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Filtering by Tag: Liberty Media

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.

Bernie Ecclestone leaves F1: the End of an Era

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 82 -

JT – The New Year is underway and as the Rolex 24 have just kicked it off, we begin another season of the #SJBLOG.

We’ll continue to discuss all that is fun, fantastic and occasionally frustrating on the global racing stage. We invite you to join us for what should be a very interesting year in Formula One, IndyCar, sports car racing and more.

Times are definitely changing in F1 with the ownership transfer of the series to Liberty Media and the departure of Bernie Ecclestone as F1 CEO. It’s the end of an era and the beginning of something different. Opinions on Ecclestone’s reign vary but two things are certain:

Bernie pushed the series forward to new heights and is the one person most responsible for what F1 has become in the modern era. He also the only leader the overwhelming majority of the F1 paddock has ever known – a figure central to the environment in which teams, drivers, circuits and manufacturers have functioned for decades. What are your thoughts on Bernie’s exit?

SJ – Well, it was to be expected of course with the new ownership but it’s still a very major end of an era. Since any of us can remember Formula One has been synonymous with Bernie. It seems like nothing in modern times in almost any capacity has ever happened without his involvement. Teams, drivers, promoters, TV, you name it – every little detail and every brick in that business has been laid by him.

It was a weird feeling when I first heard of the announcement and talking with other friends from Formula One it seems that everyone agrees that it’s kind of sad, he’s been like a grandfather to all of us. The change is definitely a big deal. I can’t think of anyone in the paddock now who was there before Bernie. It will be very interesting to see what happens. Personally I feel that Liberty might have been better off by keeping Bernie on-board for a few more years and ease into the ownership by learning or studying how things got done rather than cutting the cord and starting with a clean sheet right away. If I had the opportunity to work next to what is arguably one of the best deal-makers in history, not only in F1 but in general, I would certainly jump at the opportunity. The devil is always in the detail and Mr. E was the only one in that organization that had an intimate knowledge of every little detail. Those are some big shoes to fill for sure.

JT – Indeed they are. Liberty Media has a fairly impressive team. Chase Carey is now CEO while ex-ESPN executive Sean Bratches will direct the commercial side of the series. Ross Brawn returns to F1 with Liberty in charge of the sporting side of the series as managing director, motor sports. 

SJ – I think it’s great that they’ve gotten Ross involved on the technical and sporting side. You couldn’t find a better guy as he’s probably the only designer or engineer that also has a very clear and deep understanding of the business side of F1. Hopefully he will be able to simplify many of the things that have gotten far too complicated over the past years.

On the other hand, there’s been a lot of talk that everything needs to change. But I don’t think anyone really has the answer whether it’s on the digital side, the sporting side or the commercial side. What is the actual answer to all of this?

It may be easy to recognize what’s wrong but fixing it all is something else. That’s the critical part going forward. I’m not underestimating the people at Liberty Media. They’ve been extremely successful in everything they’ve done. And they’ve have already been smart enough to surround themselves with good people so one would hope that the right decisions will be made.

But I believe F1 is at a stage right now where if you make another two or three wrong decisions in important areas I don’t know how much longer it will be interesting or relevant for the fans - or for the teams too for that matter. Aside from the manufacturers, every team is on the limit financially already. With new rules again for this year the costs will certainly not go down, most likely they will increase yet again as all the teams had to start with an almost clean sheet as far as the chassis go.  How do you control the costs? There are so many different aspects and at the same time you may not want to do too many things. Ross has already talked about a 3-5 year plan on the technical side, and that’s a good sign for sure. But then there’s all the other commercial aspects of the business that needs to be dealt with. I don’t think anyone truthfully has the correct answer or the right way forward in this area simply because things are changing at such a high rate today. It’s very tricky to say the least. All sports are dealing with the same problems, people were quite happy to sit through a 2-3 hour sporting event in the past, because it was the only game in town, not so anymore, except for the very big events like the Superbowl or the Soccer World Cup for example.

JT – Chase Carey made the comment that he wants every race to turn into a “Superbowl” with the event starting the week prior to the Grand Prix. Do you think there is enough interest in some of the markets to make this work?

SJ – We have two very definite Superbowl equivalents in Motor Racing already, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hours, they are both massive events. Monaco probably falls into the same category although they can’t pack in the same amount of people due to the sheer size of the venue as they do at Indianapolis in particular.  I don’t know how well they have studied each individual market but in some other places it is already like a Super Bowl kind of atmosphere. The build up is starting very early and the entire City comes alive when the GP comes into town. Montreal for example is a great example of this, there’s an incredible atmosphere there, Singapore, Monaco and some others too. But there is generally a common denominator in all these cases and it’s the location of the track. If the track is located in a major city or very nearby it sort of just happens organically. But, when you have to drive for an hour or more and the hotels near the track are spread over a 100 mile radius it’s difficult to get a Superbowl atmosphere because there is no focal point. And this is the problem with a lot of the venues on any racing calendar. Indycar is exactly the same, all the city races are huge, with large crowd and great atmosphere. As for the TV numbers I am not sure they would get anything close to what they have for the Super Bowl if there was one every two weeks in F1. It’s a completely different thing and maybe that’s partly what’s lacking in F1. Monaco is for sure more prestigious to win than any other Grand Prix, but it’s nowhere close to Indianapolis or Le Mans in terms of the amount of spectators or the build up beforehand.

JT – In comments earlier this week, Liberty commercial chief Sean Bratches outlined four areas that the organization will prioritize to improve the sport. The third concerns the approach Liberty will take to managing the series.

“The third is creating a much more democratic approach in terms of how we approach our partners – from teams/sponsors/promoters and rights holders. There is a lot of opportunity to leverage the F1 IP to integrate it to their businesses,” Bratches said.

Given the view you’ve often expressed about the inefficiencies that result when F1 is ruled “by committee”, what do you think of Liberty’s notion of a “much more democratic approach”?

SJ – If you look at any championship that’s been run like a democracy, it’s failed. I think that’s true of most sports in general. I think there will be so many opinions that, again, it will be hard to get things done. But this is the “romance period” for the new establishment. We’ll see how it goes. Since F1 implemented a somewhat more “Democratic” approach through the Strategy Group there seems to be more confusion and more complicated rules every year. So far, they have not accomplished anything that has made F1 better as far as I’m aware. I absolutely think they need to get away from this Democratic approach and instead put together a small team of individuals that are highly respected by their peers, that understand the different aspects of the business and are completely independent from the pressure of running a team or promoting a race or anything else that will give them a biased view of how to run the business. You then need to let them get on with formulating a plan to go forward. If they let everyone have their view on every single matter it will end in disaster just as we’ve seen in so many other series and sports for that matter. I don’t think the guys at Liberty has any idea of what’s in store for them when it comes to dealing with the teams in particular. The best analogy would be to use the famous quote from Ron Dennis when Eddie Jordan entered F1 back in the 80’s, “Welcome to the Piranha Club”. Nothing has changed since then and that is exactly what they can expect.

JT – Drivers have now started to opine that the new 2017 cars will not only be faster but much more physical to drive with higher loads to be withstood. That’s why many have said they have stepped up their off-season physical training. In addition, many including current and former drivers are finally acknowledging what you spoke out about half a year ago - namely that the increased downforce of the 2017 cars may actually make passing even more difficult in F1.

SJ – Unless I’ve completely missed something, I can’t see how the new cars will make the racing better. I’d love to be proven wrong, seriously, but I don’t understand how it’s possible.

It was already difficult enough to pass in recent years because braking distances are already so short. With the current cars they are almost in the corner when drivers hit the brakes. They are now talking about a 40kph increase in cornering speed with most likely even slower straight-line speeds due to increase in drag from the added downforce, which means they will literally be in the corner when they brake. Unless I’m mistaken, braking into a corner is generally where most passing takes place, unless you’re on an oval track and you can run multiple lanes. Maybe these cars will have so much grip that they can run two lanes. That’s the only way I can see any passing happening.

Your exit speed from a corner will be completely irrelevant because, relatively, there will be so little acceleration taking place with a 40 kph higher exit speed on average. That means your acceleration will be even less than currently from corner exit to the end of a straight.

Apparently the FIA has already informed the track owners that they will have to modify the run off areas in some places due to the increase in cornering speeds. In fact, what is happening is that the cars have now outgrown nearly every track. With such an increase in grip and cornering speeds there is virtually not one challenging corner left on the calendar. The engineers are already talking about several corners or sections on many of the tracks being straights, as in there will be no lifting or braking as it used to be before. For example, I expect Eau Rouge at Spa to be flat on the second lap out in first practice, it will literally hardly be a corner anymore. The only place where a driver will be able to make any difference in the lap times will be in the low speed corners, and it will be even more about technique and just hitting your marks than it already is. Bravery and being able to “hang it out” won’t enter into the equation anymore.

JT - All this talk about the drivers having to be super fit this year, what are your views on that?

SJ - I don’t think it will be anything near as hard as everyone thinks or is talking about. By the time they get to the first race they will all have gotten used to it. They’re certainly not going to pull more Gs than what an IndyCar already does on an oval track. And the guys in IndyCar don’t complain too much about that. All of this is completely blown out of proportion in F1 as far as I’m concerned. The other thing is that the Indycars don’t have power steering so they are way more physical to drive than an F1 car will ever be to begin with.

In any race car these days you’re literally glued into the seat. The only things that should move are your arms and anything from the knees down and maybe your core to some degree. But your head is literally stuck in one position now because the head-rest surrounds you and you have the Hans-Device. I don’t see what the fuss is all about.

When your head was sitting a foot above the cockpit like it used to be, you really had to use your neck muscles to hold it up. Now you just brace against the head-rest and you’re fine. And in F1 it’s still nothing like the oval in Phoenix in an IndyCar for example, where you race with monster Gs lap after lap for 200 laps.

And generally speaking I think all drivers today are very fit to begin with, much fitter than they used to be and they have much more sophisticated training methods and better diets. I don’t think we will hear a word about the physical aspect after a couple or races.

JT – Valtteri Bottas has been confirmed as Nico Rosberg’s replacement at Mercedes GP since last we talked. Mercedes made quite a few deals to bring him to the team. What’s your view on his potential?

SJ – Signing him was the obvious thing to do, I guess. We’ll see how it goes but now it’s time for him to shine and become a real superstar, or fall by the wayside if he’s not able to match or beat Lewis. It’s the same for all of these guys in mid-pack teams. It’s easy to be a kind of underdog and do a great job and be recognized every time you do a good job and succeed.

And when on occasion you do an average job, it’s still ok. If you have an “off” weekend, finishing 7th instead of 4th – which has certainly been the case more than once for Bottas – it’s not that big of a deal. When you’re in Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren, you’re not allowed to have an “off” weekend. In a top team there’s a completely different dynamic. You better be on your A game in every race and every practice session. If you’re not people immediately start to ask, “What’s wrong with him?”

They say you’re “finished” and this and that, and the media is all over you. The team is on you, everybody’s on you all the time. You’ve got to be at the highest level every time you step into the car. I think that will be the biggest eye-opener for Bottas. He is no doubt a super talent but trying to beat Lewis every time out won’t be easy for anyone in the paddock, we have already seen that with Alonso, Button and Rosberg. All those guys are the best in the business.

JT – Adrian Newey and Red Bull Racing seem to be more optimistic heading into the 2017 season, declaring that Renault has made progress with its power unit and that the Red Bull chassis - already well developed – will benefit from it.

SJ – I think Red Bull will be the biggest challenger to Mercedes. I don’t think the gap to Mercedes will be as big because the huge advantage they’ve had with their engine is getting smaller. I think they’ll still have a slight advantage but whoever gets their new chassis right will be much more competitive with them and I think Red Bull will be very strong. I have a feeling McLaren will catch up quite a bit too. Ferrari is an unknown at this point, I hope they will surprise everyone and maybe the silence from Maranello is a good sign.

JT – You’ve said repeatedly in the past that despite all the resources invested, F1 cars all end up looking almost identical even after a rules change. Do you think that will be true this season?

SJ – To a large degree I think they will. The window of what teams are allowed to do is so small now that by nature they’ll all end up looking the same. There’s really no room for innovation anymore. They work in such a narrow box that it’s mostly down to the endless tinkering with the details. I noticed from what I’ve seen until now that the complicated front wings will remain more or less the same, which effectively means that any hope of a car being able to follow the car in front close up is no different from before. I thought one of the reason for increasing the aero from underneath the car was to avoid this from happening, but this will not be the case, unfortunately. As long as the main area of performance on the car is aerodynamics it’s inevitable that all the cars will eventually look nearly the same, the air only like to travel in a certain way and that ultimately determines the shape of the car.

JT – One thing not yet discussed by Liberty Media is what they might do to control costs in F1. They have proposed more evenly distributing money among the teams but that won’t help much if F1 remains unsustainably expensive. The sums spent by manufacturers, teams, etc in F1 these days are staggering yet no one seems to blink an eye or has the courage to try to control it. How is it possible for this to be ignored?

SJ – Yes, distributing money more evenly is fine but when costs are already through the roof it doesn’t help much. And with frequent rule changes you add even more expense. The best way to keep costs down and make the racing more exciting is to maintain rules stability. The ramp up in costs is always at the beginning of a new rules package for obvious reasons as every team has to develop a whole new car effectively. The longer you have the same set of rules the more the lower ranked teams will catch up and the closer the field will be and the costs will eventually drop for all teams as the trade-off between performance versus money spent decreases each year.

To make the competition closer and to control costs, more than anything, I think you need to limit what teams are allowed to do with the cars. I firmly believe that you could standardize 50 to 60 percent of the components. That eliminates the need to design, manufacture and build every single component of a car. All those components have to be run and tested, and now with limits on testing it becomes even more expensive as they have to be simulated and tested in different way which adds even more cost.

Sketch by Giorgio Piola

Sketch by Giorgio Piola

I keep repeating the same thing over and over, the biggest culprit is the aerodynamics. They must figure out a way to minimize the importance of downforce on the car, or at least simplify what you’re allowed to do on the car. I don’t see why they can’t use the same front wing on all the cars for example, issued and controlled by the FIA. No one can hardly notice the difference between any of the cars as it is now, yet they all produce their own front wings at an astronomical cost to each team, with a windtunnel and CFD programs that never ends, literally. It’s a constant 24/7 development war that never stops all year long, to find the tiniest gains. One of the top teams employ a total of 250 staff in the design and engineering department, of which half are aerodynamicists. I am baffled why they can’t all agree on this as a starting point at least.

JT – On a lighter note but also a serious one, racing in general is facing an unprecedented level of competition from other sports and new forms of entertainment. As you observe there are lots of distractions and some are a good laugh.

SJ – Fernando Alonso made a comment about the 80’s era recently, saying that people would find it boring nowadays watching those races with Prost and Senna fighting each other. He’s 100 percent right of course. But the difference is that’s all there was back them. People could understand the challenges and dangers, the spectacle. They looked up to the drivers as gladiators and thought it was fantastic. The cars were beasts and fans could see that when they were watching. But the racing was generally quite boring in fact, even more than it is today I would say.

Today, there is so much clutter and competition for eyeballs from so many different sources, especially for the younger generations which makes it hard for anyone to sit through a 2 hour race that have very little happening most of the time. Compare that to something as silly as watching these “fail” videos that are so popular now on YouTube for example with these morons from all over the world wrapping their Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s around a tree or a lamp post, well I hate to admit it but it can be quite entertaining too at times.

It’s a silly example and as funny as that is to say, it’s true. And it can be anything. Whatever people are into, there’s instant access to as much as you want – complete sensory overload. So, in my opinion, whatever needs to be done to increase the interest from the younger generation in F1, and racing in general, it has to be something really special. It has to be something really spectacular like F1 is supposed to be, and even more. It can’t be politically correct all the time. It has to be something that people can easily understand as extraordinary and special. F1 isn’t that way at the moment.

JT – With the Rolex 24 a new era started in sports car racing with IMSA’s DPi and the global P2-spec.

SJ – We’ll see how it all shakes out. The cars at Daytona looked fantastic in my opinion, both the Dpi’s and the LMP2 cars. The racing was good and I think this format could be the way forward for Prototypes in general. Let’s hope the ACO will take a good look at this with an open mind and allow the same type of cars to run the 24 hours too eventually. With only two teams or manufacturers that can effectively win the 24 hours I think it’s time to re-evaluate the entire format for the ACO and the Le Mans 24 hour race.

JT – The 2017 IndyCar season is on the horizon. Much of the off-season talk has centered on the series “aerokit freeze” this year and its intention to go to a “universal” kit in 2018, a configuration that may see Indy Cars generating more downforce from underneath the chassis. The move to make downforce from below is intended to reduce turbulence for following cars.  What are your thoughts on these moves?

SJ – Well, moving to the kit for 2018, even if you try to make downforce from under the car instead of from the top I don’t think it will completely eliminate the problem. You might improve things a bit but you’re still going to have a high downforce configuration. Whatever the ratio is between aero and mechanical grip, you’re going to have a problem if the aero portion is greater than the mechanical no matter what.

Right now, the dependence on aero with an Indy Car is probably 80 percent or more. The cars have a crazy amount of grip. If they got rid of a lot of the aero appendages that are all over the cars and cleaned them up it would be a big improvement.

I think the best, and only way, to solve this problem for any type of open wheel car is to drastically reduce the downforce and rely more on mechanical grip and more horsepower to get the lap-times to the same levels we have now. This would put the emphasis back on the drivers and car control which is key in my opinion.

It’s the same as in F1. Why spend all of this money on aerodynamics when you can have the tire companies give you the grip and engine manufacturers make the engines more powerful? They are both very easy things to do, and at virtually no development cost to the teams or certainly nothing close to what they are spending on their aero programs at the moment. If you had multiple tire suppliers they would duke it out and spend as they used to, to develop better tires. The lap times would drop by 4-5 seconds almost immediately and probably a lot more with time. That would at least have some level of benefit for street tires too as some of the technology is eventually applied to their consumer products. Aerodynamic downforce is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle for anything else but making a race car go faster.

Scott Dixon dominates at Watkins Glen, Mercedes wins at the Italian GP & the future of Formula 1

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar returned to Watkins Glen in early September, the first time the series has run there since 2010. Scott Dixon absolutely dominated the weekend, winning the race by over 16 seconds (his 40th career win, moving him to 4th in all-time wins in IndyCar) and smashing the qualifying record by 5.6 seconds for his 25th career pole.

Scott has performed well at Watkins Glen in the past, having won three times there but looked even better two weeks ago. What did you think of his performance?

SJ – It was a very impressive display in every respect. I can’t remember anyone dominating to quite that level for quite some time. It was like he was in a different league all weekend. He dropped back a few places for the restart (on Lap 42 after a caution for a collision between Will Power and Charlie Kimball, and pit stops, Dixon restarted 4th) and within less than two laps he was back in the lead.

Everyone else was struggling to pass anywhere on track but it was amazing how Scott just pulled off passes with his incredible, fluid driving style which is just perfect on a track like that.

It’s been a strange year in that I think he’s been driving more strongly this year than any that I can remember and yet he’s come away with less than almost any year before. Even reliability issues have stopped him at places like Detroit and Road America, where it was almost certain he would have won both races.

JT – The win moved Scott to 3rd in the championship standings but it wasn’t enough to keep him in championship contention. Leader Simon Pagenaud finished 7th at Watkins Glen, putting him 104 points clear of Dixon. Even with double points (100 total) on offer for this weekend’s season finale, the Grand Prix of Sonoma, Dixon cannot catch Pagenaud. Only his Penske teammate Will Power has a chance. Power would have likely been closer to Pagenaud points-wise if not for the accident with Kimball. With a 43-point lead over his teammate it looks pretty good for Pagenaud to capture his first IndyCar title. Do you agree?

SJ – The IndyCar championship is all about racking up points at every race - being consistent. Last year Montoya kept racking up points and he was on top going into Sonoma. You never know - look at what Scott did last year, particularly with double points available - but it’s most likely that Pagenaud will score well enough to win the championship. Still, if Power wins and Pagenaud gets involved in any incident... well, that could be enough. What is amazing though is that we are again going into the final race with the championship still open, I don’t remember if the Indycar series ever had the championship decided before the final round.

JT – With the offseason rapidly approaching, speculation about the IndyCar driver-market has been plentiful. Josef Newgarden seems to be the main focus of conjecture. He could go to Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing or elect to stay with Ed Carpenter Racing. Depending on what he chooses to do, other drivers might have to adjust. Do you think we’ll see much movement?

SJ – I don’t really know what will happen but I’d be surprised if we see a huge amount of movement among the drivers.

JT – Unsurprisingly, Mercedes won Formula One’s most recent round the Italian GP at Monza. In this case Nico Rosberg, starting from second position alongside teammate and pole winner Lewis Hamilton, made a perfect getaway and won while Hamilton stumbled, dropping to 6th place on the opening lap. He eventually recovered to finish 2nd behind Rosberg. As we’ve said in recent blogs, the result of nearly every grand prix this year has hinged on who got the better start – Rosberg or Hamilton.

If Rosberg starts cleanly, as he did early in the season, he wins. If Hamilton starts cleanly, as he did mid-season, he wins. It’s basically as simple as that, and again the Italian GP didn’t offer much exciting racing. However, just two points separate Hamilton and Rosberg heading into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.

SJ – Yes, that’s basically what it comes down to. Whichever guy – Hamilton or Rosberg, as they are the only two with a realistic chance of winning all things being equal - gets off the line best and manages to scramble through the first few corners, it’s pretty much job done.

This last race made the championship closer and everyone keeps talking about how Mercedes might struggle again (Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won the 2015 race, followed by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari-teammate Kimi Rakkionen) but I can’t imagine that they won’t have dug deep enough and found out what their tire problems were last year. They’ll be better.

On that note, that’s one of the ironic twists of F1. All the teams are spending copious amounts of money on car and aero development in particular yet every race it basically comes down to the tires and who can manage them best for optimum grip, especially with the crazy pressures they’re required to run now.

I keep joking about it but at the sharp end of the grid they spend well over $300 million a year, of which most of it is development. Then they bolt on a set of tires for a couple of thousand dollars and that makes more difference than just about anything else they do with the car. If you can get a second from the tire by being able to get the most out of it, and manage it correctly over the stint, it’s probably equivalent to $50-100m worth of development on the car to gain that same second!

JT – Ferrari managed to get one of its cars on the podium at Monza with a 3rd place finish from Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen finished in 4th place. The team seemed to be pleased with the result and team manager Maurizio Arrivabene stated that while Ferrari has “failed to achieve its target” this year, the team is making progress and the atmosphere inside Scuderia Ferrari is “very positive”. With the departure of some of its key personnel and Ferrari’s inconsistent performance something about Arrivabene’s comments rings hollow. Do you agree?

SJ – It’s a difficult situation for them at the moment, and I don’t envy Maurizio Arrivabene for one second as he was basically thrown in the deep end with all the wholesale changes that took place when Montezemolo left. As we have seen with almost every team at some stage, once you loose the momentum it takes years to gain it back to a point where you can consistently be challenging for wins. Mclaren is a perfect example, Red Bull has had their slump and they were both dominant teams not that long ago. Ferrari still have a lot of challenges ahead, there is no doubt about that, let’s hope that the people at the very top of the company will stay the course and make the right decisions going forward.

JT – The biggest news for Formula One was made off-track last week when it was finally confirmed that Liberty Media, an America conglomerate which owns the second largest U.S. cable television company and has holdings in Sirius/XM radio and Live Nation, a large event promotion company, will acquire F1 from current majority owner CVC Capital Partners.

Bernie Ecclestone will continue in his role as F1 CEO but will now work under Liberty Media’s umbrella. There seems to be some optimism that Liberty can bring more energy and direction to the series and attract more viewers globally. What’s your take?

SJ – I don’t know anything more than what has been covered by the press but one would hope that they’ll look at the business more pragmatically. I think that’s already starting to happen and maybe they’ll bring more of a clean sheet approach to it.

Let’s not forget that F1 is still a hugely popular sport globally, but I think they know they can make it significantly more popular. With the speed at which the world moves today in terms of social media and other digital platforms there are definitely ways to monetize those outlets. Bernie says he’s never made any money on the Internet but I don’t think he’s been dealing with the right people. Certainly not if you look at the F1 website which is full of broken links and quite clunky in general, you can tell that very little effort has been spent in this area.

You see others doing well in that area. NASCAR, for instance, is doing very well in that space. They’ve figured out how to monetize the digital side of their business and they’re making money.

Liberty has already made noise about offering the opportunity for teams to buy into Formula One. I don’t know exactly how that would work but it could potentially be a good move. If you look at other sports, certainly football and soccer, every franchise is worth a fortune. They also spend big money but F1 is still in the stratosphere in terms of the resources associated with it.

If the series, together with the FIA can work out a way to control costs by focusing on areas of development which are prohibitively expensive like aerodynamics and maybe standardize some components, it will immediately be on a better business footing.

For example, the other day I was visiting a new racing simulator here in Los Angeles. There was a two-year old Williams chassis there that a group bought to transform for the purpose of making it into a simulator. They were showing me simple things like the car’s power steering rack. It’s an absolute work of art. That piece alone probably required 50 people to engineer and build. It’s absolutely exquisite, but for what?

I don’t see why you couldn’t just use a standard steering rack that all teams would have to buy from one single supplier that is the same for all the teams. It would cost a tiny fraction of that custom piece Williams built. That piece alone probably cost them more than a million dollars all told. And that’s just one component of the car – a piece the fans will never ever see or understand.

Look at the insanely complicated brake ducts the teams create now… for nothing. Why can’t the teams all agree on standardizing some components and save themselves millions of dollars?

IndyCar has great racing with a basic, standardized package. The best teams still work their butts off and find an edge over their competitors by refining the components they have to work with. Why make every single piece of every car a custom-made item? I’m not saying that F1 should copy Indycar, because I personally think Indycar has gone to far in the other direction where you basically can’t do anything to the car anymore, except the dampers. But, there are several things on any racecar that is just a pointless and extremely costly exercise to make in house, assuming the parts were available to buy off the shelf. To make this work there needs to be firm rules in place otherwise every team will still go their own way even if the parts were available to buy off the shelf, because the engineers are very competitive by nature, just as the drivers, and everyone thinks they are more clever than the other, and that their solution is much better than anything else out there.

The teams all seem to be addicted to their toys, even the smaller ones. It makes no sense. Each team will apparently be receiving something like $100 million from F1 in the next year or two. If you can’t run a team for less than $100 million, something’s fundamentally wrong. If you bring spending down to more sane levels, every F1 franchise should be worth serious money, just as they were for a brief period when Eddie Jordan sold his team for example. Nowadays most teams that are potentially for sale are lucky if they can walk away with new owners clearing their debts.

There are extremely clever people in F1 and the cleverest will still produce the best results even if the series goes to a much more basic formula. Just start fresh. As Flavio Briatore says, F1 is so complicated now that no one understands it, not even the people in the business.

The fact that Bernie [Ecclestone] will stay on is positive. Some people gripe and moan about him from time to time, but deep down, everybody loves Bernie. He’s like the grand-daddy for all of us in the business in one way or the other. Everyone knows that without him F1 wouldn’t be anything near what it is today. I believe that 100 percent. He’s laid every single brick in that business and has a personal relationship with every promoter, TV Network, sponsor, team owner, driver, you name it. There is not one deal going down that Bernie does not have his hand in. I think he should be applauded for what he’s done, not just for F1 but for motorsport in general, because everything filters down from Formula One.

JT – In other off track news, McLaren announced that Jenson Button would be taking a “break” from F1 in 2017 but that his two-year deal with the team means that he could drive again in 2018. He will be replaced next year by GP2 sensation Stoffel Vandoorne. Team principle Ron Dennis insists that Button’s “deal” is not a “retirement”. But everyone understands that Button is basically leaving the sport. Why does McLaren not want to state the truth? Their version of this sounds nuts. Do you agree?

SJ – Well, If Jenson now suddenly feels “like a kid again” because he’s effectively been pushed aside or whatever you’d like to call it then you obviously have to question why he didn’t make this decision on his own rather than wait until he was basically told he’s not driving next year. Can someone please fire me! I want to get fired too, if that’s how it makes you feel. Joking aside, it’s just seem like a very odd statement to claim that this is a new and innovative solution to effectively fire one of your drivers, or at least demote him to reserve driver. It’s good news though to see that Vandoorne has a permanent drive based purely on merit, he deserves it, and the timing could be perfect for him as it’s almost certain that McLaren will be back fighting for wins in the next few years. I am sure he will be one of the superstars of the next generation drivers that are now filtering through.

JT – Much has been made lately of the new, wider tires the 2017 rules will allow for F1 cars. Together with other changes this should give the cars more interesting appearance and may make them significantly faster but as you’ve already noted, it probably won’t improve the racing.

SJ – I would say it’s almost a certainty that it will make passing even more difficult than it is now because the cars will be so fast in the corners and even slower on the straights because they’ll have more drag from both the increased downforce and the wider tires. This will result in even less difference between mid-corner speed and top speed on the straights. Braking distances will be even shorter and grip levels will be much higher. So in other words, the exact opposite of what you want to make the racing more exciting. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think I am.

The cars will look much better though, lap-times will be much faster but once you get used to watching the cars cornering a lot faster then everything will be back to normal again.

It’s been interesting to follow the tire testing for the 2017 cars that has been going on, or at least the little information that’s been made available. The teams doing the testing will without a doubt have an advantage next season. Tire testing is the key to performance. In every team I ever raced for where we were able to do a tire test before a race, or where the designated test team, we were always much better off for having done it.

Just the sheer fact that you’re running a car helps already as you’re always picking up little bits of information every time the car is on the track. Even if a team isn’t told which tire it’s testing – the fact that you’re running on a tire of the same general specification to what you’ll be using next year will already be a big advantage. Watch this space, there will be a lot of moaning about this by a lot of the teams as the new season unfolds.

Bottomline though, overtaking will only get harder next season.


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