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Filtering by Tag: Macau GP

2017: Year In Review

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 92

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

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

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

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

F3 British GP - 1980 (Archive)

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

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

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

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

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

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

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

3D Design by:  Chris Beatty

3D Design by: Chris Beatty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Pirelli

Source: Pirelli

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

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

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

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

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

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:  Scuderia Corsa

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

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

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

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

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stefan Johansson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: F1 Fanatic

Source: F1 Fanatic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you enjoy driving the Ferrari again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler about Lewis Hamilton’s triumph in Abu Dhabi, the surprising replacement of Marco Mattiacci at Ferrari, and Felix Rosenqvist’s win at the Macau GP.

Stefan Johansson

Lewis Hamilton - F1 Champion 2014 - Abu Dhabi

Jan Tegler – Lewis Hamilton triumphed in Abu Dhabi, winning the final race of the season and his second world championship, beating rival and teammate Nico Rosberg for the title by 67 points. He scored eleven victories over the course of the season to Rosberg’s five wins.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix wasn’t a very interesting race particularly once it was clear that Rosberg’s Mercedes W05 Hybrid was malfunctioning. What did you think of the race?

Stefan Johansson – Yes, it was a bit of an anti-climax given the whole build-up over the season. But in the end though, I think it was a fair result.

Can you imagine if the result had been the other way around and Lewis’ car had broken down? We would have never heard the end of it, “Oh my god, it’s the double-points. It’s the most unfair thing!” So, for the sake of peace and quiet going into the off-season it was probably the best thing and at least kept the media from getting completely out of hand. There’s already been enough negative stuff written all year.

JT – Clearly, Mercedes GP did the best job of figuring out/coping with the new 2014 regulations, winning both the constructor’s and driver’s title easily. That’s to their credit but I didn’t find the season to be exciting. There were some interesting races here and there but for the most part, Mercedes GP simply dominated. This is an opinion expressed by many F1 fans. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I would tend to agree, it’s been about one team the whole year. But don’t forget, the previous four years were pretty much all about Red Bull Racing. In some respects, that’s just the way it is in Formula One.

It’s down to the fact that you’re always going to have one team that finds the “magic bullet” when the rules – though comparatively restrictive now – change as much as they did for this season. In recent years, the biggest difference performance-wise was on the chassis side but this time it was certainly the engine/power unit. It’s hard to overcome the enormous horsepower advantage that the Mercedes engine/power units clearly have.

JT – There is perhaps one difference in the 2014 season compared to the last two decades of F1. Over those 20 years we saw domination as you mention - Red Bull Racing most recently. But even when Red Bull was dominant, the championship was decided between different teams – not as an inter-team rivalry.

Red Bull battled Ferrari (Vettel and Alonso). In the years of Ferrari domination, the battle was between McLaren and Ferrari (Schumacher and Hakkinen, Coulthard) or Renault and Ferrari (Schumacher and Alonso). In 2014 it was Hamilton versus Rosberg. While it’s always hard to compare eras, I’m betting most would say the last major inter-team fight for the championship – between Senna and Prost - was more dramatic.

SJ – Yes, the last similar season to this involved Prost and Senna as teammates at McLaren. Those two were totally dominant and the fight was between them for every race. Whichever – Prost or Senna - managed to keep their car on the track or running was going to win. And I’d agree, the battle between them was more interesting than Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry this year.  

Marco Mattiacci replaced at Ferrari

JT – On the day following the Abu Dhabi GP Ferrari caught just about everyone off-guard, announcing that Marco Mattiacci was out as team boss just eight months after he replaced Stefano Domenicali. Many, including Kimi Räikkönen, thought he was doing a good job for Ferrari. What do you think of this development?

SJ – I think it was a big surprise to everybody including Marco. Sergio Marchionne (Fiat CEO) certainly doesn’t mess around, he doesn’t bark, he just goes straight for the bite. Without knowing very much about the details I have a sense it was a political move. It’s most likely also part of the fallout from Montezemolo leaving earlier in the year. As Mattiaci was put in place by Luca, it’s likely they simply wanted a clean sweep moving forward.

JT – One would imagine this upsets the apple cart at Ferrari to some degree. What do you think this might mean for the team’s progress going forward from a technical and sporting point of view, and do you think Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel are worried by the turmoil?

SJ – Yes, it’s definitely attention-getting for both drivers. Poor old Kimi, he was just starting to make some progress with these new cars and now who knows how things will go? As for Vettel, Mattiaci is probably the only guy he really knows inside Ferrari at this point, so he must be questioning his decision to leave at this point.

The interesting part for me is the guy they’re replacing Mattiacci with (Maurizio Arrivabene, a senior executive with Phillip Morris and member of the F1 Commission). He’s not exactly the most experienced guy in running a racing team either, so on many levels he will have to go through the same learning curve that Mattiaci did, the advantage he will have is that he won’t get thrown in the deep end mid season, but will at least have the winter to get the hang of things.

He also does have the advantage of having been around the F1 paddock for a very long time. I remember meeting him already when I drove for Ferrari and he was with Marlboro already back then.

I thought Mattiacci did a really good job in the circumstances. He got the hang of it pretty quick and made some good hirings and navigated the Alonso saga incredibly well. He didn’t get intimidated early on but instead put the wheels in motion in case it wouldn’t work out with Alonso. He almost immediately had a strong backup plan in place (Vettel), which I thought was quite impressive.

Improving or changing any F1 team takes time. There’s no such thing as an overnight change and he had really just got going. Bottom line though - none of us really know the ins and outs of the situation. It’s hard to say what any new changes might be or what it will mean for continuity.

Having said all this, the 2015 car will be well under way already and a new team leader will not have that big impact on the performance level in the short term, so whatever they have in the pipeline will most likely remain what it is for next year at least.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Power Unit.

JT – Looking ahead to 2015. There seems to be a prevailing view that given the domination Mercedes GP and the Mercedes power unit showed this year, things won’t change much next season. Mercedes GP and the Mercedes power units are likely to dominate again. Do you agree?

SJ – Unless the freeze on engine development is lifted I don’t see how things are going to change much. The other teams may gain a little bit here or there but effectively the manufacturers are not allowed to touch the engine so I don’t see much that can be done.

It’s such an odd thing. If you’ve frozen engine development, why not freeze the chassis too, or the other way around? There are so many contradictions and enigmas in F1 now that it is becoming insanely confusing just to keep up. It’s hard to understand the logic behind much of it.

The engine manufacturers have all spent several hundred million Euros developing these engines and now they’re frozen for all new development. So, basically it means that unless you got it right first time out, you’re screwed for the next couple of years. But the chassis can be developed or updated continually. What would happen if the Aero package you present at the first race would have to remain the same for the next 2-3 years? Apparently Mercedes GP had something like 75 different front-wing configurations this year. I’m sure the other teams had just as many.  That’s just one of many components that are constantly being worked on, there’s new floors, rear wings, winglets, suspension parts, on and on it goes, every day, all year round.

Crates of new parts fresh from the factories are being delivered to the teams every day during race weekends. There’s endless chassis development and it’s costing exorbitant amounts of money. I don’t understand how that cost can be allowed to be infinite but you then can’t touch the engines in order to control the costs?

Then everyone complains about the cost of F1. It seems to me that despite the whole cost-cap idea, no one seems to want to get to the root of the problem – the root of what it is that cost so much money. Unless you prohibit development across the board the increase in costs will never stop. Typically, the two biggest line items in the budget is R&D and payroll. The top teams are now close to 1000 employees.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the teams should just be given a front wing mandated by the FIA. That’s it. They can only use that FIA wing with whatever level of downforce it produces. Around eighty-percent of the aerodynamic efficiency of the cars is generated by the front wing. Everything else is a byproduct as the air goes backwards down the car.

The downforce generated in front of the front wheels determines the aerodynamic efficiency of the car and that’s why the teams endlessly tinker with the front wings. Every race car in just about every series these days is developed around aerodynamics. This is where the majority of any race cars performance is coming from. And, at the end of the day, who cares?

Aerodynamic downforce, except to a certain and quite minimal level, is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle on anything except a racing car.

I really think it’s time for a complete rethink on the whole design concept of an F1 car and for that matter just about any race car.

Let’s say you set the downforce limit for a car at 2,000 pounds – that’s just an arbitrary number I’m using. You could measure that very easily with the strain gauges on the suspension pushrods. If you go over 2,000 pounds the car is illegal, simple as that. Then you could work on other more relevant efficiencies like optimizing drag, maybe increased downforce at lower speeds and other parameters.

Seemingly, it’s very important for the manufacturers in F1 to have engines that can be linked with the engines in their road cars. If so, then why not downplay the importance of downforce, so the manufacturers could work on developments like drag reduction which would have applications for their road cars? Less drag will aid fuel efficiency and you might also develop tires with less drag. There could be all sorts of developments that could be realized.

Make the tires and the mechanical grip more important and increase the top speed of the cars. Aim to get back to the same lap times as you have now, but do it by decreasing the minimum speed mid-corner and instead increase the top speed in a straight line. Unless something breaks or falls off a car, no one’s ever had a big accident on a straight as far as I can remember. And if something does come off a car it’s not going to make much difference whether you’re going 400 km/h or 350 km/h, but it would certainly make the cars a lot more spectacular to watch and it would give people something to talk about when the cars are doing close to 400kph in some places.

JT – As you have said before, that would make the racing would be better as well.

SJ – Exactly, that’s the whole point. Right now, the cars are on rails basically. I bet anything that if the cars had an engine producing 1300 horsepower with half the downforce that they have now and bigger tires and none of the driver aids they have now - all the pointless stuff on the steering wheel – the cars would be power-sliding around corners and it would be spectacular to watch.

That much power, which is absolutely not unreasonable for a car at the level of F1 with the carbon brakes that we have today, would be much better for racing. You’d be 30 to 40 km/h faster on the straights. The braking areas would be a lot longer because of the increased speed and less downforce and that will of course open up passing opportunities.

With much lower mid-corner speed and more power on hand, combined with the lack of driver aids, it will be much trickier to get a good exit out of the slow and medium speed corners. That will put more emphasis on hand, foot and throttle control. Whoever has the best car control will get a run on the car in front and be able to pass going down the straights without DRS and all the gimmicks, just a good exit and slipstream and better braking will be enough to make a pass. A good driver will really make a difference with this type of car. The cars will move around a lot more in the faster corners due to the loss of downforce, this will allow for a different quality of driver skill, some bravery and commitment that everyone used to love to watch. Nowadays, the slowest guy in the field is flat through Eau Rouge on his third lap, it’s barely a corner anymore, and it used to take a whole weekend to build up the confidence to take it flat.

Simplify everything; everything is so complicated now that it’s killing the racing. The cars would also look cooler instead of being like F3 cars on steroids.

JT – Again, looking ahead, many F1 observers are wondering whether the grid will be full next year. With the departure of Marussia and Caterham, and other teams on the brink financially, with the threat of boycotts etc, will the car count be down? What do you think?

SJ – – Well, we’re at the point now that everyone has feared for a long time. I think the problems are rooted much deeper fundamentally than the revenue share and who gets what. How many times have I said that when you change the rules, costs never-ever go down? The budgets always jump - sometimes by quite a lot - with every major rule change. The longer you can maintain rules stability the costs will eventually taper off, the trade off between R&D and performance will taper off each year and the smaller teams will eventually catch up to the bigger one’s.

This year the costs jumped hugely because all teams had to re-do literally everything. These are completely new cars with new engines, or power units as they are now called, re-gen systems and so much incredibly complicated stuff. Is it really necessary for F1 or racing in general for that matter- whether its 22 or 18 cars - to be that environmentally conscious? For me, it’s the best drivers in the world supposedly – brave young guys driving their tails off with very fast, spectacular, powerful racing cars – putting on a great show.

Apparently the manufacturers don’t think so and these new rules have come about because of this, and the costs hit everyone hard, especially the smaller teams although none of them wanted these new engines. They all have to buy these completely new power units at a much larger cost than before, in addition to having to build a new car that is now so complicated to operate that it doesn’t compare to anything they’ve been used to.

That’s just one part of it. Then there’s all the development and increased costs to run the cars, more people, on and on and on - and for what? When a small team needs a budget of close to $100 million just to be one of the clowns that make up the show with no hope of ever winning a race something’s seriously wrong. The top teams now have budgets of $500 million-plus.

What’s crazy is that no one in the top teams in Formula One seems to feel that there’s anything wrong with that. They say F1 should be the top. It should be the highest level. I believe it will still be at the highest level even if the biggest budgets were $100-150 million.

And the other problem for F1 teams is that every single part of the car has to be designed, manufactured and tested by the team itself. Most other race cars are offered as kits you can buy off-the-shelf. In Indy-Car for instance, you don’t have to make every single part of the car, in fact you’re not allowed to make anything yourself anymore, everything has to be bought directly through the series. That’s probably going to far in the extreme in the opposite direction though.

Every component of an F1 car is like a work of art, so beautifully made. But is all that really necessary? The big teams have a thousand people just to build a car - a thousand employees, seriously?

If the front wings on all the cars looked the same, would anyone really care? There are so many components on the car that could be standardized and no one would notice any difference, but the cost of manufacturing would come down drastically, and it would be the same for everyone, without having to enforce a cost cap, it would become a natural cost cap by simply not allowing each team to make each and every component on the car themselves.

I doubt there will be a full grid. I mean, who would try to buy either Marussia or Caterham at this point? There will be another year (2016) before Haas F1 joins the series so I’ll be very surprised if we see a full field. If anything, there are two or three other teams that are right on the limit. I think there will be a lot of drama before everything’s settled. However, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if there’s only 18 cars, as long as the racing upfront is great I really don’t think anyone cares.

JT – Certainly, F1 has experienced periods of expansion and contraction in the past but the current situation seems very serious.

SJ – It was bound to get to this point. The cost of Formula One has been unsustainable for quite some time. I’ve heard the arguments about the distribution of revenues but I can see Bernie’s (Ecclestone) previous points about the situation. Okay, teams like Sauber that have been in F1 for years and have been committed – that’s one thing. They deserve more than they have gotten, I think. But also, don’t forget they’ve done a lousy job the last couple of years with their cars and because of this they are now facing the situation they are in.

But when you look at Marussia and Caterham for example, it’s a different story. They’re basically some rich guys who fancies owning an F1 team but they are not really committed, or they jump into it without doing their homework before they commit. It’s one of several projects they are working on or own; Airlines, Soccer teams etc. They’re just dabbling. Like I have said many times before, owning a F1 team is not for the faint of heart, and it requires a total commitment on every level not only to be successful, but also to merely survive.

Compare the Marussia and Caterham owners to Ron Dennis, I doubt very much that Tony Fernandez net worth is any less than Ron Dennis for example.  The difference is that over the years Ron has put every penny back in McLaren to make it better, more competitive, a winning team. He’s hired the best drivers, the best people, invested in new facilities and equipment, never compromising. As a result he has of course become extremely wealthy in the process but it certainly wasn’t that way in the beginning. I don’t see that with Caterham for example, and certainly not with Marussia.

For Bernie, why should he bail those guys out? I am sure he feels they’ve got to pay their dues, and I agree 100%. That’s always been the case in Formula One. It’s the top of the top, and the bottom teams always come and go, either because they didn’t do their homework before they got into it, or they did a lousy job of it while they were there.

Stefan Johansson - McLaren - Mexican GP 1987

JT – Surprisingly, even now in early December, the driver silly-season continues. As we chat, Jenson Button still does not know if he will remain with McLaren for 2015 as no announcement has been made. I understand McLaren’s desire to cross their ‘”Ts” and dot their “Is” but leaving him in limbo isn’t terrifically professional. You had a similar experience with McLaren didn’t you?

SJ – Yes, I was in that same situation in 1987, being kept waiting forever while the team brought Senna in. It’s the old adage – it’s not about the driver, it’s about the team, which is completely understandable, it’s their business and the driver is one of many employees, and in the end it’s up to the owners of the team to make the decisions they think will serve their company the best. Jenson I think has done an excellent job, but clearly not good enough to make it a slam-dunk decision, and as such he’s in a position where he’s just going to have to wait.

Jeson Button - McLaren - F1

JT – Some have speculated that Button could be picked up by one of the factory P1 teams now racing in the WEC. Porsche recently finalized its driver line-up so there’s no open seat there. But, with Tom Kristensen retiring, there is an open seat at Audi. In addition, there are rumors swirling about Audi Sport leaving sports car racing and going to Formula One. One wonders whether it would be better for Audi to leave for to F1 where they might get more exposure or stay in the top echelon of sports car racing, a category they have basically owned. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Well, it’s hard to say with Button. As we’ve seen it’s not easy to make the transition from F1 to these hybrid P1 cars. Every car is so specialized these days and it’s very difficult to rise to the level where you’re able to extract that last five percent of performance. I know one thing for sure though, it would be an eye opener for him and he will love the racing in sportscars.

Why would Audi go to F1? That’s the question. You have to ask really, what is the best category of racing today?

Now, we’re at the point where each category has its own appeal and traits that aren’t so appealing. But I don’t think it’s the be-all or end-all to be in any one of them. If you do have the choice to race in any series – which very few manufacturers have – the decision should be based on whatever works best for you. There’s the financial side and the pressure of the racing side. As for Audi, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Le Mans experience have served them extremely well not only on the sporting side but also commercially, the question is, would an involvement in F1 have made that situation any better, I doubt it very much.

From a drivers perspective, like Jenson for example, I’m not sure Formula One’s the most fun anymore. Listening to all the drivers, I don’t hear too many happy campers – guys who are actually enjoying the driving part of it. They enjoy their jobs and the perks that go with them but I don’t think they’re too excited about the actual racing anymore.

Felix Rosenqvist - Macau GP Podium - 2014

JT – On the domestic sports car racing front, Pirelli World Challenge seems to be gaining even more strength with the recent revelation that Andretti Autosport may be entering the GT category with a Nissan GT-R effort. Meanwhile IMSA seems to be losing momentum.

SJ – World Challenge is definitely becoming a pretty impressive championship. We’re (Scuderia Corsa) going to run two cars next year (Ferrari 458 GT3s). The format is good with short sprint races and the racing is great.

JT – You just returned from Macau and the Macau Grand Prix, a race you finished second in in 1984. You were there to support Formula 3 driver Felix Rosenqvist who you’ve been aiding in his career. Felix won the race, F3’s biggest, most famous round. Overall, the Macau weekend including the GT3 race that runs there now, has really become a renowned event.

SJ – It was a great weekend and mainly to do with Felix of course. I went to a couple meetings with him there and took a look at things in general. It’s a critical point in his career right now, having spent probably one year to many in the same category it’s time to move on and look at the opportunities that are available, generally speaking, for any Junior category driver aren’t that many unless you have a significant budget to bring with you.

His result in Macau obviously did the job though and it has opened up a lot of new possibilities for him. He knew what he had to do before he got there and he did exactly that in the race. I was impressed with how he dealt with the whole weekend, knowing before he got there he only had one option to leave the place and that was to basically clean up. He’s had a rough season and a win in Macau was really the only thing that could salvage a bad situation going forward. It’s always a good sign when you see a driver that can knuckle down and stay focused and drive with the level of confidence you need to win, especially at a place like Macau where there’s basically no room for error. That makes a big difference.

Macau has a great atmosphere. Every year it gets bigger and bigger. It’s a top class world event now, very impressive – the whole organization and the build-up to it. The media exposure is huge too.

----- SJ Blog #48 -----