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Filtering by Tag: Monza

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Hamilton's 3rd world championship, Mexican GP & 2016 IndyCar

Stefan Johansson


Jan Tegler – Since we last chatted five Grands Prix have taken place including Monza, Singapore, Japan, Russia, the United States GP and the Mexican GP. Lewis Hamilton wrapped up his third world championship after taking victory at Circuit of the Americas. The rain-affected race proved far more interesting than most of the season’s rounds with multiple lead changes, passing and even controversial actions such as the incidents between Hamilton & Rosberg and Ricciardo & Hulkenberg. What did you think of the race and Hamilton’s championship victory.

Stefan Johansson The race turned out to be very entertaining to watch as is nearly always the case when there are unexpected circumstances. With less practice than normal and when the weekend doesn’t go to plan under race conditions drivers and teams have to improvise. That’s a big departure from the typical weekend where everything is planned and perfect down to the lap both from the schedule to the engineering. All of that planning tends to make the races boring.

The cars are so optimized and the teams spend so much time in their simulators exploring the expected conditions that there’s very little possibility for deviation. The drivers and teams generally hit their marks and do most things right. But if the planning goes out the window due to unexpected circumstances that changes things and often makes for much better racing.

Obviously Hamilton has been the class of the field this year, riding a wave of confidence. When great sportsmen hit that kind of stride where they almost can’t do anything wrong, every move they make sticks. The move in Austin at the start where he passed Rosberg could just as easily have gone wrong either resulting in a puncture for him or knocking off the front-wing endplate. But that didn’t happen.

You’re either the windshield or the bug and when things are going your way it’s almost unstoppable. The next season you can do everything in the same way but every time you make a move it goes wrong. Then you start thinking about it and you hesitate for even a fraction of a second and your timing is off and it all goes away.

If you look at what happened between Hamilton and Rosberg I think it was more Rosberg’s fault than Hamilton’s. He got a poor start and Hamilton was already alongside him on the inside by the time they arrived at the corner. It was foolish of Rosberg to try and defend the corner on the outside. Because Hamilton braked a bit too late he missed the apex. If Rosberg hadn’t tried to defend he could have done the over-under and gone back by him.

That’s easy for me to say though. It’s a typical grandstand comment but on a wet track alongside another competitor, being on the outside isn’t the smartest place to be.

I think in part it’s the nature of the tracks Formula One races on now. There is no track limit anymore so people never give up a corner. In the past, on a track where there was no runoff area or a wall or some other defined obstacle beyond the pavement, at a certain point you had to give up and let the other driver go because you’d never make the corner.

Now drivers just keep going across the track limit out to the runoff and keep their foot in it. If they don’t have contact with another driver they just carry on and don’t even lose a position. I think this is causing a lot of weird accidents and is the main reason for all the low-percentage moves that people are trying to pull. Even top guys like Raikkonen are trying odd things like he did in Russia with [Valtteri] Bottas and then Bottas did the same to him in Mexico. It’s not really the drivers fault because you always push as far as you can until reach the limit, unfortunately the limit now is some undefined space about 3-4 car lengths outside the actual track limit in some cases. It even looks weird when you watch a car that is so far off the track you can barely see the actual track sometimes.


JT – The battle between Hamilton and Rosberg for the championship this year was not as close as it was last year and didn’t seem as impassioned either. There were instances when their differences were aired but certainly nothing like the fireworks between other teammates we’ve seen in the past.

You recalled when Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell were battling in the late 1980s while driving for Williams. It was one of the most intense rivalries F1 has seen. I thought you put the blandness of the Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry in hilarious context when you said…

 “Nico gave up mentally to fight the war…Piquet resorted to calling Mansell’s wife the ugliest woman in the world.”

SJ – Yes, that’s what I mean. In 2014, there was certainly a lot more hate on display between Nico and Lewis. This year it’s all sort of been a bit polite with both guys saying the other did “a great job.”

When you’re that close to a teammate in terms of competitiveness and you can’t beat him any other way you’ve got to figure out something that will tip the balance. You have to try to undermine their confidence or get them off balance psychologically somehow. That’s what Nelson did so effectively. He was ruthless, not only with Mansell but with Senna as well, calling him all sorts of things. He didn’t care. He’d do whatever it took unsettle his rivals mentally. It sort of worked and it definitely got under their skin.

To be a great driver you need ego and relentless drive. That’s why you don’t quite have the epic battles today that F1 used to have. Mansell, Senna, Prost, Piquet, Lauda, Schumacher – they were brutal, every one of them, ego-maniacs of epic proportions in their own different ways. You have to be like that to be at the top level. That’s missing today. You don’t feel it. Alonso seems to me the only one left from that era where you resort to anything to win.

JT – To your point about Rosberg giving up the fight mentally, he seemed in much better form at the Mexican GP. He won, qualified on pole and set that fastest lap of the race. It appears that after being released from the pressure of the championship fight he performed better.

SJ – It was a flawless weekend really. He didn’t put a foot wrong but it’s the psychology that’s so important. Ninety percent of the results you get to the top level of racing are inside your head. Maybe there was something about the pressure being off?

Nico was unlucky this year with car failures. And however it happened in Austin, he got caught out. He said it was a gust of wind that caused him to go off track. That has happened. I know how it affects a car although I’ve never really had it affect a car in a slow corner where you exit the corner almost in first gear where he lost it. At high speed the cars are very sensitive to wind.

JT – Sebastian Vettel had a fraught race in Mexico after first lap contact with Daniel Ricciardo. It seemed that he was overdriving his Ferrari.

SJ – Obviously, the track in Mexico is very tricky. The grip-level has always been very low there. I remember when we raced there in CART it was really tricky conditions with the altitude as well.

But I thought Vettel’s problems were due to a combination of things. Maybe his car was affected a bit from the contact with Ricciardo. His crash looked weird, almost like his brakes failed when he went straight off the track and hit the wall. He said it was driver error which I thought was a bit strange. But obviously he had to charge pretty hard to recover positions and he was frustrated. In fairness to him though he’s barely made a mistake all season.

JT – Do you think pressure from teammates contributes to low percentage moves whether you take the example of Raikkonen and Vettel at Ferarri or Ricciardo and Kvyat at Red Bull Racing?

SJ – I think that’s a part of it no doubt but I think it has more to do with the track layouts and how these new run off areas are designed. Very rarely in the past did you have a guy defend a corner on the outside or try to make a pass around the outside. Now it seems like part of the game. Even if you can’t hold the corner you just go wide and through the runoff area. If you don’t make it you try again the next lap whereas in the past they would have had to pull you off the Armco.

I think [Hermann] Tilke and the FIA between them have totally ruined the racing with these idiotic runoff areas. At some level there has to be a punishment for going over the limit, something with enough consequences that you understand you cannot go beyond the track without a level of risk involved.

Now, you also have a different guy at every race as a steward and because of this there’s no consistency. At some races there are penalties, at others there are no penalties at all for more or less the same action. It all depends on who’s in the control tower. There should be the same guy, or team, at every race who communicates with the drivers before and after each race telling them where the limits are and that if they violate them more than once they get a penalty. This should be someone that everyone respect and trusts, who is consistent and who lets you know where you stand and how far you can push it. That way there will soon be a pattern developed where every driver knows where the limit is.

Regardless, the track limits issue should be punished by the track itself, not by a guy in a blue shirt watching a TV screen in a control tower.

JT – The second half of the season hasn’t proven to be any better for McLaren-Honda than the first half. The team is second to last in the championship standings ahead of only the Manor outfit. Fernando Alonso retired on the first lap of the Mexican Grand Prix and both drivers struggle to finish near the top ten when the cars do complete a race. The 2015 season looks like a write-off for the team and the drivers. Once again, Alonso is in the wrong team at the wrong time. Can they turn the corner for 2016?

SJ – I still believe they’ll make big progress next year. I don’t mean that they’ll be winning races but when you’re so far off it’s not difficult to make a giant leap forward. It’s only when you get to the last five percent that it starts to get tricky.

The real problem is this incredibly complicated engine formula that F1 has with penalties for this and that, and you’re not allowed to do any development. It continues to make no sense to me. The development ban was initially implemented to keep the cost at a sensible level, but that concept is already completely broken. The manufacturers have spent so much money on these engines it’s obscene. Why not just let them carry on developing them and at least be able to fix them? It’s ridiculous to have a formula where there’s only one successful engine and the others are not permitted to do the development they obviously need to become competitive.

Yet you can bolt 500 new pieces on to the chassis every weekend if you want. The top teams do that of course, with crates of aero-parts flown in everyday in a never-ending development war with their chassis but you still can’t touch the engine. It’s nonsense. If you were allowed to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the engines as you are on the chassis, I am sure that Renault, Honda and Ferrari would all be better - maybe not as good as the Mercedes but certainly a lot closer.

With these rules if you don’t get the engine right out of the box there’s really almost no way to catch up and you’re just screwed. If your engine is as wrong as the Honda is, what do you do? You’re only allowed X-amount of upgrades. On top of that, you’re not allowed to go testing.

JT – In related news the FIA recently put forth a proposal for a "low budget" client engine for 2017 - a power unit essentially similar to the turbo V6 engines used in IndyCar currently. Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA have also proposed fixed price engines and gearboxes for client teams. The engine manufacturers and teams were in support of the ideas with the exception of Ferrari which used its veto power to kill the proposal for the moment. What do you think of this “client engine” idea?

SJ – If they could find a formula that provided reasonable parity I think it’s absolutely the way to go. There has to be a cheaper alternative for smaller teams to be able to compete.

Ferrari’s veto isn’t surprising of course and it’s an example of the core problem. As I’ve said so many times, F1 used to be run as a benevolent dictatorship and things worked. When Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone saw things moving in the wrong direction they’d make changes. Everybody would scream bloody murder and they’d back off 20 or 30 percent and everybody was happy and they got on with it.

Now F1 is a democracy with primarily the engineers making up the technical regulations. That’s the worst mistake they’ve ever made. F1 is now incomprehensibly complicated and as a result also incomprehensibly expensive. If F1 is absolutely the pinnacle of technology so what?

Racing should be about brave young heroes driving these cars on the limit. People don’t get excited by F1 anymore because they can see that there’s no challenge to driving the cars now. They’re on rails all the time. The drivers don’t really have to fight them. The fans can see this.

JT – Where does F1 go from here? Can it improve? Will it?

SJ – That’s very hard to answer because there are so many moving parts to it now. There is the possibility of a radical transformation which would be to make the sport a lot simpler. Max Mosley was sounding the alarm on costs four years before he left F1. He could see it getting completely out of hand and he was completely right. No one can afford it anymore.

No one used to complain about the money they were receiving from FOM (Formula One Management). Now the teams take FOM to the European Court. That’s because everybody is counting on the money from Bernie. That’s the only money they’re getting really or certainly the main source. No one really gets sponsorship of any substance anymore. The manufacturers have their money of course as does Red Bull. The rest are struggling. McLaren is funded by Honda obviously but they barely have one commercial sponsor left on the car.

The only way Formula One can right itself is if they get back to a more dictatorial method of control where FOM and the FIA between them set a very strict set of rules with no manufacturers or teams involved. And a winning budget should in my opinion be $100 to $150 million at most. You should be able to be competitive for $50 million. Now the guys that make up the show are spending close to $100 million, to finish last!

It’s hard to see anything changing next year or in the near term though as long as the sport is run as it is.

JT – Formula One has changed along with technology obviously and that’s one reason why it isn’t the same as it used to be. But you have said that the technology has changed more than just the cars. It has changed the drivers fundamentally too.

SJ – Definitely, the way drivers develop is quite different now. Everybody was going on and on about how young [Max] Verstappen was coming into the series and how it was crazy. But the circumstances are different today. Kids develop quicker because of all the technological tools that they have available to them whatever they do in life, not just in racing but life in general. There is so much information and so many tools to develop a certain skill set, whatever it is you may be into, all available instantly.

Take a 17 year old driver today – in a way that kid probably has more experience than a 26 or 27 year old had 20 or 30 years ago with all of the simulator time they’re able to get. Back then the first time you sat in an F1 car was really the first time you sat in an F1 car. Now when you go for your first test you’ve had a month in a simulator already and you know the track and the car inside out. The simulator is exactly like the real thing and you’ve probably hit the wall 40 times in the simulator before you get to the real track. All of the hard learning is mostly done.

That brings me back to race craft or the lack of it in today’s drivers. It’s atrocious. They can all drive quick because they get so much practice but when it comes to racing a lot of them are clueless. Only a handful of them understand how to race well.

With all the data available now a driver can literally pinpoint where he’s slow. So you can take a pretty average driver and make them good. I wish I’d had a data printout when I was teammates with Senna or Prost to figure out where the hell they were making up the time. But we had nothing. You had to go out and wing it. If you were lucky you could follow another driver and maybe learn something in one corner or another but that was it. There wasn’t much point in asking because if you were close enough they would lie to you anyway, and vice versa I might add.

But even with the data and the other tools they have now, you can’t make a driver great. That’s where the difference is between the few guys at the top and the paying drivers. All the drivers in F1 today are very good, there’s no doubt about that. But are they best overall, I don’t know. You can make an average driver good today, but the great one’s will always be great and they would be great with or without all the tools available to them. The sad part is that a lot of the guys today that have the potential to become great simply fall by the wayside before they get the chance to measure themselves against the best.

JT – The American Haas F1 Team recently announced its driver lineup featuring Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Mexican Esteban Gutierrez. It seems sensible that a new team would want to hire drives with experience. Also, as Haas is sort of a Ferrari junior team, the selection of Gutierrez isn’t surprising. But some have complained that the team should have hired an American driver for one of the seats. What’s your take?

SJ – I guess the criticism is to be expected. It’s always that way with teams from a certain nationality and questions about why drivers from the country a team is based in aren’t hired. I think Haas did the right thing in this case.

To be honest, I don’t think it would be fair for [Alexander] Rossi or an American rookie to go racing with a brand new team in its first year. Remember when Toyota was in F1? I don’t know how many drivers they went through before they pulled out. They never were competitive really. It’s been the same with so many drivers cycling through Toro Rosso in the early years too.

As a first year entrant in a new series Haas just wants to do the best job they can at this stage. Once they gain experience and if they become competitive that’s a different story. But right now they have a steep learning curve ahead of them. Having the best combination of experience and speed they can find is important.

As far as the Gutierrez choice, I know Ferrari is quite impressed with him. He’s done a fantastic job apparently in the simulator for them. He’s super quick and gives good feedback.

JT – There is ongoing speculation about what Red Bull Racing will do for 2016. Apparently Ron Dennis is opposed to them using Honda power units and is trying to block that option. Do you think Red Bull leaving F1 is a possibility?

SJ – They could pull out but apparently there is a big penalty if they do. But I do think it’s a definite possibility. Red Bull is not a racing team first and foremost, they are involved in all sorts of activities today, all based around the Red Bull brand which of course started it’s life as an energy drink. F1 is only one of many different activities they are involved in, albeit maybe the most important and most visible. But if Mr. Mateschitz wakes up on the wrong side of the bed he could very easily pull the plug on the whole program, his life won’t change. This is the difference from Ferrari, McLaren and Williams for example, their entire existence is based around F1 and racing.

JT – With Formula One’s ongoing difficulties it’s all the more frustrating that IndyCar - which has a great product on-track - doesn’t promote its product off track. If they did you would assume it might be possible to win over some of the fans who are disillusioned with F1 right now.

SJ – How many years have we talked about this? IndyCar keeps tinkering with the cars and race formats and completely ignores the marketing. That’s the one thing they really need to focus on. They already have the best racing in the world in my opinion.

I saw Derrick Walker’s development plan for the future of IndyCar recently. There wasn’t one sentence in the whole plan that touched on marketing, not a word. The teams have already spent stupid money on these aero-kits for very little benefit.

Again, if they put together a $25 million prize fund for winning the championship, the Indy 500, a street course, a road course and the final race for example, you could take out an insurance policy that would cost a fraction of the full amount if anyone managed to hit all the milestones. The level of publicity they could get out of the fact that this is a championship with $25 million at stake would be great. They need to pump up the marketing in some way but there’s been nothing. All they seem to worry about is the comments from the existing fans, which is valuable, but I think most of them would show up no matter what because they are die hard Indycar fans. It’s the millions of people that are unaware of what a phenomenal product Indycar is that they need to somehow get interested.

JT – The 2016 IndyCar schedule is now out and includes three new rounds – Road America, Phoenix and Boston. Road America and Phoenix return after a few years of absence while the Boston street circuit is entirely new.

SJ – They’re all exciting venues. The street races we know work well, in any form or racing they are always popular because you bring the race to the people, not the other way around. The cities come alive so Boston could be a fantastic place for a race. I think Road America will be good because it’s probably the best track in America and I think the fans there will embrace it. I think a lot of hardcore fans will travel to see it as well. They can appreciate how hard the drivers work to drive that track.

JT – In the WEC, Porsche wrapped up the manufacturers championship at last weekend’s Six Hours of Shanghai round. Their performance has been head and shoulders above the rest all year.

SJ – They obviously have a better car than Audi and Toyota and have had all year. Audi has sort of hung in there more because of clever race strategy than anything. But they’ve never really been on the pace.

Stefan Johansson shares his thoughts about the 'radio ban' in F1, the unfortunate death of Andrea De Cesaris, and Vettel leaving Red Bull

Stefan Johansson

JT – You’ve had a busy schedule since our last blog including attending the Italian Grand Pix at Monza as a guest of Ferrari. The weekend was a poor one for Ferrari on-track and was not without news behind the scenes as well. Ferrari president and chairman Luca di Montezemolo was reported to be leaving the marque and the Scuderia. He eventually resigned the following week. What was the atmosphere like at Monza?

SJ – Monza is always and will always be a bit special, the atmosphere is great with all the Ferrari tifosi. There is no other track in the world that has the energy like Monza does, there is something very special when you drive through the gates into the huge park where the track is, I get goose bumps even to this day. It’s the only race track I know of that has soul, maybe because it’s been around for so long and there’s been so much triumph and tragedy there that somehow this collective energy is still there. For Ferrari though it wasn’t the best. I was with the team the whole weekend and it was probably one of the worst weekends they’ve had in a long time. All of their weaknesses showed, as it did for many other teams too of course. Clearly the engine is their biggest Achilles heel and Monza with its long straights demonstrates that better than just about any other track.

I was in the pits during qualifying with a radio on, it was very interesting to listen in and one thing that really struck me is that there’s absolutely no feedback from the drivers when they come in after a run now. They don’t say anything. Their engineers have already looked at the data and know what’s going on with the car. The engineer might say, ‘We can see that you have a small understeer in the second Lesmo (Curva di Lesmo corners). We’re going to put half a degree more front wing in for the next run. We think the differential will be better on setting four...” And so on.

The drivers don’t say a word, nothing about how the balance is on the car. They just look at the monitors in the pits. I don’t think it’s even a matter of Alonso or Kimi offering an opinion. I assume that’s just the way things are done now. I’m sure if they disagree they’ll say something but as it was they didn’t. The data corresponds to what’s going on with the car as it should and that’s it.

But it’s fascinating to me because normally after a run in any race car you’re just spewing out information, giving feedback on steering input, corner entry, car balance, power down on exit and much more but these guys didn’t say a word. I guess that’s the norm now in Formula One but it’s weird.

It was great to be back at Monza. I think 2003 was the last time I was there – with Scott [Dixon]. It was right after he won his first IndyCar championship and we were talking to a number of [F1] teams.

JT – Mercedes continued its winning ways last weekend in Singapore with a victory for Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, when teammate Nico Rosberg’s car failed to make the grid and then retired with a faulty wiring loom the race was essentially gutted. Mercedes clearly still has a large advantage in performance and there was little doubt Hamilton would be able to get the gap over the field he needed to make his strategy work. It left me and many others feeling a bit bored. What was your impression?

SJ – Again, that’s the nature of the beast this year. Mercedes has the performance and if they wanted to they could probably show even more. It is what it is. We knew pretty much what would happen at the beginning of the season. I think they are about even now on DNF’s so the Championship standings are a good reflection of where they both are. It’s so close between them each time it’s crazy, and it will always come down to the minor details of who get’s it right on the day. The final race will be the big showdown if they are still this close.

JT – On the bright side, the championship battle between the Mercedes drivers is closer with Hamilton leading Rosberg by three points. That should be enough to maintain some interest.

SJ – Yes, like I said in the previous question, there is so little between the two of them. One would hope that the other teams are catching up little by little but the championship is between the Mercedes guys and it’s most likely going to go to the final race with its double-points payoff – unless there are more DNFs from Mercedes in the five races left.

JT – Red Bull Racing had a good outing, finishing on the podium with Sebastian Vettel second and Daniel Ricciardo third. The Singapore circuit certainly didn’t hurt their performance as it’s not a power-track like Monza. A second-place for Vettel must be a breath of fresh air.

SJ – Obviously the car was more to Vettel’s liking in Singapore than it has been. I think the same was true for Räikkönen. He was very quick in practice. Those are the two top guys who really seem to have been struggling to find their true pace this year. Tiny nuances make a big difference to the balance of a car, especially in making it comfortable on the entry to a corner.

I noticed that with Räikkönen in Monza too. It’s so easy to overdrive the car and try a little bit too hard when you’re not comfortable or the pace is not there. And when you try too hard you end up going slower. It’s that tricky balance of feeling like what you’re doing is slow but it actually makes a faster lap time. When you have confidence in the car and you feel comfortable with it, you don’t have to trash it to get a laptime, you just slow everything down and it flows.

Pat Symonds [Williams Technical Director]

JT – Williams F1’s performance has been quite good this year. That’s a big turnaround from 2013. It looks like both of their drivers will return for 2015 and the team is much more confident. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I think it’s fantastic. Pat Symonds (Williams Technical Director) is my old buddy and engineer from the Formula 2 days with Toleman. I think he’d worked with Formula Fords before that but my Alan Docking car with Toleman was where he really began engineering. He was sort of Rory Byrne’s protégé at the time.

He’s an absolutely fantastic engineer, very pragmatic - a bit like Ross Brawn. He dials out everything that’s superfluous and focuses on what matters. That has clearly paid off for Williams. And obviously the Mercedes engine has been a big plus. Anyone who’s had their power unit this year has been made to look probably better than they really are.

McLaren & Honda F1

JT – The situation at McLaren continues to evolve. Honda has said they will be fully prepared for 2015 and the team is pressing ahead despite lackluster performances this year. It’s not certain what their driver lineup will look like and they seem to have lost Johnny Walker as a sponsor recently. What’s your take?

SJ –No one knows except them, but one thing is for sure, they’re not sitting still. They achieved all their success in the past through hard work and they’re probably working harder than they’ve ever worked. They’re all racers at heart and an absolutely great organization so I have no doubt that they’ll make a comeback and be a top team again in time. There will be a new era for them starting with this Honda relationship and it will probably take a little while to get to the top but I have no doubt in my mind that they won’t be back as a top team again.

JT – You mentioned Ross Brawn. He’s been on the sidelines all season on his sabbatical or retirement or whatever he considers it. One wonders if he might return to F1?

SJ – I haven’t really heard anything about Ross. I’m sure the teams are all trying to get him, as they should, but whether he wants to participate again, I don’t know. He seems to be enjoying being away from the sport quite well at the moment so who knows?

JT – Having observed F1 close up at both Montreal and Monza this year, what do you think of the sport currently?

SJ – The thing you take away when you talk to the drivers is that they’re not happy because they’re not able to race the way they would want to race. It’s managing the output from the power unit, the tires – there are so many other things to think about these days rather than just driving the race car flat out. But you have to adapt. It comes back to my earlier comments about the Engineers having too much say in the bigger picture of the Championship.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – F1 has raised eyebrows recently with its announcement of a “radio ban” after the Italian GP at Monza. The ban would no longer allow teams to send messages to drivers relating to car performance or driver-coaching. The FIA reversed course partially for the Singapore GP, allowing teams to message drivers about car performance. However, plans remain to ban both types of communication for 2015 in the interest of “fairness”. What do you think of the ban?

SJ – The FIA just decides to do this overnight. It’s a classic F1 knee-jerk reaction without much logic. In my opinion it’s like giving someone with a broken leg an aspirin. The problem is not with the radios and communications as such; it’s all the stuff behind that causes them to have this never-ending flow of information to the drivers. The cars have become so complicated to run that they literally need to give the drivers a lot of this information in order to keep the cars running to the end of the race.  As you know, I have been going on about the steering wheels for some time now and I believe if you banned all of the dials, knobs and switches on the steering wheels to start with you wouldn’t have to worry about the radio because there would be nothing to adjust. Just ban all of the adjustments in the cockpit, end of story. Let the engineers build a car that don’t need all that stuff, and let the drivers sort it out by using throttle control, steering input and let them adjust their driving style in accordance with how the car is performing under different condition in a race situation. It would make the cars a lot simpler, but a lot harder to drive, which of course all the good guys will love. A proper racecar should be a beast to drive, that’s what every driver worth his salt wants. And it would be so much more exciting for the fans to watch a driver wrestling with his car getting the maximum out of it.

The problem today is that the engineers basically write the rules in F1. As I’ve said many times, I respect and admire the engineers tremendously. They’re fantastic people but you can’t allow them to have this much influence. Any successful racing series has to be run like a benevolent dictatorship and it used to be. Now it’s turned into more of a democracy and it’s just not working.

The technology in F1 is out of hand. I don’t know how many options there are for differentials now. That should be banned. Put a standard differential in the cars. These complex, variable diffs have no benefit to anyone. They’re there for the engineers to tinker with and come up with a smarter solution than anyone else, basically because they can.

Just get rid of all the technology that you don’t need. Ban all of the buttons on the steering wheel. Radio and pit-speed are all that’s needed. Let the drivers sort the rest out. If they can’t drive a car with 850 horsepower and three-times the grip they used to have. I hate to sound like an old crank, saying “it was better in my day” but if we could handle 1500 horsepower in the cars we drove with hardly any aero grip, I’m sure these guys could. The top drivers today are all fantastic drivers and I’m sure they’d love it.

It would be fantastic to see Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton power-sliding these things with 1200-1300 horsepower. Let the drivers figure the cars out and get rid of all the extra stuff – the technology that has nothing to do with being a skilled racing driver. Let a little bravery figure into the racing again. That’s what it should be all about.

JT – The debate about some F1 teams fielding three cars each to make up for any shortfalls in the field should struggling teams drop out has flared recently. Not all teams see it as a positive with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff opining that he doesn’t think it would be healthy for F1 or cost effective for teams. What do you think of the idea?

SJ – In some ways I think it would be better because there would be more stability long term. You’re always going to have the stragglers at the back of the grid and they will always be the clowns that make up the show.

The way F1 has progressed it’s becoming more and more difficult to be in that position. None of those teams make any money. It’s a money-losing proposition at best. That puts the series in the position of having another rich guy come along – and there always seem to be another one right around the corner – who has enough money to buy a team and have a bit of an adventure.

Of course it’s not until they actually get a team and own it that they realize they’ve got the tiger by the tail. At that point they better hold on because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Typically the life span of those teams is three to five years then they disappear having burned through a few hundred million.

If you had the top teams field a third car, economies of scale would kick in and it would be a great way to get better talent into the championship, I think – young drivers who are really talented and give them a proper go. There could be a lot of other benefits as well and I support it. There would still be eight teams and I think it would be better for the championship. The value of each franchise would be higher and I think the income from the series would be better for everyone as well.

JT – You were in Austin, Texas at Circuit of the Americas last weekend for Tudor USCC race and the WEC round there. What was your impression of the weekend?

SJ – There were a lot people and a lot of buzz in the paddock but there weren’t many fans in the grandstands. But historically, sports car racing in an endurance format has never been about spectators. A few of them become kind of cult events, like Le Mans, Sebring and recently also Petit Le Mans. The six-hour WEC races are tough to fill the stands except for the die-hard fans.

The balance of performance difficulties in Tudor continues. There aren’t many happy campers in the paddock let’s put it that way. When you try to balance different cars it’s always the same. Only one team or driver is happy – the people on top of the podium. Everyone else thinks they’re being shafted.

In my case, being with Scuderia Corsa now, the Ferrari teams are extremely unhappy because all of the Ferraris qualified at the back of the grid in both the GT categories. It’s clear that the balance of performance is not in their favor.

Mike Conway

JT – The WEC race was interesting until the rains came. Then it was wacky. Then the WEC’s odd pit/red flag rules wound up gutting the race up front, leaving cars that had made it into the pits to put on wet tires just before the red flag stuck there when race began again. As a result, several cars went laps down. Not a particularly logical rule-set in my view.

SJ – Yes that’s their rules but they’re really not sensible are they? That did benefit Audi as well but you’ve got to hand it to them. They know how to execute and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. For Toyota, it came down to driver error again. They fell off left, right and center. That probably had more bearing on the outcome of the race than anything else.

Mike Conway’s spin (when the rain began) was amazing. He managed to slide through like six corners without hitting anything. He went sliding through the Esses – straight through every corner. If that had happened on an old style track the outcome wouldn’t have been good. I guess that’s a benefit of the new style tracks.

I can sympathize though because it literally feels slower than walking when you go at the speed he was going and still it’s way too fast to keep the car on the road, and you have literally zero control of the car, none!

JT – Not surprisingly, Toyota and Audi have a gap to Porsche. Do you think Porsche will close the gap next year?

SJ - Yes, I’m sure Porsche will catch up and make things closer but one team will always have an edge. Really though, in those races ultimate speed is not the most critical thing. I think it’s down to how well you execute on-track and execute strategy; the team that spends the least amount of time in the pits is generally the winner.

JT – As in F1, the WEC drivers and teams have to manage the energy their hybrid powerplants produce so as not exceed what’s allowable by rules. I’d rather see them just be able to go racing without that arbitrary restriction.

SJ – Yes, true. Another interesting thing I learned when I was talking with one of my former engineers with Audi – he said the they don’t even change springs or roll bars or anything like that on the cars now. All the adjustments are made using the hybrid power systems. They don’t touch the car really – no mechanical changes, mostly changes to electronic settings.

There are downforce settings but most of that is done before any race. They may do a bit in practice but really they just rely on the computers now for settings of the battery and power supplied to each wheel from the electric motors. It’s ridiculously complicated. The prototype sports cars are probably even more complicated than the F1 cars these days.

Andre Lotterer (Audi Sport driver) said he was shocked at how the Caterham F1 car he drove underperformed compared to both the sports cars and especially the Formula (Japanese Super Formula) car he races in Japan. The Super Formula cars are real, proper racecars – mega quick.

Scott Dixon & wife Emma celebrate with Chip Ganassi

JT – Will Power finally clinched the IndyCar championship at the MAVTV 500 finale at Fontana last month. In fact, three of the top four drivers in the championship were Penske drivers, making Scott Dixon’s third place finish in the championship even more impressive - especially considering Ganassi Racing’s struggles in 2014.

SJ – It was a pretty stellar comeback for Scott considering where he was with even just three or four races remaining. It’s a pity they weren’t able to get on top of the weaknesses they had in the car sooner. He could have had a good shot at the championship. Still, to finish third in the championship after a season like this one was quite impressive.

As we’ve said, 2014 was a year where no one seemed to want to win the championship. The main contenders all kept tripping up. It was a weird championship but there was certainly no weakness on the racing side of things. Every race had great competition, and the Championship went down to the wire yet again.

Andrea De Cesaris

JT- Finally, last weekend was very bad for F1 in many ways, with the horrible accident of Jules Bianchi, and then the passing of Andrea De Cesaris in a motorcycle accident.

SJ- Yes, if we start with the accident in the Japanese GP from Suzuka. As usual, the media and internet has been inundated with comments and views about this, that and the other regarding the accident. To me it’s very clear and very simple, as soon as there’s a track worker or any form of equipment on the track there should be a full course yellow and the safety car should be deployed immediately, no discussion or personal opinion from anyone should ever enter into this decision, it should be automatic. It’s incomprehensible that they allow the race to run with only a local yellow when something like this happens. Drivers will only slow down to the bare minimum without being penalized as the race is still effectively running at full speed, except at the post where the local yellow is displayed. If they know there is a full course yellow, they can automatically back off completely and then slowly catch up with the pace car knowing it won’t affect their position or outcome of the race. The safety car method has been used in all forms of racing in the US for as long as I can remember, and it works. The other thing I don’t understand with F1 is that every race has it’s own local safety crews apart from the doctor and the pace car that goes to each race. In Indycar they have the same safety crew that travels to every one of the races, they are extremely well trained and know exactly what to do in every situation, they fly them and the safety cars and all the equipment to every race even when it’s Trans-Atlantic, which is a minor cost in the overall scheme of things. When you see some of the local safety crews in F1 it looks like amateur hour out there, which is mind boggling in itself considering how much has been done to improve the safety both on the cars and the tracks themselves.

On top of all this we then found out on Sunday evening that Andrea De Cesaris had been killed in motorcycle accident. This was shocking news and it made me really sad, as we have been great friends for more than 30 years now. We were roommates when we both started out in F3 in England, driving for Ron Dennis Project Four team. Andrea was one of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever met and although we were not in regular contact anymore it was like yesterday every time we met. We used to play Golf and Tennis and Ski together, needless to say every time it was like the World finals but so much fun at the same time. I could write a whole book about all the stuff we used to get up to. Everybody that was close to him in the racing community loved him and he will be missed by all of us. I think of all the drivers from that generation, he might have been the one who really had it all figured out in the end, many years ago he basically sold everything he had and decided to travel around the world following the surf crowd as he had at that point become an avid surfer and wind surfer, moving from one great spot to the other around the world depending on where the big waves were. At the same time he had become a very good day trader and spent the mornings doing some trading online, and then the rest of the day on the ocean, not a bad way to live your life if you ask me. He was a free soul and a wonderful guy to be around.


JT - We then had the shock news about Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari, within hours after Alonso had resigned from the team.

SJ- Yes, at first sight it looks like Vettel has played his cards very well in this game of poker that’s been going on for a couple of months now. It’s clear the deal between him and Ferrari has been in the pipeline for quite some time in order for him to announce his departure to Red Bull at such short notice after Alonso told Ferrari he was leaving. Likewise, I am sure Alonso has some ace up his sleeve or it will certainly look like he might be left in the cold with the only real option being McLaren, which at the moment would be a bit like jumping from the fire into the frying pan, although I’m sure it won’t be long for either of the two teams to catch up and become real contenders for the title again. Interestingly, they both had a year left on their contracts but were both able to exercise some performance clause in their contracts to allow them to leave. The final piece of the puzzle is of course Lewis Hamilton, who has not yet done his deal with Mercedes going forward.

It will be interesting to see how Vettel will adapt to the Ferrari situation and if he will bring any key people with him from Red Bull, much like Schumacher did when he left Benetton, basically bringing both Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne with him, which then formed the nucleus together with Jean Todt of the “dream team” that ended up dominating F1 for a very long time.

----- SJ Blog #47 -----