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#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: Niki Lauda

Reflections on the current state of Motorsports

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 89

JT – After several weeks off, the blog is back. Given the number of interesting motorsports stories that have made news over the last month, we’re going to focus on the racing world/industry in general in this installment.

We begin with last week’s admission by Liberty Media that not a single current F1 team has opted to buy shares which the sport’s new owner set aside for them. Liberty made 19 million shares of common stock available over a six month period but there were no takers. That’s obviously not a positive development for Liberty Media and something of a “no confidence vote” by the teams. Do you agree?

SJ – I don’t know enough about the “ins and outs” of it to really gauge what’s going on but at face value it tells me that none of the teams have enough faith in the business if they’re not willing to buy into it, or maybe the deal just wasn’t attractive enough.

When Champ Car did this (1998 CART/Champcar goes public on NYSE) it was different because at the time the teams were given X-amount of shares when the series did its IPO. A few of the team owners were smart enough to cash out after a short period. They all did very well and the rest used the stock to help keep their teams alive and eventually ran out of money when the series started to decline.

JT – As the embarrassing lack of performance by Honda and McLaren continues, it was recently revealed that the deal struck by Sauber F1’s ex-team principal Monisha Kaltenborn to run Honda power units in 2018 was canceled. Apparently, Sauber’s team owners called off any Sauber-Honda link following Kaltenborn’s departure from the team.

The reversal leaves McLaren as the only Honda-powered team. That casts further uncertainty into McLaren’s future with the Japanese manufacturer and the paddock as a whole. It’s perhaps likely McLaren will continue with Honda but not certain. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso has said Honda must show improvement this year and real potential for 2018 if he is to remain with McLaren.

SJ – Again, it’s difficult to comment without knowing more details. You can be sure there’s more than meets the eye to this whole situation. It seems odd to me that an announcement was made by Sauber or Honda or jointly – it’s hard to say who announced it – but with that possibility now gone, it’s hard to know what to make of this. The dominoes will have to fall at some point for the teams and drivers.

But it looks difficult for anyone at the top end of the driver market to move much in the current situation. If Alonso were to leave McLaren, where would he go? I doubt neither Mercedes or Ferrari have a seat open for him, Red Bull is already full. In my opinion it would be better to stay patient one more year with McLaren as I still believe they will eventually get it right rather than go with any of the options that are left of which only Renault would make any sense. If McLaren were to ditch Honda and go with a different engine I think Hungary already showed that they will be a serious contender almost right away. Both Red Bull drivers are probably frustrated with their results and the reliability from their car, but they are both under contract, and again, where would they go. There are only two obvious teams for anyone who wants to move and the chances a seat will open in either of them are very small in my opinion.

JT – Mercedes would seem to be pretty set with their drivers currently. Valtteri Bottas may be on a one year contract but he’s done pretty darn well this year, winning in Russia and Austria and finishing on the podium regularly.

SJ – Yes, I don’t see any reason why they would want to change. I think Bottas has done a phenomenal job. He’s certainly keeping Lewis on his toes and there seems to be good harmony in the team. The love fest is still going on between the team and the drivers, which Lewis showed by doing the honorable thing in Hungary last weekend in letting Bottas by in the last corner which was agreed at some point in the middle of the race. I can’t for a moment think he would have done the same for Rosberg. That’s 3 points left on the table which could very well mean win or loose the championship at the end of the season.

JT – At the halfway point of the 2017 season, the Drivers championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton has tightened with just a single point separating the pair. Ferrari and Mercedes are likewise locked in battle for the Manufacturers championship. What do you make of the contest?

SJ – As usual, the media is saying Ferrari is “finished” after one bad race. There’s a “crisis” and on and on. They’ve had one bad race (Silverstone) effectively. I don’t think the championship fight is over by any means which Ferrari also showed by totally dominating the Hungarian GP from qualifying to the race.

I’ve been saying since the first race of the season that thanks to Vettel doing extensive testing of Pirelli’s new tires for this year, Ferrari clearly had an early advantage. The team knew more about the tires than anyone else. It’s hard to believe they would not have learned things that others wouldn’t by being the only team with a regular driver doing all of the running.

Now that we’re halfway through the season it looks like Mercedes has caught up and understand their car and the tires much better than they did at the beginning of the season. But that doesn’t mean the battle is over by any means. I suspect it will go down to the wire.

JT – A related subject in the overall picture of Formula One and other series now across racing is the unprecedented number of drivers who are effectively paying to race at the professional level. In June, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the following regarding Valtteri Bottas.

“Today the revenue model for some of the teams, for most of the teams, is also actually to generate income,” he said. “Even if we look at a Red Bull or a Mercedes, I would rather have a driver with some sponsorship than not. Even Valtteri for example, part of his value proposition for this year was that he came with a sponsor and clearly we would rather have the money than not.”

If one of the two drivers in what has been F1’s top team in recent years is bringing money with him to the team, what does that say about F1 and professional racing in general?

SJ – I’m not sure the money Bottas brought was tied to him getting the drive. I think it’s more that he just happened to have a sponsor who wanted to be involved and that’s obviously a bonus for the team no matter how you look at it.

But yes, things have changed in general. Outside of Formula One, even the drivers who are getting paid, the money they’re getting is almost equivalent to what drivers were getting paid in the 1980s with the exception of the guys up at the very top end in F1, who get paid ridiculous amounts. So the contrast between the very few guys at the top and the back end where so many drivers now have to bring financial backing of some sort is huge.

The fundamental problem in general for pretty much every level of racing is that technology has taken over. Everything is driven by technology. Every racing series is driven by the engineering side instead of the drivers and the sporting side. The cars are far too expensive to run. All of the electronics, all of the aerodynamic development, all of the extra stuff which has become part of the cars today makes them massively more expensive to operate. Then we have all the various methods of simulation which effectively have replaced on track testing, this again is driving up the costs as all this equipment is constantly evolving, and anything involving R&D is never cheap.
Not only are they more expensive as a whole, components are more expensive and the cars require three to four times the amount of people to run compared to what they used to. In the end, there’s nothing left over due to the costs. The money’s got to come from somewhere. Teams are operating more and more in survival mode, and as such they have to rely more and more on drivers bringing money.

There’s no real sponsorship in F1 anymore, not at the level it used to be at least, nowhere close. The dynamic has shifted for a number of reasons, one of them being the introduction of pay TV which means there are significantly fewer eyeballs than there used to be. On the flip side the series is making more money because of the pay per view but the overall number of viewers is obviously a lot less.

Sponsors obviously look at eyeballs as one of the main gauges for engagement. If the number of people watching is small, the rate card (for advertising) goes down of course. Hence the constant arguing now about what the distribution of money from F1 is for each team because that is now the main source of income for many of the teams. This never used to be mentioned before, as each team had a reasonable level of sponsorship and the F1 money was almost like the icing on the cake. In addition we have all the social media and other disruptive technologies pulling people in all sorts of directions and there is no longer a fixed medium to get your information or entertainment from.

I don’t envy Liberty trying to find the right way forward, I don’t think there’s anyone today that has the complete vision to see where this is heading and what the end result will be.  There is no doubt a number of very competent people capable to put their foot down and say, “Stop. Let’s rethink the whole thing.” But what is the answer? There are so many moving parts to every aspect of this, every person you speak to have their own view of how to go forward, each manufacturer have their ideas ( biased to suit their own agenda of course), the teams have their views (even more biased), The FIA another one, and on and on it goes. No wonder the Strategy Group can barely agree on where to have their next meeting let alone agree on anything constructive.

JT – As we’ve discussed previously, another contributor to the muddle racing is in is a strange kind of political correctness.

SJ – Yes I agree, now it’s permeating racing just as it is in every other aspect of life it seems.
I think we’re at the point where we can’t defend this whole argument that racing has to lead the technology for the road car industry. In fact, right now it’s the exact opposite. The road car industry is actually far more advanced today in many ways than the racing industry, especially in the electronics/powertrain side.

Race cars are made to go fast as they always have been. Nowadays the main emphasis seems to be that road cars are supposed to save the planet, whether that’s valid or not but that’s the argument. Racing and road cars ought to be heading in two completely separate directions, if there is anything to be learned from Racing that could benefit the road car industry, great, but I don’t think the focus should be on that.

Hybrid technology isn’t particularly good for a race car. And the race cars and series using it aren’t inventing anything, they are in fact forced to use it by the rules. So even if a team wanted to develop a different concept or technology they wouldn’t be able to. They’re basically borrowing the technology from the road car industry to apply to a race car.

The whole concept with this technology – the philosophy of what race cars are meant to be now - is going completely in the wrong direction in my opinion. This insanely complicated and expensive hybrid technology really doesn’t benefit anyone in racing. The development of the technology for road cars is already as advanced if not more than what we see in the F1 or LMP1 cars. So there’s really no gain. Then you can look at the whole aerodynamic thing on top of it – useless for a road car.

Part of the problem is the PR the manufacturers produce. Their PR departments have an agenda and of course there’s the political side and that’s another agenda. There are all of these marketing efforts and the racing is just the tiny little bit at the bottom of it. Everything has to conform to all of the non-racing agendas.

From a PR point of view it may be great to talk about these amazing power unit that produce virtually zero emissions, the carbon footprint is almost nothing and so on. But all it is, at the end of the day is just that, a PR exercise. I asked someone just for fun to walk over to the parking lot at the British GP where the teams park all their transporters, there were 350 Diesel trucks there to service the 20 cars that were racing on Sunday afternoon. The top teams are using 9 trucks just to carry the Hospitality units and the equipment, which these days are essentially there to feed the journalists and team members as virtually no one else have access to the paddock area. I know this may be an irrelevant argument, but nevertheless it’s a sign of the general hypocrisy surrounding this subject.

The money being spent is crazy and that’s not sustainable. The ACO/WEC still seem insistent on having P1 and having some sort of hybrid formula for privateers. That makes even less sense than having the manufacturers do it. Why should a privateer want to run a hybrid car? There’s zero benefit to it unless it’s an open formula where that is one option of many others. But as it is, the rules are very strict and that is basically the only option which means that everyone will spend a lot of money for nothing as they will all run the same spec engine in the end.

On top of it, I was talking to a couple of the drivers in the P1 factory teams and they hate the cars. They’re just an engineering exercise. You have to memorize all of the hybrid system stuff instead of just driving the car fast and hard. You’re like an airline pilot on a passenger jet. You’re just constantly going through checklists.

In Formula One, the top teams employ 250 designers and engineers to design a car, this does not include the engine, there’s a massive amount of complexity, and costs obviously. There’s no real innovation in F1 at any level anymore, they’re not allowed to innovate anymore because the rules are so strict. So it’s just an endless refinement of what already exists, with all the teams, designers and engineers pigeon-holed into a tiny little box in which they can work.

It’s about optimizing every half-percent you can rather than coming up with something really new that while not completely developed, still gives you an advantage. That’s how the pioneering days of F1 used to be. We had Colin Chapman advancing winged F1 cars, six-wheelers (from Tyrell) and other new things and ideas tried.

Obviously, it’s harder to find really new ideas as the technology is far more advanced today but racing should always have a measure of that. And it shouldn’t have to get to the point where it is now when a top F1 team employs over 2,000 people in total.

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In a few more years, we’ll have some form of self-driving cars and where does that leave racing? Again that’s where road car technology and racing should go in totally different directions. The essence of racing should always be cars that are fast and spectacular to watch, driven by these exceptionally talented young guys that are putting it on the line.

I’m sure if you let all the clever engineers loose and give them some more freedom there will be a number of new and fresh ideas instead of them working within the narrow box they’re forced to work in now, just optimizing technologies that are already here. The entertainment side of racing comes more naturally when you make cars fast and challenging to drive, that everyone can immediately appreciate rather than having to explain what the technology is all about and a bunch of artificial rules to make the racing more exciting, like DRS and some guy in a blue FIA shirt sitting in a control tower watching a TV monitor determining when a driver has gone too far outside the track limit instead of the driver simply being out of the race because he either pushed to hard or screwed up somehow and simply went off.

Anyone, even a layman with no knowledge of racing, can appreciate the effort and skill of a driver wrestling a car to make it perform as well as possible at the limit. But a car that does almost everything for a driver, that’s stuck to the road on a track with so much run off area that is virtually impossible to hit anything if you try too hard and go off, that any driver with a small amount of skill can jump in and get within half a second of a three-times world champion - that doesn’t excite people. It doesn’t have the same appeal.

It’s now also been confirmed that the Halo head protection will be mandated. It was an inevitable decision in my opinion, once the knowledge is there and it’s for safety there’s no turning back. It’s a knee jerk reaction to something that should have never happened in the first place if any level of common sense had been applied at Suzuka when Jules Bianchi had his accident. But it happened, it was a freak accident and will in most likelihood never ever happen again, halo or no halo.

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The reality is that the only fatal accidents in F1 since the early 1980’s have all been a freak accident of some sort, as such it’s impossible to predict what will happen next time. In general terms though, I could probably mention at least 10 sports, maybe even more that are far more dangerous and have more serious injuries and fatalities per participant than motor racing and F1 in particular today. The general perception that racing drivers are these dare devils risking their lives every time they step in a car is more or less just a myth today, there is zero bravery or bravado involved in being a fast driver today and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s made that observation. Fans are not stupid, they want to see their favorites wrestling their machines on the ragged edge, that’s what motor racing has and should always be about. Like all sports, it’s the heroes that make the fans come and watch, not the boffin in the back of the garage, or in the case of football or any other sport, the coordination trainer in the back of the changing room.
Ironically, the only level of motor racing where the danger is still a concern that’s on the back of anyone’s mind is probably Indycar, and the drivers there probably get less credit for what they do than pretty much any other series out there. When you watch the pack racing at some of the ovals it really makes you appreciate what these guys do.

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This is a very touchy subject of course, but I am convinced that every single driver worth his salt would still be out there if the tracks where more punishing if you made a mistake, the cars were far more difficult to drive, with much higher top speeds and less grip.

All drivers in the past, even those that complained the most about the safety, still kept racing and lost friends almost every weekend, for virtually no money. Today, we have a situation where other people are deciding what is safe for us. So instead we now have drivers racing cars that are ridiculously easy to drive in comparison, almost totally safe and make $40M a year. This is of no fault of the drivers but merely a reflection of society in general today.

JT – That kind of challenge – the kind which makes racing appealing broadly could return. As we’ve discussed many times, aerodynamics have had a very corrosive effect on racing. But the possibility exists that technology applied to other aspects of vehicle performance could restore the spectacle, correct?

SJ – Yes, it will take a while but I’m convinced that with a shift of development focused on better tire and power plant technology in particular, better suspension technology and better materials - all these factors – you could gain back amazing performance. The performance lost by eliminating a large portion of the aerodynamics could be found through these other areas to produce cars capable of amazing speeds and lap times. If they are worried about the lap times being much slower by taking away a good portion of the downforce, don’t forget that every modern F1 track today is built the way they are simply to slow the cars down, hence we have a bunch of Go Kart tracks on big parking lot tracks with 1st and 2nd gear corners and chicanes with only the odd high speed section that are still not very challenging for a modern F1 car. We could easily solve that problem by going back to a layout with more high speed and flowing corners, where a combination of great car control and big balls will determine the lap time. If your cornering speed is maybe 2/3 of what it currently is, but the driver has 1200-1300HP that he’s balancing on the edge in a 4th or 5th gear corner anyone can certainly appreciate that.

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They would be spectacular to watch and they would weed out the really good drivers from those who don’t have the same level of talent. You might see the rise again of all the really fast guys who disappear these days before they even get to F2 in many cases. Any average driver can be quick today in an aero car.

This is a complex subject of course and everyone has their own views on how it should be done. There’s no strict formula but that’s where I think we should head. I don’t want to sound like some old nostalgic yearning for the “good old days” because that’s not the case at all, but I really believe it’s time for a complete recalibration on nearly every level of motor racing, certainly in single seaters and prototype cars. Aerodynamics was a great idea when it was first invented, but I think everyone except maybe the engineers agree that it’s ruining the racing at every level, at an astronomical cost to everyone involved. We need to be clever and come up with a better alternative.

JT – IndyCar and sports car racing have made news as well lately in both separate and related ways. IndyCar debuted their new universal aero kit to positive reviews from teams and drivers. Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia did the first test of the new oval kit at Indianapolis and were comfortable going fast almost immediately.

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On the sports car side, the long awaited announcement was made that Team Penske would field Acura-powered DPis in IMSA. Another announcement which came as something of a surprise was made when Mazda revealed that it would end its relationship with Speed Source and withdraw from IMSA competition for the remainder of the 2017 season. In 2018, famed sports car team Joest will become the Mazda factory team.

The announcements add some momentum on the American sports car side for the DPi prototype formula and show the way for coming years in IndyCar.

SJ – Estethically the new car certainly looks a lot better than the previous ones, it would have been nearly impossible to design one that could look any worse though. I guess this also fixes the disparity between the Chevy and Honda aero but what a pointless exercise the manufacturer aero kits were.

As we’ve discussed before, the total cost of this very bad experiment must have been somewhere in the range of 30 million dollars cumulatively. Imagine if they had spent that money of marketing instead. They already had and still have a Championship with the best racing out there, but sadly it seems they are still incapable of getting the message out there to the general masses. IndyCar can fiddle with the cars till they’re blue in the face but it won’t matter if there’s only a relative handful of people watching. The die hard fans are always going to have a point of view and they’ll also turn up no matter what. Consider for a moment the reception of the new car design compared to the first test Alonso did for the Indy 500 this year, where more than 2,5 million were watching the live stream online. This should tell you everything, and if the penny hasn’t dropped that maybe it’s not new car designs we need, but instead a much bigger focus on the drivers, who are the heroes that people want to watch. The value of Fernando Alonso racing at Indy this year is probably the best marketing IndyCar has had for the last 20 years.

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The racing is still the best in the world as far as I’m concerned. The formula works as it is – in fact, it’s one of the few that works in all of auto racing. Stop tinkering with something that works and try to market it to the biggest audience you can. That would help teams attract more sponsors which would allow them to hire more high profile drivers. If I were Indycar I would do everything possible to lure Alonso over to the series for 2018. Look at what happened when Mansell moved from F1 to Indycar in the 90’s, in one year it catapulted the series and it was actually a minor threat to F1 until the split came which of course killed it immediately. If Alonso would come over to Indycar, he would soon be followed by other F1 guys who are equally frustrated by the current cars in F1 and the lack of real racing and real race tracks.

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With the sports car end of things, the DPi is a great concept which I think any manufacturer could embrace. With both Penske and Joest now joining it will give IMSA a huge boost without a doubt. It would be great if the ACO would accept it too, if they did you could have a global prototype formula that could be affordable enough for both manufacturers and privateers with privateers able to buy the same cars the factory teams used. It would be brilliant and you’d have a natural feeder system.

JT – Porsche confirmed what most expected at the end of last week when they formally announced that they would be leaving the World Endurance Championship at the end of the season. This obviously is a significant blow to the WEC and could spell the end of the LMP1 Hybrid category for now. The question hanging in the air is whether Toyota will return for 2018. It’s hard to see any incentive for their continuing.

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SJ – I can’t see the WEC surviving. If Toyota follows Porsche what is there? What they should do is a pan-American/European championship of some kind. They should create some kind of hybrid series that brings IMSA and the ELMS together, spanning both continents.

And get rid of the LMP1 and LMP2 categories. Simplify it and make it one category. You don’t need both. Teams that are serious will hire the best drivers they can and for drivers that will pay to drive there will always be a team that will take them. And this will be at a reasonably affordable level unlike the P1 Hybrid class.

Look at Le Mans this year. The race was almost won by an LMP2 car at almost exactly 100 times less than the budget of the P1 teams – 100 times less! That should tell you something. Sports car racing has to be much more reasonable in terms of the costs. Look at the LMP3 class.

They’re fantastic cars and you can run them for a full season for about $700-800,000. The grids are full. And if you unrestricted the engines or put different engines in them they could be 10 seconds per lap quicker than a GT car in no time. The cars could handle that easily. It’s do-able if they try.

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JT – The other racing force looming on the horizon is Formula E. Manufacturers from Audi, Renault and BMW to now Mercedes and Porsche are jumping into the series. This despite the fact that recent reports in a number of financial publications reveal that Formula has a total net loss of $110.5 million currently.

SJ – Formula E definitely has momentum. With the latest announcement from Mercedes and Porsche not only joining but also pulling out of the other major series they were competing in before this, following Audi’s decision to do the same earlier in the year, it definitely looks like the series is set to grow significantly in the next 3-5 years. I think the budgets will probably triple in the next three years, maybe even more. You know that the manufacturers are going to spend a fortune coming into the series. Once they’re committed to any series all bets are off and the technology will improve drastically in the next three to four years.

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The battery specifications are fixed which is kind of strange because that’s the only thing you can gain significant performance from. But there are some interesting developments in the drivetrains otherwise.

Obviously, there are a number of reasons why the racing format is the way it is now in Formula E but having been to a few races now, the racing is tight with plenty of action. The cars are relatively slow but there are some tough battles on track and because the tracks are small so it doesn’t look that slow. It’s possibly the only series in the world where not one driver is bringing any money to race, every driver on the grid gets paid and the level of the drivers is very high.

It is extraordinary how far the series has come in just a few years. Alejandro Agag and his team have done an amazing job so far to get it where it is today, and they have great momentum now. In a way, Formula E is everything that Formula 1 is trying to be right now, in terms of being with the times and doing the right thing for the environment etc. Maybe this is the opportunity F1 need, to leave Formula E, the Manufacturers and the FIA with the political agenda to save the planet and instead go back to basics with brutally fast, noisy and spectacular cars and tracks, not worrying so much about the political side of things. Wouldn’t that be something!

 

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!


¡Mexico vuelte a estar de F1ESTA! The Mexican Grand Prix is here and the opportunity to win with it! Participate in our fun #F1TOP3 competition, where anyone could win one of our Stefan Johansson Växjö timepieces! It's relatively easy: click on this text and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

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SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Jules Bianchi's unfortunate death, British GP, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indycar's latest & LMP2

Stefan Johansson

RIP Jules Bianchi

Jan Tegler – We begin this extra-large edition of the blog with the sad news that ex-Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi passed away last weekend after head injuries he sustained last October in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. His car impacted a mobile crane being employed to recover Adrian Sutil’s Sauber which slid into a runoff area the previous lap in rainy conditions.

Many have observed that the race should have been under a safety car at that point. What’s your view?

Stefan Johansson – Obviously it’s very sad and a strong reminder that Formula One and Motor Racing in general can still be dangerous when the circumstances are not right. Maybe now is not the right time to discuss this matter but I do agree the race should have been under the control of a safety car after the first incident. That’s an aspect of competition American racing has gotten right. Any time there’s recovery or safety equipment on-track or anything that does not belong on the track for that matter, there should be a full course caution or a safety car. I think that should be a standard around the world. If you try to use any form of subjective judgment of the situation, things like these can and will happen from time to time.

Massa and Bottas

JT - The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was somewhat more interesting than most of the F1 races this season. The Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas managed to get past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg by lap three. They held off the Mercedes until the first pit stop cycle but once the cycle was complete Hamilton was back in the lead. Notably, neither Mercedes driver was able to pass the Williams on-track. Conversely, both Williams passed the Mercedes on the circuit.

There was some controversy over Williams’ decision to allow their drivers to race even though Bottas lobbied to have Massa let him go past. Some thought the team handled the situation incorrectly, arguing that if Bottas had been allowed to go by Massa he could have gapped the Mercedes enough to stay in front after the first round of pit stops. By the finish, the Williams had dropped to 4th and 5th respectively.

SJ – Apart from the fact that Mercedes is still clearly dominant, it’s hard to say where Williams are now. They’ve obviously caught up a bit from where they were at the beginning of the year when they were down on performance compared to Ferrari. I don’t know if Ferrari has lost a bit of pace or if it was just Silverstone that didn’t suit them. But in the end, I don’t think any of them have closed the gap to Mercedes at all.

I think Williams made the right decision with Massa and Bottas. You should let the drivers race, especially in the situation they are. It’s not like they have any chance of winning the championship. I think sooner or later Mercedes would have gotten by them anyway.

It’s true that the Mercedes weren’t able to get by the Williams before the first pit stops and it comes back to the typical scenario I’ve been talking about for years now. When almost all of the cars’ aerodynamic downforce is dependent on the efficiency of the front wing you’ve really got to get a good run on the guy in front of you to get by when you’re in dirty air behind them.

I guess the DRS (drag reduction system) helps at some tracks more than others but Silverstone has such fast and flowing corners that if you don’t get really close to the car in front of you, you can’t get a good run. The straights aren’t long enough for the DRS to make a difference.

Silverstone is unique because of its combination of fast and medium-speed corners and aero is king. Had it been a more twisty track with lower speed corners, harder braking zones or 90-degree bends, I don’t think it would have been a problem to pass. But you’re completely dependent on aero to get good mid-corner speed and have proper acceleration from a corner. Every corner at Silverstone demands that. If you’re in dirty air you can’t attack early enough and you’re just sitting behind the other car waiting for your front end to take a bite.

Alonso and Button - McLaren

JT – As you mention, Ferrari doesn’t seem to have made much progress recently after having made consistent gains in performance earlier. Where are they in terms of their speed? More disappointingly, what is the situation at McLaren? You and many others expected them to be better by this point in the season but Alonso was only able to manage a 10th place finish (scoring his first point of the year) at Silverstone. Jenson Button didn’t even complete one lap, crashed-out ironically after Alonso spun into him.

SJ – Again, it’s hard to say. All of the teams are now developing their cars at a high rate, particularly the top teams. But really, the gaps between them are remaining about the same.

Scuderia Ferrari - Monaco GP

It seems Ferrari have taken a step backwards if anything. The gap certainly has not closed. There is no doubt they have been made to look better than you would normally expect by the fact that Red Bull and McLaren are both completely lost.

The gap to pole in Monaco for this year’s race was seven-tenths of a second, which is exactly the same gap Alonso (in his Ferrari) had to the pole last year (Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing machines qualified third and fourth) - the only difference being that the cars in between (the Red Bulls) were further back this year so instead of being fifth, they (Ferrari) were now third.

At McLaren there are a combination of problems, all made more challenging by the current rules. If you don’t get a car right from the moment the season starts you’re almost buggered the whole year. Renault is kind of in the same boat as Honda, not as bad – but there are really only two manufacturers who’ve got their engines sorted – Mercedes and Ferrari.

Everybody keeps talking about the “golden era” of the McLaren-Honda relationship when they basically cleaned up for a couple of years with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. What people tend to forget is that relationship didn’t start until Honda had already spent five years in F1, developing their engines to what they finally became. The early days were no walk in the park. I know that very well as I drove the first car they entered in 1983 with Spirit and the scenario was not that much different than it is today.

I used to joke at the time that I stopped doing all my physical training during the week because I got more than I needed on the race weekends with the engines blowing up in every session and I had to run back to the pits to get in the spare car to finish the session. Eventually they got it right of course, and then dominated before they decided to pull out. It was a similar scenario the second time when they poured enormous resources into the F1 project for several years with nothing to show.

They then decided to pull out again and more or less gave the team to Ross Brawn. And we all know what happened after that. Had they stayed in another year they would have won the World Championship! The bones of the current Mercedes Team are effectively what Honda started, and paid to set up!

McLaren-Honda F1

And with these rules, I can’t understand why you’re allowed to do as much as you want with the car (the bodywork, etc) – you can bolt new parts on every session – but you’re not allowed to touch the engine. And it’s not like this aero and chassis development costs nothing. When you’re already spending nearly $500 million, who cares? Let the teams go at it. The concept of saving money is already completely broken.

It’s always more expensive for teams to try to circumvent rules than it is to have more open rules. That’s why it’s ridiculous to talk about cost-capping F1. There are so many clever people in each team that you’re never going to be able to stop them spending money to find ways around the rules. The only way to manage it in my opinion is to make as many of the parts on the cars which are irrelevant to their overall design common parts, and pick out the most costly development areas and limit those. Everyone knows what they are but it’s almost like no one wants to give up their toys.

Max Mosley

Or, you don’t limit the teams at all. Let them go until they all kill each other. Some people worry about the manufacturers leaving. But if you look at their presence, as Max Mosley said years ago, the manufacturers don’t care really. They just throw money at F1 as long as it serves their purpose, and when they change their mind, they’re gone, in literally one board meeting – they’re out. This is exactly what happened to Toyota, Honda and BMW. From one moment to the next, they were all gone.

Audi Spots

JT – The same appears to be true for sports car racing. And if you look at the LMP1 class in the WEC now, some of those manufacturers are spending just about as much as the top teams in Formula One.

SJ – Yes and they do it for one race essentially, Le Mans. The way the manufacturers view racing has always been the same. In every series where manufacturers involve themselves heavily and start duking it out they basically ruin it eventually.

They all pull out at some stage and then it takes about three or four years to rebuild. At that point the racing is great with a lot of privateer teams with some factory backing whether it’s for the engine or whatever. Then the manufacturers return and you have another cycle.

The only manufacturer who’s been different in that regard is Audi. They stayed committed to Le Mans even when they had no one to race and afterward when rules were clearly stacked against them. They fought on and managed to win partly by being clever on strategy and great execution, and by the other teams simply screwing up when they should have won.

Sauber F1

JT – Discussions among F1 manufacturers, top teams and those at the back of the pack continue on the issue of “customer cars”. What’s your view?

SJ – Well, I don’t understand the attitude of some the smaller teams. They say customer cars will ruin Formula One and that they have 300 people employed and what will happen to them? At the same time they’re scrambling for every penny because the cars are so expensive to make now and they can’t afford to pay their people or their suppliers in many cases.

Back in 2003, I came up with the idea of a “B” team or “shared resources” concept (a customer car, essentially). We were going to do it with one of the top three teams at the time. Unfortunately, the sponsorship fell apart so the project never happened. Our budget then was $80 million in total – engine, car, travel – for the whole thing, and it would have been a potentially winning package.

It’s important to remember that none of the back marker teams out there now would exist without a whale of some sort. That whale might be a wealthy individual who buys into the team and then hangs around for two or three years before he disappears. These days, it’s mostly Bernie [Ecclestone] or FOM who end up being the whale for everybody. Or, it’s the drivers bringing the money.

None of these lower tier teams have any real sponsor now. Look at Sauber, they don’t have one sponsor except for what the drivers have brought with them. Manor’s the same and Lotus has been scraping the barrel for years now. So why wouldn’t these teams like the idea of a customer car?

Niki Lauda - F1 1978

If I was Manor and I was offered a Ferrari I’d jump at it! Who wouldn’t? Their budget would be less than it is now. The car would already be developed and sorted and you could run the team with probably 60 people. It just makes business sense.

And with the limited resources these teams have they’re never in this lifetime going to design and build a car that’s going to be competitive with a Ferrari or a Mercedes anyway. They won’t be able to afford it. The traditionalists argue that F1 has always been about innovation and new technology but that’s complete nonsense.

There really hasn’t been any breakthrough innovation or new technology developed in Formula One since the 1970s. They’ve basically been fine-tuning existing technologies. There has been some development in aerodynamics specific to the race cars but mostly that technology has been borrowed from other realms (the aerospace industry).

And ridiculously, even that borrowed technology is banned in F1 before it’s fully developed for the sport. The blown-diffuser technology Red Bull was using (2010, 2011) gave them an advantage for a year essentially and then it was banned.

With a customer car you still get to be part of the show, you still get money from Bernie and you could actually make some money if you do it right. As far as I’m concerned it’s the way to go.

Haas-F1-Ferrari.jpg

JT – Isn’t that what Haas F1 is trying to do with Ferrari currently?

SJ – Exactly, they’re pushing it as close to that as the rules will allow currently. They’ve done their homework, they’ve listened to the right people and it’s the way to do it.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – Recently, Juan Pablo Montoya suggested a simple solution for improving the racing in F1 remarking, “If you take away the tire sensors, the temperature sensors, and just leave the pressures, the racing will get better by 10 percent straight away. I’m certain of that.” What are your thoughts on his idea?

SJ – Yes, that could improve the racing but that’s only one small item. I think the first thing they should do before anything else is get rid of all the nonsense on the steering wheels (differential settings, ignition timing, brake balance, energy storage, DRS, fuel consumption, engine modes, and much more).

The driver should be able to manage the car himself without all of these aids or settings. I guarantee any driver worth his salt would love it. The bravado that’s been a traditional element of racing is a huge part of its attraction. I know as a driver how good it feels when you’ve been taming a car and you’ve had it on the ragged edge, controlling it with the throttle and steering. That’s what it’s all about. The fans can see that too.

All the driver aids can be great to help you go faster and it makes the driver’s job easier. In the early stages of development you might have an “unfair advantage” which is great but from a pure pleasure point of view of driving and in terms of a challenge it’s all nonsense.

NASCAR Sprint Cup

JT – The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway last week saw the series using a lower downforce package for the Cup cars. The drivers reacted very positively, saying it was much more satisfying to drive cars that must be tamed and which penalized drivers for overdriving or under-driving.

SJ – Exactly, and it’s not surprising. The type of pack racing we saw at Fontana (IndyCar) might satisfy spectators but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with skill. You could put literally anyone in a car under that kind of racing condition and they would be in the middle of the pack. It’s a recipe for disaster.

It surprises me when some people suggest that this was the best race IndyCar has ever had. It was exciting to watch in the beginning but soon there was the realization that something ugly was about to happen. Is that what we want – a gaggle of 26 cars where it’s pure luck if you get sucked up to the front of the pack? There’s no difference in the handling of the car from the first lap to the last during a stint - every car is exactly the same speed as the next.

On the other hand, you don’t want racing where it’s impossible to attack. You have to find the right balance and a car should be at least somewhat difficult to drive, deteriorating as a stint goes on. When you have ten laps remaining before the end of a stint your car should be a bit of a handful.

You could de-emphasize aero or give cars another 200 to 300 horsepower. Find a balance between power and downforce. People keep saying cars will be too fast if you give them more power. Who says what’s too fast?

Have there actually been any measurements of how much greater an impact is if you’re doing 238 mph instead of 226 mph? I doubt it’s much. If you have an accident at those speeds it’s going to hurt no matter what. Who can say what the magic number is for cars being too fast? I think it’s great if they’re faster.

F1 Tires Issue

JT – You also mention the role tires could play in all of this.

SJ – Yes, we’ve talked about how much people are spending on aerodynamics in Formula One many times but what strikes me is that simultaneously, they have a tire that is very bad. The series mandated that the tire should be terrible, in a way. What kind of logic is that? Teams are spending hundreds of millions on aero and other developments to make the car go faster. Then, they are forced to run a tire that is artificially made to be bad in order to help the show? It makes absolutely no sense.

If you opened up the tire supply in F1 to several manufacturers the tires alone would improve lap times by 6-7 seconds in no time. And they could last as long you wanted. Just look at the tires the P1s run at Le Mans – four stints on one set! That’s four hours of running and they do the quickest lap times on the fourth stint sometimes. And that’s with cars that are both heavier and have more horsepower than an F1 car.

So I would get rid of a lot of the aero – half of it. If you have that kind of grip in the tires you don’t need as much aero. A lot of the dirty-air problem cars following other cars experience will be gone. You can gain all of the lap time and more back with tire grip. Give the cars another 200-300 horsepower, better tires and you could easily go 10 seconds faster than they do now.

That brings the driver back into the equation more because they’d actually have to look after their tires over a stint. Now, the tires just fall off a cliff after five laps which leaves you cruising along slowly trying to make it until the next pit stop. You could have tires that would last a stint, two stints or possibly a whole race.

It will be a no-brainer for tire companies to make tires that allow the cars to be six to seven seconds a lap quicker. Think about how much F1 teams spend now to gain one second of lap time. We always used to joke when I was racing about how much money the teams would spend on wind-tunnels and other developments, huge amounts, and yet you bolt a new set of tires on a car and you’re two seconds quicker right away - for a cost of $2,000.

I can’t understand why no one is thinking about this. The tire companies would enjoy developing tires like they used to and not being strangled by a bunch of restrictions and they would get great marketing from it as a result.

Indycar Iowa

JT – IndyCar has raced on two ovals in the last two weeks - the Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway. Addressing last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 first, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport finally turned their season around with a win.

Meanwhile, there was potential for a big shakeup in the championship after Juan Pablo Montoya’s Penske suffered a suspension failure early in the race. Scott Dixon would have gained considerably in points with a good finish but he too did not finish due to component failure. Scott now finds himself third in the standings behind Montoya and Graham Rahal who finished in fourth place at Iowa.

SJ – Iowa was interesting. It’s ironic that there were a bunch of mechanical failures - failures that you never see in IndyCar these days – and that both of the main contenders for the championship experienced the failures. When Montoya crashed we all thought this was going to be the first weekend he actually had a problem all year and Scott could finally gain on him.

But it was straight back to square one again - a seal on Scott’s right rear half-shaft failed and that was it.

After having so many problems early this season it looks like the Hondas are finally catching up to the Chevrolets. Ryan won and Graham Rahal was quite strong again. The Rahal team’s strength looks like it’s bled over a bit to the other Honda teams because they all seem to be running stronger. Maybe Iowa was more suited to the Hondas as some tracks might favor their aero kit.

In Scott’s case, he was sort of chasing the track all night. He started out with the car being quite loose and the team dialed that out with wing and tire-stagger. Then it started pushing like crazy and they were trying to dial that out. But he was making the car better, waiting to pounce at the end of the race. Then the shaft failed and well, that’s racing.

Sage Karam and Ed Carpenter

JT – Near the end of the race, rookie Sage Karam made some moves on track that displeased several drivers including Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal who both voiced their displeasure with him strongly. What did you think of his driving?

SJ – I completely sympathize with Carpenter. I think what Sage did was absolutely over the limit and it wasn’t just Carpenter he screwed up. He was chopping a lot of people all day long.  On ovals in particular, there is a certain code of conduct, especially when you run more than one line around the track. You can’t just move up and down the track and take the air off the other drivers’ cars.

It’s not fair to the other drivers because particularly on an oval you have to pay some respect to each other. If everyone drove that way, there wouldn’t be one car left on track. You could see very well on camera that Karam just drove Carpenter up into the wall basically. You stay in your line and you race hard but it was already tight when he decided to move Carpenter all the way up. Carpenter had the choice to either keep his foot in it and crash or lift and actually get on the brakes. I would certainly have been plenty angry too.

Indycar - Bourdais

JT – IndyCar’s Wisconsin 250 at the Milwaukee Mile was a fun race to watch with good competition. Sebastian Bourdais drove very well, scoring an upset win. His KVSH Racing team was fined after the race for violating the minimum car weight rule, however. Nonetheless, Bourdais’ driving and Jimmy Vasser’s strategy worked to a tee.

Scott Dixon finished seventh. Pole-winner Josef Newgarden finished third and continues to show that he’s matured as a racer.

SJ – I enjoyed it too, it was definitely fun to watch. Bourdais did a great job and when you’re that hooked up (Bourdais almost lapped the field) on an oval it’s awesome. Scott had a similar experience back at the Texas race. He just checked out. When the car is working that well, it feels amazing.

Bourdais’ team made a really good call as well. Pitting out of sequence and putting him in clean air was the way to go, much better than being in the middle of a pack. Even with a good car, by the time you work your way through that traffic the tires go off.

Scott got shuffled back in the last laps due the air being taken off his front wing on a couple occasions. He wasn’t happy but that’s racing sometimes.

LMP2 - 2017

JT – The FIA, ACO & IMSA recently announced the four chassis constructors (Onroak, Oreca, Dallara, Riley/Multimatic) eligible to build LMP2 prototypes under new global regulations for the class in 2017. IMSA P2 cars will be able to utilize engines from multiple makers but the FIA/ACO will mandate a single engine/electronics supplier for the WEC, ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series. American teams will be able to compete at Le Mans and in the ELMS using the U.S.-based engine packages but will have to revert to generic bodywork from the chassis constructor they choose.

The sanctioning bodies claim the new regulations will bring stability to the class, creating economic conditions under which the chosen constructors can build cars for a global market profitably. One has to wonder if it will work out the way officials imagine it will. It will certainly limit the diversity which makes sports car racing appealing.

SJ – I don’t agree with the limit of four cars. I don’t see why you can’t have the class be more open. If you can and are willing to build a car to the regulations you should be able to do so.

You know what’s going to happen anyway. Out of the four constructors, one or maybe two will be the car/cars to have. Then the other two or three constructors won’t be able to sell cars anyway.  It’s the natural culling that happens in every championship. You’re always going to have one car that’s a little better than the rest. Look at CART and IndyCar. First the car to have was the Reynard, then the Lola and in more recent years, Dallara. The same in F3, and on and on it goes, it happens in every championship.

Dallara has basically decimated everybody in whatever category they’ve entered. So chances are that the same thing will happen again. Whether it’s Onroak, Oreca, Dallara or Riley, you can be sure there will be one car that’s going to be quicker than the rest. All you need to do is look at the history in every racing series.

If someone’s willing to put the money and effort into building a car why not let them do it? That’s what the spirit of racing is all about.