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Filtering by Tag: Nico Hulkenberg

F1 Japanese Grand Prix, U.S. Grand Prix & Formula 1’s Penalty System

Stefan Johansson

 - #SJblog 78 -

JT – As the 2016 Formula One season races toward its conclusion, the grands prix are coming thick and fast. Here, we cover both the Japanese Grand Prix and the U.S. Grand Prix.

Last weekend Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton took their title fight to the Circuit of the Americas. The race was like most this year – not really compelling or exciting. Lewis Hamilton got away cleanly from pole and led from start to finish. Teammate Rosberg left his second-place grid position well but a good start from Daniel Ricciardo saw the Red Bull Racing driver emerge from Turn 1 in second place with Rosberg third. Ultimately, Rosberg recovered to finish second with Ricciardo third.

We’ll touch on the details momentarily but first I’d like to observe that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a race – open wheel or sports car – at COTA that was especially memorable or exciting. The track doesn’t seem to lend itself to great racing. Do you agree?

SJ – I agree. It’s the nature of the track. It’s another [Hermann] Tilke-designed track basically so it’s built to the same template as most of the rest he’s done. Unfortunately, they don’t produce very good racing in general because they all seem to have one corner followed by a kink or another corner and you can never get a proper run on a guy ahead of you as you’re going through them. The corners leading onto the long straights are all sort of aero-dependent which means that if you get somewhat close to the car in front you lose your front end which means you have to lift slightly and then the gap remains too big to have a go when you arrive to the braking zone – often even with DRS engaged. It’s the same problem you have on so many modern circuits.

JT – With his USGP win, Lewis Hamilton cuts Nico Rosberg’s point lead from 33 to 26. Rosberg did what he needed to do by finishing second, scoring enough points to limit the damage. So their championship battle continues to the next race, the Mexican Grand Prix. What did you think of the USGP?

SJ –Well, there’s not really much to report. Again, whoever gets through the mess at the first corner in the lead – that’s pretty much where they end up. With the cars at the front so closely matched it’s pretty predictable from there on.

JT – As mentioned, Daniel Ricciardo passed Nico Rosberg for second place at the first corner but lost the spot to Rosberg later in the race. Ricciardo blamed the Virtual Safety Car triggered when teammate Max Verstappen’s Red Bull car came to a halt on the circuit for his loss of position. He observed that by pitting under the VSC Rosberg lost less time and thus emerged second after his stop. VSC’s have been seen as preferable to traditional “safety car” or “yellow flag-caution” periods but a number of incidents in sports car racing have some including Audi Sport questioning whether they are consistently more equitable. What’s you view?

SJ – With a full safety car, the whole pack gets closed up and that can be unfair if you have a significant advantage. That’s what we have had in IndyCar since forever and it offers opportunities for much more interesting racing even if it’s not always fair.

If the rules state that you have a safety car when there’s an incident… then it just becomes part of the racing, it’s part of what you do and you build your strategy accordingly. It features in IndyCar pretty much every race. How often have we seen a driver go a lap down at Indianapolis and still end up winning the race by playing the strategy the right way for example?

So safety cars are good and bad. Over the course of a season, your luck with them usually evens out – sometimes good, sometimes bad. Overall, a virtual safety car can be more fair because everybody’s supposed to slow to a certain speed immediately when a VSC is called. On the other hand, I’m not sure exactly how they monitor that because it would be difficult to monitor the gaps between each car. It looks to me that you can at least gain a few seconds by simply slowing down just a fraction later than some others do and by doing so reducing their gap to the car ahead.

And Rosberg obviously took advantage of the VSC. There was nothing Ricciardo could do about when the VSC was declared, so that’s also a smart call, good strategy from Mercedes.

JT – Both Red Bull and Ferrari stumbled. Max Verstappen pitted even though he hadn’t been called to the pits by the team then succumbed to engine failure. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen failed to finish due to a loose wheel after his second stop. Sebastian Vettel finished a distant fourth to both Mercedes and Ricciardo’s Red Bull.

SJ – Raikkonen’s DNF was a mishap which could happen to anyone I guess but as far as Ferrari’s progress…. well, once a season is underway it’s hard to overcome whatever car deficit you have. As deep into 2016 as they are, it is what it is now. They just have to try to regroup and get it right for next year. Also, loosing their technical director James Allison mid season obvisously does not help.

Source: Formula 1

Source: Formula 1

JT – McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Williams’ Felipe Massa made contact as Alonso passed Massa for sixth place in the late stages of the race. They disagreed about who was at fault for the contact which punctured one of Massa’s tires but the stewards ruled it a racing incident and no penalty was administered. Later in this blog you speak about the inconsistent application of rules in F1 and the variability introduced by having a succession of different driver stewards. This incident adds to that theme, doesn’t it?

SJ – That corner (Turn 15) is probably one of the easiest corners to cover the inside on any grand prix track worldwide. It makes zero difference if you’re on the outside racing line, inside or wherever you are in that corner.

I think it would have been easy for Massa to stay to the inside of the corner. And when you leave the door wide open a driver like Alonso will always make a move. Knowing how difficult it is to pass around there the only option is really to go for the “surprise” move which is exactly what Alonso did. You have to make a move when the driver ahead least expects it because there’s hardly any other place to pass on that track.

It’s the same thing Rosberg did to Raikkonen in Malaysia but Nico got a 10-second penalty. Alonso got nothing and it’s the same old story – rulings at random. These were almost identical incidents but the stewards’ rulings were not identical. One time you get a penalty, next time you don’t.  What do you do as a driver?

I think [Mark] Blundell who was the steward in Austin did the right thing but it shows there’s no consistency whatsoever in the control tower.

JT – With five races remaining on the Formula One calendar, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sat anxiously on the grid at the Japanese Grand Prix knowing a good points score would be critical for both in their two-man battle for the championship. When the lights went out Rosberg (on pole) got away cleanly. Hamilton, starting second, bogged down and fell to eighth by the time the field exited the first corner. He recovered to finish third after a heated battle with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen who finished in second place.

As you’ve said in previous blogs, the Mercedes driver who gets the start right generally wins. We saw that once again at Suzuka.

SJ – All season long, it seems that’s what it’s come down to now. More than anything else between these two, it really comes down to who gets the start right and at least in Lewis case also some reliability issues. That’s it. That’s all the difference there is between them. That’s why the situation can change so quickly. One missed start or one reliability issue on Nico’s part and a win for Lewis, and it’s all back to square one again. The championship battle won’t be over until the final race, I’m sure of it.

The press has been saying either Lewis or Nico are on form at one time or another. But if you look back to the previous race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis dominated the race until he had an engine failure. So it’s not really accurate to say one or another is on or off form. As we’ve said before, when you have two drivers who are so closely matched, whoever gets the start right on the day is going to have an edge.

JT – Max Verstappen’s move in the chicane as Lewis Hamilton was trying to pass him with two laps to go sparked some controversy. Mercedes initially protested Verstappen’s change of direction under braking but later withdrew the protest. Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda sided with Verstappen saying, "If I was him, I wouldn't have let Lewis past on the penultimate lap either.” He added, “This paragraph (rule) could be interpreted in all sorts of ways so it's worthless."

What did you think of Verstappen’s driving, and the lack of clarity in F1 rules?

SJ – This moving under braking – even if it’s just a little wiggle – makes it very difficult for the guy behind. Once you hit the brakes you’re more or less committed to one line, so if you’re the car following and you’ve decided to make an attempt to pass where there is a gap by leaving your braking to the very last moment and the driver in front of you suddenly moves across and the gap is no longer there it makes it almost impossible for the guy behind to avoid even hitting him. You either completely blow the corner or you hit the guy you’re trying to pass, which in fact we have seen numerous times lately, where parts of the front wing suddenly go flying because there was contact under braking.

We’ve talked about this many times but this blocking nonsense in racing goes back quite a few years. There’s a great video of Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve (1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon). If you watch that, it was an intense battle where they traded second place several times and you see how they raced back then. There was no blocking and that’s how everyone raced. Sadly, these dirty tactics slowly crept into the system by a few drivers who then became heroes to the generations that followed and because the FIA didn’t clamp down on it early enough it’s now become the norm and every young driver thinks that’s how you should race.

That’s where we are today. All the young drivers think that’s the way to race and it’s a pity because it’s also taken away a large part of what I call the “Art of Racing”. Even the vocabulary drivers use now is weird – the fact that now people talk about “defending my position”. “Defending” nowadays basically translates into moving in one direction or another so that the other guy can’t get past you, no matter how much faster he is.

To me, that has nothing to do with racing. If you are slower than the car behind you, and he’s started to make his move, whether it’s a corner or what often happens now even on the straights, you can’t simply move across the guy to prevent him from passing. That’s like allowing a boxer to pull out a knife or something when he’s on the ropes and about to go down. In contrast, look back to the race in Malaysia at the beginning of the month. Ricciardo and Verstappen had a great dice with no blocking. That’s racing. There was enough room for both to race hard. Ricciardo managed to keep his position without blocking at any point. He just raced hard but he gave both cars enough room. That’s how you should race – hard but fair, real racing as far as I’m concerned.

There is no skill whatsoever involved in just moving across on a competitor who’s trying to pass you because he’s faster than you. The phrase, “defending your position” didn’t exist in the past. You defended your position by braking later than the guy trying to pass you. If you could brake later and still make the corner, you successfully kept your position.

There should always be enough room for both cars to make a corner. Anything else is completely unacceptable. What drivers do on the straights now is outrageous. It’s the same thing but even worse. There should always be enough room on any straight for two cars, and if one car is faster than the other it’s his right to pass. If you have to lift on a straight because someone ahead just drives across your piece of road effectively, that’s absolutely unacceptable.

JT – Ferrari finished just off the podium with Sebastian Vettel in 4th and Kimi Raikkonen in 5th. But Red Bull Racing has moved into second place ahead of Ferrari in the constructor’s championship. The situation at Ferrari still seems confused. Do you agree?

SJ – Well, more and more people who should know are starting to come forward with some honest assessments of the team. I don’t know enough of what really goes on to make a fair comment but I do know that F1 is probably one of the most difficult businesses to run successfully as there are so many layers to deal with. It’s hard enough to run a company profitably and do everything else correct, on top of that you then have to try and win a race every two weeks against people that are all trying to do the same thing. The top teams now employ over 1000 people and the organization required to manage those people and get the best of out them requires some very strong leadership. We have seen many extremely successful business people come into F1 over the years, but without the experience and the mindset you need to succeed in this cut throat business of Formula One, and all have ultimately failed. The only exceptions I can think of is Flavio Briatore and Dietrich Mateschitz who both were smart enough to hire the best people in the business and basically let them get on with it. Mr. Marchioni is without doubt an extremely intelligent man and his business record speak for itself. Let’s just hope that Ferrari does not end up going down the same road Jaguar did when Ford bought the Stewart F1 team and installed a bunch of car executives and engineers (Premier Automotive Group) to run the F1 team. We all saw how that ended up.

Flavio Briatore and Dietrich Mateschitz.jpg

I say it over and over. Racing is a very difficult business in general, and Formula One in particular. You can’t expect to just arrive and apply your normal business acumen and what you’ve learned in a business school or from running big public companies to running a race team at the highest level. It’s completely different. I certainly haven’t run a car company but I suspect there’s probably another 50 layers of complexity and issues you have to deal with on top of just running a successful business when you’re engaged in F1.

It’s possibly the most competitive environment you can possibly get into. If you make one or two bad strategic decisions it will take several months or even years to rectify them and get back on track. Most of all, you better hire the right people. Even with the “dream Team” of Jean Todt, Russ Brawn, Michael Schumacher and Rory Byrne it still took Ferrari several years before they became a winning team. Right now I don’t see a “dream team” in place.

JT – In other F1-related news, Nico Hulkenberg announced that he will leave Force India at the end of the season and join Renault in 2017. It’s a factory drive, something every driver covets but Hulkenberg must also hope that Renault can make significant improvement.

Meanwhile, ex-Red Bull Racing/current-Porsche LMP1 driver Mark Webber announced that he will retire from racing after the WEC season ends in November at the 6 Hours of Bahrain. What are your thoughts on these moves?

SJ – It’s a good move for Hulkenberg. I’m sure Renault will make progress, assuming the commitment is there. How much they commit and over what period of times, who knows?

It certainly opens up the driver market in a different way now, that’s for sure. An open Force India seat is definitely a desirable seat for a lot of the drivers. And there’s the second seat at Renault as well. There are plenty of very good drivers in the market, let’s hope these seats will be offered to someone that truly deserves an F1 drive.

Mark Webber’s announcement surprised me a little bit. Maybe he’s just had enough or just realized that it’s getting tougher and tougher every year to stay on top. WEC LMP 1 I would say is every bit as hard as F1 at the sharp end, there are some extremely good drivers in every one of the cars from Audi, Porsche and Toyota.

JT – Following up on your comments in the last blog about tire testing and the advantages that can be gained if a team or driver makes themselves readily available to assist Pirelli with development of next year’s new, larger tires, some seem to be waking up to that fact. Nico Rosberg recently tested the new tires on a Mercedes for the first time at Aragon.

SJ – Maybe the penny has now dropped for some of the other teams and drivers. There’s been some noise made about Vettel’s testing for Ferrari and I think the others realize the importance of being at the very cutting edge of that. It’s probably more important than car development in some ways.  We spoke about this in the last blog. I also noticed Alonso made a comments that it’s unfair that all the teams don’t have the opportunity to do the testing. My understanding is that McLaren actually turned down the opportunity to be part of the testing, which I think will ultimately hurt them next year.

JT – Recent rulings on driver/team infractions seem to have you and many other people scratching their heads about F1’s murky penalty system. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Again, we have discussed this so many times now, and if anything it just seems to get worse in fact. The penalties they issue make no sense. Take Rosberg’s penalty in Malaysia (Rosberg was penalized 10 seconds for contact with Kimi Raikkonen while passing the Ferrari driver), that was just hard racing, he went for the surprise move and he pulled it off. The door was left open enough to have a go on the entry.  Yet you get a penalty for that but don’t get penalized for moving completely across the track to block a guy from passing you on a straight line, which has happened numerous times?

The penalties are so random and willy nilly, they vary with every race depending on who is in the control tower for the weekend. For me, this makes a complete mockery of the whole system. You have teams spending hundreds of millions of dollars while some random guys in the control tower decides whether a driver should be penalized for something that is also completely random. Their decisions could have a direct effect on the championship. As it were, it made no difference in Malaysia because Rosberg gained more than 10 seconds on Raikkonen and finished where he would have finished anyway.

But let’s say Rosberg missed out on one point because of a steward’s decision. If that one point is the decider in the championship, the decision of a random steward could make all the difference.

In addition, there seems to be no consistency in the penalties. Esteban Ocon gets a 5-second penalty for speeding in pit lane (Manor Racing’s Ocon earned two penalties for speeding in pit lane in the Malaysian GP)? As far as I’m aware, the penalty for speeding in pit lane has always been a drive-through. In every type of racing I’ve ever done if you speed in pit lane you generally get a drive-through penalty. All of a sudden it’s now a 5-second penalty from one race to the next?

You’ll have a different penalty for that in the next race and then another different penalty after that…The drivers don’t know if they’re coming or going. It’s inexcusable for me that Charlie Whiting (F1 Race Director) and the FIA can pick a driver-steward at random for each and every race. Let’s hypothetically say they ask Mark Webber to be steward. He might still have a beef with Vettel, we don’t know. Or any other driver, we don’t know the full background, maybe they have a vested interest in a particular driver or they may just be mates at some level. Either way, there is a good chance that this will cloud their judgment to some degree at least.

As high level as everything is in F1, there is this opposite side of the spectrum - completely amateur. Most other series have a dedicated steward who is present at every race. It’s so poorly thought out that there’s no way to justify it in my view.

As I’ve said before, they need to get rid of the guest driver-stewards and have one guy that is respected by all the drivers and who can talk to them as peers – who can tell them clearly what the rules are and let them know that if they break these rules they get penalized. Very quickly a pattern will form and drivers will know where the line is drawn.

Every driver should know where they stand with regard to the rules. Now, no one knows. It’s up to Derek Warwick or Alan Jones or Allan McNish or Emanuele Pirro or Danny Sullivan, or whomever is there on a given weekend. No disrespect to any of them. They’re all great drivers but everybody has a different view of what’s right or wrong. And when it really comes down to crunch time, do every one of these guys, not just the guys I mentioned but all of the guys who have at some time been the guest steward over the years, really have the balls to make the right decision if a world championship is at stake. I say categorically no.

One more thing – the penalties issued to teams for engine changes – they’re also mind boggling. I guess the engine change rules were originally created to stop engine manufacturers building grenades basically as qualifying or practice session engines. You get a penalty if an engine breaks before a set number of races have been run with it. The original thinking was that you can only use a limited number of engines so it’s less costly.

In reality it’s probably pushed the cost of engines up by five times compared to what it used to be. The cost of building an engine that will only last for one race is relatively small once you’ve designed and developed it. It’s only metal, it doesn’t cost that much more to produce 200 pistons compared to say 50 for example. Compare that to what it costs to design and build engines with these super exotic materials that have to be highly durable and last over the course of several races.

The current engines produce about 950 horsepower. A NASCAR V8 produces about 900 horsepower and you could probably build 100’s of those engines compared to what it costs to design and build one F1 engine. Does it have to be this complicated, this expensive?

Back to the rules – with the current engine penalties, the teams throw everything but the kitchen sink at a car every time they get one of these penalties. That makes a mockery of the rules. And does anyone understand a 45 grid-spot penalty for an engine change? How is the public supposed to follow that?

And if you have an accident and damage your engine and have to change it out, why are you penalized for that? You’ve already been penalized by having the accident. No one’s going to go and have an accident on purpose just so they can put a new engine in.

JT- Finally, Audi just announced that they are pulling out of WEC LMP1 and the Le Mans 24 hours at the end of 2016 and will instead focus on the Formula E Championship. What are your thoughts?

SJ- We’ve been hearing these rumors for a while now and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. It marks the end of an era and I am proud to have played a small part of the program over the year, being one of their drivers the first year they entered Le Mans and then in subsequent years with my own team (Gulf Audi R8) and then with Champion Racing where we won our class at Le Mans in 2003. Of all the car manufacturers I have worked with over the years they stand out as the one who really made a big impression on me. Dr Ullrich and his team of people created something that will be hard for anyone else to ever get close to. The decision to focus on Formula E instead is a very significant sign of the times, and if they really commit fully the same way they did to sportscars I think Formula E will make a giant leap forward as the other manufacturers will have no choice but to follow. It will be very interesting to follow this development over the next three years, this could be very significant!


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The Rosberg-Hamilton rivalry continues at the Austrian GP, Scuderia Corsa triumphed again & Chip Ganassi is inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame

Stefan Johansson

JT – Qualifying for the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix was a messy affair due to wet weather. Hamilton won the pole with Nico Rosberg 2nd. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Jenson Button made the most of it qualifying in 3rd and 5th positions respectively.

However, Rosberg actually started from 7th after a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Sebastian Vettel lost his 4th place qualifying effort due to the same penalty - a gearbox change - and had to start 9th. This allowed Hulkenberg and Button to actually start in 2nd and 3rd positions. The “penalties” for having to change a gearbox and other similar penalties for changing other components seem absurd. What’s your view?

SJ – The weather definitely helped to mix up the qualifying so it was hard to read anything into the pace of some of the cars but grid position is always important, although less so on most tracks since the introduction of DRS.  

You are correct that some of the rules they have introduced to F1 over the years are very confusing and make no sense in many ways. These grid penalties are a perfect example. I guess the intention when they introduced them was to bring costs down and discourage teams from bolting on a new engine or gearbox in every session or race, which was often the case back then. But of course, these rules make everything even more expensive because the engineering required being at such a high level to design and fabricate parts utilizing materials that last a long time.

But, what I don’t understand is that when you have an accident and damage an engine or gearbox, why should you be penalized? You’ve already suffered the penalty of having an accident. No one’s having an accident on purpose. So why should you get a penalty for replacing components damaged in an accident? This has nothing to do with reliability.

It makes no sense. If you crash in qualifying and can’t compete for the best grid position, you already have a penalty.

JT – Button ran well for McLaren finishing 6th but Fernando Alonso had yet another bad weekend with his McLaren-Honda failing to finish due to a “battery pack system failure”. Nico Hulkenberg went backward immediately, ultimately failing to finish, scored in 19th position.

SJ – Button had a strong weekend in general and McLaren is getting closer and closer although it’s taking some time. I still maintain that they will be a force to reckon with eventually. They have great people and great resources and it will all come together eventually.

Yes, Hulkenberg went backwards in a hurry. Obviously, his car wasn’t suited at all to race conditions. Perez had a tough race also.

We touched on this in the last blog also and it seems to be a very narrow window, especially in race trim, where the drivers and teams get it either right or wrong with their choice of tires, pressures and the general car set up. You’re either in the operating window or out it. Some cars just totally fall off the cliff while other cars suddenly get hooked up.

One of the Manors (Pascal Wehrlein finished 10th) for example was all of a sudden in the right range and it ran very competitive lap times. Pascal Wehrlein could not explain where the pace came from but the car was running very competitive all day. There’s a very weird dynamic with these tires and it seems much more prevalent this year than it’s ever been before.

JT – We’ve spoken about it previously but the racing in F1 remains hard to follow via television. The television broadcasts are very fragmented and the broadcasters do a poor job of keeping viewers informed about relative positions and circumstances facing cars and drivers throughout the field. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, I find it incredibly hard to follow. With all of the pit stops and the cameras directed in what seems to be random fashion, you have real problems knowing what’s going on. There’s no real scoreboard or pit board that you can access as a TV viewer and it makes understanding the dynamic of the race very difficult. You almost need your laptop next to you with the online scoring board to be able understand the dynamics of the race. But you need to be real “anorak” to go that far.

It’s frustrating because you sit there really trying to pay attention to what’s going on and suddenly cars are missing or out of place from when you last saw them. I understand that some are pitting and others staying out but most often you don’t have any detailed information of what happened.

JT – The race’s main talking point was the incident between Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg on the final lap. Hamilton had drawn to within one second of Rosberg and used his DRS to catch Rosberg heading into Turn 2. As he attempted to overtake Rosberg, the two made contact. Rosberg’s car was damaged, resulting in his falling to 4th place. Hamilton’s car continued apace and he took the victory. What’s your view of their coming together yet again?

SJ – Poor old Nico seems to come up on the short end every single time the two of them have a get together. He seems to always have his car in the wrong place. It’s tricky, Lewis obviously has terrific race-craft there’s no doubt about that. He gets in a dogfight and generally comes out ahead. I guess the fact is that Lewis will simply not back down, under any circumstance. So, the only result is that he will either come out ahead or there will be contact, or sometimes both like in this case. It could have just as easily gone the other way where Lewis would have ended up with a wounded car. This makes it even more difficult for Rosberg as he knows by now that his options are very limited and there’s a very good chance they will make contact if they are fighting for the same piece of road.

But sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. You can have a year where every time you make a move it sticks and the other guy comes out on the short end. Then you do the same thing the next year and it goes wrong every single time. You end up with a broken car or a spin or whatever.

JT – The die seemed to be cast when Hamilton got within DRS range. Rosberg was a sitting duck and you knew any pass would be contested.

SJ – It’s one thing when you’re racing for second, third or fourth place and another when you’re racing for the win. If it’s for the win, you go for it. That’s how you’re programmed as a racing driver. You either have team orders or you let the drivers have a go.

It’s incredibly difficult because you’ve got two guys who are so close competitively in the best equipment, fighting for the win pretty much every race. It’s a perfect storm really. I don’t actually remember a dynamic quite like this – having two drivers in a team who are so close, always dominating and fighting for the win.

There was Prost and Senna of course but even that didn’t get as serious apart from one occasion at Suzuka. (A collision at the final chicane between Prost and Senna during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix put them both off the track. Prost retired, Senna continued, taking the win. Following the race Senna was controversially disqualified for using the chicane's escape road to rejoin the circuit. Thus, Prost won the 1989 title.)

But most of the time their battles sorted themself out with one or the other being further ahead and separated in the races they each won. In 1988, McLaren were as dominant as Mercedes has been but it was never quite like this. I think a lot of that also had to do with the fact that they could not use the DRS function, which effectively makes the guy in front a sitting duck if you’re within 1 second or closer.

JT – If you look at the overtaking aids in Formula One and IndyCar - IndyCar seems to have a far better solution. Like you just said, with DRS in F1, every driver is a sitting duck when the following driver gets within one second. Push-to-Pass in IndyCar seems to be far superior as not only can the driver attempting an overtake use Push-to-Pass, the driver in front can use it defensively.

SJ – The IndyCar Push-to-Pass method is 100 percent better. Without DRS, the Hamilton-Rosberg incident would never have happened. I’ve never liked DRS from its institution. It’s a strange way to try to spice up the show. I don’t really think it’s fair and it doesn’t help the racing. If the driver behind gets within a second there’s nothing the lead driver can do. It has nothing to do with skill or bravery or whatever else is required to pass the guy in front. It’s lost the art of racing to very large degree in my opinion.

The IndyCar system is as close to perfect as you can get, I think. You can defend as well as attack and you only get so many attempts in a race. It’s up to you to distribute it and decide when and when not to use it. In addition, the public is informed of how many Push-to-Pass boosts are left for each driver. That makes it interesting. But in F1 the guy in front is completely helpless, waiting for the attack. It’s not fair and it doesn’t help the show at all.

This is the irony of F1. You have these insanely complicated, technically sophisticated, ridiculously expensive cars and then you add a crude wing opening system, which dumbs down the technology the series, emphasizes.

The other thing I don’t understand, we have these cars that are simply masterpieces of engineering, so sophisticated and complicated in every way in order to optimize every half a percent of performance from both the chassis and the “power units”, and then the series mandates the tire manufacturer to effectively build a crap tire to supposedly make the races more interesting. Then there’s the radio ban. Again, they allow the teams to develop this sophisticated and insanely expensive technology with endless options on the steering wheel to adjust the cars literally from corner to corner, and then you have to ban advice from the pits about how to use them because it effectively means that engineers are driving the car. Now they can’t even inform the driver if there’s a safety issue with the car. Perez had huge off because he was not aware his brakes were about to go, his team knew but were not allowed to communicate with him over the radio.

It defies all logic. Thank god the tracks are all so clinical and safe now. You could have had at least a couple broken legs otherwise.

JT – Meanwhile, Ferrari still struggling for pace against Mercedes, opted to keep Sebastian Vettel on super soft-compound tires for 27 laps. On lap 27, his right rear Pirelli exploded and he crashed out of the race.  It was a gamble that didn’t pay off.

SJ – We don’t know what happened yet, so it’s not really correct to comment, as it could have been something like debris or whatever that caused the tire to blow up in the first place.

JT – When you raced in F1 were the tires prone to these types of catastrophic failures?

SJ – What happened back then if anything was that tires would blister. But you could still carry on. It’s just that they lost so much performance that you basically had to pit for new tires. They didn’t delaminate or anything like that.

JT – Heading to Silverstone and the British Grand Prix, there’s an 11-point gap from Rosberg back to Hamilton. That lends some interest to the racing going forward but what gets lost is that Mercedes is still dominating. No one is close. 

SJ – A tight points battle like this is what Formula One needs… with a bit of hate and rivalry. That brings out the fans. But yes, Mercedes is still destroying everybody and it’s clear the title fight will become even more intense with every race going forward. This is all great for F1 though, all we need is for Ferrari and Red Bull to close the gap a bit more and we will have some very interesting races for the remainder of this season.

JT – Suspension failures were a recurring theme throughout the weekend in Austria. New curbing was installed at the Spielberg circuit in place of the astro-turf previously in place and it seemed to cause more problems than it solved.

SJ – Four big accidents from suspension failure is highly unusual. The thing is, every single track on the F1 schedule is like a dance floor now. There are no bumpy, rough circuits left. That’s part of how Formula One is today, every track is more or less perfect in every way. I’d like to see what would happen if they ran a current F1 car around a place like Sebring for example. It would probably have no wheels left after 10 laps! I’m only joking but it definitely adds to the challenge.

Dealing with the imperfections of all the cool old circuits used to be a big part of the racing and that’s what made them great. The fact that they were bumpy and horrible made them unpredictable and difficult. It made it a great challenge to get your set-up right and a great challenge to drive.

You had to be super precise over the bumps – to be able to feel them and lift at exactly the right moment and then get right back on power. When you felt the front tires hit a bump you mashed the throttle. By the time you got your foot down, the power would be coming on just as the rear tires passed over the bump. You could pick up two or three-tenths if you got it right. It was another added element of skill and it was a real challenge to get it right lap after lap during a race.

There are varying opinions on whether the rough circuits were a good thing or not but the current cars have been designed around these tabletop flat circuits so when they encounter taller curbs like in Austria they can’t cope.

I think Hamilton had a good point. Why not just bring back grass at the track edge like it used to be? That enforces the track limits automatically, because if you put a wheel on the grass you’re going to spin or at least loose enough speed for it to never give you an advantage which often is the case now. Just have grass for 20 feet from the track edge and then you could have asphalt and all that nonsense to catch the cars that go past that.

The point is, you won’t gain any time by going into the grass with all four wheels like you do now by keeping your foot in it over the curbs or even on the astro-turf. The Mercedes accident in Austria would most likely have been avoided as Lewis would have never attempted to go on the outside as there would not have been enough room to carry the speed through the exit.

As it is now, everyone is abusing the track limit rule and there is no enforcement. If you have all four wheels past the white line, there should be an automatic penalty as far as I’m concerned, end of story, just as you can’t cross the blend line leaving the pits. It will take a few races of screaming and shouting, but if everyone knows where the limit is, everyone will very soon fall into line and that will then become the norm. As it is, the tracks are already designed this way and I can’t see a good solution to fix the problem any other way. If the ball is past the white line in Tennis it’s out, I don’t see why they can’t enforce the same rule in motor racing.

JT – IMSA raced at the newly repaved Watkins Glen last week. Scuderia Corsa triumphed again, following up success at Le Mans with a GTD win for the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3. The team is really in good form.

SJ – They’re having an incredible season. It’s fantastic to see. The 488 is obviously a great car. What they’ve always been really good at is strategy. Between Giacomo [Mattioli] and the engineers, they have always done a better job than anyone else; they’re just doing a superb job. That’s how we won the Championship at Petit Le Mans last year too, by simply understanding the rulebook better than the rest and thinking on their feet during the race. They snookered everybody and won the championship.

JT – In the GTLM class the Ford GTs dominated once again. Only the RLL BMWs could get close to them. Finally, IMSA is going to adjust the balance-of-performance, having announced additional weight and a boost reduction for the Fords while others get weight breaks and larger restrictors for this weekend’s race at Mosport.

SJ – Yes, the BoP saga continues, I so wish there was a different way to sort all this out. I hope they will eventually find a way to make everyone happy.

JT – In related news, Chip Ganassi was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame last week. What a career he’s had with 11 IndyCar titles, multiple Indy 500 wins, Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 wins, six Rolex 24 wins and now a GTLM class victory at Le Mans.

SJ – You’ve got to admire and respect what he’s accomplished over the years. His team has won pretty much every major racing event and series in the world, in every category except Formula One.

His Hall of Fame induction is well deserved. Having been able to observe his teams at close range, he’s the dream team owner for a driver. He gives you every bit of support and every tool you would ever need to be able to win. There are no compromises and no excuses.

I couldn’t think of a better owner to drive for. I only drove for him for one year (2005 GRAND-AM Season with teammate Cort Wagner) but having been around Scott [Dixon] all these years you can see it’s a really amazing operation. The people he has around him are all top talent and the best in the business. His leadership is very impressive in that he understands the business inside and out, he’s passionate about his team and he gives his people all the tools and motivation they need to perform at all levels within the organization.


To make F1 a bit more fun and engaging, we've implemented a fun game named #F1TOP3, where Formula One fans around the world have the opportunity to win prizes, including brand new limited edition Stefan Johansson Växjö Watch (valued at $7,500)! It's relatively easy: click on the black button above and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

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The 100th running of the Indy 500, the dramatic Monaco Grand Prix & #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – The 100th running of the Indy 500 was equal parts, competitive, historic and surprising. Racing before a sold-out Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi pulled off an improbable win by gambling, stretching his fuel mileage for the final 90 miles of the race as other competitors peeled off to pit. He became just the ninth rookie to win the race.

You were on hand for the Hundredth, what did you think of the race in general and Rossi’s performance?

SJ – You could really feel the energy this year. There was the same buzz you used to feel before the split (CART/IRL) in the mid 90’s. The whole city was just buzzing all month. It was great and I hope it will continue like this.

The race, as often happens at Indy, was a bit of an anti-climax at the end. The last five laps completely changed the whole picture of the race. But that’s Indy in a nutshell. Nearly every year the scenario changes completely depending on strategy and who’s really got it together when it matters in those last few laps.

This year’s race ended up being a typical, IndyCar race that was won on strategy rather than sheer speed. We saw [Graham] Rahal do it many times last season where he wasn’t in the picture until the races came to him strategically towards the end. That’s not to take anything away from Rossi. I think he did a phenomenal job all month, really. He was always there or thereabouts through practice and qualifying. For a rookie I think he did a tremendous job.

But he was never in the hunt to win at any point during the race on pace alone. The team made the right call and that’s what matters at Indy. They gambled and in the situation they were in it wasn’t a difficult choice to make. If you’re not running you can sometimes afford to roll the dice and hope the race will come to you, and it certainly did in this case.

Scott [Dixon] was kind of in the same boat frankly. All the guys at the front went full rich for the first ten laps after the last stop, and found themselves having to pit eight to six laps before the end. But his car was never really there all day. Scott was never really able to attack. He was just kind of hanging in there the whole time. He had slight contact as well which put the car just a little out of alignment. That’s a big loss at Indy because if the car is not dialed in there’s nothing you can do as a driver to make it go any faster.

It was just one of those days and he wasn’t the only one. Montoya had a bad day, Pagenaud had a pretty bad one as well, and so did others. It was a surprise in one way but not so surprising in another that an Andretti car won.

They were very strong all month. You knew that out of their five cars at least one was going to have a good chance of winning. They were right at the front from the first day of practice forward. The lap times were coming very easy to them. They were always in the hunt.

JT – Andretti Autosport was undeniably strong. However, it was a tale of two races for them. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell dominated the first half of the race but it was Rossi and Carlos Munoz who claimed the first two spots on the podium for the team. The contact between Bell and Helio Castroneves as they exited their pits led to a collision between Bell and Hunter-Reay which effectively ended the race for the teammates.

SJ – Yes, had that not happened I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hunter-Reay or Bell would have been right there at the end to shoot it out for the win. They were really strong most of the day.

JT – No one predicted Rossi’s win. Even from simply observing the TV broadcast you could sense the frustration of the drivers who had run at the front all day long and had nothing to show for it while Rossi’s gamble paid off.

Similarly, no one was more surprised by Rossi’s win than Alexander himself. In victory lane you could see that he hadn’t mentally processed what had just happened. Formula One had been the focus of his career up until this season and it’s hard to say if he really understands what winning the Indy 500 means. Undoubtedly, that will change.

SJ – That’s not the first time that has happened and that’s the irony of Indy. It always comes down to a combination of circumstances at the end.

I don’t think Rossi has any idea of the magnitude of his win just yet. His life will never be the same again. An American winning Indy is huge. Look at Danny [Sullivan]. He won 31 years ago and it’s still an accolade that travels with him everywhere he goes.

JT – You said that Honda looked very strong for Indy in our last blog, adding that you didn’t think they had been that far behind Chevrolet this season. That observation proved to be exactly right. Honda engines looked very strong throughout practice and qualifying and of course a Honda-powered car won. It looks like their development program as well as their lobbying of IndyCar paid off.

SJ – There’s no question. As I said, I think it’s more that Chevy has had better teams and drivers overall this season and the past and that’s why they’ve had better results. But in terms of performance, I think there’s very little between Honda and Chevy now. Clearly Honda had an advantage at Indy.

JT – Penske, the winning-est team at Indy, didn’t fare too well this year. Castroneves was competitive but his teammates were nowhere to be seen for most of the race. Montoya crashed out, Pagenaud fell further and further back from the green flag and Power was mired in the middle of the pack all day.

SJ – I think both Penske and Ganassi missed the mark this year. It was hard work for both teams to get up to speed. They did manage to get the lap times but it wasn’t coming easy. TK (Tony Kanaan) was running strong obviously but being on the pace wasn’t as easy as it has been in the past. It was a strange Indy 500 in that respect.

JT – The 100th running of the race did attract a lot of attention. Most notably from other racers and I think that’s positive. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, definitely. There were a ton of NASCAR drivers there. There was big interest from all areas of racing. I think even the Formula One guys are sort of curious about Indy Cars again. That’s what’s exciting. It’s starting to get the kind of buzz it used to have when at least a few F1 guys wanted to transition and have a look at it.

Nigel Mansell - Indycar 1994

Nigel Mansell - Indycar 1994

Fernando Alonso has made some noises about it. I think it would be just awesome if we could get one or two of the stars to come over and race – like when Nigel [Mansell] came over, that just blew it up.

When he came over, it elevated IndyCar to almost to a position where it became a threat to Formula One. I think the same thing could happen again if one or two guys would transition and take it really seriously. I still maintain that currently Indycar has the best racing in the world, if only more people knew about it they would have a huge following.

JT – Following the Indy 500 we had the Detroit double header this past weekend. As usual, both races threw out a lot of curveballs and the results were somewhat unexpected, certainly in race 1 at least.

Yes, again it ended up two races we have grown used to at Detroit with both the weather and fuel strategy playing their part in the final outcome. It was a mixed weekend for a lot of the front runners and in race 1 the race came to the guys who rolled the dice on strategy, exactly same scenario as last year. Scott had a rough two races, it looked like he was lined up to win the first one despite being held up for a very long time in one of the pitstops by some problems with the fuel rig. In the second one it was almost over before it started with Helio (Castro Neves) giving him a heavy hit right as it went green. I’m not sure exactly what he was thinking and both he and Scott were lucky they didn’t crash properly. As it were, Scott’s car sustained some suspension damage, which meant he was never in a position to attack the rest of the race. As usual though, the track produced some great racing.

JT – The Monaco Grand Prix had its moments - due in part to the changing weather conditions that overtook the race. A Mercedes won again but this time the result wasn’t a forgone conclusion.

SJ – It certainly was an interesting race in the first half at least. I think every single compound of tire was on track at some stage of the race. Everybody was trying something different. Once it all settled down it was kind of a typical Monaco where no one could pass and everyone was running in the same place.

JT – The difficulty of passing on-track at Monaco made Red Bull Racing’s disastrous pit stop for Daniel Ricciardo all the more frustrating for the driver and the team. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes capitalized on their mistake.

SJ – That’s Monaco. I always used to say when we were racing there that you need a 30-second lead to be absolutely sure of winning if you’re leading. Crazy things happen at Monaco that don’t happen at any other track - whether it’s a candy wrapper getting into a radiator inlet because the public sits right at the track edge or a screw up in the pits like this because you’re not operating from a normal garage where things are organized the way they normally are.

That’s difficult to achieve in today’s racing but 30 seconds is still just about what you need for a comfortable margin. What happened with Red Bull is unforgivable but that’s typical Formula One today. They have all these boffins that sit there behind their computer screens and look at the best theoretical strategies but no one seems to be thinking on their feet. When you have adverse conditions like this time, sometimes you just have to make a decision in a split-second and roll the dice.

Hamilton experienced a similar scenario last year. Mercedes just screwed up because the guys that sit behind the computers have never been in a race. They don’t know what it’s like to be on track. All they look at are theoretical scenarios. Monaco is actually quite simple compared to most other tracks as there’s really only thing you need to be concerned with, and that’s track position as it’s virtually impossible to pass even if you’re 5 seconds a lap faster.

That’s why Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher were always so strong. They were both genuine hard-core racers. They both came up through the sports car scene where you have to make decisions on pit strategy in almost every stint. Often you have to wing it, not looking at what ultimately may be the best solution but making a decision about what to do in the next three seconds.

JT – Daniel Ricciardo is clearly not pleased with Red Bull Racing after their pit strategy calls at both Monaco and the Spanish GP. He handled himself pretty well on track at Monaco in the aftermath however, doing his best to push Lewis Hamilton into a mistake. Hamilton made that mistake at the chicane, missing the corner and subsequently squeezing Ricciardo as he tried to pass. Race stewards chose not to penalize Hamilton.  How do you see the incident?
 

SJ – Again, it has to do with the runoff areas. Thirty years ago there was an Armco barrier there. Hamilton would have been buried in that if the same thing had happened. If all four wheels are across the track line to the outside of it then there should be a penalty for that in my opinion as it effectively means he’s blown the corner.

It’s even money whether Lewis gained any time by overshooting the chicane but the fact is he made a mistake and went too deep into the corner so theoretically I think that should be grounds for at least giving up the position, or a punishment of some sort – maybe not a stop-and-go penalty - but at least concede the position. Under previous circumstances he would have been in the fence.

I thought Ricciardo was absolutely superb all weekend. He was fantastic in both qualifying and the race. He was really hustling the car behind Lewis. It was quite impressive. I think it’s going to be very interesting to follow him and Red Bull from now on. They’ve made a lot of progress and they clearly have a good car. Ricciardo’s got the bit between his teeth and really should have won in Spain too under normal circumstances.

JT – Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen came into Monaco riding the high of winning the Spanish GP but had a pretty bad weekend.

SJ – He’s not a rookie anymore. He’s had a year in F1 and he raced last year at Monaco. But the track is extremely difficult and one small mistake can cost you big time. Still, that’s how all of the tracks used to be. Monaco is almost the only place like that left now. Montreal is similar, there isn’t a lot of runoff or margin for error but most of the other tracks offer no penalty for screwing up.

Ricciardo was clearly on it at Monaco and I think Verstappen felt that. I think it’ll be interesting going forward because the dynamic inside the team will change dramatically. I think there will be a lot more pressure on Verstappen from Ricciardo to deliver in every area.

JT – Once again, Ferrari wasn’t really a factor at Monaco. Sebastian Vettel finished a distant fourth and Raikkonen crashed out. The pressure on the team must be even higher.

SJ – In the earlier races this year, it just seemed that they couldn’t quite put together a top finish. The potential to win was there but circumstances prevented it one way or the other. But they’ve clearly fallen a little bit behind now.

Monaco is unique though so we’ll see what happens when we get to Canada. Certainly everyone is working hard trying to get the performance they need.

JT – McLaren scored their best finish of the season with Fernando Alonso taking the checkers in fifth. The team took advantage of the misfortunes of others but they seemed to perform better at Monaco. Meanwhile Williams F1 didn’t perform well yet again.

SJ – McLaren is definitely making strides toward the front of the grid. Little by little they’re getting closer and they are now to the point where their engine is running reliably. That gives them the opportunity to work on many other things. I think it will only be a matter of time before they’re fighting for wins again.

Williams was sort of in between the front runners in the last few years but now I think the other engine makers have caught up. The advantage they had in the past two years running the Mercedes engine has mostly gone away. Both Ferrari and Renault are definitely closer on the engine front now.

That puts more emphasis on the chassis and the way F1 is today, you need cubic dollars to get more performance from the chassis. You have to spend more and more money and hone and hone to get the last half percent from every area of performance. That’s what it comes down to. It’s not about being innovative or clever anymore.

So when you’re in the middle of the pack either you get it right or someone else does from year to year. If you don’t have the resources the top teams do you have to sort of gamble on which direction to go in your development and you’re not always sure whether you’ve gone out on the right limb or not. They’ve obviously missed the boat somewhere this year.

JT – Yes, and another Mercedes team in the mid-pack, Force India, got things right for Monaco with Sergio Perez finishing on the podium.

SJ – I must say, I’ve been critical of him in the past but I think he’s doing a phenomenal job now. He’s comfortable and not taking stupid risks like he used to. He’s well dialed in and he’s actually outperforming Hulkenberg at the moment which is quite impressive.

JT – Sauber teammates Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are not on the best of terms. They collided at Rascasse when Ericsson tried to overtake Nasr. He claimed that Nasr had been told to move over and let him through by the team. After several laps behind, he went for the pass. Nasr claims the team hadn’t ordered him to move and blames Ericsson for the crash.

SJ – That’s been brewing for quite a while, all the way back to GP2 where they already had a rivalry. It obviously doesn’t help anyone, particularly the team. You’ve just got to put your ego aside. If you’re fighting over 15th place well, you have to keep it in perspective.

I understand that they both had the red mist and got carried away in their battle but whether Nasr had orders to let Ericsson by or not, passing at Rascasse is nearly impossible – even if you’re five seconds a lap quicker. You come up on the apex of the corner and it’s always wide open when you go in because you have to give yourself enough room to get the lock to get around the corner.

But that doesn’t mean the corner is open. By the time you get to the apex you know there’s going to be a car in the middle. It was more than a low percentage chance to make a passing move stick there.

In the end, all this does is lowering their chances of impressing another team to consider them for the future.

JT – That offers a good contrast between Mercedes and Sauber. Rosberg was told to move over for Hamilton after not getting his tires to work and he complied.

SJ – At the end of the day F1 is a team sport and you work for the team. Rosberg’s mature enough to look at the bigger picture and that’s the difference. Less impressive however was the fact he lost a position to Hulkenberg on the last lap; I really don’t understand what he was thinking on that one. If he ends up loosing the championship by a point he will rue that moment for the rest of his life.


Stefan Johansson (1) & Alain Prost (2) / McLaren F1 - Detroit 1987

Stefan Johansson (1) & Alain Prost (2) / McLaren F1 - Detroit 1987

To make F1 a bit more fun and engaging, we've implemented a fun game named #F1TOP3, where Formula One fans around the world have the opportunity to win prizes, including brand new limited edition Stefan Johansson Växjö Watch (valued at $7,500)! It's relatively easy: click on the black button above and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

A quicker alternative is to post on Twitter & Instagram with the following:

  1. Twit/Post a photo and list your top 3 drivers in the correct order along with the hashtag #F1TOP3
  2. TAG: