they have been trying for the best part of 40 years now and things have not changed a whole lot. To me it seems like a lot of heavy lifting to try and penetrate the cultural differences between US Sports and European or Global sports in general. Soccer, or football as it’s called in Europe is still minor compared to the NFL, NBA and Baseball for example. The US have always had their “own” sports that are equally minor in most other parts of the world.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2019 F1 season with rules changes going into effect what kind of impact do you think they can make?

SJ – Well, I think the 2019 aerodynamic rules which are aimed at supposedly helping more overtaking happen will make absolutely no difference – zero percent. All it’s doing really is costing the teams another 15 million Euros each to develop their new aero packages.

There was a recent article in Autosport with Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s aerodynamicist, where  he is attempting to explain why the FIA made this rule. And what they were trying to achieve.  I read first three paragraphs of it over and over again, and just glazed over in the end, it’s so complicated to even try to understand his explanation. I even talked to a former F1 technical director and designer and he said, “yeah I read the same thing and I didn’t understand a word of it.”

I think this sums up the current situation quite well, I am a huge fan and am trying to stay in tune with what is happening in the business from both a technical and business point of view, we have a highly qualified F1 designer and we both agree that it’s now gotten so complicated that it’s impossible to make any sense of any of it. If these are the guys making the rules, we’re in serious trouble. No one, excepts the boffins that wrote it, can understand the rulebook anymore.

JT – Since the announcement that Charles Leclerc would join Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari this season was made there has been speculation about how much Leclerc will push Vettel and whether that could destabilize Vettel or the team itself. What do you think?

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

SJ – I think he will push Vettel, there’s no doubt. The only thing that separates the really good drivers from the rest today is race-craft. Speed has little to do with it anymore because the way the cars are engineered, drivers are going to get to the limit of the cars pretty quick. I think Leclerc will be up to speed quickly, how he will go in the races we will have to wait and see. Every indication until now would say he will do a great job, but we won’t know until the pressure is on.

One would hope that Ferrari would stay away from politics and look at the bigger picture and what the best strategy would be to win the championship. Ferrari’s been known in the past to let emotion get in the way of an objective, balanced approach. Their best hope to win the title is still with Vettel, so I believe that’s where the emphasis will be.

Leclerc has had a full season now with Sauber (Alfa Romeo) so he’s not exactly a rookie. But I think race-craft will come into play at some point. It’s a similar situation to what Max Verstappen had coming into Red Bull. He was obviously mega-quick from the start but you didn’t really see the flaws until he got into a car that could actually win races.

When you throw away a race you could have won, it’s a different story than if you’re fighting for 6th or 7th place. So that will be different for Leclerc but I think his pace will spice things up a little bit. He’ll do well. He’s got good management with Nicolas Todt who knows the business very well and that will probably help him too initially.

JT – Of course, Leclerc’s signing last year isn’t the only development at Ferrari. Shortly after this year began it was announced that Maurizio Arrivabene would be replaced as team principal by Ferrari’s technical chief, Mattia Binotto. What do you think of Ferrari’s move to put Binotto in charge?

SJ – I don’t think it’s necessarily a good move. To put all of the responsibility on Binotto I don’t think is a good idea. He’s been the technical director and he’s obviously very good at that. Why would you distract him from doing what he’s good at? He’s too valuable as technical director in my opinion.

They had a car last year that was, at least for a while, the best car on the grid. Now Binotto is going to have to clutter his brain with all of the other nonsense, sitting in the FOM meetings, dealing with all of the politics and the daily dramas of running a top level F1 team. It’s a tough responsibility and a lot for one guy to handle.

JT – One of the most significant changes to the F1 grid for 2019 is the transition of Force India to “Racing Point F1 Team”. Canadian billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll and a group of investors acquired the team last summer and are taking it into a new era with Sergio Perez returning as a driver alongside Stroll’s son Lance who moves from Williams to Racing Point. How do you think the re-made team will perform in 2019?

Image via: @thisisf1

Image via: @thisisf1

SJ – I think they will go very well. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing in recent years and just add the better resources and stability that Lawrence will bring, I think they’ll be very competitive. Lawrence is successful for a reason as he’s proven in all his other business endeavors. He hires good people and lets them get on with it – a bit like Flavio Briatore was when he ran Benetton and Renault. I think they’ll be very strong.

JT – How do you think Haas F1 will perform this season? Though they continue to receive criticism from other F1 teams for their mode of entry into the series as a client of Ferrari, they’ve been solidly in the mid-pack.

SJ – Haas hasn’t done anything that wasn’t in the rules. I’ve been advocating that path for years. That’s what I tried to do when I had a stab at creating a new Formula 1 team some years ago - the “B team” principle if you like. 

Why wouldn’t you do that if the rules allow it? I think it’s going in that direction across the board now anyway. Teams like Williams and McLaren will find it harder and harder to stay competitive being independent. When you look at the resources Mercedes and Ferrari have, not only do they have money, the best people and equipment, they now have two extra teams of cars running. That’s more data, more of everything at a time when testing is basically banned. They can utilize every possible opportunity they have to gather data.

I think Haas has the potential to improve but they’re dependent on what Ferrari gives them. If Ferrari’s good, particularly on the engine side, I’d say they’ll be good too. The engine is the big leap for Haas and for Sauber as well obviously. Last year Sauber all of a sudden leapt from the back to the front of the mid-pack.

JT – Sauber has been the stand-out of the F1 paddock since Alfa Romeo/FIAT took an interest in them and installed Frederic Vasseur as team principle. They also have Kimi Raikkonen driving for them this season alongside Antonio Giovinazzi. How do you think they will perform?

SJ – With Alfa Romeo now taking a bigger stake in the team I think they will be the favorite underdog now. Kimi has such an incredible following and his fans will be pumped up. And Vasseur is very good. He has a winning mentality and he knows the business inside and out. You can see that he has definitely lifted the whole team since he joined last season with his approach and discipline and how driven he is.

JT – Renault has also experienced significant change with Daniel Ricciardo having joined the team and the manufacturer having ended its relationship as engine supplier to Red Bull Racing. Now the team has one of the top drivers on the grid and can focus more on its own philosophy for engine development. Where do you think they will figure in the 2019 season?

Image via: @danielricciardo

Image via: @danielricciardo

SJ – I think if Renault is still committed to delivering the resources they’ve promised – and I think they are – they have a pretty good engineering group to rely on. The leadership of the team isn’t really F1 or racing people and that can lead to the wrong decision being made here or there. But I think they’ll be pretty strong.

JT – Further back on the grid are McLaren and Williams F1. McLaren made what some consider positive news with the hiring of Andreas Seidl, the ex-boss of Porsche in the WEC, as its new managing director. His arrival along with new drivers Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris has created a small amount of momentum.

At Williams F1, the return of Robert Kubica to F1 alongside rookie George Russell is the main news. How do you think both teams will perform this year?

SJ – I think hiring Seidl is a very good move for McLaren. That should definitely help the whole program. But it will still take more time to rebuild everything there, even with Seidl coming aboard. An F1 team is like a big ocean-liner these days in terms of how long it takes to respond or change course. Once you make a policy decision or a philosophical decision on the design of a car it’s very hard to change direction. You kind of have to stick with what you’ve got which is what happened last year to McLaren with their aerodynamics. They discovered at some point early on that they went down the wrong avenue with aero and they were stuck.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Williams improving much. They made some poor decisions in previous years and I don’t think they have the resources or the budget to crawl out of the hole they are now in.

JT – Back at the front, Mercedes goes into 2019 with the same basic cast of people and will likely be strong again. Red Bull now has Max Verstappen as its clear number one driver with the departure of Ricciardo. They also have Honda stepping up, supplying them as well as Toro Rosso. How do you think these two will fare?

Image via: @lewishamilton

Image via: @lewishamilton

SJ – It will be the usual suspects up front, no question. Mercedes will be right there. Lewis is getting better and better every year and I don’t think he’s even close to his peak yet, which should be a huge concern to all the other teams and drivers. He’s the one driver who at the moment you can say with 100% certainty is really making the difference when it matters.  I think Red Bull, not necessarily this season but maybe by 2020, will be very strong. I’ve got a feeling as long as Honda is fully committed, and as I’ve been saying for three years now, they will eventually get it right. And when they get it right they will dominate.

With Red Bull it will only be a matter of time before they crack the code. I think we’ll see Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen totally dominating at some point in the next five years.

I think Verstappen really blossomed last year. He had a couple of bad races at the beginning of the season with some silly mistakes. But along the way it seems like something clicked and he’s now kind of figured it out. I think he’s at the point now where he can see the big picture. I think you’ll find that next to Lewis he’ll be the most complete driver among the guys out there. He’s going to be very hard to beat.

JT – In more refreshing racing news, IndyCar is looking stronger and stronger for 2019 and beyond. The series has signed a new title sponsor – Japanese tech firm NTT - continues its multi-year TV deal with NBC/NBC Sports which will now televise all IndyCar races including the Indy 500 and has gained a new presenting sponsor for the Indy 500 - insurance provider Gainbridge.

Logo via IndyCar

Logo via IndyCar

There’s talk of additional races with a return to Australia in 2020 and possibly Japan as well. Car count is up with grid numbers likely to be in the mid-20s. Ex-Formula One drivers and hot-shoes like Felix Rosenqvist are joining the series, and the level of competition should be higher than ever. What are your thoughts looking ahead to the 2019 season?

SJ – I’m excited about IndyCar. Jay Frye (IndyCar president) and his guys are doing a great job. They’re racers and they know the business inside and out. They’re pragmatic in their approach and I think the competition decisions that have been made have been great. It’s going from strength to strength.

And they’re doing it in increments. It’s not like knee-jerk wholesale changes. It’s just fine tuning it a little to make it better every year. I know they’ve also been trying hard to get a third manufacturer onboard. They’ve talked to everybody and I’m pretty confident that at some stage one of them will join, which would be great.

Amongst the top level racing series in the world, IndyCar is relatively affordable in the overall scheme of things and a very attractive proposition for any team or manufacturer to join. The support the manufacturers give definitely helps. If a third manufacturer joined in, then I think IndyCar would really take off. We are seeing more and more teams joining, and the grid is now limited by the engine supply more than anything. If there was a third engine manufacturer we would see even more teams joining.

We now also have two Swede’s in the series which is great for all the fans back home, I know both Felix and Markus are both fully committed to IndyCar and it will be exciting to see how they get on.

Image via @scottdixon9

Image via @scottdixon9

Scott in the meantime is quietly preparing to defend his title for the fifth time, and I fully expect him to come out just a little better than he was the previous year. He never stops to amaze me, the discipline and work ethic is incredible after so many years. He’s definitely one of the best in history in my opinion. The competition is getting stronger every year and he just keeps grinding away, racking up points and wins.