JT – Last week Motorsport.com ran commentary from you on the current problems of Formula One and motorsport in general, and your proposed solutions.
Your views were overwhelmingly well received, echoing many of the issues we’ve discussed in this Blog over the years.
SJ – Yes, it was great to have the positive feedback. I think everyone feels the same way, the last few major rule changes have definitely sent F1 in the wrong direction. My proposal is only one of many out there and it’s only a generalization of some of the basic things that I feel we really need to have a close look at.
Rather than attacking Formula One’s fundamental problems it seems the focus is either on being politically correct or some form of band aid solution in order to spice up the show. Apparently they were discussing changes including refueling? How many times have we been down that road and what good would going back to refueling do? If this is the best they can come up with it will only prolong the pain before the inevitable will happen.
Bringing back refueling would just add more cost to something that is already straining the limits financially for most of its participants. New fuel rigs would be exorbitantly expensive. Anyway, it’s an irrelevant argument as it’s nothing more than another poor band aid to a much more fundamental problem.
JT – Apparently F1’s four manufacturers have a preliminary agreement in place this week to reduce engine supply costs and guarantee that no team is left without power units in exchange for keeping the current V6 turbo formula until at least 2020. The manufacturers were solidly against the less expensive independent or “customer” engine that had been proposed. To cut costs the manufacturers are said to be planning for more standardized parts in the makeup of their respective power units by 2018. Do you think this will be of help?
SJ – It will help the customer teams of course. It will drop the cost by about $6 million apparently, which is great, but in the end it amounts to less than 10 percent of even the smallest team’s budget. No one seems to want to rock the boat and really attack the problems from the bottom up. All we see are little snippets of this or that in the interest of either improving the show or reduce the costs. As I’ve said over and over, I don’t believe you can have a democratic system of governing F1. It just doesn’t work.
The rules being talked about for 2017 are just nuanced adaptations of the ridiculously costly format they use now but they’re enough to make team budgets go through the roof again as they reset. The big teams will spend a fortune and the small teams will struggle even more as they will all have to basically design brand new cars to suit the new rules.
If things continue as they are F1 could end up like DTM (the German Touring Car Championship) - run by three or four manufacturers with six spec cars from each brand using their respective engines and drivers chosen by the automakers.
JT – The madness we’ve been talking about in the blog here for at least three years now is unquestionably harming F1 and racing in general. Fans have strongly expressed their displeasure and, worryingly, that fan base is aging. Younger racing fans are not being made in significant enough numbers to replace those that will depart in coming years.
SJ – That’s an interesting feature of all this. I don’t know the exact data on this, but if you read the racing blogs and comments from fans you realize that basically it’s the racing “anoraks” who are still engaged. You rarely hear a comment from 20-year-olds or teenagers. Fans are getting older and the younger generations seems completely detached from racing, not just F1.
JT – Ironically, that’s occurring at a time when modern motorsport - particularly Formula One - is more technologically complex and technologically-driven than ever. It demonstrates that despite the fascination of younger consumers with technology, they don’t view technology in racing as relevant or interesting.
SJ – Exactly, the entertainment side of F1 is difficult and very complicated right now. Think about it. The drivers are in ultra-complex, ultra-sophisticated cars now yet they get radio messages from their teams in the pits telling them to drive way below the limit to save the tires. Engineering is taking the driver right out of the equation.
That’s why when F1 has a race affected by weather like we had in Austin (USGP) last year the racing suddenly improves. The teams probably had every scenario for a dry race already mapped out and simulated in minute detail. But it was such a terrible weekend weather-wise that no one could simulate the race beforehand and plan for every eventuality. That’s why it became a good race. It was unpredictable.
The racing doesn’t have to go back to what it was 30 years ago but somehow the driver has to be brought back to the center of it. When you can take an 18-year-old test driver, bolt him into an F1 car and he’s within two-tenths of Fernando Alonso’s best time in less than 20 laps, something is seriously wrong.
Sadly, this world of political correctness we now live in has well and truly found its way into Formula 1 and motor racing in general. In the interest of saving a planet that’s been around for something like four billion years we have super-efficient engines - but at a cost that is about to drive half the F1 grid out of business.
We now have race cars that are incredibly sophisticated and advanced technically, but as a result, they are boring to watch as the drivers don’t have to fight the car to get the most out of it. That’s done by the engineers in the pit lane - again, at a cost that is mind boggling to anyone outside of F1.
We have race-tracks which are so sanitized that there is literally no punishment for going over the limit. All this has crept in little by little over a period of time. So now we are in a situation where we have to create artificial ways to “improve” the show. This is done by creating even more expensive and complicated systems, and worse of all, by mandating a tire that essentially is bad from the beginning.
Think about it, all this insane money is being spent on producing amazing cars that can then only be driven at 80 percent or less of their potential. It’s a bit like buying the most beautiful Siamese cat in the world then taking it home and strangling it! None of it makes any sense.
Somewhere along the way it seems that everyone forgot what it is that makes motor racing so attractive to a lot of people around the world, to watch a group of the most talented and brave young men in the world, fighting each other in cars that are visibly fast and outrageously difficult to handle. I don’t care what anyone says, the gladiatorial aspect of our sport is definitely one the main things that people associate with auto racing in general.
JT – There’s been much made of Lewis Hamilton’s off-track lifestyle and activities lately. Your view is that he’s simply doing what drivers have done over many eras of the sport, correct?
SJ – As far as I’m concerned, if we didn’t have Lewis enjoying his life away from F1 we’d have no one interesting to talk about off-track. He does a flawless job on the race track and has the guts to do his own thing and live his own life away from it.
I think it’s great. Really, he’s getting better and better each year and I don’t think he’s even close to hitting his peak just yet. He’s one of the very rare drivers capable of digging a little bit deeper when it really matters. The fact that he’s able to combine that with his very high profile private life makes him a true Mega star. We haven’t had a World Champion that had the level of publicity that Lewis is getting in a very long time. I’m sure both his team and F1 in general are grateful.
JT – You have been helping current FIA F3 champion and fellow Swede Felix Rosenqvist. Any news on his plans for 2016?
SJ – He’s going to drive a PC (prototype challenge) car with Starworks Motorsports at the upcoming Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He’s working hard to find the right place for 2016, looking at a range of alternatives. But unfortunately, unless you have a decent budget to bring there is not a lot you can do. It’s a sign of the times today.
JT – Speaking of Daytona, there will be a number of significant debuts at the 24 Hours including the first race for the new Ford GT program. What are your thoughts on their effort?
SJ – It looks very impressive. There’s the BoP (balance of performance) under which everyone has to work but if it weren’t for that I think the car would be blindingly quick. They will do well.
I really wish sports car racing could come up with a better formula than the BoP. I was chatting with Sebastian Bourdais recently and he’s in agreement with my contention that we should just un-restrict the GTLM cars and they would easily go ten seconds per lap quicker than they do now with the restrictors they have to use.
Give them just a little bit more aero and better tires and they would be awesome. If the ACO wants to get lap times at Le Mans back into the high 3 minute-30s/low 3:40s, the GTLM cars are already doing high 40s. You’d be in the 30s in no time if you just took the restrictors off those cars.