Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

         

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

johansson-eyes-helmet-cockpit-sign.jpg

#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: Long Beach GP

F1 Chinese GP, Fernando Alonso gears up for Indy 500 & the Grand Prix of Long Beach

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 84 -

JT – We haven’t had a chance to chat since before the 2017 Formula One season begin with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in late March. As always, the first race of the season offered opportunity for those willing seize it.

Ferrari did just that, showing pace on par with Mercedes and taking the initiative with pit strategy during the race. Sebastian Vettel got away from the grid well, just behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. He then trailed Hamilton closely, forcing the Mercedes driver to use his tires hard. Hamilton pitted on lap 17 but Vettel remained on track until Lap 22.

Hamilton emerged from the pits behind Max Verstappen and was unable to pass the Red Bull Racing driver despite being on newer tires. The delay allowed Vettel to build a gap which saw him emerge from the pits well clear of Hamilton and he remained in front until the checkered flag.

The result was a widely applauded surprise and a hopeful sign for the championship. Ferrari has certainly closed most of the performance gap to Mercedes. However, on-track passing was at a premium throughout the field. Very few passes were made even during the opening laps. What did you think of the Australian Grand Prix?

SJ – Ferrari has certainly improved significantly over the winter and they proved it. Mercedes didn’t get their strategy quite right and they paid for it.

More than that, Ferrari’s pace doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan. They were quick in pre-season testing and they backed up the promise from the tests by being right on the pace when they arrived in Melbourne. If anything, it looks like their tire management may be the best in the field at the moment, at least with Vettel.

That goes back to a conversation we had in the blog last year. At the time I said I’d bet that Ferrari would gain an advantage from Vettel’s willingness to be an integral part of all the tire testing Pirelli did in preparation for the new tire rule for 2017. He was the only driver to put aside the time to do that. I said at the time that I guarantee this would pay dividends for him going into 2017 and it certainly looks like it has.

I can’t understand why no other driver was willing to do that. If there’s one simple way to gain an advantage, it’s in understanding the tires and even better if you can have an influence on how they are built. That was one of the main reasons why Michael Schumacher was so successful. He spent every day he could pounding around Fiorano when Ferrari was using Bridgestone and they came out with a tire absolutely tailor-made for his driving style. Hardly anyone else could make the tire work but it suited him perfectly.

Every tire company always develop a kind of philosophy on how they build their tires for a certain type of car or series and if you can have an influence on that philosophy – if you can affect and learn the nuances of the construction they use – it makes a huge difference. You gain just that little bit more confidence in being able attack a fraction harder on corner entry. That affects the performance through the whole corner, the way you set the car up and everything. It might be minuscule gains but that can be all the difference you need to win.

Good for Vettel and shame on everybody else for not committing to that testing.

JT – Mercedes and Ferrari were again the main story at last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. This time Mercedes gained the upper hand with Lewis Hamilton dominating the weekend, earning pole position and leading from the start without ever being challenged. Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel had to fight his way to a second place finish. The race began on a damp track with nearly all of the field on wet weather tires. Vettel gambled, pitting for slicks on Lap 2 during a virtual safety car period. Leaders Hamilton, Valterri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen remained on track. They reaped a reward on Lap 5 when Sauber’s Antonio Giovanazzi crashed exiting the final corner, bringing out a safety car.

The leaders then pitted and emerged in front of Vettel. Mired in sixth place Vettel worked for several laps to pass Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Then he tracked down and passed Ricciardo, going outside the Red Bull Racing driver in Turn 6. Verstappen fell to Vettel’s charge on lap 28 after locking up entering Turn 14.

Vettel’s climb back to second provided some drama as did the performance of the Red Bulls on supersoft Pirellis early on. There was more passing at Shanghai - mostly on its long straights with DRS enabling some competitors to blow by those ahead. But the most interesting passing was pulled off in the corners. What did you think of the Chinese Grand Prix?

SJ – The race showed again that there isn’t much between Mercedes and Ferrari. So far the battle between the two is shaping up to be pretty good. Hopefully Raikkonen and Bottas will step it up and be able to challenge for wins too as we get further into the season.

No one really challenged Lewis at any point in China. There was more passing than we saw in Melbourne and it’s interesting because most of the really good passes were almost all two-lane overtakes. That’s something we touched on before the season began. I mentioned that one possibility resulting from the increased grip of the 2017 cars might be the capability to run more than one line through corners.

That seems to be what happened at Shanghai. In the double right-hander that follows the start/finish line there was passing on the outside and the same in Turn 6. The pass that Vettel made on Ricciardo was spectacular and good fun to watch.

But that can only happen at a track where you have extremely long corners, where you’re loading up the car for a long period of time. You’re not going to be able to do that in a traditional corner or a 90-degree corner. At the next race at Bahrain there just aren’t the type of corners that will encourage that kind of passing because one corner follows another pretty quickly. It’s unlikely.

JT – What do you think of the performance of Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen so far?

SJ – Bottas made a mistake in China, no question. But in fairness anyone can do that at some stage, they were tricky circumstances. He’s on the pace or very close it seems, the only difference is that Ferrari is much closer this year, hence the split on grid positions instead of the usual Mercedes 1-2. He certainly did a good job in Melbourne. I’m sure he’ll improve as the season goes on. I don’t think he’ll beat Lewis but I think he’ll be very close.

It’s harder to say how Kimi will do. It seems difficult for him to have everything come together at once in recent years. He’s quick and then when it really matters there’s always some little thing that trips him up, sometimes it’s just bad luck but it seems to happen to him more than it does with Vettel for sure. Time will tell.

JT – While Ferrari and Mercedes top the field, Red Bull Racing falls into a gap some distance behind them but well ahead of the rest of the teams. What do you make of their situation?

SJ – It’s a bit disappointing - for them at least. I think everyone expected more from Red Bull with the changes in the rules. They’ve obviously missed the mark somewhere. They clearly don’t have the speed or downforce to match the Ferrari or the Mercedes on a consistent basis at least. I don’t think the Renault engine is that far behind now but they seem to be lacking some performance in their overall package.

Ricciardo and Verstappen are very close in terms of speed and they’re pushing but the car’s just not there yet. However, with the crazy development curve in F1 I am sure they will eventually be on the same pace as the Mercedes and Ferrari. The Spanish GP seems to be the first race where all the big updates show up, so let’s see what happens after that.

JT – Meanwhile the best of the rest of the teams are anywhere from 1 to 1.5 seconds off the pace of Mercedes and Ferrari, and the gap expands quickly as you go further into the field. If you’re not racing with Mercedes, Ferrari or possibly Red Bull, you’re miles off the pace.

SJ – That was to be expected. Every time you have a significant rules change the teams without big resources are going to fall further back than they were before the changes took place.

The way F1 is today it’s very difficult to come up with a great and different idea. The development on these cars pretty much comes down to cubic dollars, the more you spend the faster you will go. Every now and then someone gets lucky and get it right straight out of the box, but in the big picture it will take the mid-fielders and the back-markers probably another year or two before they’re able to claw back some time to the front runners. Then the gap will be around a second between those teams and the leaders. This happens every time we have a major rule change.

JT – With rules stability costs should also fall a bit. This time around however one wonders whether the mid-field and back-marking teams can hang on financially until the situation stabilizes? There is work going on behind the scenes by the Liberty Media group to try to get teams to agree to reduce costs and spread F1 resources more equitably but will it actually happen?

SJ – There’s been a lot of talk for a while now about cost reduction and how the money will be distributed among the teams going forward. I don’t think anyone really know how to go about the cost reduction issue at the moment, mainly because there are so many opinions on how to do this and to a large degree it comes back to what I’ve been saying for some time now. If you try to accomplish this in a democratic way, there will never be a good solution, a well thought out plan has to come from the top down and if the teams want to play they will have to follow these rules. As it is currently the teams can’t even decide where to have their meetings let alone come forward with any meaningful proposal on how to accomplish any form of cost reduction.

The distribution of funds is another can of worms that could cause some serious problems going forward. I am sure the teams that are benefiting the most will not be willing to give up those benefits freely. This may end up being one of the biggest challenges for the new owners to untangle.

JT – McLaren continues to have a pretty disastrous start to their 2017 season, having failed to finish with either car at Australia or China. Honda’s underdeveloped power unit is the biggest issue for them and it’s costing Fernando Alonso as he languishes in another uncompetitive car for yet another year.

The upside is that there’s a silver lining for IndyCar and its fans. It was announced today that Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix this year, choosing instead to drive one of Andretti Autosport’s Hondas in the 101st running of the Indy 500. This is big news for IndyCar and should be a massive boon for them.

SJ – Yes, this is the best thing that could happen to IndyCar in my opinion. It’s funny, you and I have been talking about this in the blog over the last couple years – that IndyCar really needed to try and get one of the top guys in Formula One to come over and we always mentioned Alonso as a perfect example.

This is really great news and I personally can’t wait to see him go around the Speedway, I’m very excited.

It’s worked out that he’s the driver most likely to want to do this because he’s in an uncompetitive car again. It’s marketing gold and a huge shot in the arm for IndyCar.

JT – That news must have been filtering through the paddock at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend. It was another great event with some good racing, some foul luck for front-runners like Ryan Hunter Reay and Alexander Rossi, and another big dose of frustration for Scott Dixon.

On the other hand, James Hinchcliffe managed to pull off a win for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, one of the smaller teams in the series. He was followed home by Sebastian Bourdais in second place – the winner of the season-opener in St. Petersburg for Dale Coyne Racing - another of the series’ smallest outfits. Meanwhile Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden finished third.
Scott finished fourth and it was obvious that he could have topped the podium if the team’s strategy had been different. They switched to a three-stop pit strategy during the race.

SJ - Scott really should have won, again. He was far quicker than anyone else most of the weekend, just as he was at St. Petersburg. The team chose to go to a three-stop strategy because of the way they thought the yellow flag was going to fall early in the race. The yellow never came and it screwed his strategy completely.

But as frustrating as IndyCar can be with their closed-pit rule during cautions, the racing is still very exciting and I still claim it’s the best racing out there of any major Championship, certainly better than anything else in single seater racing. The first two races show that almost everyone in the series has a chance of winning and the gap between the top teams and the smaller ones is very tight. It was frustrating for Scott to be on the wrong end of the stick again but that stuff usually evens out over the season.

JT – You raced in the Grand Prix of Long Beach in CART from 1993-1996. What are your memories of racing there?

SJ – I always enjoyed racing at Long Beach. The first race I did there, I think I qualified on the second row. But it didn’t turn out to be a particularly fond memory in the race because Mario Andretti put me into the wall at the hairpin before I even got to the start-finish line!

They waved the green flag, we hit each other coming out of the hairpin and it was over before I even got to the flag!

But Long Beach is a great event and it seems to get bigger each year, the crowd is great and the atmosphere is terrific.

JT – Scuderia Corsa has a good finish in Saturday’s IMSA Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan drove their Ferrari 488 GT3 to third place.

SJ – Everybody did a great job. Christina did a great job starting the race and had a good stint. Balzan was very spectacular in his stint and showed some really good race craft. He passed a lot of cars toward the end of the race. He was driving hard and it was a good finish. And the team did their usual brilliant job on the strategy, we gained something like 5 places with the pit strategy we used. We have one of the best teams out there on the scoring stand.

JT – In other news it appears that Felix Rosenqvist will make his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year with DragonSpeed Racing in their LMP2 Oreca 07 Gibson. He’ll share the car with Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman.

SJ – Yes, he tested the car for the first time this week in England and he really liked it. It will be a great experience for him to do Le Mans also. It’s a track every driver should experience, along with the Indianapolis Speedway. They are both iconic race tracks and still as difficult and dangerous to master as they have ever been.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Chinese GP, Indycar GP of Long Beach & Alabama, and WEC at Silverstone

Stefan Johansson

Photo by: motorsport.com

Photo by: motorsport.com

JT – Two weeks ago, F1 made the third stop on its 21-race 2016 calendar, visiting Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. The race had more than the usual amount of action due to a shuffled grid and first-lap contact for a number of cars. Lewis Hamilton was forced to start from the back of the pack after mechanical woes in qualifying.

On the first lap, Sebastian Vettel made contact with Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, damaging Raikkonen’s car while setting off a chain reaction incident that brought other cars to the pits for repairs including Hamilton. Rosberg started cleanly and vanished, leading flag to flag for his third consecutive win of the season. Hamilton was only able to climb to 7th place while Vettel came home 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen recovered to 5th place. Meanwhile Daniel Kvyat and Daniel Riccardo looked strong for Red Bull Racing finishing 3rd and 4th. What did you think of the grand prix?

SJ – Well it seemed as if everyone blamed everyone else for the start incidents. Rosberg got the job done and it’s funny how the dynamic changes so fast. Now everybody’s on about how Rosberg is dominating. But that’s not exactly the case, just as it wasn’t the case when Hamilton was winning last year. Small nuances always make the difference. This year, luck hasn’t been on Hamilton’s side so far. But we’re only three races into the season.

It’s hard to put the blame on anyone for what happened in the first corner after the start. I’m not sure who hit who at first. Vettel blamed Kvyat for coming from nowhere and left him nowhere to go, but looking at the video replay, the door was left wide open and Kvyat took the opportunity to gain a few places. What happened after that is the normal chain reaction where a driver is either trying to avoid someone else or taking the opportunity to pass someone if there’s a gap left open.

There’s no question that Red Bull has a very strong car. Adrian Newey and his team of designers always comes up with a good chassis and I think things will be even more interesting when F1 gets to some of the European tracks that are more demanding in terms of balance. Shanghai is a horsepower track with a very long straight. Red Bull could definitely be a threat on some of the tighter circuits.

JT – Though Vettel and Raikkonen finished well given their troubles, Ferrari still doesn’t seem be able to put together a clean weekend.

SJ – Exactly, I don’t think we really know the truth of their potential yet. Various circumstances have come up at the races so far that have created challenges for them. There hasn’t been a real apples-to-apples comparison between them and the other teams. That will be worth watching.

JT – If you consider the other top teams, I think it’s fair to say that McLaren-Honda still isn’t progressing the way you would expect. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren’s substitute for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain, is the only team driver to have scored a point. They may be closer to the pace than they were last year but clearly they still have a long way to go.

SJ – They’re definitely getting closer. It’s hard to say exactly what the circumstances are for the team but I still believe they’ll get a lot stronger and will eventually get things together. It’s just taking longer than expected.

JT – Another meeting of F1’s Strategy Group takes place this week, supposedly the final opportunity to define the rules for 2017 and beyond. Mercedes GP boss Toto Wolff says he doesn’t want the rules to change because “performance between the teams is converging to create great racing.” Other teams want changes, arguing that the racing isn’t that terrific and that Mercedes has an interest in keeping the rules the same given their performance advantage. Do you think anything of substance will result from the meeting?

SJ – I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance. I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.

If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing. Frankly, I think they’re better off not doing anything. Whatever they might decide to do will inevitably be more expensive and we all know that F1’s business model is unsustainable. Rules stability will always bring the costs down and eventually also level the playing field if you keep the rules consistent for a long period of time.

JT –Bernie Ecclestone recently drew criticism for saying he didn’t “know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn’t be taken seriously.”

F1 world champion Mario Andretti offered a slightly different but similar view commenting that, “Formula One has been in existence for what, 66 years, and we've only seen five women try and compete and none have really been successful.… Saying women can do it - bottom line, they have to prove it.”

What’s your take?

SJ – Frankly, I don’t necessarily agree with the fitness aspect because F1 cars today aren’t that physical to drive. I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it. There are, mostly, no hand-outs, no favors, unless of course you’re one of the pay drivers but assuming all things are being equal.

But the second there is a female driver who is good enough to get to F1 on sheer merit they would have a much better chance of getting an opportunity than any of the men would. What’s really important to recognize is that the likelihood of a female getting to the level you need to be at to compete in Formula One is very small because there aren’t enough females pursuing it.

I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it.

My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.

JT – IndyCar has raced twice since we chatted for the last blog with races at Long Beach and last weekend’s Barber Motorsports Park round. Penske’s Simon Pagenaud took the win at both events. Scott Dixon finished second at Long Beach and 10th at Barber. Controversy broke out at Long Beach when Pagenaud was warned but not penalized for crossing the line at pit exit in an effort to stay ahead of Dixon in the final stage of the race. The lack of a penalty for the infraction did not sit well with many and highlighted flaws in IndyCar’s new three-man committee of race stewards. Pagenaud finished in front at Barber after a spirited battle with Graham Rahal. No penalties were issued for contact between the two drivers.

Both races ran under green flag conditions from start to finish - impressive and nearly unprecedented, particularly at Long Beach. What did you make of both races?

SJ – Long Beach was interesting and confusing. I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision. As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce. If you cross the yellow line with more than two wheels, you have broken the rule. It couldn’t be more clear than that. There are probably 25 drivers every weekend in some race, somewhere in the world that get’s a penalty for doing just that.

I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand.

At Barber, what can you say? Unfortunately Scott always seems to be in the right place at the wrong time and gets tapped from behind. Every time that happens to him the race always seems to go green the whole way and he had no chance of recovering. It’s frustrating because his pace was definitely good. He was almost a second per lap quicker on his fastest race lap than anyone else. He would have definitely been in the hunt at the end of the race if he hadn’t gone to the back of the field after the contact.

The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist returned to the U.S. to resume racing in the Indy Lights championship last weekend after two races in Europe – both in a Mercedes AMG GT3 – in the Blancpain Sprint Series and the ADAC GT Masters championship. Things didn’t go quite as expected for Felix at Barber Motorsports Park where he finished 14th in race one after contact with Santiago Urrutia and 8th in race two.

In their Sprint Series debut at Misano, Felix and teammate Tristan Vautier were very competitive, running fast laps and holding a podium position in the late stages of the main race before cruelly running out of gas. Rosenqvist finished well at the GT Masters round in Ochersleben, earning 10th in race one and 4th in race two. His schedule is challenging, going between open wheel racing and sports car racing.

SJ – At Barber, I think the team (Belardi) had a bit of a struggle from the moment they unloaded. They had massive tire wear and they were fighting the car the whole weekend. They never really got on top of it. It’s a tough championship. Indy Lights has some very good talent right now.

If you look at racing in America overall, there’s pretty good depth in all of the categories. IndyCar is really quite impressive. Take a guy like Alexander Rossi who was super promising coming out of GP2. He’s running on the last two rows of the grid. I think that says a lot. It’s a very tough field now.

Misano was good because Felix was almost half a second quicker than anyone else and everyone was quite impressed. But unfortunately they didn’t make to the end of the race.

JT – The first race of the 2016 season of WEC took place at Silverstone two weeks ago. It was a rather fraught race for several drivers and teams with Brendon Hartley crashing out in his Porsche 919 and the sister Porsche making contact with one of the Ford GTs. The No. 8 Audi went up in smoke due to hybrid system failure.

Meanwhile, the No. 7 Audi took the checkered flag in first place. However, a post-race penalty for excessive wear on a front skid block led to the car’s exclusion. The No. 2 Porsche 919 therefore took the win. Some saw the ruling as harsh and Audi initially appealed the ruling then withdrew its appeal. What’s your view?

SJ – A rule is a rule. It might seem a stiff penalty but it is what it is. Apparently, the car wasbouncing and wore down the skid block but that’s not the rule makers’ fault. That’s an element that those running the car have to manage.

If you have rules, you have to adhere to them. A car might be 300 grams too light and you could argue whether that was any kind of advantage but if it’s too light, if it violates the rule, that’s it.

JT – Last winter Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested Alfa Romeo might return to F1 as a constructor to gain publicity for the brand and compete at the highest level. When asked if Alfa might consider racing at Le Mans, he said he preferred F1. You differ with his view.

SJ – Yes, he said that F1 is the maximum of technological expression in the automotive world and that’s where Alfa should be.

But that’s actually not true anymore. I think the WEC is significantly more technologically advanced than Formula One is today. At least you have some technical choice in WEC. F1 is incredibly restricted with a complex and expensive engine formula which only allows one approach at a massive cost.

Everybody has to build exactly the same engine and chassis. You’re not allowed to do anything outside of their very restricted little box. Consequently, all F1 is, is optimizing a very strict rules package. There’s little room for innovation. In the WEC there is at least room for a bit of innovation with the freedom to try different versions of the P1 concept.

On the other hand, the P1 cars now require Formula One level budgets and that’s for just six cars and three teams spending stupid money. You can’t really even count the Rebellion non-hybrid P1 cars. Why they’re running in P1 and not P2 is beyond me. And of course, if the VW Group decides it wants to do something different than sports car racing it’s game over for the whole thing.


#F1TOP3

#F1TOP3

The Russian GP is here! Win win win! Don't forget to submit your #F1TOP3!

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: Bahrain GP, WEC & Scott Dixon's win at Long Beach

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – The Bahrain Grand Prix was perhaps better than expected.

Stefan Johansson – Yes definitely, there was some good racing and some different strategies that played out in different ways towards the end of the race. Kimi’s strategy definitely worked this time. He had a great race and with a few more laps and a little bit more luck could have even won the race if the Mercedes guys both had the brake problems they claimed towards the end.

JT – You’re correct and following the race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said this level of competition shows that F1 is healthy. I think that’s more than a bit of a stretch. What’s your view?

SJ - I think it’s important to put everything in perspective. F1 is still a mammoth sport, relative to other sports and certainly compared to any other form of motorsport it’s still getting massive viewership numbers. It’s always had an ebb and flow of interest when one team is dominating or when more than one team is competitive. But what is worrying is the health of nearly all the teams, except those with direct backing from manufacturers, is abysmal.

The current costs in F1 are completely unsustainable and I think everyone is finally realizing that it’s not possible to continue this way. Sponsorship in general isn’t what it used to be. It used to be measured in numbers of eyeballs but there are so many other factors now with all of the social media and other avenues of exposure. In many ways, I think it’s a lot harder to quantify what the actual return on investment is for a sponsor today. 

JT – As you’ve pointed out in previous blogs, racing doesn’t always adhere to the logic applied to business in general, particularly Formula One.

SJ – Yes, exactly. It’s one thing for the automotive manufacturers involved in F1 but the other sponsors who participate have changed. Tobacco used to be the other big source of sponsorship and alcohol to a degree. Not just in F1, but across the board in racing I’ve never known it to be this tough to generate money.

That’s in addition to the massively higher costs of operating a racing team today, and again, particularly in Formula One. The championship consists of let’s say three categories of teams. First we have the teams that have been there for decades or from the beginning. They are the pure racers. That’s their bread and butter, their passion, their livelihood. That’s Ferrari, McLaren and Williams and later on maybe also Sauber. They will always be around, or at least attempt to be around which may currently be the case for Sauber.

That’s four teams, then we have rest of the grid is made up of a combination of Manufacturers (Mercedes) and what I refer to as the ego based teams. Those are the teams that’s either owned or backed by a wealthy individual or a group of individuals that all fancy having a go at F1 but it’s not their livelihood or main business. These are Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Lotus, Force India and Manor. You’ve always had teams like that in F1, some more financially healthy than others. Red Bull has been an exception in that they’ve been extremely successful and have always had the financial muscle to stay on top.  For any one of the teams outside the four who’s main business it is to field a Formula One car it is only a board decision away from leaving F1 if it no longer suits their purpose or for whatever other reason they decide it’s not a good fit any longer.

If one drops out after they’ve burned through however many hundreds of millions of dollars, there always seems to be another right around the corner. But many of them don’t seem to realize that buying a Formula One team is the easiest part of the whole endeavor. And once they’ve got the tiger by the tail they better hold on because it’s going to be a wild ride. Some of these teams are now looking for buyers or new investors but the economic model is now so flawed that I can’t see who would entertain the idea of owning a Formula One team without a major support of a Manufacturer or another form of guaranteed income outside of the traditional sponsorship model. If it weren’t for the money they’re getting from Bernie none of them would be in business by now, and that never used to be the case but more the icing on the cake for most of them.

JT – On that note, there’s been a lot of rumors about VW now joining F1 since the resignation of Dr. Piech from the board of VW. It was commonly known that he was opposed to VW as a whole to become involved in F1.

SJ – I find it quite humorous that everyone in the F1 media is immediately jumping to conclusions as if this somehow was the main reason for his resignation. Somehow I think the VW group has bigger fish to fry than to worry about their involvement in F1. I have no doubt they are continuously monitoring the situation and there are continuing rumors about Audi doing something, but I don’t for a second believe that this would even feature on their agenda at the moment.

 JT – In racing terms, perhaps the most interesting facet of the Bahrain GP was the strategy employed by Ferrari to aide Kimi Räikkönen’s charge to second place.

SJ – No question, it was great to see Kimi finally put a whole race together without a drama of some sort. It’s clear that Ferrari is at least a bit of a threat this year. The car clearly suits both Kimi and Vettel very well.

It was quite interesting to see shots of the track from overhead during the broadcast. You could watch Kimi and Vettel taking the same corners using very different lines than most of the other guys. Most of them use the modern method if you like, squaring off the corners with a very late, fast and aggressive entry whereas Kimi and Sebastian turn in much earlier, carry speed to the apex and take that momentum through the corner more.

It’s more of an older approach, but you’ve really got to have a car you can trust if you do that. You trail-brake to the apex of the corner basically but you have to have a solid, planted rear-end to do that otherwise you’re correcting all the way to the apex. 

JT – Lewis Hamilton was in good shape, starting from the pole and building a gap. But if Räikkönen had had a few more laps it looked as if he could have challenged for the win.

SJ – It appeared that both the Mercedes had brake problems toward the end of the race so I think there’s a good chance Kimi could have fought with them if the race was longer. I’m sure he wouldn’t have caught Nico [Rosberg] the way he did if Nico didn’t have a brake issue.

Lewis however seems to be on a different planet at the moment, I said it last time but it’s worth repeating, it’s rare when you get into the situation where he is now, where all the stars are lined up perfectly. When you have the best car, the best team and your driving is so effortless it’s almost flawless. He’s enjoying that at the moment and who knows how long it will last but it’s a rare occurrence and it may never happen again in his career but he’s certainly making the most of it while he can. I feel sorry for Nico, he’s only a fraction behind but it’s just enough to not being able to make an impact on Lewis program. He’s going to have to come up with something radical soon or it will be a walk in the park for Lewis to win the championship this year again. In some ways it’s similar to the Red Bull situation a few years back, Webber was very close in the beginning but lost out and the longer it went on the advantage for Vettel just grew bigger and bigger. Once you hit that trigger point mentally where you gradually give up the fight it’s all over.

JT – Williams finished behind Mercedes and Ferrari once again. They seem to qualify well enough but don’t have sufficient pace in the races. McLaren had another less than stellar outing with Jenson Button failing to start the race and Fernando Alonso finishing eleventh. What do you make of their respective performances?

SJ –Williams seems to have the same problems they had last year. Their execution is not there. They’re just not one hundred percent on top of things. There always seems to be some little glitch here or there that stops them maximizing their potential. As for McLaren well, it wasn’t great obviously. But I kind of have a feeling about them.

They have the resources, the equipment, the right manpower and definitely the desire… I think they might actually surprise a few people before the end of the season. Ok, Button didn’t start in Bahrain but at least Alonso was close to fighting for a championship point. That’s a huge improvement from where they were in Australia.

The early season points, especially in F1 today, are so valuable it’s ridiculous. The rate of technical development is so high that all of the mid to back-end teams – whatever points they were able to score these first three to four races will be worth gold at the end of the season. It gets much, much more difficult to score points as the season goes on. 

 

JT – Regarding McLaren, they made an announcement today about their new color scheme, which seems to be quite a big deal for them.

SJ – Yes, I did see that too. It’s still grey, albeit a bit darker than before, with a few day-glow red bits on it. There are still no sponsors of any significance on the car, and the only car that really matters what color it carries is Ferrari, the rest I don’t think anyone would care one iota over. Colors keep changing with sponsors and the only car that have always been the same color is Ferrari, if they were to change it would no doubt be a huge deal, for the rest, I don’t think it would matter to much.

JT – The Spanish Gand Prix is next on the calendar, the first of the European races. Do you expect significant jumps in performance from the teams?

SJ – I think you’ll find that it will be harder and harder for the mid-pack teams to score points. Development will start to get more serious and it’s likely that McLaren will make more progress and probably quite fast considering how far behind they started, so will Red Bull and probably also Toro Rosso, Lotus and Force India. I think the competition at the front will tighten up a bit but I think Mercedes still has some performance in their pocket.

 

JT – In related news it may be a bit premature to say that the World Endurance Championship (WEC) is stealing F1’s thunder in racing terms but many watchers of both series are commenting that the competition in the WEC is easily outclassing that in F1. That seems a fair statement after having seen the good racing at both Silverstone last month and Spa last weekend.

The technology fielded by Audi, Porsche and Toyota in the WEC now surpasses what we see on the F1 grid and lap times aren’t that much different between the F1 single-seaters and LMP1 prototypes. Commercially, sports car racing can’t begin to touch F1 but the current situation reminds me a bit of circumstances we saw in the 1980s with the World Sportscar Championship and F1. F1 drivers, including those currently competing like Nico Hulkenberg, are starting to cross over, looking at the WEC as a viable and attractive alternative. One wonders how much notice the powers in Formula One are taking?

SJ – Yes, the battle between Audi and Porsche at Silverstone in particular was great. What’s refreshing in the WEC is that you have racing that while still restricted does allow alternative options for employing technology. I think this is great and the way it should be. Porsche are using one concept (V4 Turbo, 8-megajoule Hybrid ERS), Audi is using another (V6 Turbodiesel, 4-megajoule Hybrid ERS), Toyota are doing their own thing (V8, 6-megajoule Hybrid ERS) and of course the Nissan which is completely different (V6 Turbo, undetermined-megajoule Hybrid ERS, front-wheel drive).

Things now are a bit similar to that period in the 1980s. I wish it was more like that. Back then I raced in Formula One, Group C and I even raced in F2 sometimes, all at the same time. That stopped when I got fully established in F1 and you weren’t allowed to do anything else but I think the fact the F1 drivers are trying sports car racing again is a good thing.

Take Scott [Dixon] for example. Chip [Ganassi] (Ganassi Racing) let’s his drivers race wherever they can fit it in as long as it doesn’t affect their main program of Indycars or NASCAR. Yes, for the most part they are Chip’s cars but because he competes in several categories, his drivers are able to race different types of cars. His IndyCar and NASCAR guys get to do sports car races. I think that’s a good thing. 

JT - Someone pointed out in Autosport recently that sadly, the best drivers in the world aren’t necessarily in F1 anymore, do you agree with that?

SJ - The sharp end in F1 is obviously very, very good there’s no doubt about that, maybe as good as it’s ever been in fact. But even guys like Nico Hulkenberg and Mark Webber soon realize that they have to work pretty hard to even stay on the same pace as the teammates they drive with in prototypes. In many ways the current F1 cars are the easiest cars to drive because they are so incredibly well engineered and the main purpose of all the technology aside from making the car as fast as possible of course, is to make it as easy as possible to drive as this also helps to get more speed and avoid as many mistakes as possible from the driver being on the limit.

Frankly, if I were a F1 team owner I’d let my drivers do as much as they could in Sports-cars in particular, and I think you’ll see more of it. You can sense the level of frustration when you talk to some of the guys in F1 now, they all complain because it’s just not pure racing anymore. All they do is maintain tire wear and drive to a certain speed determined by their engineers.

I think the more the drivers race the better they get, especially with as little racing as they do now in F1. There’s no better school for race-craft than sports car racing because you’re racing all the time. You have slower cars, faster cars, track conditions which change more and many other factors. And you’re racing on the limit the whole time with all of those variables. You learn to save fuel, learn to save tires, all the stuff you need. Every lap you do in a race car adds to your experience somehow.

The WEC is no threat to Formula One on any level except technically or its attractiveness in terms of driving and racing. They have few spectators and not too much TV exposure. Back in the day, IndyCar (CART) started gaining on F1 a bit and it didn’t take long before a certain someone the kibosh on that.

If the WEC attracted more manufacturers and had five or six of them with three-car teams then all of a sudden it’s a very serious proposition, especially if they’re all spending money on marketing as well as racing. Up to now, Porsche and Toyota have been fairly quiet in terms of their marketing. But Audi has done extremely well in that regard. Of course, it helps if you win before you start doing a lot of marketing.

JT – The racing at last weekend’s WEC round at Spa-Francorchamps was not as good as what took place at Silverstone but Audi and Porsche had a fairly interesting battle with Audi emerging victorious. It was curious that Audi decided to run two of its three cars in low-drag “Le Mans” configuration in preparation for the 24 Hours but Porsche and Toyota didn’t opt to do the same.

SJ – It seemed to be a good battle between Audi and Porsche but it looks like Toyota has lost their way a little bit this year for whatever reason. The new Audi looks quite impressive though. The aero they have is obviously working, and the car looks awesome.

It is strange that Porsche and Toyota didn’t run their Le Mans bodywork. You’d think Spa is really the only chance they will get to run with it before the 24 Hours. That would be where you’d put some effort in. The test day at Le Mans is only one day and the running is very sporadic. You don’t really get a lot of laps in, especially if you have to cycle three drivers through a car, added with the long laps at Le Mans they’ll be lucky for each driver to get 15 laps in anger over the course of one day.

JT – The IndyCar season has progressed since we last chatted, with Scott Dixon finally taking a win at the Long Beach Grand Prix – a race also remarkable for the uncharacteristic lack of caution flags this year. He was justifiably pleased and I think everyone can agree that he’s not just one of the best drivers in IndyCar – he could succeed anywhere including F1.

The following race at Barber Motorsports Park provided what has arguably been the best racing this year and a podium including Scott and two Americans – winner Josef Newgarden and runner-up Graham Rahal.

SJ – Yes, Scott is and always has been one of the best drivers I’ve seen period. I call him the “mailman”. If you give him a good car, he’ll deliver – simple as that, and it doesn’t matter what type of car, he will win in anything.

As you know, there are hundreds of fast guys but less than a handful in the entire world that can deliver a win when the car is capable of winning, or finish second when a car is not capable of winning. That’s how you win championships. I’m glad he got the Long Beach monkey off his back. He’s got St. Petersburg to deal with still. That’s the other bogey-track.

It was also great to see nice, clean driving at Long Beach, especially given what went on at NOLA (New Orleans Grand Prix) the week before. That was just embarrassing to watch. That looked like the Formula Ford festival or something. It wasn’t the standard of driving you expect from a series like IndyCar.

The Chevrolets still seem to have an advantage over the Hondas on the road and street courses but there isn’t too much Honda can do now because they’ve submitted their spec package and I don’t think they can change it much. The changes made to the Chevys (IndyCar banned the use of one of their front wing elements) didn’t seem to affect their downforce that badly.

All of the teams were also supposed to beef up the aerodynamic pieces on the cars to stop all the debris flying around the track after the St Petersburg debacle, but you can strengthen them all you want. If you hit someone or something, something has to give. You’re better off having the little dive planes or devices fail than having the whole main-plane on the front wing. That gets expensive very quickly.

I just followed the race at Barber online. From what I understand it was very much a fuel conservation race and had a lot to do with tire management. But it was an exciting race, especially the finish.

JT – Last Sunday marked the first time IndyCar teams have been back on the Indianapolis oval since last May. They ran with their respective Chevrolet and Honda speedway aero-kits for the first time as well. The cars already seem to be quicker with the Team Penske drivers posting laps in the high 226 mph-range. The cars also look a little less odd.

SJ – Yes, I think they want to get up above 230 mph at least and I think they’ll be there. I talked with Scott [Dixon] this morning and the team is pretty happy with the car. They’re running the Chevrolet with a kind of draggy, high-downforce setup at the moment so there’s probably a lot more to come speed-wise.

The cars look quite good with the speedway aero kits. But then the previous version of the car didn’t look bad either.

 

JT – When you were racing at Indy in CART (1993-1995) the cars were quite a bit different, running with more power and less downforce than the current cars. What kind of speed was being posted for pole position?

SJ – I can’t remember exactly what they were but we were up around the 230 mph mark as well. We ran mostly Penske chassis there. These new cars probably do have more downforce than what we ran with. But the engines have far less power than what we had. We had close to 900 horsepower back then.

It’s always been the same though. You want the car right on the limit at Indianapolis, being able to go flat but not more. If you’re too comfortable, the car will be too draggy down the straights.

JT – On the domestic sports car racing front, the Tudor United Sports Car Series has looked comparatively meager since the regular season got underway, particularly at Long Beach where only two classes – prototype and GTLM ran. Only 17 cars started the race and within a couple of laps only 16 were running. Mazda’s prototypes finished three laps back behind most of the GTLM cars.

The field at last weekend’s round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was larger as the PC and GTD classes also ran but it still looked uneven and ragged. At least both races featured little in the way of caution flags and the racing was better at the front in the prototype class at Laguna Seca.

SJ – Yes, what can you say? The racing overall is occasionally good but it is uneven and with only around 10-11 cars in each of the four categories it makes it difficult to get too excited.

IMSA seems to be a championship more for the participants these days. Obviously, sports car racing has always had a mixture of manufacturers and rich guys so there’s never been a huge level of sponsorship. It’s racing mostly for die-hard fans, not the general public. The race at Laguna Seca had almost no promotion anywhere beforehand. The crowd was very small. I remember when we ran Champ Car there. The hills were black with people. The place was full.

 

JT – On a positive note, the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari seemed to have a decent weekend at Laguna Seca. Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler finished fourth. I suppose the team has to be somewhat satisfied with the result.

SJ – It was a decent weekend with good points in the circumstances. The BoP certainly hasn’t been in our favor since Daytona which we really had a shot to win if we hadn’t had a clutch issue. The team did a terrific job in the pits with good strategy and quick stops. We’re third in the championship but it’s very close now.