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Filtering by Tag: Red Bull

Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen, Beginning of a New Era? Exciting Races in Both F1 and IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 103

JT – Formula One has staged three Grand Prix since we last chatted for the blog. The most significant news off-track is reporting that the FIA and Liberty Media plan to adopt ground effects for the 2021 cars. The goal is to do away with many of the complex aerodynamic devices found atop the cars currently. Instead there will be a simplified, less sensitive front wing and a series of Venturi tunnels feeding a deep twin diffuser that will produce much of the car’s downforce. The concept is reminiscent of the ground effects F1 cars that raced between 1979 and 1983, and similar to what the Dallara’s currently fielded in Indy Car employ to produce downforce. 

The FIA says the combination of ground effects, simpler aerodynamics and front wheel deflectors will all work together to help cars to follow each other much closer. In addition, the series will feature low-degradation tires that have far less drop off than the current high-degradation tires from Pirelli. The changes are similar to what you have been arguing for, for several years now, though they don’t go as far. What do you think of the changes?

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Silverstone-Logo.jpg
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SJ – Some of the points in their plan are similar what I’ve been suggesting for a while, which is not surprising as it’s just common sense really. What’s interesting is that they (Liberty Media] actually did the exercise that I’ve been asking about for some time now – which is to paint all of the cars white and then see if anyone can tell them apart. Apparently there were only three people in their office who could tell the difference between them. I think the comments I’ve made for a while are now becoming clear to lots of people, I’m not trying to say that I’m the only who thought of this as I’m obviously not, but if the engineers and technicians can’t even tell the cars apart it’s safe to assume that not very many of the millions of fans will be able to.

Their proposal to maintain the level of downforce with more ground effects rather than getting all of the downforce from the top of the car looks better but I still think as long as you have a car that relies primarily on aerodynamics for its performance – which the cars will even with ground effects – I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the problem of turbulent air. Computer modeling, wind tunnels and everything else the aerodynamicists have can never simulate well enough what’s going to happen in the real world. Once cars are on track together there are so many factors which upset the ideal circumstances they have when they use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind tunnels.

I still strongly believe that a huge reduction on aerodynamic downforce which is then countered by less weight, more tire grip and more power is the way to go to retain the same performance we see now but with much better racing and more interesting cars to watch both on the track and estethically.

JT – Apparently, F1 hopes to reach agreement with teams about the new rules by September 15. But how likely is that? And how much of what they’ve proposed will be negotiated away?

SJ – If they’re waiting for a set of rules that everyone will agree on, it will never happen. They can continue to have meetings until the year 3000, and nothing will change apart from some minor pointless details. They need to get the teams and the engineers out of the decision-making process. It should be up to the governing body and the commercial rights holders to come up with a set of fair rules that make sense to everyone who participates, not just the top two or three teams – something that’s more controllable and makes sense financially for all participants. If the teams don’t trust the people that is running the championship they shouldn’t take part in the first place. As soon as the teams get involved it’s inevitable that they will serve their own interests first and as such we end up with a grid-lock and eventually a set of rules that is full of compromises mostly in order to please the manufacturer teams. Teams and manufacturers always come and go, Ferrari being the only exception, which makes it even more important that they will come up with a well thought out set of rules that will stay in place for a considerable amount of time, as this is always the best way to control both the level of competition and the costs. Rules stability have always proven to be the most efficient way for a successful series.

JT - The races at Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, and Hockenheim featured more action than the season’s preceding eight races. Red Bull racing’s Max Verstappen took the win in Austria after overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc two laps before the checkered flag – the first victory for a team other than Mercedes in 2019.

In England, Lewis Hamilton won, taking his seventh victory in 10 races. Teammate Valtteri Bottas led from pole and looked to have control of the race until a safety car was called for Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo which spun off. Hamilton dived into the pits, essentially getting a free pit stop, and leap-frogged Bottas. Behind, Charles Leclerc and the two Red Bulls fought for the podium. 

In Germany, rain came, leading to a variety of errors from drivers and teams. Max Verstappen survived a spin and five trips to pit lane for wet, medium and dry tires to win the race. Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas both spun off track in the wet with Bottas’ off ending his race. Hamilton finished 11th on track after multiple offs and a penalty for entering pit road beyond a cone denoting its limit. Post-race penalties to the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Giovinazzi promoted him to 9th. Sebastian Vettel stayed on track to finish an unexpected 2nd after starting from the back of the grid. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat rounded out the podium with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll finishing 4th.

Following the races, Liberty Media’s Ross Brawn said the excitement they provided was a great response to the “vitriolic criticism” of F1 this season. But of course, the only reason Hockeheim had any “excitement” was because of rain. What’s your impression of the last three races?

SJ – Yes, the last three have all been terrific races with plenty of action and some surprising results, especially the last one at Hockenheim. F1 typically has two or three great races every year – always when the unknown enters into them - weather conditions or something else that can’t be simulated or predicted beforehand. Taking the predictability out of the racing is exactly what we’re looking for. The race at Hockenheim was a classic example of this. It was simply that the rain came and went and the teams had to adjust accordingly. Most of them got it wrong at least one and some of them many times. I think they changed tires like five times. But nevertheless it turned out to be a very entertaining race to watch, with several surprises in the end result. It’s great to have a race like this once in a while regardless of what the category is, but wouldn’t it be great if every race could come down to drivers competing hard on the track in equal cars, and different strategies on both fuel and tires played a big part of the end result. 

Austria started out being kind of boring and then it came down to the tire situation. Verstappen was on fresher tires and he was catching everyone hand-over-fist. At every race, whoever can make the tires work is so much quicker than the rest. The Red Bull chassis are always very  good too and the Honda engineers are really starting to get the job done.

I think this result is the beginning of a new era. As I said a year ago when the switch from McLaren to Red Bull happened, eventually Red Bull, Verstappen and Honda will dominate, probably for four or five years once they get it right, which they will. When Honda is committed they always get it right in the end, and once they do they are very hard to stop. I think the combination of Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda might be the new Dream Team that will be very hard to beat in the next 5 year period, as long as all the main people stay committed. 

Ferrari continued having their problems at Hockenheim too. Both cars had issues in qualifying for Hockenheim and then in the race they were better. Vettel did a great job moving forward with some brilliant moves especially in the first few laps. Leclerc got schooled by Verstappen in Austria and realized he had to roll up his sleeves and get a bit more aggressive. I think he did a great job at Silverstone (Leclerc finished 3rd) but obviously he made a mistake at Hockenheim, like several others did in the same spot. I think they all got caught out by how incredibly slippery the track surface was once you got into the runoff area, under normal circumstances theirs is no real change in the grip level once you go into the runoff, but here it was like ice.

There was more dicing at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring. Maybe it’s the nature of those tracks because they’re fast and flowing. There aren’t really any stop-and-start corners at either track. And with the amount of downforce the cars have now, you don’t really have to be on the racing line to carry the speed through the corners. It’s almost like oval racing, the way they drive around some of these corners – one car on the outside and the other on the inside, doing the same speed. Normally if you’re not on-line you lose your pace. We’re seeing some outside passes that we didn’t see before at a few of the tracks, which is great to watch, so maybe the high downforce is actually working better in that regard at these specific tracks and corners. It certainly provided some great racing and passing.

Bottas did a good job at Silverstone but the safety car just came at the wrong time. It certainly worked in Lewis’ favor and he obviously got a bit lucky which he admitted. But when things are going your way, almost everything you do seems to work. When they’re not, everything you try seems to go wrong. Vettel on the other hand is definitely on the flip side of that cycle. I also don’t think Vettel is comfortable with the car now. 

I don’t think he’s ever been really comfortable with the cars of this era – the hybrid cars. They clearly don’t suit his driving style. I don’t think he can get the cars to operate the way he wants them to, to have confidence and be comfortable with them. The Red Bull he had with the blown diffuser and everything, it obviously suited his driving style perfectly.

JT – You think Mercedes set up was wrong for both drivers at Hockenheim?

SJ – It looked to me like Hamilton and Bottas had very similar problems. They went off at the same corner in almost identical circumstances where the rear just snapped without even a wiggle, it just went into a full spin immediately. That would lead me to believe something wasn’t right with their cars. Whatever set-up they had was affected worse than anyone else, maybe the car bottomed out in that particular spot or something else went wrong. It seems strange though that both drivers would do identical mistakes in exactly the same place in the same corner.

JT – Whatever the case was for Mercedes and the rest at Hockenheim, the Indy Car race at Mid-Ohio was far more exciting. There was fantastic racing throughout the field. Scott Dixon won after some terrific dices with Will Power and even his own teammate Felix Rosenqvist. It was proper nail-biting racing. 

Source: @scottdixon9

Source: @scottdixon9

Congratulations go to all of the guys on the podium with Scott finishing on top, Felix in 2nd place and Ryan Hunter Reay in 3rd. But special congratulations to you. You’ve had a role in all three drivers’ careers. Of course, you manage both Scott and Felix. And though many may not remember, Ryan Hunter Reay came into Indy Car racing with your American Spirit Team Johansson in 2003. Ironically, Hunter Reay’s first-ever Indy Car podium came with your team at that season’s Mid-Ohio round where he finished 3rd! He went on to win the 2003 season-ending race at Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.

SJ – Yes, even when you have three great races in F1, you turn on Indy Car on any weekend and the race is nearly always a nail biter which is rarely over until the last few laps. Every race ends up being exciting right until the end. Mid-Ohio was another brilliant race! Felix was on a different strategy than Scott. Rossi and Newgarden and Power were on different strategies and everyone was racing hard on track, and it went right to the finish line with only 0.09 separating the first two cars. If F1 ever had one race like that people would go ballistic!

When Felix and Scott were racing each other at the end, I seriously thought I was getting a heart attack! I was freaking out but it was great! For me personally it was fantastic obviously to see them get a 1-2. And I believe that’s the first 1-2 finish Ganassi has had in Indy Car since Scott raced with Dario [Franchitti]. And with Ryan finishing third as well it was an amazing day.

JT – Even the previous round, on a completely different type of track – the short oval at Iowa Speedway – was exciting and unpredictable. Scott had a very difficult night with the car not responding to a host of set-up changes and was running in 16th place. But pit strategy and a caution flag at the right moment late in the race allowed him to charge up to 2nd place! Josef Newgarden won the rain-delayed race and was doing donuts 1:15 am central time

SJ – It was a crazy race and I still can’t believe Scott managed to pull his way back to 2nd after being a couple of laps down at one point, but again, this is what makes Indycar the best racing in the world right now, it has all the right ingredients for close and unpredictable racing. As far as the competition side of the business goes, they are doing pretty much everything right. The only thing I’m having a hard time to understand is the lapped car rule, where the backmarkers can still race the leaders even when they are about to go a lap down. I don’t think it’s fair that they should be able to effect the outcome of the race. If it’s not your day, you should just move over and let the leaders continue to fight until the end, rather than getting caught up for laps behind someone who’s over a second a lap slower. 

JT – Haas F1 continues to struggle on track. Their car, the VF-19, is obviously part of the problem. But the drivers are another liability this year. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen can’t seem to stop running into each other. They have an open rivalry of course but what’s taken place between them at nearly every race of the season seems illogical. Gunter Steiner recently said he was more than frustrated with their behavior and shouldn’t have to be mediating between them when he should be focused on making the car and team better. Why not sack both Grosjean and Magnussen and perhaps replace them with Indy Car drivers?

SJ – Unfortunately for them, the situation at Haas is almost comical. I can see it being justified if they are fighting for the lead or the championship, like Lewis and Nico was a few years back, but I think even those two had better discipline and race craft than the Haas guys do. It’s ridiculous to be fighting as teammates over 10th position and keep bouncing into each other race after race. Something’s not right there. These guys just have no race craft. And how much patience can Haas have, it’s not like either of them are World Champion material or ever will be? Haas shouldn’t have to be thinking about them in addition to making the car better or whatever else, if you are paid driver you are there to enhance the overall performance of the team, not give them an added headache to deal with pretty much every weekend. 

If any of these guys were to race in Indycar, not just the Haas guys but in general, they would have to make some major adjustments in order to be competitive. Execution is everything in Indy Car. If you or the team get one thing wrong you lose several positions immediately and fighting your way back from that is almost impossible as close as the racing is. And at most of the tracks you don’t have run-off areas where you can rejoin the rack after bouncing off someone else or missing the apex, so if you tangle or have to go off track for any reason, your day is pretty much over. 

The irony is that F1 teams are now considering guys like Pato O’Ward who left to join Red Bull in Super Formula in Japan and Colton Herta is being considered by a number of teams. Both of them are super talented but if you look at what they have done in Indy Car – for an F1 team to consider them kind of sums up the mentality of Formula 1. Neither one of them is ready for F1. They have one good race in Indy Car and then a series of others with mistakes or poor execution. It’s the most bizzare situation at the moment, where Formula One has now become some kind of training ground for young talented drivers. Every now and then you will find a Unicorn, like Hamilton or Verstappen for example, but for everyone of those there’s a graveyard of other really talented drivers that got spat out of the system very early on for a variety of reasons but primarily because they simply weren’t ready either mentally or technically. 

But this is how they think in F1. It’s all about really young and fast drivers. If you’re over 20 years old, no one in F1 will even look at you it seems. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be patient and take a driver who’s 23, 24 or 25 years old who’s had four or five years of hard racing behind them duking it out in other series and has shown that they’re a proven winner. 

JT – That’s a great point. Why wouldn’t F1 teams be looking at relatively young Indy Car drivers like Josef Newgarden or Alexander Rossi? Rossi’s been in F1 before but only with a back-marker team. Both guys are proven winners. Newgarden already has an Indy Car championship under his belt (2017) and Rossi is a threat at every race. Both are competitive with the series’ most decorated and experienced racers like Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter Reay, etc. Felix Rosenqvist is another possibility. He’s really beginning to show his talent in Indy Car. 

SJ – Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. These guys have been in Europe in the early days of their careers and now they’ve been racing hard for a few years and have a lot more experience. Now is the time that F1 teams should be looking at them not when they started their careers over there and had virtually no experience with either the tracks or the people they were racing against.

The Star Drivers of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, F1 News & What to Expect in 2019

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 99

JT – The Rolex 24 at Daytona kicked off the 2019 season for many this year. The field was stacked with competitive cars, teams and star drivers from the DPi ranks down to the GTD cars. Just a few of the famous drivers racing included two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, five-time IndyCar Champion Scott Dixon, CART champion and F1 star Alex Zanardi, DTM champion Rene Rast, Rubens Barichello, Kamui Kobayashi, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastian Bourdais, Romain Dumas, Felipe Nasr, A.J. Allmendinger, Simona De Silvestro and Timo Bernhard with many more on hand.

Video via NBC Sports YouTube Page

In fact, with its early season date and the quality of competition (with very few gentleman drivers these days), it’s reasonable to argue that the 24 Hours of Daytona now boasts a higher level of driving talent than the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, you’re absolutely right. Because it takes place in January there is no conflict for any drivers apart from the one’s racing in Formula E, which means we get some really high quality drivers from every category of racing. Daytona is always a great way to start the season, because it’s a 24 hours race you get a lot of seat time and most of the time the conditions are far from ideal which means you have to improvise quite a lot both with the handling issues of the car and also with the constant traffic between faster and slower cars.

There’s a very good mixture of single-seater guys, NASCAR guys and sports car drivers. It’s a very strong field of drivers that’s for sure, and you often find yourself in a group of 3-4 great drivers duking it out over a double or triple stint. It’s a lot of fun and it really gets you in racing mode before the real season starts.

JT – The race itself was very interesting and very competitive throughout the field until rain began falling near 5 am. Ultimately, Fernando Alonso, Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi won overall. That means that Alonso now adds the Rolex 24 to his two F1 championships and his Le Mans 24 win last year. Next up for him is the Indy 500 this year.

What did you think of Alonso’s drive and the competition overall?

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Unfortunately, Scott, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lost five laps in the No. 67 Ford GT due to early contact with the wall by Briscoe. But they rallied back to 4th place overall, just a lap behind the GTLM class-winning No. 25 BMW M8 GTE. It’s a shame the race had to end under red flag.

SJ – It was a pity the rain came, it really ruined what could have been an epic race, with great battles going on in all the different categories, but it was sort of an anti-climax at the end. Alonso had some fantastic stints and really put on a clinic at one point. Being the great racer that he is, he must have been loving it out there, actually racing hard against some of the other top guys in the prototypes. It was a tough one to swallow for Scott and the guys, fighting back from where they were laps down, had they stopped one lap later for what became the last stop in the race, they would have won. Scott had a couple similar monster stints as Alonso in the middle of the night where he was just flying.

JT – In pre-season F1 news, the Formula One Promoters Association (FOPA) recently complained that Liberty Media would significantly harm the series if it proceeds with a plan to move to more pay TV for coverage of the series globally. FOPA is concerned that such a shift will dramatically decrease the number of viewers of F1 on TV.

The group also protested an apparent deal between Liberty Media and the promoter of the upcoming F1 street race in Miami. The promoter was offered a profit share partnership rather than the more traditional model where races pay tens of millions of dollars for the right to hold the event. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I have to agree with the promoters. In terms of TV, this is a dilemma that started a while back. Now the promoters are starting to feel the crunch too but I think the teams have already felt that for some time.

It may be coincidental but since F1 started being televised on pay-TV (cable TV) rather than broadcast TV the eyeballs have dropped dramatically. So has sponsorship. What used to be a $100 million title sponsorship deal is now in the range of $15 million. It’s totally changed the dynamic because sponsorship is so much harder to come by. It has completely changed how revenue flows to the teams.

Every team, apart from the manufacturer teams, is now 100 percent dependent on Liberty Media or the series to fund the bulk of their programs. Sponsorship used to be what kept the teams going and whoever was willing to work a bit harder was able to find more money and hire the best people, etc. The money that came from Bernie [Ecclestone] at the time was the icing on the cake. That’s definitely not the case now.

A pay-wall might help the bottom line for Liberty Media short term but at the same time the whole eco-system of the series is shrinking. The more viewers you lose – at some point a line is crossed and that model can’t work, so unless they are able to find another method, whether that is through digital media or other forms of generating real interest and growth it will be problematic.

I never understood why Liberty made it public knowledge that they’ve offered Miami a race essentially for free? No wonder the promoters are frustrated. It’s inevitable that they’re now all asking “What about us? We’ve been paying you tens of millions per year to host a race with fees on top of that.” There is most likely more to this story than we know and we have to assume they are on top of this situation.

Personally, I am not convinced all the effort of cracking the US market is really worth it in the end, they have been trying for the best part of 40 years now and things have not changed a whole lot. To me it seems like a lot of heavy lifting to try and penetrate the cultural differences between US Sports and European or Global sports in general. Soccer, or football as it’s called in Europe is still minor compared to the NFL, NBA and Baseball for example. The US have always had their “own” sports that are equally minor in most other parts of the world.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2019 F1 season with rules changes going into effect what kind of impact do you think they can make?

SJ – Well, I think the 2019 aerodynamic rules which are aimed at supposedly helping more overtaking happen will make absolutely no difference – zero percent. All it’s doing really is costing the teams another 15 million Euros each to develop their new aero packages.

There was a recent article in Autosport with Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s aerodynamicist, where  he is attempting to explain why the FIA made this rule. And what they were trying to achieve.  I read first three paragraphs of it over and over again, and just glazed over in the end, it’s so complicated to even try to understand his explanation. I even talked to a former F1 technical director and designer and he said, “yeah I read the same thing and I didn’t understand a word of it.”

I think this sums up the current situation quite well, I am a huge fan and am trying to stay in tune with what is happening in the business from both a technical and business point of view, we have a highly qualified F1 designer and we both agree that it’s now gotten so complicated that it’s impossible to make any sense of any of it. If these are the guys making the rules, we’re in serious trouble. No one, excepts the boffins that wrote it, can understand the rulebook anymore.

JT – Since the announcement that Charles Leclerc would join Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari this season was made there has been speculation about how much Leclerc will push Vettel and whether that could destabilize Vettel or the team itself. What do you think?

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

SJ – I think he will push Vettel, there’s no doubt. The only thing that separates the really good drivers from the rest today is race-craft. Speed has little to do with it anymore because the way the cars are engineered, drivers are going to get to the limit of the cars pretty quick. I think Leclerc will be up to speed quickly, how he will go in the races we will have to wait and see. Every indication until now would say he will do a great job, but we won’t know until the pressure is on.

One would hope that Ferrari would stay away from politics and look at the bigger picture and what the best strategy would be to win the championship. Ferrari’s been known in the past to let emotion get in the way of an objective, balanced approach. Their best hope to win the title is still with Vettel, so I believe that’s where the emphasis will be.

Leclerc has had a full season now with Sauber (Alfa Romeo) so he’s not exactly a rookie. But I think race-craft will come into play at some point. It’s a similar situation to what Max Verstappen had coming into Red Bull. He was obviously mega-quick from the start but you didn’t really see the flaws until he got into a car that could actually win races.

When you throw away a race you could have won, it’s a different story than if you’re fighting for 6th or 7th place. So that will be different for Leclerc but I think his pace will spice things up a little bit. He’ll do well. He’s got good management with Nicolas Todt who knows the business very well and that will probably help him too initially.

JT – Of course, Leclerc’s signing last year isn’t the only development at Ferrari. Shortly after this year began it was announced that Maurizio Arrivabene would be replaced as team principal by Ferrari’s technical chief, Mattia Binotto. What do you think of Ferrari’s move to put Binotto in charge?

SJ – I don’t think it’s necessarily a good move. To put all of the responsibility on Binotto I don’t think is a good idea. He’s been the technical director and he’s obviously very good at that. Why would you distract him from doing what he’s good at? He’s too valuable as technical director in my opinion.

They had a car last year that was, at least for a while, the best car on the grid. Now Binotto is going to have to clutter his brain with all of the other nonsense, sitting in the FOM meetings, dealing with all of the politics and the daily dramas of running a top level F1 team. It’s a tough responsibility and a lot for one guy to handle.

JT – One of the most significant changes to the F1 grid for 2019 is the transition of Force India to “Racing Point F1 Team”. Canadian billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll and a group of investors acquired the team last summer and are taking it into a new era with Sergio Perez returning as a driver alongside Stroll’s son Lance who moves from Williams to Racing Point. How do you think the re-made team will perform in 2019?

Image via: @thisisf1

Image via: @thisisf1

SJ – I think they will go very well. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing in recent years and just add the better resources and stability that Lawrence will bring, I think they’ll be very competitive. Lawrence is successful for a reason as he’s proven in all his other business endeavors. He hires good people and lets them get on with it – a bit like Flavio Briatore was when he ran Benetton and Renault. I think they’ll be very strong.

JT – How do you think Haas F1 will perform this season? Though they continue to receive criticism from other F1 teams for their mode of entry into the series as a client of Ferrari, they’ve been solidly in the mid-pack.

SJ – Haas hasn’t done anything that wasn’t in the rules. I’ve been advocating that path for years. That’s what I tried to do when I had a stab at creating a new Formula 1 team some years ago - the “B team” principle if you like. 

Why wouldn’t you do that if the rules allow it? I think it’s going in that direction across the board now anyway. Teams like Williams and McLaren will find it harder and harder to stay competitive being independent. When you look at the resources Mercedes and Ferrari have, not only do they have money, the best people and equipment, they now have two extra teams of cars running. That’s more data, more of everything at a time when testing is basically banned. They can utilize every possible opportunity they have to gather data.

I think Haas has the potential to improve but they’re dependent on what Ferrari gives them. If Ferrari’s good, particularly on the engine side, I’d say they’ll be good too. The engine is the big leap for Haas and for Sauber as well obviously. Last year Sauber all of a sudden leapt from the back to the front of the mid-pack.

JT – Sauber has been the stand-out of the F1 paddock since Alfa Romeo/FIAT took an interest in them and installed Frederic Vasseur as team principle. They also have Kimi Raikkonen driving for them this season alongside Antonio Giovinazzi. How do you think they will perform?

SJ – With Alfa Romeo now taking a bigger stake in the team I think they will be the favorite underdog now. Kimi has such an incredible following and his fans will be pumped up. And Vasseur is very good. He has a winning mentality and he knows the business inside and out. You can see that he has definitely lifted the whole team since he joined last season with his approach and discipline and how driven he is.

JT – Renault has also experienced significant change with Daniel Ricciardo having joined the team and the manufacturer having ended its relationship as engine supplier to Red Bull Racing. Now the team has one of the top drivers on the grid and can focus more on its own philosophy for engine development. Where do you think they will figure in the 2019 season?

Image via: @danielricciardo

Image via: @danielricciardo

SJ – I think if Renault is still committed to delivering the resources they’ve promised – and I think they are – they have a pretty good engineering group to rely on. The leadership of the team isn’t really F1 or racing people and that can lead to the wrong decision being made here or there. But I think they’ll be pretty strong.

JT – Further back on the grid are McLaren and Williams F1. McLaren made what some consider positive news with the hiring of Andreas Seidl, the ex-boss of Porsche in the WEC, as its new managing director. His arrival along with new drivers Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris has created a small amount of momentum.

At Williams F1, the return of Robert Kubica to F1 alongside rookie George Russell is the main news. How do you think both teams will perform this year?

SJ – I think hiring Seidl is a very good move for McLaren. That should definitely help the whole program. But it will still take more time to rebuild everything there, even with Seidl coming aboard. An F1 team is like a big ocean-liner these days in terms of how long it takes to respond or change course. Once you make a policy decision or a philosophical decision on the design of a car it’s very hard to change direction. You kind of have to stick with what you’ve got which is what happened last year to McLaren with their aerodynamics. They discovered at some point early on that they went down the wrong avenue with aero and they were stuck.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Williams improving much. They made some poor decisions in previous years and I don’t think they have the resources or the budget to crawl out of the hole they are now in.

JT – Back at the front, Mercedes goes into 2019 with the same basic cast of people and will likely be strong again. Red Bull now has Max Verstappen as its clear number one driver with the departure of Ricciardo. They also have Honda stepping up, supplying them as well as Toro Rosso. How do you think these two will fare?

Image via: @lewishamilton

Image via: @lewishamilton

SJ – It will be the usual suspects up front, no question. Mercedes will be right there. Lewis is getting better and better every year and I don’t think he’s even close to his peak yet, which should be a huge concern to all the other teams and drivers. He’s the one driver who at the moment you can say with 100% certainty is really making the difference when it matters.  I think Red Bull, not necessarily this season but maybe by 2020, will be very strong. I’ve got a feeling as long as Honda is fully committed, and as I’ve been saying for three years now, they will eventually get it right. And when they get it right they will dominate.

With Red Bull it will only be a matter of time before they crack the code. I think we’ll see Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen totally dominating at some point in the next five years.

I think Verstappen really blossomed last year. He had a couple of bad races at the beginning of the season with some silly mistakes. But along the way it seems like something clicked and he’s now kind of figured it out. I think he’s at the point now where he can see the big picture. I think you’ll find that next to Lewis he’ll be the most complete driver among the guys out there. He’s going to be very hard to beat.

JT – In more refreshing racing news, IndyCar is looking stronger and stronger for 2019 and beyond. The series has signed a new title sponsor – Japanese tech firm NTT - continues its multi-year TV deal with NBC/NBC Sports which will now televise all IndyCar races including the Indy 500 and has gained a new presenting sponsor for the Indy 500 - insurance provider Gainbridge.

Logo via IndyCar

Logo via IndyCar

There’s talk of additional races with a return to Australia in 2020 and possibly Japan as well. Car count is up with grid numbers likely to be in the mid-20s. Ex-Formula One drivers and hot-shoes like Felix Rosenqvist are joining the series, and the level of competition should be higher than ever. What are your thoughts looking ahead to the 2019 season?

SJ – I’m excited about IndyCar. Jay Frye (IndyCar president) and his guys are doing a great job. They’re racers and they know the business inside and out. They’re pragmatic in their approach and I think the competition decisions that have been made have been great. It’s going from strength to strength.

And they’re doing it in increments. It’s not like knee-jerk wholesale changes. It’s just fine tuning it a little to make it better every year. I know they’ve also been trying hard to get a third manufacturer onboard. They’ve talked to everybody and I’m pretty confident that at some stage one of them will join, which would be great.

Amongst the top level racing series in the world, IndyCar is relatively affordable in the overall scheme of things and a very attractive proposition for any team or manufacturer to join. The support the manufacturers give definitely helps. If a third manufacturer joined in, then I think IndyCar would really take off. We are seeing more and more teams joining, and the grid is now limited by the engine supply more than anything. If there was a third engine manufacturer we would see even more teams joining.

We now also have two Swede’s in the series which is great for all the fans back home, I know both Felix and Markus are both fully committed to IndyCar and it will be exciting to see how they get on.

Image via @scottdixon9

Image via @scottdixon9

Scott in the meantime is quietly preparing to defend his title for the fifth time, and I fully expect him to come out just a little better than he was the previous year. He never stops to amaze me, the discipline and work ethic is incredible after so many years. He’s definitely one of the best in history in my opinion. The competition is getting stronger every year and he just keeps grinding away, racking up points and wins.

Scott Dixon and Lewis Hamilton Win their 5th Championship, and Scuderia Corsa enters IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 98

JT – Let’s begin the blog with recognition of Scott Dixon’s amazing fifth IndyCar title, second only to AJ Foyt in number of championships. He clinched the title at the Sonoma Grand Prix finale, beating championship runner up Alexander Rossi by 57 points. Dixon scored three wins in 2018, a number equal to the three wins taken by Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. But Scott finished in the top-five in 13 of the season’s 17 races.

Photos via: @ScottDixon9

He now has 44 IndyCar wins, third on the all-time list behind Foyt and Mario Andretti.

“To do that in this era of racing with reliability the way it is, the evenness and competitiveness of teams, is unbelievable. It's amazing to think of what he's accomplished,” said Sonoma winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The mayor of Indianapolis declared Monday, September 24, “Scott Dixon Day”. And there’s a feature-length documentary on Scott called “Born Racer” that debuted on October 2. 

Image by:  @BornRacerMovie

Image by: @BornRacerMovie

You’ve been with Scott, as his manager, for all of the 18 seasons he’s raced in IndyCar and beforehand when he drove for your Indy Lights team in 1999. What are your thoughts on Scott and his accomplishments?

SJ – It was an amazing end to a very tough season. Scott, like all the great drivers through history, has the obvious natural talent to be fast, but the raw talent will only get you so far. It’s really how hard he works that makes the difference.

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Scott is relentless in chipping away at being the best he can be, at going after championships and always looking at the bigger picture. Whatever weak area he feels he’s got left he just keeps working on it. He’s in the gym like probably no other driver in the world. Every little aspect that can make him a little better he just keeps working on them. It’s extraordinary to have that level of motivation, especially after doing it for so many years. Each year after a Championship win it becomes a little harder than the one before, and remember he’s been in the hunt to win the Championship every year for the past 10-15 years now. If he’s not in the top 6 after qualifying he’ll be the last guy to leave the track in the evening, digging through the data with his engineer until they find why they’re not faster.

Michael Schumacher was the same. Senna was the same. Prost was the same. They might have five percent more talent than the others to start with, but they’d put in 20 percent more work than the rest. Michael, instead of cruising around on a yacht in the Mediterranean like the rest of the drivers in the summer, he was at Maranello testing. All the great guys are the same, in any sport, it’s the work ethic and the mental attitude that makes the difference, not the raw talent.

And it’s true, it’s an amazing achievement what Scott’s done, particularly given how difficult it is to win in IndyCar now. Back in the day (CART), IndyCar was a little bit more like Formula 1 in the sense that one chassis usually wound up dominating when there were multiple chassis available. That’s not the case now, today it’s virtually impossible to have that dominance you could sometimes achieve by being in the best car and the best team. As we can see from the results every year, it’s impossible for one driver or team to dominate. This is why every year it’s down to 3-4 or more drivers fighting for the championship all the way to the final round.

JT – Do you think there was one turning point for Scott this season that really put him on a path to the championship?

SJ – The season started pretty badly if you remember. He was nowhere until we got to Detroit where he won the first race and then won again in Texas. In the span of a week the whole thing turned around. He was like fifth in the championship until that point and then all of a sudden he was leading it.

Photos via: www.scottdixon.com

Sometimes you have to be lucky too, like he was at Portland. But how many times was it the other way for him when he could have locked the championship up but then something happened. But even there he had the presence to keep the engine alive instead of stalling and was able to pull away without going down a lap.

But what really clinched the Championship this year more than anything was the consistency and perfect execution. Even in the races when where he was “nowhere” he still scored strong points and that all adds up at the end of the year.

JT – Lewis Hamilton was also crowned champion recently, taking his fifth title alongside the only other F1 drivers to achieve that feat - Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Despite lackluster performances in the last couple races, Hamilton’s 4th place finish at the Mexican GP was enough to earn him the 2018 world driver’s championship. What do you make of his success?

Photo via:  @LewisHamilton

Photo via: @LewisHamilton

SJ – I think it’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and it rightfully put’s him in the company of the greatest drivers in the history of our sport. I have always claimed that there’s never been a World Champion that did not have the best car, but this year it is arguable if Lewis did not win it more on his own then because he had the best car. Much like Scott, if I’m allowed to make a comparison between the two, he’s honed his craft to a point where he’s nearly flawless in the execution and that’s what makes a champion. He made less mistakes than anyone else and made the bad days as good as was possible, scoring big points when he should normally not have been able to. Formula 1 should be thankful they have him as he is truly a Superstar in every sense of the word and people love that. He’s got his own style and his own thing going and he delivers every time he gets in the car. As long Mercedes stay committed there is no reason why he could not beat Schumacher’s records before he’s done racing. It’s almost a certainty that Mercedes will always be challenging for the Championship as long as they stay involved given the resources they have compared to the other teams.

JT – With the 2018 season in the rearview mirror, IndyCar is carrying some very positive momentum into the off season. New teams will be on the grid next year, as well notable new drivers. The 2019 race calendar was recently released and a new addition to the schedule is Circuit of the Americas on March 24.

This has created more excitement and is of interest to fans as Formula 1 also races at COTA. Many have said IndyCar should race the track using the same configuration as F1. But you have a different take.

SJ – I think it’s great that IndyCar is going there, it’s without a doubt the best venue in North America and it makes perfect sense that Indycar is racing there also, and not just F1.  But I actually think they should experiment with the track layout. IndyCar has an opportunity to make it a track that has great racing by eliminating a couple of the corners and getting rid of the go-kart track nature of the Tilke design which only ruins the racing and contributes nothing to the overall experience except adding a few unnecessary corners.

I think they should cut out the twisty section between the end of the back straight (Turn 12) and the fast right-hander (Turn 16). If you just made it a longer straight you would arrive into the fast right hander with one gear more speed which would make the entry much more challenging and you would then carry more speed into the second part of the corner which would make the whole section more difficult.

Image from Google Maps

Image from Google Maps

Likewise, the last one of the sweepers going downhill from Turn 1 – all of the left-right-left-right stuff – get rid of the last one (Turn 8) because it ruins the rhythm completely and you would then carry a lot more speed to the top of the hill (Turn 11). It will be spectacular to watch when the cars come over the brow at the top of turn 11 because they’ll be carrying a lot more speed and you’d really have to aim into the corner, and the cars will probably get light as they cross the top of the brow. Plus, an IndyCar has significantly less downforce than an F1 car so that would add up to be very challenging and a lot of fun to watch.

Whether they’d do that or not is another question but I think there’s an opportunity to do something that could make the track really special and spectacular to watch.

JT – You’re involved with one of the new teams that will be on the IndyCar grid next year. IMSA sports car racing stalwart Scuderia Corsa will expand its operations to compete in IndyCar in 2019, joining the series for 13 rounds of its 17-race calendar including the Indy 500. Ed Jones will drive for the team which will be an affiliate of Ed Carpenter Racing.

It’s exciting news for Scuderia Corsa coming on the heels of the team’s win at Petit Le Mans earlier this month for Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Daniel Serra in the No. 63 Weathertech Ferrari 488 GT3.

Photos by: Scuderia Corsa

SJ – Yes, the stars lined up perfect and it ended up being a very good situation for everybody – for Scuderia Corsa, for Ed Jones and for Ed Carpenter. Everybody’s happy and it’s very exciting.

Road Atlanta was a great win for the team. Daniel Serra who was brought in as the Pro driver did a great job, along with our regular drivers Cooper McNeil and Gunnar Jeanette, and it was good to come out on top finally. It was about time, we had a tough year for a number of different reasons.

JT – There has been some reporting lately that some current IndyCar teams may be considering some of the likely refugees from Formula 1 for next year. Marcus Ericsson has been confirmed to drive with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2019 and Brendon Hartley has been mentioned as a possibility for a seat if his Toro Rosso drive ends this year. It’s another indication that IndyCar has momentum and is an attractive alternative.

SJ – It’s not surprising that the teams might talk to those guys but that doesn’t mean it would be easy to put together a deal. I know there’s a lot of interest in Indycar from many of the F1 guys, they can see how good the racing is. They talk a lot about how fun the cars look to drive and the fact that you have to drive them hard from start to finish, no driver aids to speak of and proper race tracks that punish you if you make a mistake. This is what any driver worth their salt is looking for.

It's exciting to see that Indycar has now become a real alternative to F1, with Alonso also showing serious interest earlier in the year, although it doesn’t look like it will happen for 2019 anymore.

If you look at the cost of IndyCar, it’s spectacularly affordable compared to almost any other premium series. And it’s so hard to win in IndyCar compared other series because there is so much competition and no one can get an edge on the rest because of the way the rules are written. You just never know who might come out on top depending on strategy, caution flags, the quality of the drivers and teams, all of that stuff.

I think the car count will go up a lot next year. I think we might end up seeing maybe four to six more cars. IndyCar is really on a roll at the moment. It’s getting stronger and everyone is starting to realize how good the racing is and how it makes more sense financially than other series. There are a couple of sports car teams from Europe looking at it, a couple of Indy Lights teams that are going to move up and maybe a few others. I think manufacturers are starting to pay attention to it as well.

It would be ideal if they could get one more manufacturer to come and share the load of supporting more teams with both engines and technical support. I think both Honda and Chevy are on the limit with their engine supply and support budgets to the teams that are currently competing. With more competition comes more spending, which is good for both the teams and the top drivers as each manufacturer will do what it takes to win.

JT – Steve Letarte, a former crew chief for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who’s now part of the NBC NASCAR television broadcast team, made a great point during the race at Richmond a few weeks ago. Referring to Brad Keselowski leading the race at one point even though he didn’t have the fastest car on track, Letarte said, ‘it’s a race, not a speed contest”.

That struck me as a terrific observation and it’s a big problem for Formula One where a lack of racecraft among drivers and the absurd amount of money it takes to compete with the top teams exaggerates F1 as a “speed contest” with very little actual racing. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, it’s a very good observation. Racing is a speed contest, of course, but only to the point where you obviously have to go fast in order to win, but it won’t help if you don’t know how to race. Qualifying is a different story of course, but unfortunately, race craft seems to be a skill that most team owners have almost forgot about. I don’t know exactly what the teams in F1 specifically are looking for in the young drivers they’re bringing in but for the most part, it certainly isn’t adding to the end result.

If every team owner were looking for the best racer rather than the driver who could set the fastest time over a lap, it would be a whole different scenario. It’s long been the case in F1 that whoever does the quickest lap time in a shoot-out test ends up getting a drive – at least 95 percent of the time or more. But most often that’s completely irrelevant to race results over the course of a season and where they eventually end up in the championship. There’s been hundred’s of really fast drivers over the years in F1 that never accomplished anything except being fast over a single lap, but it’s extraordinary how they were able to hang on to their drives for this reason alone.

We can see it clearly. I don’t know if it’s the nature of the cars or whatever but in every single race, people are taking each other out in the first couple laps. If this is supposed to be the highest level of motorsport none of this makes any sense. It’s unforgiveable that very highly-paid professional drivers, supposedly the best in the world, can’t make it past the first two laps without constantly driving into each other. Unfortunately, F1 has evolved into more of a speed contest rather than pure racing due to the nature of the cars and also the tracks to a certain extent. The cars are getting more and more aero sensitive when you follow another car which prevents a driver getting close enough to have a go, hence the DRS system to help overtaking. This helps overtaking but it doesn’t help the racing as the driver in front is more or less a sitting duck. So, instead we now have a committee of people at each race determining what is legal and not when a driver is defending his position by blocking the guy behind who’s got his DRS system wide open. It’s a bizzare situation that sadly seems to get worse and not better with each passing year.

I’m not saying that driving a race car fast is easy by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than racing well. F1 is a bit unique in that unless you have the best car there’s not a lot you can do. You’re basically circling within a three or four-car segment of competitors at best. But Alonso, for example, has certainly shown that you can haul an underperforming car up to places where it shouldn’t necessarily be. It shows that if you’re a good enough racer you can make a difference.

I guarantee you that many of the drivers in F1 now, if they came over to race in IndyCar, they’d struggle to get results, at least initially because in IndyCar it’s all about execution. If you make one little slip up, if you’re too slow on an in-lap for a pit stop, you lose three spots. Every little detail has to be right. That’s how Scott won his championship this year. He simply made fewer mistakes than everyone else.

That’s how racing should be. Not only do you have 20 other cars you theoretically have to beat on speed on any given weekend, you also have to be error-free or you’ll pay for your mistakes.

JT – You also make the point that – weirdly - teams seem to be trying to develop the very young and comparatively inexperienced drivers they’re recruiting in F1 itself, rather than bringing in drivers who’ve gained considerable experience lower formulas.

SJ – Yes, it’s a very strange situation. Apparently you’re finished by the time you’re 23 years old these days, too old for F1. They’re bringing in guys who are 19 or 20 who have been in a lower series for a year or two maybe. When did Formula 1 become a development series for drivers?

I always thought the whole point of F1 was that you hire the best drivers in the world. How the hell do you know if a guy who’s 20 years old and has very little experience is going to be good enough? Fast enough, yes, but getting the job done on Sunday afternoon, no one knows at that stage of their career until they’re thrown in the deep end.

Verstappen is an extraordinary exception, but even he with all his speed and natural talent has had to develop in F1. He’s certainly made errors that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a driver in F1.

And now they’re giving Kvyat a third chance at Toro Rosso. Apparently he is now in a much better place and is “very calm” compared to how he was when they fired him a year or so ago. How do they know that if he’s not even done one race since he last raced in F1?

It’s one thing the be calm and in a “good place” over dinner, it’s a whole different matter when you sit on the grid and the red mist starts to rise, it’s only then you can really judge how good a driver is. Let’s hope they are right but I’m having a hard time understanding how a driver can become a better racer by not doing any races? It all seems a bit odd to me.

JT – Since we last chatted, Scuderia Ferrari announced that F1 rookie Charles Leclerc would leave Sauber Alfa Romeo in 2019, taking the seat Kimi Raikkonen has held for five years. Meanwhile Kimi announced that he would return to Sauber next year where he began his F1 career in 2001. He’ll be joined by Antonio Giovinazzi. What do you make of the changes?

SJ – First, I think Kimi has done a very good job this year. I don’t think anyone could expect a huge amount more in the circumstances. Leclerc is clearly a star of the future but as Ferrari is sort of in control of Sauber I would have thought it would make a lot more sense to keep the momentum of the dynamic they have between Kimi and Vettel because it’s a pretty strong relationship and they’ve been able to develop the car in a pretty positive direction.

Photo via:  @Charles_Leclerc

Photo via: @Charles_Leclerc

At the same time, they could have left Leclerc to hone his racecraft a little bit more and get the inevitable silly mistakes out of the way. If you make one silly mistake at Sauber and it doesn’t work out it’s like “Oh that was ballsy, what a shame it didn’t work out this time.”

But if he does the same mistake at Ferrari, the press will be all over him like a ton of bricks. It’ll be the usual, “He’s finished, it’s over. He can’t handle the pressure, yada, yada, yada…”

That’s just how the F1 press is and especially the Italians, and sooner or later, that’s going to happen. If you look at Verstappen in year one he was pretty spectacular. In year two he started to make one mistake after another. Year three was a bit of a disaster and now he’s sort of getting a bit of momentum back. It’s inevitable that Leclerc will go through the same thing. That’s how it goes when you make these moves with very young inexperienced drivers.

And of course, the dynamic within Ferrari is going to change. Vettel’s going to have to defend his territory now. Leclerc is going to come in young and fresh and try to blow the doors off him. I don’t think it’ll be happy days necessarily. I think there will be some politicking and other stuff that you don’t have going on at the moment.

JT – On the other hand, some would say that even with a relatively harmonious relationship between himself and Raikkonen, Vettel has been making quite a few mistakes this year. Maybe a teammate who can push him might make him a bit better? What do you think?

SJ – In the case of Vettel I doubt a team mate that can push him would help. It’s not exactly as though Kimi is not pushing him. They’re very close to each other pretty much every race, so it’s not a matter of speed in either case.

It looks to me that a lot of the moves he’s made are just coming from being a bit impatient and we’re talking tiny margins which sometimes work and sometimes don’t, very similar in fact to Verstappen in that one race every move you make will stick - the next race you do exactly the same and they don’t. But in the case of both drivers, the moves have been very low percentage and that is subsequently what happens, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s not a way to win a championship no matter how you look at it.

I don’t know anything about Vettel’s situation in terms of how he’s set up with the people he has around him, but he apparently doesn’t use a manager and instead does all his own deals.

Knowing from my own experience and working with both Scott, and more recently with Felix and some of the other drivers I work with, we talk quite a lot about all the things going on both before and after the races. The teams, the technical stuff, the races in general and about the other drivers they’re racing against.

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At least if I view it from my own perspective, it’s always good to have someone who first of all you can trust 100 percent - who’s “your guy” - someone who you can just blow off some steam and frustration with every now and then. Or someone you can discuss differences you may have with your team – how they may be focusing on one area when you think there’s something else that needs to be addressed.

Whatever it is, just to have someone to bounce things back and forth with that actually understand all the little nuances of racing and all the different aspects of it is important I think. Racing is an incredibly complex sport with so many layers of different information and issues that constantly need to be dealt with, which makes it even more difficult than most other sports to be consistently on top. I think maybe Vettel is missing some of that. Maybe he has someone who he talks with like that but I don’t know that he does, and maybe he doesn’t think he needs to. Every driver is different. Personally I think it can be quite helpful at times.

JT – The other moves in the driver market that transpired this summer, beginning with Ricciardo’s switch to Renault for 2019, make it clear that not only are the barriers to entry for F1 somewhat ridiculous but there are unforeseen barriers to staying in the series - even if you’ve “made it” as a driver.

Consider Estabon Ocon. He’s caught between a rock and hard place – one made more difficult by outside factors. As always, money is a big part of the equation and in this case, even his Mercedes management hasn’t been helpful. It seems counter-productive for F1, to the point that people like Mercedes’s Toto Wolff have suggested F1 constructors run third cars to accommodate more drivers. But how can that be a solution when even more resources will be required?

SJ – It’s really becoming evident now that the junior programs for drivers that the teams have been obsessed with aren’t working that well. One team starts a few years back and then everybody has to follow. It’s always the way. Red Bull had Verstappen come through the ranks and he’s been successful and become an asset but that doesn’t mean that everyone who comes out of a junior program is.

Now, Mercedes has got all of these guys locked up. There should be a natural culling system but the problem is that because everything is so expensive, even in the junior formulas now, it’s gotten completely screwed up. Most of the young drivers that are any good are part of a junior program of some kind, whether it’s McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari.

But very few of them ever get anywhere because they’re stuck in these programs. Their options are limited to literally those programs. What are the chances that one of those maybe 10 guys will filter through? It’s almost impossible. Once they’re discarded you don’t even hear of these guys anymore. Most of them end up out in the wilderness – lost, gone.

Mercedes has now released [Pascal] Wehrlein. He was the great hope for a while but he’s now out of the system. It’s definitely counter-productive and as usual, money is the problem. If you don’t have the right backing, particularly in the junior categories, you’re not going to go forward. Money is always the problem and no one is taking their foot off the gas in terms of trying to diminish the costs of running these cars.

Image via:  @MickSchumacher

Image via: @MickSchumacher

JT – Looking beyond Formula 1 at its junior categories, Mick Schumacher, Michael Schumacher’s son has been dominating European F3, winning rounds at the Nurburgring and the Red Bull Ring, taking poles for six races in a row and winning five of them. Lewis Hamilton recently remarked that he’s 100 percent sure Schumacher will make it to F1.

In fact, Schumacher’s performance has improved so much recently that Red Bull’s Daniel Ticktum said he finds it “interesting” how Schumacher and teammate Robert Shwartzman are dominating Prema's other three drivers, and the rest of the grid.

Ticktum added, “I appreciate I have lessons to learn still! I’m not denying that. You don’t know the real story because you are not at the track looking at everyone’s data. Unfortunately however I am fighting a losing battle as my last name is not Schumacher.”

SJ – I don’t know anything about Mick really but Felix tested with him in F3 and he thought he definitely had potential then. That was two years ago when he was very green and new but I think something must have suddenly clicked in the second half of the season because now he’s really on top of his game and leading the championship. Obviously people are starting to take notice.

Needless to say if he did make it to higher categories it would be a fantastic thing. It’d be a lovely story if he could carry his father’s legacy on. He’s obviously got tremendous pressure living up to the legacy of his father but he’s done a good job so far. I don’t know what the next step is in his career but if he keeps this trajectory we will probably see him in F1 very soon.

JT – Toro Rosso head Franz Tost said recently that he thinks cost caps could work in F1 despite the long stated skepticism from some teams that they cannot be policed. He says F1 already does a good job of policing its technology rules so why not costs? Do you agree?

SJ – Well, if history is anything to go by the teams will spend exactly the amount of money they can get, whatever that amount is. As long as the engineers have free reign the spending won’t stop. If you gave every team a billion dollars I guarantee you they’d find a way to spend every penny, it’s just the nature of the beast, everybody wants to win and they will spend whatever amount available to do that. The engineers will always dream up some new development program that will give them that extra edge they are all looking for.

And if you’re going to talk about costs, I don’t understand why the rules have to be changed again for next year. What is the logic behind that? This will just add more spending yet again to what are already exorbitant budgets. I can’t even remember the reasoning behind this latest rule change.

Times change, this whole argument that everyone’s been holding onto for the past 60 years now, which says if you make standard parts for the cars you lose the DNA of F1 is ridiculous. At some stage you’ve got to make a decision. As long as you have the responsibility or freedom to design the major parts of the cars, you’re always going to have a big separation between the level teams can compete at. When the brake budget alone for a top F1 team is equivalent to a winning Indycar budget you have to stop for a moment and think. Who cares if they run a standard brake system for all the cars?

Over the whole history of Formula 1 there have been at most three teams that could win in any given season. Most of the time it’s only two teams with a chance of winning and often only one. Ferrari had their years of domination, McLaren had theirs, as did Red Bull and now Mercedes. Eventually one or more teams catch up competitively but then in their infinite wisdom the powers running F1 decide to change the rules again and you end up with one team dominating for a while again.

It’s a cycle. The gaps narrow and what do they do? They change the rules again. Rules stability is historically the best way to close the gap between the front and the back of the grid and to lower the R&D costs. With new rules it will always be the teams with the biggest resources that will come out on top.

JT – Additionally, as you’ve said previously, when the rules are changed in Formula 1 they seem to address the wrong issues or even make changes that lead to further issues.

SJ – Yes. Most of the time it seems like it’s a knee jerk reaction to one specific item that bothers them for whatever reason and they end up tinkering with the cars and do all kinds of things with the aerodynamics to either slow them down or make them faster depending on what bothers them at the time. But why not fix the tires before they fix anything else?

How can we have a situation where Formula 1 has one tire manufacturer and they can’t make a tire that lasts a race distance without blistering? That means everyone is just cruising around the whole race saving their tires and no one can have a proper go for the full race distance. The whole situation is just bizarre.

Aren’t we supposed to have the most spectacular cars that you drive as fast as you can all the time? Even qualifying is almost pointless now to watch. Half the teams don’t even try. Apart from three or maybe four cars having a go at the pole, and not even that many sometimes because they have an engine penalty or there’s some other pointless rule that prevents them from running hard. There’s hardly anything to watch.

I think we’ve almost reached the point where they should just throw out the rule book and start from scratch with the main focus on keeping things simple and understandable. They need to look at what’s really important in the bigger picture, from a lot of different aspects - starting with the competition, then the economics, followed by entertainment and relevance. At the moment I don’t feel they’re ticking any of those boxes anywhere close to the way it could be done. However, in order to achieve this, there needs to be a complete philosophical recalibration of how a race car should look and behave and this will never change as long as the engineers are allowed to be a part of the rule making process.

JT – In sports car racing news the WEC, FIA and ACO announced that the new Hypercar class the WEC has proposed for the 2020/2021 season will have a revised/lower budget target of €20 million or just over $23 million for a two-car team per season. That’s down from the previous estimate of €25-€30 million per season.

The series’ goal for lap time at Le Mans for the class is in the 3 minute, 25 second range. This means that LMP2 class cars will have to be slowed to allow the Hypercar class to be the top category. Performance targets for each area of the car that cannot be exceeded will be set. There will, for example, be maximum downforce and minimum drag numbers specified in the rules. Testing and development will be limited. Upgrades of homologated designs will only be allowed between seasons in the name of safety and reliability. What are your thoughts on the emerging rules?

SJ – I’m having a hard time understanding the point of it all. The hypercars will look like souped-up GT cars to me so why not soup up the current GTE/GTLM cars and take off all the restrictions they currently carry under the BoP regulations. Let every manufacturer build the best car they can, which is exactly what will happen with the Hypercar.

Let’s say they make every manufacturer homologate a GT car for that category with unrestricted engines. Most of the road car versions of the current GT cars are nudging 800 horsepower now so it would be relatively easy to get 800 horsepower from them to begin. Give them 10 percent more aerodynamic downforce and one inch wider tires and some wider wheel arches. The cars will look a lot more aggressive and racy and the lap times will be in the low 30’s very soon and eventually they will creep into the 20s.

Every manufacturer would simply build a car without BoP and all of that nonsense, a proper racing car, like the Ford GT is now for example. If you took all the restrictors of that car it would be flying around Le Mans. We know what the waitlist is for the road car version of that car and I’m sure there would be a three-year waitlist for every one of the other cars from every manufacturer that decide to compete. All of the manufacturers are already there, more could be attracted and nobody would have to spend stupid money on developing entirely new cars.

They could then sell the same cars to private teams that would run with either pro drivers or gentleman drivers if they so wish but everybody would compete with the same cars. The grids would be full at every race without a doubt and fans can immediately relate to the cars they are watching.

On the other hand, some of the things they mentioned for the new class are very good. You put a limit on the amount of downforce and a minimum limit for drag. That’s a step in the right direction for sure. If they limit some areas rules-wise, hopefully that will encourage people to find different areas to develop instead of keeping all of the focus on aerodynamics.