Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

         

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

johansson-eyes-helmet-cockpit-sign.jpg

#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: Renault

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.

Silly Season for Drivers and Teams

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 97

JT – It’s been a few months since the last #SJblog. Since then, the IndyCar, Formula 1 and sports car racing calendars have marched forward. We find ourselves in the middle of the summer break for many series and of course that means it’s silly season for drivers and teams figuring out who will be driving where in 2019.

Formula 1 has made the most news recently with driver shuffles kicking off in early August when Daniel Ricciardo made the surprise announcement that he was leaving Red Bull Racing after four seasons with the team. What do you make of Ricciardo’s move?

SJ – It’s interesting, I don’t think too many people saw that one coming. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye behind his decision to move obviously. Whatever the reason, it’s a major loss for Red Bull.

If you look at it historically, Renault has always won eventually when they’ve been involved in Formula 1. Of course, there’s completely different people at Renault now compared to the past but the commitment is there it seems. Just the fact that they’ve hired Ricciardo tells you the commitment is there. They’ve certainly got some good people in the team and I’m sure they will keep adding more. I am sure they must have given Ricciardo’s pretty firm guarantees that they are prepared to allocate the budget and resources required to win the championship. I see no reason why they would not fight with Mercedes and Ferrari eventually.

This situation is different but it’s not entirely dissimilar to when Lewis Hamilton left McLaren, which was then a winning team, for Mercedes who weren’t winning anything at the time. I’m sure he was shown the big plan and the commitment they had to winning the Championship. Interestingly, Mercdedes also had this driver called Rosberg, that no one was completely sure how good he really was and it ended up being a few of years with epic battles between the two. Renault has Hulkenberg that has shown great promise and great speed but never delivered the results, now he will be paired against a proven race winner, will he be able to step up and finally deliver on the promise or will this be the end of his career? I think he will keep Daniel honest and this dynamic could be great for the team if both of them push each other all the time. I don’t think this is a bad move on Ricciardo’s part, he would have always had to deal with Verstappen being favored at Red Bull, at least if what we’ve seen until now is anything to go by. Now he’s the team leader which makes a big difference also psychologically for a driver. I think there’s a good chance that Renault will eventually be on the pace of the top three, maybe not next year, but if you take a three or five year view I feel there is a very good possibility they will. There are always shifts that will come if the rules stays the same for long enough, history shows that everybody will eventually catch up. The new rules won’t be wholesale like it was when the new engine formula came in to play, where everyone’s been playing catch up to Mercedes until this year. Even when you dominate or win, like Mercedes, every year it gets a little bit harder to stay on top. So I think at some point it’s likely that Mercedes will end up with a car that isn’t the best and the dynamic will change. Ferrari is already as quick or quicker in many places.

It may take longer because a lot of things are different in F1 now. One is the massive amount of resources required to be competitive. That’s the main reason why Mercedes and Ferrari are at the front. They’re simply spending more than anyone else.

I can only assume that Ricciardo has been given pretty strong guarantees about the depth of Renault’s effort. That must have been one of the contributing factors otherwise I doubt whether he would have made the jump. He’s obviously seen what the five-year plan is.

At the same time, I also think Red Bull will be very strong with Honda power in the next five years. I think Honda is on the verge of cracking it, and when they do they are normally unstoppable.

Image by: Red Bull Racing

I think the next few years could become very interesting with both Renault and Honda catching up to Mercedes and Ferrari, it has a good chance of being more competitive than we’ve seen in a long time. I just hope they won’t tinker to much with the rules as we’re now on the verge of everyone catching up which will allow the competition to be much closer. But we should never count on the wisdom of the rule-makers, they seem to be experts at making changes where none are needed.

We all know the current set of rules are far from ideal, but at least we have gotten close to the point of diminishing return on R&D and when that happens the racing is always getting better and closer as the gap from the front to the back keeps getting smaller each year. Let’s hope it will stay this way for a while until everyone has figured out  the bigger picture of what really needs to be done. That is a subject for a whole other conversation and it’s obviously a big topic. I am actually working on a big document on that very subject which I should have ready in a couple of weeks, it’s very radical and will require a complete rethink but I hope people will like what I have in mind.

JT – Less than two weeks after Ricciardo’s announcement, Fernando Alonso announced that he would be retiring from F1 for 2019. In comments on his departure Alonso indicated he could still return to F1 if a good opportunity arose and if the series changed enough to produce a good competitive environment.

Alonso added that racing in F1 is no longer enjoyable on track, stating that the predictability of the racing was far too high with little chance to actually compete. He concluded that most of what is talked about in F1 focuses on off-track polemics and politics, not actual racing. What do you think of his decision to leave the series and the reasons behind it?

SJ – I can certainly sympathize with a driver of Alonso’s pedigree, everybody knows he doesn’t belong where he’s at, but that’s the nature of the beast in F1. It doesn’t matter how good the driver is, if you don’t have the best car you will never win or get close to the front. It’s tough to be motivated when you know before the season’s starts that you’re going to be somewhere around 8th to 12th in qualifying and get the odd point here or there.

There’s also this current obsession in Formula 1 with young, fast teenage drivers or drivers around 20 year old. For sure they’re very quick. There’s no doubt about their speed, but we don’t really know how good they are. F1 has turned into a place where driving fast is just about the only criteria that seems to matter. You can see it very clearly in the races. On Lap 1 and Lap 2 there’s more contact and debris flying off the cars – broken wing-endplates and stuff – than there is at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch every year.

There’s very little racecraft and very few of the drivers who have any racecraft. Alonso is obviously one of them, one of maybe five or six. The rest, even some of the experienced guys, I won’t mention any names but it’s pretty obvious by now, just should not have the amount of unnecessary accidents they do. As I’ve been speculating, maybe it’s something to do with these new super long wheelbase cars but it strikes me as very strange that these drivers who are supposed to be the best in the world can’t get past the first two laps without three or four cars per race getting damage in pretty much every single race.

I think one of the problems with F1 is that it’s simply too good. What I mean by that is everything is so well done from the engineering to the simulation of the races that there is literally nothing left to chance, there is no unpredictability left, except if there’s a sudden shift in weather conditions or something else that could not be planned for before the race started. We normally get 2-3 races a year like that and everybody is jumping up and down over what a great race we just had. That should tell everybody something right there. But unfortunately, it’s the engineers that are running the show now as far as the technical rules go, and they won’t back down, it’s just more and more of the same. No one’s willing to give up their toys.

JT – Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc are candidates for other drives. With Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull Gasly is now seen as strong possibility to be a teammate to Max Verstappen. Meanwhile, Leclerc has been mentioned in connection with Ferrari for some time. Each is an example of the youth movement you mentioned.  Neither one has even completed their first season in F1.

SJ – There is no doubt that both of them are very good, I think they are future stars for sure. Just as with Max Verstappen, every now and then we get someone exceptional that pops through that little hole at the bottom of the funnel and I think both these guys are that kind. However, I think it would be foolish to throw them in the deep end with a top team this early, for the same reason I mentioned earlier. They would both fare much better where they are and gain another year of experience in a team with much less pressure and scrutiny than they would get at either Ferrari or Red Bull. If you don’t perform at your very best in every session and race the media is all over you and then the doubt start to creep in and it all goes sideways very quickly. There’s loads of examples of great drivers who never made it once they got the opportunity in the big teams, simply because it was too early in their careers. This works both ways, I don’t understand the rush from Ferrari to put Leclerc in one of their cars at this stage of his career, it will be much better for them to keep him at Sauber and let him gain more experience before they put him in the main team.

JT – In IndyCar news, Scott Dixon resigned with Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott has driven for Chip since 2002, scoring 43 of his 44 IndyCar victories with the team. He seems very content with the decision to stay at Ganassi despite offers from others including Andretti Autosport and the team McLaren may be forming. As his manager, you played a role in the negotiations. Obviously some work was involved despite the fact Scott elected not to change teams.

Photo via: @scottdixon9

Photo via: @scottdixon9

SJ – Yes, there was a lot of talk and a lot rumors, I don’t know where some of these guys get their stories from but it was very amusing to hear some of it. So far from the truth that you have to wonder where the rumors started. Scott certainly had some strong offers but continuing with Ganassi made sense. You know Chip will always put a winning car on the grid, and that is in the end all that matters, the rest kind of falls into place. There’s obviously a huge amount of respect between the two of them and the great success story will hopefully continue for a while longer. And yes, there was a lot of work associated with it and it was quite stressful at times but as a manager you’re there to try and be objective and look at the bigger picture – all the different factors that come into play and I believe Scott made the right decision in the end.

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: Vettel brings joy to Ferrari fans, an unfortunate crash at Nurburgring & WEC bans grid girls

Stefan Johansson

Vettel-Ferrari-Malaysian-win

Jan Tegler – The Malaysian Grand Prix proved to be a pleasant surprise for most fans. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari stole victory from Mercedes with good race pace and terrific tactics. Given Mercedes domination to this point, Ferrari’s performance must give the team hope.

Stefan Johansson – Yes, Ferrari beat Mercedes fair and square. Everybody faced the same circumstances. There were no mechanical failures and no external drama that allowed Ferrari to pick up the pieces if you will. It was a great win.

I wouldn’t say yet that Ferrari will have that kind of performance in all the races ahead. I think the stars lined up perfectly for them in Malaysia with the high temperatures and other conditions and there’s no question they picked the right strategy. Staying out and getting to the front when Hamilton pitted was a good call. It was the obvious and in some ways easy thing to do because it’s always tougher when you’re leading - as Mercedes was - to make the right decision.

If you’re behind you can roll the dice, especially if you don’t think you’re going to win. It’s easier to gamble and hope things will fall in your lap. Running up front was the obvious thing for Ferrari because they didn’t have to deal with traffic. I think that - more than anything else - hurt Mercedes.

A, they’re not used to that and B, you saw how dirty the track was offline. If you had to deviate even two feet away from the racing line in some places you’d pick up so much rubber that it would take you a good four or five laps to clean the tires, or they might not ever get cleaned properly.

Stefan Johansson - F1 - Ferrari 1985

JT – When you were racing in Formula One there were periods during which multiple tire suppliers were in the series. Was spent-rubber just offline as much of a problem then?

SJ – Yes, it was bad. That was as big a factor then as it is today.

JT – While Vettel triumphed for Ferrari Kimi Räikkönen looked very quick as well, coming from the back of the pack after being hit by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr to finish fourth. Had he not suffered contact Kimi certainly looked as if he could have challenged for the podium.

SJ – Yes, Kimi would have been a threat as well no doubt. Even in Australia he was extremely unlucky. In both races he got clobbered by Nasr who was extremely lucky to get away with it in Australia. Of course he destroyed his own race in Malaysia basically (finished 12th) with the contact.

That’s two races in a row with contact in the first few laps for him. That’s not very impressive. But as is often the case the true quality of a driver will illustrate itself over a season. It helps to be young and up-and-coming because nothing’s expected of you. Had he been in a Ferrari or a McLaren for example and had the same two incidents, people would have been all over him.

Marcus Ericsson’s off looked like over-exuberance more than anything. He got a blinding start and picked up a couple spots immediately but he was probably so eager to do well it just caught him out. There was plenty of racing left and I think he was just very keen to do well and full of confidence after a great qualifying performance.

Checo Perez - Malayaisan GP - F1

JT – You were surprised that the collision of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Perez resulted in a penalty for Perez, right?

SJ – Yes, I can’t believe Perez got a penalty. Anytime you try to make a pass on the outside, as Grosjean was, you have to consider it a low-percentage move. In that particular corner at Sepang you have no choice but to rely on the guy you’re passing to give you enough room to make the pass stick. And no matter if you’re on the inside or the outside, you need all the room you can get in that corner even as a single car, let alone with two cars abreast.

I can’t see how it could possibly have been Perez’s fault that he drove into the side of Grosjean. Where was he supposed to go? When they turned into the corner Perez was ahead so by default he owns the corner. At best it was a racing incident. If anyone should have been penalized it should have been Grosjean in my opinion. Besides, Perez tires were completely shot, so all Grosjean would have to do is wait for two more corners and he would have had a straight shot under braking for the next turn. He would have lost a second at the most.

JT – Looking at the big picture, the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and everyone in Formula One, aside from Mercedes perhaps, has to be happy with the result at Sepang. F1 needed a different winner like it needs air.

SJ – Absolutely, anybody beating Mercedes would have been great but there’s nothing like Ferrari winning. Everything gets magnified. Whatever anyone says, Ferrari is critical to F1. They have the most loyal and biggest fan-base worldwide. So their victory is a shot-in-the-arm for the Championship, no question.

JT – Really, even Mercedes may be not so disappointed. They can now claim they have someone to fight against.

SJ – Yes, I think they may be slightly worried about Ferrari but at the same time, they’ve got plenty of powder left in their bag before they need to be too concerned. But at least if Mercedes do have problems you know that Ferrari will be there to keep them on their toes. That’s what Ricciardo and Red Bull did last year. Also, this will effectively mean that all the complaining and moaning by some of the teams that Mercedes need to be slowed down and there needs to be more parity among the teams will have to stop as they have now been beaten fair and square by one of their competitors. Time for the rest to get back to the drawing board or to have done their homework better in the first place.

Ferrari has a good momentum now and there’s no question the car is good. It was quick right from the moment they rolled it off the truck in winter testing. The car’s obviously a lot easier to drive and the drivers are comfortable with it, which is very important. Typically, if a car is easy to drive and the lap-times come relatively quickly it generally means it has a big window of performance. Even if a car is quick in race situations, when it’s peaky any change in conditions or the wrong tire will throw its performance off. But if you have a larger window you can maintain good pace in changing conditions even if the set-up is not absolutely spot-on. That looks to me to be one of the strengths of the Ferrari at the moment.

Ferrari win at Malaysian GP - F1

JT – As has been mentioned elsewhere, the 2015 Ferrari’s improvements are in no small measure due to the work of Marco Mattiacci who led the team between April and November 2014 when work on this new car had begun in earnest. Maurizio Arrivabene, the new team director, and the team have certainly benefitted from the work Mattiacci did and the changes he made.

SJ – I really feel for Mattiacci because the improvements are not something that happened in the last few months. Quite impressively for a guy who hadn’t any great experience in racing, Mattiacci put together a very good package. He orchestrated the whole Vettel deal and he put faith in [James] Allison (Ferrari technical director). Had he been around he would have been a hero now, it’s funny how life works sometimes. That’s not to take anything away from Arrivabene, he’s clearly done a great job getting the motivation back in the team and it seems they are moving forward as one unit. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to rattle the Mercedes guys as the season goes on.

JT – The team from which Sebastian Vettel jumped – Red Bull Racing – continues to have drama with its engine-supplier, Renault. There’s a very public split with Red Bull complaining that Renault has actually taken a step backward from 2014 with their power unit. Meanwhile Renault has intimated that Red Bull’s desire for them to shortcut development in pursuit of performance is the reason they are now so far behind.

SJ – You can see extreme frustration and shock on both sides in the realization that they’re probably less competitive than they were last year.

But I find it comical in F1 in general that everything is aired in the open these days via the media. Nothing seems to happen behind closed doors anymore. You hear Force India complaining that they needed a hand-out before the Australian GP and now this with Renault and Red Bull.

I can’t see how it helps anyone. In Force India’s case, I’m sure they’re having conversations with Bernie. Why does the media need to know this?

I also find it amusing that Cyril Abiteboul (Renault F1 managing director) doesn’t back down from anyone, calling Adrian Newey a liar.

Red Bull Racing Renault - F1 2015

JT – Abiteboul has also said that Renault has never been given enough credit for Red Bull Racing’s success.

SJ – That’s true. Every time Red Bull won the championship it was all about how good the team is but Renault barely got a mention. But I also think that is to a large degree their own fault for not being more active in promoting this. Cosworth used to be the same, does anyone know it was not that long ago they were the most successful Engine builder in F1 history, and it was only at the end of the Schumacher era with Ferrari that they managed to pass them.

JT – As poorly as things have developed for Red Bull, McLaren continues to be the biggest under-achiever in F1. Neither Fernando Alonso nor Jenson Button could get their Honda-powered machines to the finish in Malaysia. Despite the retirements, team principal Ron Dennis said he was impressed with the team’s performance.

SJ – I guess if all else fails, lower your standards. Obviously, there’s no way a team like McLaren can be satisfied with where they are. Maybe they can be satisfied with the progress they’ve made since the previous outing. There were massive improvements from most of the teams last year between every race so McLaren-Honda will probably experience the same thing.

But I can’t see how you could be impressed with the outcome in Malaysia. And with all of the turbulence that teams are experiencing - apart from Mercedes and Ferrari maybe – I don’t think there’s ever been an easier time to score points in F1 than at the moment. Even Red Bull isn’t a lock in for scoring points. Toro Rosso is almost better at the moment. Whomever has their act together the first half of this season should be able to score a lot of very valuable points, that no doubt will come in handy for next year as more and more of the teams are now relying on Bernie’s handout to keep them afloat.

JT – Interestingly, if you consider Honda’s performance across the major series in which they race globally right now, things don’t look so good. Their F1 power unit isn’t reliable let alone powerful even after a year in which they could freely develop it. In endurance racing, their HPD ARX-04b LMP2 coupes are so flawed they have been withdrawn from competition. And as mentioned, the Honda aero-kit looks inferior to the Chevrolet package in IndyCar thus far.

SJ – Yes, it’s amazing really. They’ve had several efforts over the last years that haven’t gone so well. It’s hard to understand why their P2 cars are performing so poorly given that the regulations in that class are very tight and pretty straightforward.

The Zytek (Z11SN) which is a 14 year old design now is still winning! It won Le Mans last year. (Jota Sport won the LMP2 category of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Z11SN)

JT - You’ve been on the road for the last couple weeks, traveling first to Sebring to be with Scuderia Corsa at the 12 Hours then in St. Petersburg for the opening round of the 2015 IndyCar season and the second round of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge (PWC).

The IndyCar race featured the debut of the busy-looking aero-kits from Chevrolet and Honda - new for 2015 with greatly improved downforce. Juan Pablo Montoya won for Team Penske but the race turned into something of a caution-festival with multiple yellow flags resulting from bodywork littering the track after quite a few instances of contact between cars. What did you make of it?

SJ – It’s not unusual for street circuit races to have contact but I think it’s evident that this new generation of cars are not helping to reduce the number of cautions. There are so many appendages hanging off of them that even the slightest touch just covers the track in debris.

I think that will be an issue for most of the season. The drivers are going to have to be very cautious about contact. As for how they look, it took me a good part of three years to get used to the previous cars and I finally started to get my head around them last season. But when you see these new aero-kit cars on track, they look like they’ve come out of a school project somewhere. It looks like they’ve just bolted on stuff anywhere there’s an empty space on the cars.

Of course when you’ve got a free hand you can do what you want. You go after as much downforce and aero as the rules allow. I know we said it in the last blog but the one thing that there wasn’t anything wrong with in this series was the cars. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last iteration of cars when I first saw them to be honest. But I almost had to eat my words because the racing they produced was definitely great.

It was obviously a not a great weekend for Scott [Dixon]. The team started pretty well but worked their way backwards much as they’ve done every other year there. St. Pete seems like the bogey-track for those guys. I don’t think Scott’s ever had a really good race there. He was quite happy with the car the first day of practice. I think it was circumstances that contributed to the difficulty of the weekend.

They didn’t get things quite right in practice then Scott got held up in qualifying by Pagenaud, which meant he didn’t make the top 6 cut. In the race the Air-jack broke on the first stop so they were much sitting ducks for the rest of the race. The first three races in any series you race in are hugely important because as the season goes on it gets harder and harder to score in every race. If you can just have a nice clean run in the first races you generally benefit from a good points score.

But Scott has certainly won championships before coming from behind. The good news is it definitely looks like the Chevy aero package has the edge on the Honda kit at the moment. So for now, he’s definitely in the right equipment.

JT – The week before the IndyCar race in St. Petersburg you were on hand with Scuderia Corsa for the 12 Hours of Sebring. The team’s Ferrari 458 Italia drove to a 3rd place finish in the GTD class with Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Anthony Lazzaro at the wheel. Considering the pace of the Vipers and Porsches, a spot on the podium was a good result.

SJ – As it turned out luck was with us and we got valuable points. The BoP (balance of performance) is really not in the favor of the Ferrari or Audi right now. Our car was nowhere all weekend. There was such a big gap, especially to the Porsches. The 458 is something like 300 pounds heavier than the Porsches. That’s ok around Daytona but at Sebring with the long, long corners and bumps the weight makes the car very hard to drive.

The drivers were fighting the car all weekend. I think, in the circumstances, they all did a great job. For most of the race we were in 7th place then got up to 6th, pitting out of sequence. We dropped back to 10th at one point but we were up and down in the bottom half of the top ten mostly.

We were in 8th place with 45 minutes to go and then all hell broke loose. Both Vipers dropped out and some of the Porsches had problems. Long story-short, we ended up 3rd. That’s a big bonus.

JT – Dixon had a pretty good race along with Scott Pruett and Joey Hand in the # 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford Ecoboost Riley DP. They struggled too but wound up 4th overall.

SJ – They had the same problem our Scuderia Corsa car had really. The BoP wasn’t in their favor and the car just wasn’t quick at any point.

Jann Mardenborough - Nurburgring Crash

JT – Unfortunate news came from the Nürburgring a week ago where Nissan driver Jann Mardenborough’s GT3-class GTR went airborne at the Flugplatz. It vaulted a catch-fence and went into the crowd, killing one spectator and injuring several more during the first VLN race of the season. It’s tragic and calls into question the future of the GT3 class on the Nordschleife.

SJ – As much as I love the Nordschleife - because it is so daunting and crazy in a way - the GT3 cars have obviously outgrown the circuit for racing at that level. The way those cars are designed doesn’t help either.

Looking at the underside of the Nissan in the air, you can see how big the flat-bottom it has is. That was the problem with the prototypes in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When we ran at Le Mans with Audi after Michele [Alboreto] had his accident they told us that when his rear tire deflated under braking and the car slipped, four degrees of positive yaw was enough to make the car go airborne. The underside of the prototypes used to be the same as the current GT3 cars– just a big flat surface. If you get enough air underneath it just takes off. They’ve since tapered off the flat part with plank going down the middle of the floor with an angle on the rest of the floor to prevent this from happening.

Even the little Miata (MX-5) I drove at the Ring last year went airborne over the Flugplatz. Up it went and it would take you about 100 yards to gather the thing up. What it must be like in a GT3 car I don’t know.

At least back in the day when we raced there properly (in Group C prototypes) we had 5,000 pounds of downforce or something like that! We had so much downforce you didn’t need to worry about taking off. The cars were stuck to the ground.

What’s going to happen after this accident I don’t know. But as always something serious has to occur before anything is done to prevent this kind of thing. Banning GT3 will be sad but it might not kill the Nürburgring 24 because that race has been popular for a long time. I remember people rolling up to race in diesel vans and all kinds of crazy stuff. The race was more for fun.

Then little by little, the manufacturers started to show interest and they showed up with full factory teams with pro driver line-ups. But it didn’t used to be that way. And the 24 is an institution and a fascinating event because it’s dangerous and it has all the right elements.

WEC Grid Girls

JT- Finally, this may not have anything to do with racing as such, but it was announced today by the WEC that all grid girls will be banned in 2015. What is your take on this?

SJ- I don’t know what to say really. My first thought is, this is an April fools joke, but it’s already the third so that’s not it! My second thought is, how do they have time to fit an issue like this into their agenda, when there are clearly a multitude of far more important matters to deal with, both on the competition as well as the commercial side of things with this series. It’s the same nonsense as not allowing the F1 drivers to change the livery on their helmets. Who cares! I am trying to picture the conversation in the meeting when they decided this, a number of guys sitting around a table, “next up, grid girls…they are really projecting a sexist image of our sport and should be banned…”

Sadly, this whole political correctness agenda that seems to have crept into every aspect of society today, is now well and truly manifested in motorsports too. Frankly, someone must have had to spend a lot of time thinking about “what can we do to look more socially responsible” and this is the best they can come up with. It’s pathetic and sad. You would think they would do everything in their power to attract more sponsors to the Championship, especially as they can barely scrape together 10 cars for each of the categories they run, this is the exact opposite of that. If I still owned a team I would go out and hire 20 Chippendale dudes and line them up on the grip just to piss them off.