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Filtering by Tag: SPA 24

Indycar at Texas Motor Speedway, F1 Belgium GP & Max Verstappen controversy

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar staged the continuation of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend.  Suspended due to weather from its original June date, the race was very exciting, producing the closest finish ever at the Speedway. Graham Rahal edged James Hinchcliffe by eight-thousandths of a second with Tony Kanaan just .0903 seconds behind in 3rd place.

Unfortunately, Scott Dixon didn’t see the checkers due to contact with Ed Carpenter. Dixon spun after coming together with Carpenter’s left rear wheel with his right front. He hit the Turn 1 wall and his race was over. It’s another setback for Scott and with the DNF he falls to sixth in the championship standings, 132 points behind championship leader Simon Pagenaud who finished in 4th place.

What did you think of the race and the outcome for Scott?

SJ – Yes, it wasn’t a great race for Scott obviously. It just seems to be one of those years when everything that can go wrong will go wrong. He didn’t have a great car all race and was just hanging in there but not really in a position to fight upfront.

The show at Texas is always good and this years race certainly did not disappoint. There just isn’t any more exciting racing to watch, although it’s nerve wracking to watch.  Those last laps were just awesome and crazy at the same time. I couldn’t think of a better show in any form of racing, period! If there was ever a finish like that in F1 people would go absolutely crazy.

Can you imagine if you had anyone of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen – the pure, good racers from Formula One out there duking it out with the IndyCar stars. It would be massively popular, incredible.

JT – Watkins Glen is the penultimate race for IndyCar. With the track’s recent repaving, it should be fast and challenging. The championship looks like a battle between the Penske teammates, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power but with a maximum 158 points available between the Glen and the final race at Sonoma, Scott still has a very slim chance for the championship. Amazingly, eight other drivers are still in mathematical contention.

SJ – Apparently the grip is just insane now with the repaving combined with all the downforce the current Indycars have. When the series tested there a couple months back the guys went quicker than they’ve ever gone before.

Pagenaud and Power, either one could win but with all of these guys still in with a chance... I mean, eight drivers! Remember, no one with two races to go even thought about Scott last year. It’s still do-able – highly unlikely but do-able.

JT – Formula One returned from their summer break to race the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg took the win ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Lewis Hamilton. The race had moments of drama, mainly due to incidents, but was otherwise not very interesting.

Max Verstappen drove erratically and in the first corner of the opening lap dove inside the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. Running over the curb right next to the wall, Verstappen made contact with Raikkonen who was forced into his teammate. Vettel spun. Raikkonen and Verstappen had to pit for repairs. Later, Verstappen aggressively blocked Raikkonen. What did you think of the race and Verstappen’s driving?

SJ – Really, the main thing to talk about from Spa is the Verstappen controversy again, and the various incidents that unfolded at the beginning of the race. I have to say, I thought it was a bit rich for Verstappen to blame the Ferrari guys for ruining his race.

He blew it at the start effectively, he got passed by the two Ferrari’s going into Turn 1 and then tried to recover by a very, very low-percentage move on the inside that had virtually no chance of succeeding.

There’s always a bottleneck into the first corner at Spa. It’s a fraction-of-a-second decision and he was understandably frustrated from making a poor start and trying to gain back the ground he lost on the drag into the braking area for the first corner. I’m sure Vettel turned in on what he thought was the right line outside. There’s no way he’d try to squeeze Raikkonen there. Kimi had to straighten up a bit when he saw Verstappen in his mirror. Then he got into Vettel who was on his line and the rest is history. These things happen and it seems more common than not at Spa that at least a few cars get into each other at the start. But to put the blame on the Ferrari guys and claim they somehow collectively ganged up on Verstappen to squeeze him out is a bit far fetched to say the least. As is often the case, the one who’s busted is often the one who screams the loudest.

But for me the worst part is the blocking. It’s outrageous that no penalty was handed out this time. At what point do you draw the line? If a driver has to hit the brakes on a straight to avoid contact something is clearly wrong. It’s sad to say and I’ve mentioned it before but this is typical of the new generation of open wheel racers. They think this is completely normal it seems – like it’s ok to completely turn into someone when they’re coming alongside on a straight. The fact that this is their mindset is sad.

The argument was “well, I was just defending my position”

You defend your position on the entry to the corners, in the corners and on the exits, not on the straights. If you’re slower entering a corner and you leave the door open wide enough for the other guy to have a go it’s fair game, or you can choose to defend the inside line, which will normally result in a slower exit which will then allow the opponent to accelerate out of the corner faster than you and by doing so outdrag you on the following straight into the next corner. This is basic stuff. Now it suddenly seems acceptable to just pull out right in front of the car that’s significantly faster than you and by doing so force this car to effectively lift or even worse, hit the brakes in order to avoid hitting you. That’s like allowing a boxer that’s on the ropes to pull out a knife to stop his opponent making the knock out hit.

If a guy behind you is quicker and he’s come out of the previous corner with a better exit speed, at some stage you have to be able to pass.

I know for a fact the same thing happened in F3 a few years ago, at more or less the same spot where the driver trying to pass him had to apply 100lbs of brake pressure in order not to hit him. It would be very easy for the FIA to pull the data from Raikkonen’s car to see if the same thing applied this time too. If you have to brake because someone’s blocking you on the straight then something’s fundamentally wrong, especially when they stewards let you get away with it.

More than anything, this is now a philosophical problem that I believe needs to be dealt with swiftly. This is not something that is unique to Verstappen only, although Max is the poster child for the new generation of drivers and as such is getting all the publicity for obvious reasons. If you look at the Junior Formula’s this stuff goes on in almost every race, and sometime with some horrifying accidents as a result. I’m a huge proponent of drivers being brave and being willing to risk their lives to get the maximum out of the car. After all, that’s the essence of what a great driver has always been perceived to be and what it’s all about, but when you purposely put other driver’s lives at risk then it becomes the exact opposite of that. Blocking has nothing to do with racing. There is zero skill involved. There is nothing good about it. It requires no skill, no race craft, no bravery. It’s just an indication where the drivers moral compass is as far as I’m concerned. It’s just dirty, dangerous tactics that should be penalized immediately and consistently until it stops. I urge Charlie Whiting, the FIA and all the so called experts up in race control to go to youtube and watch the battle between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979.

This is real racing, between two real men giving it everything they’ve got, but still giving each other enough room, not once did either of them try to block each other. It’s pure hard core racing between two of the best ever. No one ever thought of blocking then. This is something that gradually crept into the system by some of the best drivers in history, and sadly, because of this the generations that followed now think this is the way to do it and it’s become the norm and completely accepted.

I personally think that Lewis Hamilton and Alonso are maybe the best and purests racers out there, and you never see them pull these kind kind of stunts. But if you open the door by half an inch to wide they will take the gap immediately, every drivers knows that and both respect and admire them for it, even if they will never admit it in public. Verstappen is potentially every bit as good as both of them, maybe even better, time will tell. I just hope he will at some point understand that you don’t need to win every battle to win the war.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, here we go again with a different race and a different steward in race control who has yet another different view from the one in the previous race, and on and on it goes. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but until you have a guy who is 100% dedicated to the job, with a strong character that can handle the pressure of the job, is current with the modern F1 cars, is respected by his peers and understand what’s going on at the track, this saga will just continue and cause more and more frustration among the drivers and the fans. Some of the ex drivers that show up for this job I frankly don’t think have a clue what they’re doing, or even care about it. They’re just there to add this job to their portfolio or use it to give themselves some added credibility in certain circles. I have no idea how the selection process works but it seems to be more or less “who’s around this weekend” when you look at some of the names. Considering how important their decisions ultimately are, it’s almost irresponsible on the part of FIA to not be more selective in whom they place in this role.

 

Mercedes' 10th win at the Hungarian GP, Felix Rosenqvist's first-ever IndyCar test & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – The Hungarian Grand Prix was largely a procession. That’s typical of racing at the Hungaroring. Lewis Hamilton took the win ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg, marking Mercedes GP’s tenth win in the eleven grands prix so far this year.

At the start, the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen challenged pole-sitter Rosberg and second-place qualifier Hamilton. That made for an interesting first corner and in the shuffle, Hamilton emerged leading with Ricciardo briefly holding second. Rosberg quickly repassed him. From there on neither Mercedes was challenged and the race was over at the front. What did you think of the Hungarian Grand Prix?

SJ – Ever since the first race we did at the Hungaroring in 1986 it has been the same. It’s a track where it’s virtually impossible to pass. The layout, with medium-speed corners leading to relatively short straights, never allows you to get enough aerodynamic grip to follow a competitor close enough to get a run on him. That’s the way it is there – even with DRS.

Everyone knows how important the grid position, the start and the first lap are at Hungary. The race is pretty much over after that. The start was very close. It’s very hard to gauge because there was so little between Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo. Ricciardo almost got away with it. It didn’t work out but at least he had a good go at it. It looked like Lewis got of the clutch just a fraction earlier than Rosberg, which was enough to give him the slight edge he needed to get ahead into the first corner.

After the start the race settles down and it’s very tough to pass. That’s the nature of the beast when you have cars which have performance dictated by aerodynamic grip. You’re always going to have the same problems. As soon as you get in the dirty air from the car ahead you lose most of your front downforce and the front washes out just enough. Even in IndyCar now when you get within four car lengths of someone your front is just gone, there’s just no grip.

JT – There wasn’t much action after the first lap until the hydraulic system in Jenson Button’s McLaren failed and he lost braking. He was passed by three cars and told the team that he had no brake pedal. They informed him that it stemmed from a hydraulic sensor issue, advised him to stay on track, and told him how to drive around it.

Button then pitted, as required by a new revision of the radio ban regulations which states that drivers must come to the pits when given technical advice. But he and the team still received a drive-through penalty, presumably because the message had come when Button was still on track.

"It's a stupid regulation," Button said. "I completely understand that drivers should not be fed information that helps us drive the car. I'm totally with that because I think it's wrong that we're told every corner where our team-mate is quicker or slower than us, and fuel saving should be down to us, and so many other things should be down to us.”

"But when it's a safety concern with the brake pedal going to the floor, you shouldn't be penalized for stopping an accident, and that's what we did today.”

Later, Ferrari’s Maurizio Arrivabene, Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen called F1’s rules “a joke”. What’s your take?

SJ – Unfortunately, F1 is mirroring what’s happening in the real world where more and more rules and laws are added but none are ever cancelled it seems. In the end it becomes so convoluted that the outcome of a dispute in civilian life often depend on who has the best lawyers, really. Sadly, it now seems to be heading in the same direction in racing too.

There are now so many grey areas in F1 that allow conflicts to be argued in so many ways that it’s difficult to follow. The rules should never be enforced by a subjective judgment. In my opinion, one of the major problems with the rule making in Formula One is that they don’t nip some of things in the bud before they become glaring issues. This is why we end up with this endless stream of knee jerk rules to fix a problem that should never have existed in the first place. It’s a difficult job for the people that write the Sporting Regulations as things move all the time but I get the feeling that sometimes they are either not able or willing to put their foot down early enough when they see a worrying trend coming, and then it becomes to late and we end up with all this frustration from both the competitors and the fans. Both NASCAR and Indycar do a much better job at policing the rules and stepping in when they see things heading in the wrong direction and before it becomes a huge issue.

They’ve created their own monster with these ultra-complicated cars. When you have an issue like Jenson had, being advised over the radio how to address it, is clearly not going to lead to a performance improvement. And if there’s a safety issue, I can’t see why you shouldn’t be allowed to relay that to a driver. Why should communicating how to address a technical fault that jeopardizes a driver’s safety, and potentially those around him, be against the rules?

Even if the team was able to help him fix it, his performance is certainly not going to be any better than it was before the problem arose.

The other option would simply be to pit and try to fix the problem, without any assistance over the radio from the pitlane or by changing whatever dials on the steering wheel. Of course, if you had a mechanical fault that was bad enough not to be able to continue, that’s what you had to do in the past – come in. There was no data stream that would allow you to fix it while still racing.

But it’s the way the rules like this are applied – or not applied. It confuses everyone, most of all the drivers. And if the drivers and teams can’t make sense of it, how will the public?

Yes, the teams are now complaining about the “joke rules” but the teams shouldn’t be a part of the rule-making. The fact that the FIA is not stepping in and making decisions invites trouble.  Once the teams get involved every single one of them will have a different opinion. They always put their own interests first. It’s always been that way and you’ve just got to get the teams out of the rules making process.

Rules should be made strong enough, interesting enough and clear enough so that everyone can understand them, that will make the racing interesting and exciting for everyone to want to watch and that teams want to be a part of without threatening to leave every time things don’t go the way they want.

JT – Building on that theme, the FIA put sensors in two corners at the Hungaroring (Turns 4 & 11). They were placed there to detect if a car crossed over the track limit with four wheels. Apparently you were allowed to exceed the limit in those corners three times. If you exceeded them a fourth time, you would receive a penalty.

Again, this is confusing. If it’s ok to bust track limits three times on two corners of a circuit why is not ok to do it a fourth time? …And what about all of the other corners?

SJ – Again, subjective judgments should never be allowed. It’s ok to cross the white line at the track edge three times? Why?

You don’t hit the wall three times in Monaco.

It’s just seems odd and very random and as I’ve said many times before, I think F1 really needs firm leadership in the control tower. Currently, there’s a different driver-steward every weekend. Some of them haven’t been near a race car for over 30 years. No disrespect to anyone but I don’t think it’s a logical way to go. I know most of these guys quite well and I think some personalities are much better suited to the driver-steward role than others. But it’s almost like, “who’s available this weekend”?

Criteria for the driver-steward role doesn’t seem to exist or matter and you can tell that some of the people doing this are making decisions or calls purely to justify their presence. They feel like they have to do something. Then other times, someone else does nothing – even when action is warranted.

That leads to the drivers not knowing where they stand because there are different interpretations of the rules at every race. Of course, it’s hard to get people to be a driver-steward. Who’s going to want to do that full time? It’s a thankless job. But if you have one guy who the drivers respect - who can talk to them as an equal and be clear and firm - then everyone will know where they stand. That’s the easiest and most important change they could make in the short term at least, in order to avoid all this negative frustration.

JT – A good example is the collision between Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen during the race. Kimi made contact with the rear of Verstappen’s car while trying to make a pass. Raikkonen said Verstappen moved twice to block him. He had already committed to a side to overtake and could do nothing when Verstappen moved a second time. No penalty was given.

SJ – It’s a perfect example. What is blocking? Is it one move? Is it two? Is it a move and a wiggle?

I can totally sympathize with Raikkonen because he went one way then Verstappen moved, so he went the other way and committed to it but Verstappen moved again. It wasn’t really a big move but it was enough that Kimi couldn’t avoid him. At that point, you’re already 100% committed, you’re braking on the limit and you don’t have even five inches of margin to make another change.

If the driver in front changes his mind, there’s literally nowhere to go. It’s lucky that Raikkonen didn’t hit Verstappen harder.

JT – Red Bull were expected to do well in Hungary and their performance in qualifying and at the start was good but Mercedes is clearly still well ahead of everyone else. Ferrari was able to challenge Red Bull but their inability to win based on car performance and race execution remains.

SJ – It’s a shame. Clearly, there are problems within Ferrari and until they are resolved it’s unlikely that they’ll make any big improvement. We just found out that James Allison has now left the team too, this is obviously not a good sign.

JT - IndyCar’s most recent round in Toronto proved difficult for Scott Dixon but very successful for Felix Rosenqvist. Rosenqvist won both Indy Lights races handily and showed his talent well on Toronto’s tight street course. He’s now the winning-est Indy Lights driver this season and just had his first-ever IndyCar test with Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio.

Scott looked good too, dominating in Toronto until the final stint of the race. Will Power pitted just before a late caution which trapped Scott, Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya behind the pace car. Pitting under yellow dropped them well back in the field. Will Power went on to win while Scott recovered to finish 8th just in front of Pagenaud.

SJ – Felix was amazing, he just cleaned up in both races. So did Scott but unfortunately he got hosed on strategy again. Until the last pit stop he had everyone under control and looked like he was cruising to the easy win on top of the pole he got in qualifying. Unfortunately things have worked against Scott for the last three races.

Going for the championship title is going to be very tough now. Scott’s had two engine failures that left him with no points – that’s at minimum 80 points that he missed out on, plus the win in Toronto. He probably could have won at Detroit and would have been 2nd at worst at Road America. That’s a lot of points to give away.

JT – The Spa 24 Hours is coming up this weekend. This race and the Nurburgring 24 have risen in stature considerably. Both are interesting and fun to follow.

SJ – Both those races are always good and they keep building on the tradition behind them. They always have great crowds these days, particularly the Nurburgring 24. It’s cool, like a racing pilgrimage. And it really has grown. Hardly anyone followed the 24 hours there until like five years ago. It was like an oddball event with old diesel cars and even more classes than they run now.

But it’s become a big event and like at Spa, the manufacturers are involved through the GT3 class. Even I didn’t really know what date the Nurburgring race was until maybe five years ago. Little by little it has grown into an important event. I did it in an MX-5 just for fun a couple of years ago and I loved it.

It’s a big test for the drivers and it’s incredible for the fans. Miniature towns are set up around the circuit basically with grocery stores and all sorts and it’s amazing how the fans get into it – very cool.