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Filtering by Tag: Mazda

Misfortune and controversy at the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, F1 Canadian & European Grand Prix

Stefan Johansson

JT – The 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a compelling event, notable in terms of history, misfortune and controversy. You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa and Scott Dixon who made his first start at Le Mans with the Chip Ganassi Ford program. Both teams had a fantastic race, winning the GTE and the GTE AM categories handily.

Interestingly, Bell and Sweedler have now won the Daytona 24, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 as teammates. Segal has won all three as well. What did you think of the Scuderia Corsa team’s performance in just their second year at Le Mans?

SJ – What a difference a year makes. Although that’s kind of typical for Le Mans. It’s such a daunting track on your first visit. If you’re not prepared and already know what to expect it takes time to get up to speed there – for the drivers and also the teams. When you do it for the first time, you start to get the hang of it halfway through the race, once you have a couple of stints under your belt you start getting into a rhythm and little by little it all comes together and the lap times suddenly start coming down. Practice is generally a disaster your first time there because you get very little seat time with three drivers sharing the car, and the fact that each lap is almost four minutes long. If you’re not qualifying you will go into the race with probably less than 15-20 laps of practice beforehand. If the car is not well balanced and handling close to your liking it makes it very difficult.

This year all three drives came back with a clear frame of mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a Le Mans where there was so little drama from beginning to the end. The car ran perfectly from the first lap and handled really well. There were no mishaps or incidents either in practice or the race. The drivers did their bit perfectly and everybody was happy with the way the car was handling which makes a huge difference.

During the race everyone just got on with the job. Everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do, all three drivers were very fast and not one mistake from any of the drivers. We didn’t have a single unscheduled pit stop the whole race. That’s how you win endurance races of course, spending all the time on track and not in the pits. The execution was flawless by everyone on the team and most importantly by the guys in the car. It was great to be a part of.

JT – What was the overall atmosphere at the circuit like this year? There seemed to be a great anticipation for the race.

SJ – It was very upbeat overall. Every year the event seems to be getting a little bit bigger and better. There was another huge crowd and a tremendous atmosphere. Everyone was excited and it was everything you expect Le Mans to be. It’s just like the Indy 500, steeped in tradition and procedures that no other race has, or would ever get away with. Starting with the scrutineering on the Sunday or Monday prior to the race, which means you have been there almost a week before the race even starts. It’s a fantastic event and for everyone involved and the build up over the week is a huge part of it. The manufacturers are spending a fortune not just on the racing but also on the activation around the track. I don’t think there’s any sport or event that actually comes close to the set up Audi and Porsche have around the track, it’s incredibly impressive.

JT – One of the biggest stories was the heartbreak for Toyota in LMP1. Their cars had led most of the race and looked fast and very reliable. The No. 2 Porsche 919 was their only competition. The No. 6 Toyota had a setback when Kamui Kobayashi spun into a gravel trap after dawn but otherwise this looked like Toyota’s race to win.

Then on the penultimate lap, the No.5 TS050 Hybrid with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel ground to a halt on the main straight due to a turbo component failure. With minutes to go the No.2 Porsche took the win. Toyota, having made numerous attempts at Le Mans came up short once again. It was Porsche’s 18th overall victory. Mazda remains the only Japanese manufacturer to have won overall.

What are your thoughts on the late race drama?

SJ – It was shocking in a way and gut wrenching to watch the car stop on the very last lap. Like every single person in the place I just felt so bad for them. It’s just unfathomable that the car would break with three minutes to go. They had done such a great job the whole race and really, I think they took everyone by surprise. Both the drivers and the team had done a phenomenal job. I’m sure will take them a while to get over this.

JT – It could be said that Toyota had an “Audi-esque” performance. On the other hand, Audi didn’t look like the Audi we’ve known at Le Mans. Both of their cars had reliability problems and issues on-track. The only reason they kept their streak of podium finishes alive is because the No. 5 Toyota was not classified.

SJ – It was strange. Qualifying was a bit weird overall anyway because of the weather. It was unrepresentative of a lot of the cars pace so we didn’t know where Audi was really. As it turned out, they never really featured in the race.

Of course, Porsche had a problem too with one its cars. It’s seems to be the nature of the beast now though. The P1 cars are getting so incredibly complicated with all of the systems they have and the technology is relatively new which all contributes to more reliability problems of course. I was given a tour around the Audi garage on Saturday morning. Their setup is just mind-boggling. It makes even Formula One look like club racing in comparison. It’s truly unbelievable how far it has come in recent years.

JT – Moving on to the GTE class, controversy still surrounds Ford’s historic win with the new GT. There were three Fords in the top four finishing positions with the Ganassi Team USA cars as the chief rivals - finishing first and third - for Ferrari’s entries from Risi Competizione and AF Corse. The American-fielded Risi 488 GTE finished second in class.

Both the winning No. 68 Ford GT and the No. 82 Risi Ferrari received post-race penalties with Ganassi and Risi protesting each other. A further investigation is pending on whether the Ford GTs were outside the ACO’s “7 Percent Rule” which is enforced to establish a minimum buffer in performance between classes.

Balance of Performance adjustments made after the Le Mans test day and then again just before the race affected the Fords and Ferrari’s least. Many of the other teams opined that the ACO was favoring Ford and Ferrari. Fords accounted for eight of the top ten fastest laps during the race and took four of the top five spots in qualifying, besting the top normally-aspirated car by nearly four seconds.

Their pace during the race was impressive. Much of this can be attributed to the driver line-ups and professionalism of Ganassi Racing. But observers both in the paddock and outside it have questioned the politics behind the BoP for the race and the outright pace of the Ford GTs. What’s your take?

SJ – Well first of all, the 488 has been winning races all year leading up to Le Mans. It’s a fantastic car, and so is the Ford.

It’s not just a question of weight, horsepower, aerodynamics, etc. There are so many other factors. Obviously a production Ferrari is far more inclined to be a great race car than a Corvette or an Aston Martin – just by the way the car is built. Then take the Ford GT, it’s half the height of any of the other cars so it will obviously cut through the air a lot better. It’s a different type of car and in my opinion it sets a precedent for how manufacturers are going to have to look at GT racing in the future.

As I’ve said many times, I don’t like the BoP. I can’t give an answer as to what should be done other than to un-restrict the cars but lots of people disagree with me. The bottom line with the BoP is that there’s always going to be only one team happy with it – the team on top of the podium. The rest will always think they’re being shafted.

Let’s face it, everybody is playing the game to a degree, it’s a sensitive subject obviously and frankly I don’t think you can ever find a happy medium that will suit everybody on every track. Clearly every manufacturers goal is to win Le Mans first of all, and I think some cars are more suitable to this kind of track than others. I think all you have to do is look at the design and shape of each car to figure out which one looks more suitable to achieve this goal compared to some of the others.

Don’t forget as well that the driver combinations that  the Ganassi US operation had were beyond what any other team had in my opinion. All of this adds up. And the GT was built to be quick at Le Mans specifically. I think you also have to give a considerable amount of credit to Chip Ganassi’s team for figuring out what needed to be done. They’ve never been to Le Mans before and they show up and basically clean up. From my point of view I would have loved to see Scott win of course but it didn’t pan out that way unfortunately, his car got separated from the leading bunch on one of the early safety cars and the gap basically remained the same throughout the race, everyone was running so close to each other on pace among the top three cars that it was impossible to make up enough time. He did get fastest lap and a new lap record for the GT category, which was impressive for his first visit to the track.

JT – That’s a good segue to another question that may arise for manufacturers in the GTE/GTLM class in the future. Ford has made it clear that they designed the new GT as a race car first and a production car second. GTE and GTLM are “production-based” classes. Yes, their adherence to the actual road-going versions of the cars raced is far from complete but it looks as if Ford has moved even further from the production-based formula. What might that mean going forward?

SJ – Again, I think there a number of factors, not just horsepower, weight, aero and the rest. It’s how you look at a car like this philosophically – how you take into consideration weight distribution, center of gravity, suspension design. But the more competitive anything gets, the further the goal post will be moved and it’s fair to assume we may see some different looking cars from some of the manufacturers in the future, if they are serious about winning at Le Mans.

JT – The increasing pace of the GTE class, particularly as demonstrated by Ford, brings us back to the points you’ve made previously about the potential lap times GTE cars could achieve if restrictions upon them were removed. The Ford GTs are already closing in on LMP2 lap times.

SJ – Yes, when you see the money that’s being spent on the P1 factory teams it makes your eyes water – it’s insane. It’s the same level as the top teams in Formula One now. The road car versions of the race cars in GTE/GTLM have almost 250 more horsepower than the race cars with all of the restrictions in place on them.

If you gave them back that power for a start that would make their lap times probably six seconds per lap quicker, I reckon. There’s no question they could be in 3 minute 40s very quickly. That’s kind of where the ACO feels the fastest cars in the field should be. So rather than restricting them why not simply let them loose and see what times they will be able to get down to. It would make the racing spectacular in my opinion.

The amount of grip the LMP1s have in the corners is simply unbelievable. Even in the rain when it’s coming down significantly their turn-in is just as fast as in the dry. The cars literally do not move. You rarely see a P1 car get out of shape. They’re stuck like Scalextric slot cars.

If you increased the tire widths on the GTE cars along with the added power - the aero could almost stay the same – they might go eight to ten seconds quicker over a lap within a couple years.

You’d have every manufacturer who wants to compete on a serious level be able to build a car that would fit the purpose. People might say that the costs will go through the roof but they won’t get anything near as expensive as building and developing a P1 car. And at least you’d be able to sell the same car to a customer racing team, to offset some of the development costs.

It could be like it was back in 1980s with the factory Porsches and then customer teams with the same cars but maybe slightly different than the factory machines. You had the three factory Rothmans cars (Porsche 956s) and about 25 privateers running the cars as well in the 80s. The factory cars will always be a bit faster than the privateers in most cases, but it would still be a lot better than the gap we have now between the P1 factory cars and the 2 privateer teams.

JT – The ACO has reversed its stated plan to allow teams with IMSA-specific engines to compete in the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Next year only LMP2 cars with the new global-spec Gibson engine, as well as grandfathered prototypes, will be allowed to compete at Le Mans.

Obviously that splits the global sports car racing scene once more. It has certainly happened many times in the past but fans hoped the two P2 formulas could race together.

SJ – Yes, well like a lot of people I get tired of even listening to the debate. I just find it sad that the two sides can’t figure out a way to do this together so that everyone could run the same cars. It’s already hard to come by sponsorship for sports car racing and it would make a lot more sense if they could agree to one set of rules.

JT – You were on hand for the Canadian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes took the win after Ferrari pursued a questionable pit strategy. What did you think of the race?

SJ – Mercedes obviously made the right call in Montreal or maybe it was Ferrari who made the wrong call and Mercedes had to cover by doing the opposite which in this case worked out perfect for them. It seems like every other team is up and down in terms of their performance or tactics from one weekend to the other. Nobody has the consistency Mercedes has in every single race.

If you look at Ferrari, we have yet to see them properly execute a race weekend in its entirety where everything runs smoothly from Friday to Sunday. So it’s hard to get a reading on what their real pace actually is.

When you have momentum as Mercedes does, it’s a lot easier but even they screwed up at Monaco last year so it can happen to anyone. There’s no doubt that the other teams are getting closer, but week in, week out, the Mercedes is still the fastest car and the strongest team.

JT – In the most recent round, the European Grand Prix, Mercedes won again – this time with Nico Rosberg dominating the race. Lewis Hamilton had electronics issues during the grand prix but his weekend was compromised in qualifying.

SJ – Obviously, Rosberg had everything together. Lewis’ weekend kind of fell apart from qualifying forward and everyone else seemed to have a fraught day. Obviously his electronics and subsequent radio issues didn’t help him any.

The tires seems to play a bigger part in every teams performance where some teams manage to get it right and others are completely out to lunch, then the next weekend it’s someone completely different who either gets it right or not. Which comes back to my earlier argument that they should allow for more than one tire company to compete. The tires are such a huge part of a race cars performance, and if there’s one area which is completely neglected as far as innovation goes it’s the tires. Now we have one manufacturer who’s basically been mandated to build a crap tire in order to spice up the show. Yet there’s probably more to learn in that area than anything we will ever learn about aerodynamics. And, it will cost the teams a lot less in development costs, they would have to bring back more track testing which everyone seems to want, rather than the endless simulator testing that everyone is now forced to do since the ban of in season testing. There are three major components that dictate a cars performance, Chassis, Engine and Tires. Both the Chassis and Engine are open for anyone who wants to compete, so why not also the tires?

JT- Finally, we had the Indycar series return to Road America last weekend. It seemed like the race had a great turn out with fans from all over the country coming back to this classic venue. The race gave us plenty of action although it didn’t turn out great for Scott this time.

SJ- Yes, it’s great to see there is a genuine resurgence for Indycar right now. I think the series is doing a really good job at bringing back some of these classic venues but what’s even better is the fact that the fans are responding. There is no doubt that Indycar has finally got some real momentum and more and more fans are now becoming aware that the series is producing what may be the best racing in the world. Elkhart Lake proved to be no different, it was a great race packed with action from start to finish. Unfortunately for Scott it ended early with an engine failure. If you add Detroit where he also dropped out with an engine failure while leading it makes it two races where he could have potentially scored big. This is obviously not helping the Championship but at least he’s still in the hunt although it’s becoming more difficult to close the gap with each race that goes by.

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: reviewing Rolex 24 at Daytona and looking ahead to Formula 1 in 2015

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – The 2015 edition of the Rolex 24 was an interesting race. You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa as the team fought hard with its No. 63 and No. 64 Ferrari 458 Italias in the GTD class. Both cars led the class and were near the front for most of the race but misfortunes befell each with the No. 63 finishing sixth in class and 20th position overall while the No. 64 finished fourteenth in class and 34th overall.

Meanwhile, Scott Dixon won the race outright in the No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Ford Ecoboost Riley along with teammates Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. It was the second 24 win for Scott adding to his 2008 title, and he did an amazing job in his long stints. The fight for the overall win and the class battles were close and interestingly, American engine manufactures took victory in every category. What did you make of the race?

Stefan JohanssonOverall, I thought the race was very good. The caution periods with the wave by certainly improve the racing and Daytona usually goes down to the wire since they’ve had these procedures. Whether it’s fair or not may be debatable but generally it’s good for the racing. The battle in the prototype class between the Ganassi cars, the [Wayne] Taylor car and several of the others was great.

Scott did an amazing job as was to be expected but everybody in the team did their part. Scott was really pleased to win and he was pretty mighty that’s for sure, especially in that final stint that lasted nearly four hours. The whole team did a good job really. You have to take your hat of to Chip and the entire Ganassi operation, when you look back at everything they’ve accomplished since they started it’s very impressive.

JT – The Ganassi Ford DPs and Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP looked to have different strengths throughout the race. The No. 02 seemed to be better on the banking than the No. 10. It would have been interesting to see them compete for the win. But the miscue by WTR with Jordan Taylor driving more than four hours in a six-hour period was very costly.

SJ – I think it was due to the fact that the teams ran with different downforce levels – either for speed on the straights and fuel economy or grip in the infield. It was the same in GTD, we (Scuderia Corsa) ran ultra-light downforce and were very quick on the banking but struggled on the infield.

Still, the battle between the Vipers and our Ferraris was great with a Porsche in between here and there. Unfortunately, the clutch started slipping in the No. 63 car (Bell, Sweedler, Segal, Lazzaro) and they basically had to slow right down to keep the car going. I’m actually astonished they made it to the end because the clutch started to slip with about five hours to go. They were running 10 to 15 seconds off the pace at the end but somehow they managed to nurse it home and all of the guys did a great job. Normally it would be just a matter of laps before you’re out of the race with a problem like that.

The No. 64, the Brazilian car (Longo, Serra, Gomes, Bertolini), did great too. They were running one and two in class with both cars but unfortunately the No. 64 spun in the oil from the Magnus Racing Porsche after Andy Lally hit the possum on track and it broke his oil cooler. The No. 64 was the first car to arrive when the Porsche dropped oil, then spun and had a pretty big accident. That put them out of the race. 

JT – Obviously, the biggest mistake of the race was the drive time issue for Jordan Taylor. What did you make of that?

SJ – It can happen. Something similar happened to us at the Sebring 12 hours once – me, J.J. Lehto and Emanuele Pirro (in the Champion Racing Audi R8 in 2003). We led the whole bloody race until one hour to go!

I had finished up my final stint with a bit less than two hours remaining and handed over to Pirro. I was done, J.J. was done. I talked to the engineers then headed back to the motorhome to take a shower and chill out. I showered then had a big steak and a couple of beers. I’m lying there watching the TV, dehydrated from having been in the car all day and with less than an hour to go Mike Peters (team manager) comes running in.

“You’re on! You’re on! Get ready!,” he yells. I go, “What the #*&@@ are you talking about?!”

Apparently, Pirro had got a cramp in his leg and couldn’t drive! Lehto had already maxed out his allowable driving time in the car. So I’m scrambling trying to get my kit on, running to the pits. It’s total chaos in the pit lane when I get there and Pirro comes in. I jump in and they sent me out on used tires, I can’t remember the reason for not putting new tires but I suspect it was to stop us going a lap down.

It’s hard enough to go out on a used set with full tanks even in daytime, let alone at night. It’s impossible to start out a stint with used tires - particularly at Sebring where it’s completely dark everywhere. So I’m in the dark with these tires. If you’re even a foot off the racing line there’s nothing but rubber and debris everywhere. You’re trying to find your line in a sloppy car with used up tires. Eventually I got up to speed and was catching Marco but the race was over by that point.

We finished second behind Marco Werner, Frank Biela and Philp Peter in the Joest R8. I was so pissed I can’t even tell you, another one that slipped away!

JT – As you say, cautions do bunch the field, although I think the nature of the infield road course/banking at Daytona contributes as well. While the cautions do help keep the racing close, I think the way IMSA manages them could be a lot better. Even when a yellow flag is thrown for something as simple as debris, the caution periods take 15-20 minutes with all the classes pitting and the wave-bys. Why is that necessary? Close the pits, clean up the debris and go back to green, I say.

SJ – Yes, I agree. Of course, if there’s a safety issue there’s no debate. But the time taken under the yellows is too much. At Le Mans they wait until there’s absolutely no other option but to bring out a safety car which may be a little bit too much the other way. There’s always a balance.

Aston Marton Crash - Daytona 2015

JT – One notable incident involved the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia and the No. 007 TRG Aston Martin. French driver Francois Perrodo in the No. 51 made contact with another car then spun off in the hairpin during hour eight. He then pulled onto the track right in front of rro. This is something we’ve seen too much from gentlemen drivers.

SJ – Unfortunately, at Daytona in particular, as you can use up to 5 drivers if you wish, there are far too many guys out there like that and there could easily have been even more incidents when you see some of the crazy things they do. You wonder what they’re thinking but of course they’re not thinking. Their brains are so occupied just driving the car that there’s no brain capacity left for common sense or judgment or in some cases even looking in their mirrors. They literally use up every ounce of capacity just to keep the car on the road and maintain whatever speed they’re doing.

You see it on track all the time when you’re in the races. But the longer the race goes on, a pattern usually develops and you sort of know who you can trust and who you can’t. You pay attention around the cars that aren’t being driven well early on and you know can commit with the guys who are professionals. 

JT – Perhaps the most significant on track incident involved the factory-backed Porsche North America 911 RSRs. The No. 911 and No. 912 took each other out of the GTLM lead battle when drivers Earl Bamber and Marc Lieb collided while racing each other. Porsche contended they came together after the No. 007 TRG Aston Martin slowed in front of them but video shows they basically tripped over each other when trying to pass the Aston on either side.

SJ – Yes, I didn’t know who was driving the Porsches at the time but it looks like they really just got it wrong. You always want to beat your teammate but you never want it to get out of hand.

JT – The attrition in the prototype class was mostly made up of P2 cars. None were running at the finish while only one DP dropped out. Aside from the DeltaWing’s gearbox troubles I suppose the P2 woes could be ascribed to the cars being new to the teams or simply new to racing period.

SJ – Yes, running a new car for the first time in any race is tough but when the first event is a 24-hour race, that’s a tall order. They’ll be much better at Sebring with a month of preparation and development. 

Mazda’s SKYACTIV D P2 - Daytona 2015

JT – One of Mazda’s SKYACTIV D P2 prototypes did manage to lead a lap during pit stop shuffling early in the race but both were retired before morning. They were also still considerably off the pace after a year of racing and development. I like Mazda but don’t understand why they persist trying to make their 2.2 liter, diesel four cylinder - a street car-based engine – competitive. It makes no sense from a competition perspective or in terms of marketing as they still don’t offer a diesel here in the U.S.

SJ – I agree and I don’t see the point with this engine. It’s sheer physics. The engine will never be competitive. I understand that they may be going that way for marketing reasons and maybe winning isn’t the first priority in this case? Not only that, they’re using a chassis (Multimatic/Lola) that wasn’t much good when it first came out. It really makes no sense from a competition point of view but I’m sure they would not be spending all this money without a justified reason internally.

JT – Testing has commenced for the 2015 Formula One season at Jerez in the wake of most teams launching their new cars at the end of January. Obviously, early season testing won’t reveal too much but what do you think we can take away from this first test?

SJ – First, Ferrari appears to be in much better shape generally this year than last for obvious reasons. This early, you never know of course. If you remember, Ferrari was actually quickest in early testing last year as well. But it wasn’t like they did a last-ditch, banzai lap to go fastest this time. They’ve been consistently quick since they rolled off the truck at Jerez and that’s usually a very good sign. And most importantly, they’ve been able to get down to quick lap times immediately, which means the car is good and the drivers are comfortable and have confidence in the car.

Sauber seems to be in similarly good shape, which would indicate that the Ferrari power unit has improved significantly from last year. They also looked really strong from the beginning of the test to the end. And they’ve run a lot of laps. Again, that’s a good sign. McLaren’s had a few challenges but those are almost to be expected with these insanely complicated power units. There are always teething problems with a brand new package and some of them you can only find out by running the car, no matter how much simulation you try to do. You can simulate this and that but until you actually run the car on track you don’t really know what you’ve got. Still, I think they’ll get with the program pretty quickly once they iron out the usual niggling problems with a new car.

Red Bull [Racing]’s test was a bit of an odd one and Torro Rosso the same, so maybe Renault still has a ways to go in development. Mercedes obviously looks extremely strong, being able to do the amount of laps they did every day. That’s very impressive.

JT – Yes, Mercedes GP and Williams F1 seem ominously quiet. Things look to be going well for both teams.

SJ – Absolutely, I think there’s a reason for that. Neither team ran much with the soft tire at the test. I think it was only Williams that used it. They both ran lots of laps and don’t forget, every 50 kilos of fuel is worth about a second and a half per lap. I think things will get more interesting as time goes by.

The striking thing for me is that every 2015 car looks almost exactly the same. Line them all up and draw a silhouette of their shapes and you’ll see they’re just about identical with the exception of a few details. The length of the noses might vary because they need to pass the (FIA-mandated) crash test but as time goes by they will all come out with a shorter nose, which means more downforce. 

JT – The teams, with the exception of McLaren-Honda, now have a year development with these power units under their belts. Most seem to be saying their cars are better for 2015 and that they’re well ahead of where they were in testing last year. But as you’ve said previously, the cars should be better given a year of rules stability.

SJ – Yes, that’s the nature of the beast, especially in F1 where you’re not regulating a set of bodywork or whatever. Everything is constantly improving – the tires, the chassis, the engine and the aero. Now, they’ve lifted the freeze on engine development and if you use up all of the “development tokens” you’re allowed you can essentially create a whole new engine.

That’s good and more fair I think. Apparently, when everything’s maximized, these power units are capable of producing up to 1,600 horsepower. That’s interesting because back in the day they were able to get 1,500 HP from the 1.5-liter turbo’s we had then, albeit for only a lap before they either blew up or there was oil leaking out of every orifice. The engines were junk after one qualifying run basically, but you just bolted in another one for the next day. Back then at least it wasn’t that expensive to build an engine once the development was done, it was just metal and some machining, if you make 50 pistons or 500 doesn’t make a huge difference in cost so it was actually a very cheap way to go racing with massive horsepower that has never been seen since!

Things have obviously moved on so much since then and the fact that they can make that kind of power again is very exciting. That’s typically the product of the natural development process and keeping the rules stable. If they can stay the same for three years and the development will plateau out, costs will eventually come down and everything will improve with it.

It would be great, even with all the regulations they have now if they could utilize that kind of power for qualifying at least and the revert back to race mode with a sensible fuel consumption etc. to make the car last until the end of the race obviously. Back in the 1980s we certainly couldn’t run 1,500 horsepower in race-trim. We could run 1,000 horsepower at best or maybe a bit less. There was a huge difference between qualifying and the race.

In 1985 when the boost regulations were still free we used to just bolt a plate over the waste-gate for qualifying. Whatever massive amount of boost you had, that’s what you got! It was awesome – dry ice in the radiators and everything you could think of to make it last for one lap.

JT – As mentioned, F1 announced a lifting of the freeze in power unit development at the end of 2014 with teams/manufacturers including McLaren-Honda now able to use a certain number of “tokens” to alter individual components of their power units in pursuit of performance. It’s a confusing system and another element of F1 I think most fans find needless. What’s your view?

SJ – Yes, it’s confusing more than anything. I very much doubt it will save any money in the long run. Everyone’s doing what they need to do anyway. Just let everybody have at it and may the best man win. All of the manufacturers are going to spend money like it’s going out of fashion anyway, they always do until they decide drop out. The only thing having tokens is going to do is hinder a team from bolting all the bits they develop onto a car right away. Development goes on regardless so there’s no cost-saving as such.

As you know, I’ve been going on for a long time about how the cars should have 1,200 to 1,300 horsepower and now it seems like everyone’s on that same wavelength which is great. But as I’ve also said before, it won’t make any difference unless you get rid of all the stuff on the steering wheels. You could have 3,000 horsepower but if you have adjustable differentials and retarded ignition and all the other trick stuff that helps the driver, it still won’t make much difference in terms of driving the cars.

If they got rid of all that stuff, with the increased horsepower and let the drivers be more in control of the handling of the car I think it would be awesome. It would be one more element that separates the good drivers from the bad. With 1,000 horsepower or more you’re going to have traction issues of course and that’s what makes it more interesting again. 

JT – Among the launches was the debut of Sauber’s 2015 car and their new driver line up of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Both have some driving talent obviously but it seems to me their main credential is the sponsorship they bring with them. It’s yet another example of drivers paying to be in F1 – not being paid to be there – and teams which only seem to be able to survive financially when drivers bring sponsorship.  

SJ – Well, frankly I think all the drivers in F1 today are very competent, it’s not like they have no experience or are lacking in skill completely. Yes, maybe it’s unfair to drivers who may have had better results in the junior formula’s but it’s not like any of them does not justify their position. There’s no doubt some of the guys now may not have the greatest results so far in their careers but they’re still very quick and so much of the results in any category are just a matter of motivation and confidence and feeling good in the car, and most of all, being in the right car at the right time. If the car feels good and the times are close to the front your driving and motivation improves along with it, you don’t have to push quite as hard and by being able to relax just a little bit more you become more precise and accurate and all of a sudden the lap times are starting to come down with it. When you drive a shit box and you’re seconds off the pace it’s all arms and elbows just to keep the car on the road.

Maurizio Arrivabene

JT – Maurizio Arrivabene recently made a statement that Formula One needs a revolution, with more sound and speed to make it more spectacular, what are your comments on that?

I did see that comment also and on some levels I agree, but to create a revolution I think it’s very important to know what it is you’re revolting against. I doubt very much if cars with more horsepower and higher speeds alone will make much difference in changing the current state of affairs in F1. No one’s seems to be looking at the fundamental issues, or at least no one is addressing them. Generally speaking, 50% percent of the races are always quite boring no matter what, because you will always have one or two teams that are quicker than the rest. It’s like that now and if you go back in history it’s nearly always been that way. The main reason it’s like this in F1 in particular, is because every team make their own cars, the side effect of this is that most of the time you will have two or maybe three teams at most fighting it out for the championship. Sometimes it’s just one team like last year.

That’s what makes IndyCar unique in my opinion. Literally any team on the grid can win on a given day. That’s not the case in any other category that I know of, yet they struggle to get 50,000 people to tune in and watch it. It’s a mystery to me.

But back to F1, changing the cars won’t fundamentally change that one or two-team dominance. And despite everyone saying how much F1 is in a crisis, the incessant spending on aerodynamics and other elements goes on and on and never stops. That’s where the problem is. If they fail to see that and think it’s still ok for the top teams to spend half a billion dollars per year to win races something’s seriously wrong.

If a winning budget was $150 million and you could compete with say $30-40 million I doubt very much there would be all this talk about F1 being in a crisis and the need for a revolution to fix the problems. The teams have built their own prison in my opinion, and that’s where the revolution needs to take place. And for that to happen I think the FIA needs to step in and do some very drastic rule changes that will eliminate a lot of the R&D and have a hard and close look at all the other areas that are pushing the costs to these levels.

Right now, the clowns that make up the show are spending over $100 million per year just to get to the races, without any hope whatsoever of ever winning a race. We have two teams that are already dropped out and then we have Sauber, Force India and Lotus, they’re all on the limit financially so there are six more cars that are borderline in terms of making the grid. McLaren still don’t have a major sponsor although I’m sure they must have something in the pipeline together with Honda. Part of the problem is that the top teams at least, still seems to think it’s worth $150 million per year to be a title sponsor. If a team could run on a total budget of say $150 million that would be a different story, because most of the budget would already have been paid by Bernie, so the sponsorship would be gravy effectively. The cars would be covered with sponsors because there would be a real value in sponsoring the cars. But the people in the top teams in particular all seem to think F1 should be expensive. It’s the top of the top and should be perceived as such, and they will always spend every penny they have in order to win or get an advantage over the rest.

It’s obvious for anyone to see that the sponsorship on the cars do not reflect the overall expenditure the teams have and as a consequence they have now become more and more dependent on Bernie giving them their handout. I am totally in agreement with Bernie, if the teams spent less money they wouldn’t be in all the trouble they are, they’re all working with an insane business model as is it right now.

Let’s assume your budget is $150 million per year instead of $500 million and you can win races with that kind of budget. If you can still generate $300-500 million per year in revenue from sponsors and FOM combined- well then you’ve got $150-350 million in profit. That’s seems much more sensible than spending $500 million and just break even. This would also create a real value for the all teams if they were one day looking to sell their franchise, much like a NFL or football team, and in fact it’s how it was when Eddie Jordan sold his team for example, that could never happen today.

It seems weird to me nowadays when I go to the odd Grand Prix, all the teams have these massive constructions for the hospitality and pit garages (apparently they need 20 trucks to bring them to each race), yet the only people in them seems to be the media for the most part. I understand the value of the media and the contributions they bring to the sport in general, but I find it hard to understand where the trade off is on return on investment.

JT – Honda and Chevrolet are getting ready to introduce new aerodynamic bodywork kits for  2015 at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. IndyCar says teams will be able to make upgrades to the kits - excepting sidepods and engine covers (fixed for two years) – but are limited to improvements in “three legality boxes in total in a two year period”. This is a bit like F1’s “tokens” and again, seems a bit confusing.

SJ – In the IndyCar format I sort of get it because you can’t keep developing the kits forever. It would be unsustainable for the teams. They’d have to buy every upgrade that came along from Honda or Chevy every weekend. That’s how it used to be in CART. I remember that every weekend there were new bits from Penske or Reynard and the teams were crying about the cost but they had to buy them if they wanted to be competitive. 

NISMO GT-R LM,

JT – Nissan debuted its new WEC P1 prototype, the NISMO GT-R LM, in an ad during the Super Bowl. They’ve touted its front-engine/asymmetric chassis configuration as intentionally daring and different. It does seem to have garnered some publicity but will the car be competitive?

SJ – Well, I’m sure that most of those in the prototype class will have looked at that concept as well and deemed it not as efficient or quick as having a rear-engine configuration. Otherwise, Audi or the others would have already done it. I don’t really get it. If you just want to do it to be “different” and then market around that, ok fine. But I can’t imagine they’ll come close to winning Le Mans or anywhere else with that car. From what I’ve heard so far from the tests they’ve done, they still have a long way to go. Let’s just hope their car is better than the super bowl ad they used to introduce the car…

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