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#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: Scott Dyxon

First Impressions of 2018 Season

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 93

JT – Off-season news surrounding Formula 1 often borders on the ridiculous. Liberty Media’s recent announcement that F1 will no longer feature grid girls is a good example. Apart from what seems to be a move aimed at bowing to political correctness, one has to wonder why Liberty made it a point to announce the shift? With all of the challenges currently facing F1, shouldn’t their priorities be focused elsewhere?

Photo by GPMX

Photo by GPMX

SJ – I don’t know if their intent was to really make it the news item that it became where everyone seems to want to chime in and offer their opinion. I guess it’s just another inevitable step in the world of political correctness that we now live in? What I would have loved to hear instead is that in “2020, we’re going to have cars with 60% less downforce, 1,300 horsepower, top speeds around 400kph and 200 kilograms lighter with big fat grippy tires.”

Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

That would be something worth talking about. As it is, that will never happen so here we are talking about grid girls. I feel sorry for the girls, as I think virtually every one of them thought it was an exciting job that got them to travel to places and maybe meet people they would never normally meet in their normal daily routine and I don’t think anyone of them felt anything but happy and positive about doing it. But as always in these matters, it’s the small minority that makes the most noise that seems to be heard the most and as such no one wants to offend them, and here we are. Frankly I don’t think the large majority of race fans around the world, including myself, could care less either way. This is the equivalent to a restaurant making an announcement they’re changing the color on their menu, but the food will still be the same, hardly newsworthy.

JT – McLaren boss Zak Brown recently said that he’d like to F1 to resolve matters around its rules for 2021 by the middle of this season to avoid the series being damaged. He added that the longer negotiations about the rules and a likely $150 million cost cap go on, the more “turbulent” and more “disruptive” they could be.

Brown also said teams would need to know what 2021 rules would look soon to allow them time to prepare or the date for implementation could slip a year or more. In the short to mid-term it looks like F1 is stuck with its current unpopular formula with Mercedes retaining a long standing advantage. What are your thoughts on this?

Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

SJ – Historically, the longer the same formula stays in place – as I’ve been saying for years – the grids will tighten up and the costs will eventually go down. The tradeoff between throwing money at R&D and the gain you get is getting smaller and smaller by each year. That typically allows the smaller, less funded teams to catch up a bit. The big teams will always find ways to spend money of course but at least their gains in performance will be diminished some with every year that goes by. Rule stability is always the best way to keep the costs down and the grids close,  once they find the right formula, which is the hard part.

The racing is not going to get any better with the current cars. We know that. People will get closer to Mercedes for sure, we already saw that last year, but that doesn’t mean that the racing will be any better. It’s just the nature of the high downforce cars we have now. The level of sophistication that many race cars have - not just in F1, in the WEC and other formulas too - the level of simulation, preparation and information the engineers have at their disposal, you lose almost every element of unpredictability. And that’s typically what makes the racing interesting and exciting most of the time.

I keep coming back to IndyCar, I think they have the competition formula about as good as you can make it. On the day, someone who gets the critical things right and plays the strategy game well can still win. That’s impossible for anyone outside the top tier in F1 unless there’s a sudden rain shower, a big accident at the first corner or something really unusual happens. There’s very little possibility that you’re going to get a surprising result. You almost know what the result will be before the start of a race or after the first corner.

JT – Interesting things are happening in IndyCar, including pre-season testing at Phoenix where Scott Dixon ran the series’ version of cockpit protection – the aeroscreen. Apparently Scott thinks it has potential.

SJ –Yes, it seems promising although it still may require some more work before they are comfortable to race it. It certainly looks like a much more visually appealing solution than the Halo. But as with all of these things and whatever option will be chosen, two races in we’re going to get used to whatever they choose and then that will be the norm going forward.

All the drivers moaned when the Hans Device came out, including me. It was uncomfortable and restricted your movement but after a race or two you got used to it and didn’t really think about it anymore. The fact that these are cockpit protection devices for the sake of safety, and may save someone’s life– there is no turning back, so we might as well get used to the new look of the cars, although it really does ruin the esthetics of the cars.

Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

JT – There has been a lot of talk about the universal aerokit that IndyCars will run this year. Interestingly, the comments haven’t been uniform with some drivers saying the new lower downforce body makes the cars more much difficult to drive over a stint. Others have said there isn’t too much change from the previous cars, at least on road courses. It will be interesting to see the comparative level of comfort different drivers and teams have with the new cars.

SJ – I think it’s going to be a good thing overall. It’s a good step in the right direction both for the racing and other considerations. The cars look great too, like proper open wheel race cars instead of the previous cars that looked like a barn door coming down the road. I think it will separate the field more than before and all indications are that it requires a lot more from the drivers than the previous high down force cars did.

Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

JT – Looking around the racing world as the off-season begins to wrap up, it still looks – with few exceptions – as if it’s not easy to find money to race. We see struggles throughout professional racing. As you’ve pointed out repeatedly, sponsorship in Formula One is a shadow of what it used to be. Racing has always relied on various forms of patronage but it seems as if that’s more the case today than ever. Do you agree?

SJ – Racing has never really existed without patronage, it has always been the same. The biggest difference today is the sheer cost of competing at almost every level. It’s so much higher mostly due to the technology being used on the cars and how much it costs to run them, and because of the advanced electronics and all the data required the number of people you need to run them competitively has increased dramatically. Even at the most basic level you still require 2-3 times the amount of people you used to. Payroll is always the biggest line item in the budget and if you want to win you have to hire the best people you can get, and they are not cheap.

malboro-mclaren.png

Sponsorship is probably at the same level it’s been for a while except in F1 where teams seems to depend more and more on the money they receive from FOM, but the cost of running the cars is much higher, which means there is nothing left over to hire the best drivers you can get, except for the factory teams. This is a big part of why more and more teams have to rely on drivers bringing a budget of some kind to the teams and a lot of really good professional drivers are unemployed. Sportscar racing today is probably worse dollar for dollar than it was in the 80’s even. Apart from the really top guys in factory teams the driver salaries are lower than I can ever remember.

In Formula 1 especially, it’s purely a matter of cubic dollars, the more you spend the faster you will go. You could argue today, that unless a team is in a position to win races or the world championship, like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull they might actually be better off hiring a paying driver that brings a substantial budget as they will most likely get more overall performance from that than a slightly faster driver they have to pay to drive. This is the reality today.

JT – We’ve spoken about it a bit before but do you see a cost spiral problem for Formula E?

SJ – It’s a bit different there I think. My guess is they’ll be able to keep a fairly good handle on costs because there’s so little you can do to the cars in Formula E. One of the few things you can touch on the chassi is the damping. The aerodynamics are frozen, the batteries are frozen, the brakes are frozen. You can work on the gearbox and the drivetrain. That’s where money will be spent.

But in comparative terms, what can you do with an electric motor? Not an awful lot to gain performance, most of it comes from the battery. You can work on software and weight. Formula E should be able to control the costs if they’re strong from the start and every indication so far is that they’re actually doing a really good job in that area. They’ve been quite tough on some of the big teams also, so I think everybody already know there’s a big risk in trying to bend the rules and running the risk of getting thrown out if the car does not comply with the rules. We’ve already seen it happen. This has always been one of the problem with Formula 1. Because the formula is comparatively open in as much as that the teams are not restricted to a frozen package on all the key components, the rules are always open to interpretation. The teams spend massive time and energy reading the rules over and over to find a loophole that’s open for interpretation. There then do not seem to be the strength to keep a handle on the rules until it’s generally too late. So whenever someone comes up with something that’s marginal as far as the rules go, they let them get away with it instead of shutting it down right away, and then everyone eventually has to follow as and when they figure out what’s been done. At a huge cost to each team most of the time.

How many times has F1 reset aerodynamic rules? Remember when the cars had aerodynamic devices everywhere? That wasn’t too long ago. Then they banned all of that. Now they’re almost back to where they were. How did that happen? They basically found ways around the rules and no one stopped them.

NASCAR seems really good in that regard because if someone steps out of line they just say “no, not allowed, end of story.” They ban whatever the thing is before everyone gets too carried away.

JT – You were on hand for the Formula E race in Santiago, Chile. The Teecheetahs of Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre’ Lotterer battled hard for the lead with Vergne winning. Felix Rosenqvist came into the weekend leading the championship after two wins from the first four races of the 2017/18 season but lost the lead to Jean-Eric Vergne. He seems to be enjoying FE.

SJ – Felix is loving it, definitely. The race format has become very interesting. It’s not an easy category and it’s a very intense day of racing. The races are short and you’ve got to literally get everything right in one day, from qualifying to racing. So if you’re off the pace at all it’s tough. It’s become very competitive with great drivers and engineers in every team.

Photo via Feli'x Instagram ( @frosenqvist )

Photo via Feli'x Instagram (@frosenqvist)

Felix did a great job in the race to recover to 4th from 14th on the grid, and the team did a blistering fast driver change which gained him some positions also.

JT – How was the racing received in Santiago?

SJ – It was positive and negative because apparently the track was laid out over three different municipalities in the city. Two of them were very happy to have the race there and one was very negative. So there was some vocal criticism but I think the promoters did a good job overall. The track was bumpy but it was a nice layout and the race was good. Overall, it was good and there’s no doubt that FE has some very good momentum at the moment.

JT – Prior to Santiago, you were down in Daytona for the Rolex 24. The race was a star-studded affair this year and the crowd was reportedly very good. There was some hard racing and some attrition but surprisingly few caution periods. The Cadillac DPis of Action Express were the class of the prototype field while the Ganassi Ford GTs dominated GTLM. Scott Dixon came home with another Rolex 24 win. What did you think of Daytona this year?

Photo via Scott's Insagram ( @  scottdixon9 )

Photo via Scott's Insagram (@scottdixon9)

SJ – Daytona was good, no doubt. The formula that IMSA has come up with for DPi/P2 is working well. The Dpi’s seemed to have an edge but the racing was good. Overall, it was a big grid and there was definitely a lot of interest. Alonso being there didn’t hurt. There was a good feeling from the whole thing.

Scott and his co drivers did a phenomenal job all race, although they had to use some clever strategy towards the end in order to get in front of their sister car and win their class. Both the team and all six drivers did a superb job and no one put a foot wrong for the entire race.

There were the usual complaints about BoP and how you control it but you’re always going to have the same problems with it. There’s only ever one team that’s happy, whomever is on top of the podium, the rest always think they’ve been screwed.  I keep coming back to my argument that the GTLM cars are so good today that if you unrestricted them, it would be enough. You wouldn’t need the prototypes anymore.

If you took the restrictors off all of the GTs and had every manufacturer build a proper car instead of relying on BoP to make them competitive, they could be going at least 10 seconds per lap quicker. Just unleash the GTs and they’d be flying.

JT – You’re in the process of writing another treatise on the state of racing currently and what you think could be done to restore it to better health for the future. Last year, you did that in column form for Racer Magazine and it was very well received. In a nutshell, what will you be adding this year?

SJ – It’s really a philosophical way of looking at the cars and the future of racing based on my thoughts and conversations I’ve had recently with several designers/engineers and drivers. There are five tenets basically.

First, you minimize downforce so that the cars are drive-able, but no more than that. I’m guessing 60 to 70 percent less downforce than we see on a F1 car today.

Second, increase power by 200 to 300 horsepower.

Third, weight. That’s the biggest issue for me and why there’s no focus on weight I can’t understand – on track or on the road - in terms of energy usage. Weight should be the prime target for efficiency, not batteries or most of the other things being pushed now. We keep adding weight to vehicles, and how does that affect efficiency? We all know that’s a problem – both with race cars and street cars. Hypothetically, if you could cut the weight of every car on the road or track in half, can you imagine how much that would increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact?

Four, you define an energy allocation allowed for any race car. A car is allowed ‘X’ amount of energy consumption whether it’s powered by gasoline, diesel, hydrogen, electric power - whatever it is – for the duration of a race distance.  There must be a formula that can be worked out combining energy consumption and thermal efficiency. Then you can quickly determine which combination works best.

Five, free up tire technology. You could immediately gain as much as 5 seconds per lap if the tire companies were allowed to build the best tire they can. I can see at least four tire companies that would be interested right away if the rules were open for anyone to compete and use whatever size tire they prefer. That would mean we would never see these silly looking balloon tires again, that were last seen even on a roadcar sometime in the 70’s!

Photo by Pirelli

Photo by Pirelli

Put all of this together and the lap times cars run would run would very soon be quicker than they are now, it’ll just be achieved in a different way, and they’ll be spectacular to watch. They’d be faster on the straights with acceleration that would be mind-boggling. Braking distances would probably be 100 yards longer than they are now with the lower downforce. Cornering speeds lost by the lack of downforce would be partially returned by the added tire grip and less weight. That would promote overtaking and the drivers would have to work very hard to make the cars go fast.

Ideally, there should be four areas of almost equal importance to the overall performance of the car, Chassi (including Aero), Engine, Tires and Driver. As it is today, Aero have by far too much importance, followed by the engine, then the tires and finally the driver.

And of course, the other point behind this is to save money and cut the cost of racing, by restricting areas of development where damaging amounts of money are being spent now for no reason, and emphasize other areas – like tire grip. There’s a huge amount of time and efficiency to be gained there and a tremendous amount of money to be saved for the teams.

There’s more to all of this, including my thoughts on race tracks, and I will elaborate a lot more on each topic.

Getting ready for Indy 500 and the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 85 -

JT – In recent IndyCar events, Simon Pagenaud dominated at Phoenix, taking his first win on an oval. Really, Penske as a whole was strong as were the Chevrolet cars in general. Seven of the top ten finishers were in Chevys. Scott Dixon must have been fairly pleased to be the best of the Hondas with his 5th place finish.

More recently Scott finished 2nd in the Indianapolis Grand Prix, the prelude to the Indy 500. He was the best of the Honda finishers, bested only by Chevy-powered winner Will Power.

But the big news as we count the days until the Indy 500 is that Scott put in four fantastic laps at the Speedway to win his third Indy pole at 232.565 mph!

SJ – Getting the pole at Indy again is great obviously, and it was a mighty run from Scott for sure. Indy qualifying is not easy under any circumstance. But to go out cold without even one lap in practice all day – he went straight from qualifying on Saturday to qualifying on Sunday – in a car that you have no idea about in terms of how it will perform, that’s impressive. Everybody is trying to trim their cars to the absolute limit and I think Scott and his engineer Chris Simmons went all out this time. Scott said he had a small breather in turn 2 every lap just keep the front tight and he was still doing 232 laps so the car must have been extremely light on downforce. Typically, if you have to lift anywhere on the four lap run the time won’t hold up.

JT – Last weekend’s action at the Speedway proved again that nowhere else is qualifying for a race more dramatic than at Indianapolis.

SJ – Indy is fantastic, the whole format, the build up and the process, everything is just magic. It’s so exciting both for the fans and the competitors. There’s nothing that comes close to it really. It’s a very special place. It’s a pity there’s not enough cars for bumping as there used to be, that was almost more exciting than the fight for pole many times. But the format is great, and the crowd was fantastic this year, you could even hear the roar on the TV when the guys were posting the big laps. Great stuff!

With Alonso being there this year as well, I think a lot more people that normally would not tune in are going to realize again how incredibly exciting it is and how great IndyCar racing and the Indy 500, in particular, are. It’s an outstanding event and qualifying is really an event in itself, apart from the race.

Alonso also mentioned that he wants to be a “complete driver” which I think is fantastic coming from him. I think his involvement this year could start a trend. I’m sure he’s loved every minute of this experience so far.

Attendance for the race this year could well be the biggest yet. It will for sure be the biggest crowd Alonso has ever raced in front of. It’s the biggest crowd anyone ever races in front of period. The whole experience is totally exceptional.

I remember the first time I raced there, walking out onto the grid for the first time after having been there all month and it’s amazing. Qualifying has a pretty good crowd but when you walk out onto the grid on Sunday morning before the start you suddenly see this mountain of people in front of you. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s an incredible experience.

JT – Does the massive crowd distract you during the race, as opposed to practice when the seats are basically empty?

SJ – It’s different. You get in the car on race day and there are all these people and you find that the track has suddenly shrunk. Your view peripherally is completely different. The track feels like it’s half the size compared to what it was when the stands were empty. It’s kind of bizarre and it takes a few laps to get used to. You just have to readjust. You have visual reference points and you just have to adjust them a bit.

If you’re running in the middle of the pack during the race - or in the last 500 I raced in where I started from the back row because I qualified on Bump Day and I bumped the Penske’s out of the race – when you’re behind all these other cars, and because they’re running on ethanol you literally can’t see anything the first three laps. Your eyes are watering so much, just dripping from the exhaust fumes. They’re so strong and the smell is just insane.

Then there’s the turbulence. The whole car is just dancing around all over the track. You’re basically hanging on for dear life before the field gets strung out a bit. And back then, going into Turn 1, you couldn’t even hold your head straight. We didn’t have the head rests they have now and your helmet was bouncing around all over the place which also prevented you from seeing a damn thing.

JT – Four of the five Andretti cars made the top nine with the fifth in the 10th starting position. Scott’s on pole with Tony Kanaan 7th for Ganassi. Only one of Team Penske’s drivers made it into the top nine, Will Power. This is a bit puzzling given Penske’s typical performance at the Speedway.

SJ – Yes, this is highly unlike Penske. They go for it big time in qualifying normally. I don’t know if they’re struggling to find speed or what their issues were. We’ll find out on Sunday. Qualifying is a different deal though, just because you can’t find the ultimate speed in Qualifying, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a quick race car. The other thing is that at Indy more than any other track the cars are very sensitive to any changes in track conditions. If the wind direction or speed changes or the temperature goes up it can very quickly go from a perfect car to one that is nearly undriveable in a matter of a few laps. This is why you often see someone that starts upfront going backwards very quickly. Every team is spending as much time as they can running in every possible condition during practice to gather as much data as possible for race day.

JT – Getting back to the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the race at Phoenix, what did you make of those two?

SJ – I think Scott did extremely well to finish in 2nd in the Indy Grand Prix. I think the differences in the Honda and Chevy aero kits definitely gave the Chevys an advantage drag-wise in both those races, but then Honda clearly have an advantage at the Speedway so one outweighs the other I guess.

Whatever the intent was when IndyCar set out to have manufacturer-specific aero kits, I think it’s really kind of backfired. For the Indianapolis Grand Prix, Chevy had the edge. For the 500, it’s obvious that Honda has an advantage. Then again, the Chevys have a big advantage at Phoenix and other short ovals.

So the performance is not really equal for one or the other manufacturer depending on where you go. Chevy and Honda had to submit a finalized aero kit at a certain date in the past and that’s it. They’re both stuck with what they have. That’s not really a proper way to determine a championship or even the outcome of an individual race. So whatever IndyCar’s intent was, it hasn’t worked out to be what they envisioned.

I think you have the manufacturers do the engines and you have a spec car or you free up the rules and let the designers and teams do what they want to do. It’s so hard to regulate these things fairly, which is what will happen from 2018 onwards, and how it was before this latest aero experiment with different body kits for each manufacturer.

It’s the same with all these BoP (Balance of Performance) formulas and with driver ratings we have to deal with in Sportscar Racing. Trying to regulate these things rarely works out well. I still firmly believe that it should be an open competition and may the best man win.

We kind of knew Phoenix would be a problem for the Hondas since before the season started. I think Scott’s happy with his finish – you know, best in class and good points for the season (Dixon is now 2nd in points behind Pagenaud) – there’s not much more he could have hoped for there.

JT – The Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona was the most recent F1 contest. Again, it wasn’t the most scintillating race. In summation, it seemed that Sebastian Vettel won the race at the start going into the first corner and then Ferrari’s pit strategy lost the race, allowing winner Lewis Hamilton to gain massively on Vettel. Further aid came when Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas held Vettel up behind him.

When Stoffel Vandoorne collided with Felipe Massa in Turn 1 on the 34th lap, a Virtual Safety Car period ensued. Mercedes pitted Hamilton for soft tires but Ferrari left Vettel out. That seemed to be a tactical mistake. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, I would agree with you. It boggles my mind why Ferrari didn’t stop when there was a VSC. That’s race strategy-101. If you have a virtual safety period and you’re in a pit stop window, you have to stop.

I am not 100% clear if the pits were closed during the safety car period or not, in which case maybe Vettel passed the pits as the track went green and Hamilton being 8 seconds behind was able to duck in just as Vettel passed the green flag.

It’s fantastic that the championship is so close and we now have two teams fighting for the title. And it’s great that Ferrari is one of them. Kimi had bad luck at the beginning, getting taken out on the first lap when he was nudged by Bottas into Verstappen. I think Verstappen’s move trying to go three wide on the outside was a pretty low percentage move. The chances of pulling that off were pretty small but I can also understand him trying as that would be his only chance of passing the guys in front as it’s virtually impossible to pass anywhere on that track under normal racing conditions.

JT – The Russian Grand Prix had a somewhat surprising result. Mercedes GP’s Valtteri Bottas won with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finishing 2nd and 3rd. Lewis Hamilton finished off the podium, having struggled all weekend. Bottas had a terrific start from third position on the grid, passing both Vettel and Raikkonen to take the lead into the first corners.

He led the rest of the way and drove well. His only test came from Vettel who closed on him in the final laps. But Vettel was never close enough to challenge Bottas. Otherwise, there was almost no overtaking in this processional race. What did you make of it?

SJ – The race was more or less what we’re used to seeing but I thought Bottas did a terrific job. He had a great start and was under a fair bit of pressure at the end and stayed cool and calm to win his first GP.

There wasn’t any passing but it’s the same thing we’ve been talking about for a long time now. More downforce never makes racing better and unless there are some sort of freak circumstances this won’t change until they either change the philosophy on the car designs or re design the tracks to make them more challenging so that drivers will occasionally make a mistake or simply make it possible for a more skilled driver to take a corner faster and by doing so being able to pass.

JT – Ferrari locked out the front row after qualifying in Russia and now seems able to match or exceed Mercedes’ pace over a lap depending on conditions. It’s a marked improvement for them.

SJ – I really think one of the key ingredients there is what I’ve said for months now. Vettel made the effort to be an integral part of Pirelli’s tire testing and development program for 2017. None of the other top guys made that commitment. The other teams can say what they want about the testing being done with an old and different car but it doesn’t matter. It’s the feel of the tire that matters as much as the grip for most drivers.

If you can influence that feel from the tire to get it to where you’re comfortable with it, that makes an enormous difference. The tires are the one area where you can gain or lose a massive amount of performance. Vettel has helped Ferrari get the car dialed in with the tires. And that’s where Mercedes and maybe even more Red Bull is struggling at the moment. They didn’t test the new tires with their regular guys as much and that’s in my opinion why they’re now struggling to make the car work.

JT – In other F1 news, Force India continues to impress, holding fourth in the championship behind the big three teams with double the points of Williams F1, their closest mid-pack rival. Meanwhile, Haas Ferrari has been struggling, suffering brake problems and a car which alternately suits one driver or the other but not both.

At the absolute bottom of the grid are McLaren Honda and Sauber Ferrari. Neither team has scored a point yet and McLaren has had only one finish over the opening four rounds of the championship. Ironically, the two are now linked with the recent announcement that Sauber will use Honda engines in 2018. What are your thoughts about these developments?

SJ – Force India has been quite impressive. They’re definitely punching above their weight so far, similar to how they performed last year. Haas keeps having brake problems. It’s a bit mysterious but on the other hand the braking systems today are so complicated it’s not too hard to imagine.
Sauber switching to Honda is interesting. I guess it’s a financial matter as much as anything. I personally think Honda will eventually get their engines right. It’s just a matter of when and how. If the engine formula remains essentially the same and they have enough time, there’s no doubt they’ll fix their problems and become a factor again.

And at this point it’s far better for McLaren to have another team running Honda engines to share the development load. Plus, Sauber isn’t exactly going to be a threat to McLaren. McLaren’s agreement with Honda did prevent Honda from supplying other teams and that hasn’t been helpful but I guess you could say that no one expected Honda to be as far off as they have been either.

JT –Up next for F1 is the Monaco GP. In contrast to Indy where both qualifying and the race are important, qualifying is perhaps more important than the actual race at Monaco.

SJ – Qualifying is definitely the thing that really matters at Monaco. Unless there are freak circumstances during the race with rain or something like that and there are strategy calls they can’t plan for comes into play, not too much changes after qualifying positions are established.
Otherwise, we’ll see the usual procession we are used to. The race is pretty much over after the first corner all things being equal. Even with the Formula E race there a couple weeks ago which uses only half the track, it was virtually impossible to pass. There’s really only one line around the entire track. Even if you get a run on someone coming out of a corner there’s really nowhere to go. You follow one line which applies to the entire track. There just isn’t one single spot which is really an overtaking place.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Bahrain GP, Scott Dixon Wins Phoenix GP, and #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – The F1 season is now well and truly underway. The Bahrain Grand Prix offered more action than the Australian GP but the result was similar – two Mercedes on the podium along with a Ferrari. Nico Rosberg turned a perfect start into a dominating second consecutive win. Teammate and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was slow off the line and paid the price with contact from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas at the first corner. He fell to ninth but recovered to finish third. Kimi Raikkonen also had a poor start but rallied to finish second. What did you think of the race?

SJ – There were some interesting battles here and there because teams were on different strategies. It looks like the new system of tire choices has definitely helped to spice up the races some although I actually found it hard to follow the race on TV.

It’s very difficult to keep up with who’s on which tire or strategy, which puts more emphasis on the TV production and the commentators to keep the viewers up to date all the time. There’s so much going on with all the possible strategies and tires, and that’s not really presented on-screen. You almost need a computer next to you with timing and scoring and updates. And for a very good portion of the race you never saw what the leaders were doing. They weren’t on camera. That’s understandable because of the gap but it’s tough to follow.

The new start procedure has definitely thrown a spanner in the works. That’s good I think because there should be a skill element involved for getting a good start. There was quite a technique in F1 at different points in the past to getting off the start line quickly. Then they made it completely automated and now it’s at least halfway back in the drivers’ hands.

I wish it was completely back in the drivers’ hands and hopefully they’ll go in that direction again eventually.

Looking at Rosberg versus Hamilton, Rosberg has had things go his way so far. I think it’s just the way the dynamics go in a competitive team. It would appear that Lewis has dominated the last two years but if you think about how close it’s been both years it comes down to nuances. Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug, and in many cases over the last two years things could have just as easily gone Rosberg’s way, but they didn’t.

You only need one little hiccup to fall behind. Before, it was Rosberg who couldn’t get off the start line. There were times when he qualified in front of Lewis but blew the start consistently. Now it’s the other way around. That’s the way it goes and they’ve been so close to each other every year since they became team mates.

JT – Drama took place even before the start with Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari blowing an engine on the formation lap. Raikkonen lost an engine at Australia, Vettel doesn’t even make the grid in Bahrain, and they’ve had other engine problems in testing and practice. Could it be that the failures are the result of Ferrari pushing the performance envelope of their power unit very hard in an effort to catch Mercedes?

SJ – We’re certainly seeing more reliability issues than we’ve seen in many years in general terms so it’s hard to say. But it would not appear that the failures that Ferrari has suffered so far have been catastrophic - small things that unfortunately have had big consequences.

JT – Williams F1 had another disappointing race. Their strategy seemed to be wrong and though Bottas made a good start, things went downhill from there. I think that many expected more from a team that has finished third in the constructors championship the last two years.

SJ – It’s a bit odd really. I don’t know how they got the strategy that wrong in Bahrain. You can alter strategy during the course of a race but they didn’t really. To be fair, it seemed like everyone was struggling on the medium tires. Maybe that had something to do with it.

JT – On the other hand, Haas F1 surprised the entire paddock again with good qualifying and race pace from both cars, good strategy, and a terrific drive to fifth place from Romain Grosjean. Esteban Gutierrez looked to have good speed as well until his car experienced a mechanical failure. Apparently Haas’ competitors are now complaining that the new American team is really a Ferrari “B” team.

SJ – They’re very impressive. They’ve shown everyone that Australia wasn’t a fluke. As in Australia, they had real speed in Bahrain and executed their strategy and pit stops pretty well.

It begs the question, why aren’t more people in F1 doing the same thing? Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money to build every single part on a car, why not do a deal for a good portion of the package or as much as the rules will allow you with one of the major teams that have all the resources for R&D? Instead, focus on doing the best job you can with the race team and then have the potential to finish in the top 10 consistently. 

If you look at Sauber, Force India, Manor and the rest who sit at the back of grid and rise or fall a little bit every year and wind up being similar at the end of day, you have to ask why? What Haas F1 has done seems to me to be the obvious way to go.

But you hear people like Pat Symonds (Williams’ technical director) who I have a huge respect for. He was my engineer on a number of occasions over the years and is one of the best guys in the paddock. They worry that Haas’ model is going to change the world of Formula One, or question if it’s in the spirit of what F1 is all about. Well, something has to change. When the bottom teams are spending close to $100 million per year, something is seriously wrong. Everyone in the paddock is well aware that the model is unsustainable, yet everyone seems shocked at what Haas has done.

Haas has been very smart and done their homework well - shame on everyone else for not adopting the same idea.

It makes absolutely no sense to me to continue on with this “constructors” model. It’s an outdated concept that does not fit with the direction a modern F1 is made. A full budget for a winning team in the 1980s was something like $35 million per year. Now it’s close to $500 million. So it makes sense to do what Haas has done. What difference does it make if you can brag that you made a cleverer braking duct than anyone else? In the end, F1 should be about good racing - about the best drivers racing each other hard.

What we have now amounts to nothing more than “engineering porn”. That’s what I think of when I see these endless updates and aerodynamic elements and this and that and the other, with teams flying in crates of new parts every weekend. No one except the people inside the business can even appreciate or understand any of this. You can line up every single car next to each other and paint them white and hardly anyone will know the difference. So what’s the point of being a “constructor” when there is zero innovation allowed anyway? The whole idea is flawed.

JT – While Grosjean had a very impressive race, so did Stoffel Vandoorne, filling in for Fernando Alonso at McLaren. Surely, this raises his stock even further in terms of securing a drive in F1 in the future, right?

SJ – Vandoorne did a fantastic job. He’s the real deal no doubt. He’s beaten everybody in every championship he’s ever competed in. Throwing him into Alonso’s seat like that, he couldn’t have done more than he did really. That was a perfect job all weekend. It’s always a sign of a great driver when he can step up and grab the opportunity with both hands on the one chance he might get.

JT – Max Verstappen also drove well, finishing in sixth. His outburst on the Toro Rosso team radio at Australia was in the rear view mirror.

SJ – Well, his frustration in Australia was entirely understandable. The guy’s only 18 years old and everybody has to blow off some steam at sometimes. The bigger point though is that the second year in F1 in any team is always tougher. You come into F1 and there’s no real pressure, no huge expectations. You sort of just do your thing.

Last year he managed to pull off just about every move he made but it’s another season now and it’s very easy for things to go the other way - against you, as we saw in Australia. If you remember, Grosjean had a great first year and then got into all sorts of problems the second year although I don’t think he necessarily did anything much different. Things just didn’t go his way and once doubts start you tend to over analyze everything instead of just making things happen. Then you make the wrong move very easily.

JT – Force India’s performance was decidedly less impressive. Nico Hulkenberg started eighth but finished 17th while teammate Sergio Perez finished 16th.

SJ – Yes, I was surprised at how they just fell back in the race. They clearly went the wrong way on tire strategy like Williams did. It’s also unfair the way the tires are allocated. Grosjean didn’t want to be in the top eight in qualifying because it allowed him to have an extra set of super soft compound tires for the race.

I think that’s completely wrong. You shouldn’t be punished for out-qualifying other competitors and lose a set of tires. Everybody should be allowed to start with the same allocation for the race. It goes back to the qualifying saga actually. 

I don’t see what was wrong with the qualifying format that we used for years. You had an hour to qualify and three sets of tires. You just went out to qualify whenever you wanted to, using whatever combination you liked. At every single race, the last ten minutes were electrifying.

Senna or Prost would go out with two minutes to go with a new set and it was always a game of chess at the end of qualifying. Maybe the weather conditions were changing. What were the competitors doing? I think that was way more exciting than even the format they want to go back to now.

Or, if you were allowed to turn the power units up to their highest output - it would be awesome to see them with 1200 horsepower just for qualifying. 

JT – Lamentably, F1’s failed qualifying format was still in place at Bahrain and is still a point of contention for everyone in the sport. Qualifying didn’t improve the second time around with the new format and yet the teams, the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone seem stuck. Your view is that there’s more to the story, right?

SJ – To me it’s clear that all this has nothing to do with qualifying. I don’t recall a single person complaining about qualifying previously. Everyone was quite happy with it, and this is pure politics, unless everyone has completely lost the plot, which I really don’t think is the case.

My theory is that this is a political move from whatever the source is to destabilize the F1 Strategy Group (F1’s rule-making body which includes the FIA, FOM and six teams). I think the ultimate goal is to get rid of it or break it up somehow. Since the group was formed, nothing has happened. It’s been a disaster from day one.

To repeat what I’ve been saying forever, if you have the teams involved in the decision making nothing will ever get done. They can’t even agree on when to have a meeting let alone what they should talk about. They’re so suspicious and paranoid about each other.

If the goal of all this is to eliminate the Strategy Group, it’s a good idea in my opinion. Doing it all publicly shows that nothing can get done as long as this group exists. It’s the old trusted “divide and conquer” idea. The fact that you have this committee that has to approve any changes instead of simply saying - “That didn’t work, let’s go back to what we had before” – shows how broken it is.

This is a move to shake things up and force changes. When things don’t make any sense - which this one clearly doesn’t - you know something is up.

JT – Following the Australian race where the qualifying format proved to be a disaster, the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association) issued a public letter declaring their displeasure with the current governance of F1. What was your reaction to this?

SJ – I think it was a very bad idea. First of all, why is it necessary to issue a public letter instead of dealing with this matter behind closed doors? Anyway, all the letter did was state the obvious and I love the way Bernie dealt with it. Essentially he agreed with them but corrected their spelling and grammar, which only underlines the respect and reaction it got from the people it was meant to be addressed to.

As long the voice of the drivers is not one of the top guys, I don’t think anyone will give two hoots about what they have to say. Their current president is not even an active driver anymore. Judging by the various comments from various teams and the governing bodies, I think they did a good job at shooting themselves in the foot - that’s all.

 

JT – The second race on the 2016 IndyCar schedule also took place last weekend. Scott Dixon overcame strong competition and a track on which it was difficult to pass to win the Phoenix Grand Prix. While it wasn’t the most action-filled event, Phoenix did prove to be a safe race and Scott gained valuable points. He now sits second in the championship, five points ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya who he battled for the title last year. What’s your take?

SJ – From Scott’s point of view the race was fantastic. To have the points he has now is great because he’s normally not very far up in the championship at this time of year. It’s a good start to the season. He’s hard to beat when he gets going. He’s like a machine nowadays.

But a lot of credit has to go to the team also. They did a phenomenal job on all the pit stops and the strategy to not only get him to the front but also to keep him there. A lot of his main opponents pitted at exactly the wrong moment and went a lap down with the yellow flags coming out as they were either in the pits or just rejoined.

As a whole though, the race was quite uneventful. No one could pass other than on the restarts. Everyone was just stuck on one racing line and there was never an opportunity for a second line to open up. That limited most of the passing to whatever spots you could gain on the pit stops.

But at least it was a safe race and that was good. With the huge aero (downforce) they have on the cars it could have been pretty tricky and some people including myself were quite nervous that it might be another crazy pack racing event like we saw at Fontana and a couple of other places last year. That’s not the way to go.

Everyone knew the first two or three laps of the race and the restarts were really the only opportunity you had to pass. Hunter-Reay was pretty far back at the start and knew he had to take a few chances. He made some great moves, as did Tony Kanaan. They are both very experienced and aggressive drivers and it was impressive to see.

I know I’ve been talking about it for a couple years but you’d think IndyCar would realize that, just as in Formula One, big aero downforce is ruining the racing. It’s as simple as that.

The evolution of the new aero-kits has really resulted in nothing. We’re at greater levels of downforce now than we were a few years ago when these new cars were introduced. Again, I’ve said it before – theoretically, they could have stayed with what they had in 2014 and the racing would be better.

Now, if you get too close to a car in front it’s almost impossible to pass – same as in F1. If you got stuck behind a car that was on the end of the lead lap, as we saw, there was nothing you could do. You’re stuck at their speed and everyone was running around doing exactly the same lap time. I just hope at some point the penny will drop and everyone will have a major rethink on the philosophy of what a modern race car should be like. The way it’s going right now is not helping the racing at all.

JT – Another side effect of the downforce and the horsepower IndyCar powerplants make currently is that if you make a move on a competitor ahead, particularly on an oval, you lose nearly all momentum. That makes you vulnerable to those behind immediately.

SJ – Exactly, no one dares take the risk to pass – or rarely anyway, because of that. Their frustration just keeps mounting as a result and that’s when stupid things happen.

Maybe things will be different at Long Beach but it did surprise me that at Phoenix there was such a difference between Chevy and Honda again. I would have thought Honda could have closed the gap a bit. But the gap seems almost bigger than it was last year on ovals.

JT – IndyCar rookies Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi both did a good job at Phoenix. Chilton finished seventh but ran as high as fifth while Rossi ran in the top ten as well but was caught out by a yellow flag while in the pits – the same fate that befell Hunter-Reay twice.

SJ – They both raced well. Rossi would have had a great result if they hadn’t pitted when they did, and Chilton had a great result in his first oval race in Indycar.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist made his first-ever start on an oval in the Indy Lights round at Phoenix International Raceway. He qualified 13th and finished the race in 15th position. Not satisfying for him I’m sure but a great learning experience nonetheless and he’s still third overall in the championship.

SJ – Obviously not the result he would have wanted. But it was a great learning experience for him and I’m sure he will come back to the next oval mentally prepared and determined to get the job done. With as little preparation and practice as they had before this race, I think he just started out a little too cautious and that carried on through qualifying. Once the race got underway, track position was everything, not one single driver passed under green except on one restart. So he was basically stuck where he started all race.

JT – This was also the second weekend you ran the F1TOP3 competition on your website. Can you explain in more detail what that is?

SJ – Basically, it’s a very simple competition where we invite people to guess the top 3 in each Grand Prix in the correct order. If anyone gets it right three times or more they have a chance to win one of my watches that retail for $7500. Plus there’s a number of smaller prizes at each race like Headsets and T-shirts. Click bellow to participate: