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Filtering by Tag: Scuderia Corsa

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

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 98

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

Photos via: @ScottDixon9

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

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

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

Image by:  @BornRacerMovie

Image by: @BornRacerMovie

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

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

scott-dixon-gym-bw.png

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

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

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

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

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

Photos via: www.scottdixon.com

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

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

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

Photo via:  @LewisHamilton

Photo via: @LewisHamilton

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Google Maps

Image from Google Maps

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

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

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

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

Photos by: Scuderia Corsa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via:  @Charles_Leclerc

Photo via: @Charles_Leclerc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

scott-stefan-01.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via:  @MickSchumacher

Image via: @MickSchumacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017: Year In Review

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 92

JT – As 2017 comes to a close we’re going to look back at the year’s racing a bit and look forward to 2018.

In recent action, the 2017 Macau Grand Prix F3 feature race was absolutely marvelous. Sette Camara and Ferdinand Habsburg had an amazing battle for the lead over the last two laps of the race. Habsburg overtook Camara at the final corner but both carried so much speed they the barrier at the corner exit leading to the finish line. Daniel Ticktum in 3rd position suddenly found himself crossing the line first to win. Lando Norris finished in 2nd while Habsburg made it over the finish line on three wheels to finish 4th.

SJ – Yes definitely! F3 in general is just great racing and always has been. All the kids at the sharp end of the grid are all super talented with a real fighting spirit. They haven’t been jaded by the experience that every move you make may not work out so they all just have a go. There is also a great camaraderie there that seems to get lost the further up the ladder you go, with the added pressure from both the teams, sponsors and the media.

I remember when I was doing British F3 and won the championship in 1980 (driving for Ron Dennis’ Project Four team), my two golf buddies were Kenny Acheson and Roberto Guerrero, they were also my biggest rivals to win the Championship that year. All three of us were fighting tooth-and-nail for the championship. But we were all best mates and the day before the races we’d be playing golf together. Of course, on-track we gave it all we had and never gave each other an inch, but it was always very fair and whomever of us got it right on the day ended up winning the race. It was very pure and it’s the way things still are to a large degree in F3. It’s no coincidence that the majority of all the greatest drivers in recent history all cut their teeth in Formula 3 to begin with.

F3 British GP - 1980 (Archive)

JT – As a fun aside, I happened to be watching a program on YouTube recently called “Ten Forgotten Group C Racers - LM24 Legends You've Never Heard Of”. One of the cars covered in the program was the 1991 Konrad Lamborghini KM 011, a Group C racer Franz Konrad created with the same Lamborghini V12 that powered the machines fielded by the Ligier and Modena teams in Formula 1. Apparently, Franz hired you as co-driver for the season. It didn’t go too well did it?

(Time code: 8:33-9:33)

SJ -  Oh dear! I will never forget that car! That had to be hands-down the worst car I ever drove – that and the Ligier F1 car from 1988 in their respective categories. They went hand-in-hand in terms of being unbelievably bad.

It was almost comical because we had that Lamborghini engine and there were no restrictors or anything back then. It was whatever power you could get out of the engine within a certain range and it had pretty good power. But the car had zero downforce - none.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I think the car must’ve been 50 km/h quicker than the Mercedes (C291 prototype), which was the fastest car at the time, down the straights but about 8 seconds slower per lap! It was ridiculous! I don’t think it had ever been within a hundred-mile radius of a wind-tunnel. It was eyeball design all the way and it had no grip whatsoever. There were so many things that were wrong with this car, apart from the poor handling. The cockpit had virtually no seal to the engine compartment which meant you were constantly breathing all the petrol fumes and the heat and noise inside the cockpit was insane. After about three laps in the car you lost your will to live!

Again, in sort of comedic terms, it would be difficult to make a race car that bad today with all of the advanced tools you have available now, like windtunnels, CFD, Simulators etc, or even just armed the basic knowledge on aero, chassis dynamics etc that exist today compared to back then.  Yet, you can still end up with something like the Nissan Le Mans prototype (2015 NISMO GT-R LM) which we all know was a complete donkey but with a full manufacturer backing. If I remember correctly, someone from Nissan proudly announced at the launch of the project that this car would win the 24 hours outright in two years. Oh well…

JT – Which professional series do you think offered the best racing in 2017? Which was most fun to watch?

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

SJ – I would say IndyCar again. It has always been enjoyable to watch. The series is very competitive and there’s always good battles throughout the field, and some of the races are real cliff hangers. You often don’t know what the outcome will be until the very end of each race.
I’ve been saying this for years now, IndyCar has by far the best racing overall but unfortunately only a fraction of the global race fans watch it. If they could only get more people to tune in so everyone can see how good it really is. I’m not a marketing expert and I certainly don’t claim I have all the answers, but it’s the best kept secret in global motorsports as far as I’m concerned. They need someone like Liberty to come in and really push the series to where it used to be and beyond. Of all the series out there, I think it’s one that need the least amount of changes in terms of the overall product, but they need all the help they can get in marketing themselves.

JT – The 2018 IndyCars with their now-standard lower downforce universal aero kits have received positive feedback from the drivers who’ve tested with them so far. Apparently they will force drivers used to the downforce-heavy Chevrolet and Honda aero kits of recent years to adapt their driving, requiring more finesse and patience. The cars should also move around more, making for more visually exciting racing. What’s your take?

3D Design by:  Chris Beatty

3D Design by: Chris Beatty

SJ – It certainly looks like this package will sort the level of driving out a bit more than what we’ve been used to seeing in 2017 and the last few years. It definitely looks like the cars are not as easy to drive as what we’ve been used to the past couple of years with the huge downforce cars.

They will demand more finesse and car control from the drivers and that’s good. That’s the problem with all of the high downforce cars of today. They can make an average driver look quite good. By definition, if you have more grip you don’t have to balance a car the way you would without it. It’s the same situation you have in F1 and it shows, DTM is the same as well as the WEC prototypes. Yes, the cars were quicker in 2017 and maybe fractionally more physical to drive but with all of the downforce and grip they have, they require less driving skill or feel for the car.
The new IndyCars will force the drivers to work a bit harder to get the last 5% out of the car and they will all have to develop that feel again. They’ll also have an impact on the tires. You will have to manage the tires more with your driving to make sure you don’t slide around too much but always keep them just below the point of losing the grip. This will inevitably lead to more small mistakes by some drivers which is often the chance you’re looking for when you’re battling another driver in a close race. I don’t know if the new car will make the racing any better, it’s already quite good. But I do think it will separate the good drivers from those who are average more than what we’ve been used to seeing the past few years.

And if the cars move around more, that’s what fans want to see. They want to see drivers fighting to control the cars.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2018 IndyCar season in another way, it’s intriguing to see how it’s shaping up with drivers switching teams, new drivers and new teams like Carlin joining the series.

SJ – I think it’s good. It’s probably time there was a bit of a shake-up in the ranks across the board. I think Carlin joining the series will be great. Trevor Carlin is one of the best Team Owners out there, period. They’ve won in everything they’ve ever competed in and they know what they’re doing. I think they’ll add a lot to the series.

JT – Formula 1’s 2017 season started off in interesting fashion with Ferrari able to challenge Mercedes for victory regularly. At the midway point however, Mercedes gained a clear advantage. The result was an early season that featured battles on track at times. After the early races, there was very little excitement. This was confirmed by data Pirelli released in December, showing that there were half the number of overtakes in F1 in 2017 compared to 2016. As you predicted, the larger, higher downforce cars the series switched to this year made passing more difficult.

SJ – Yes, this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. It should have been obvious to anyone who write the rules that this was not the way to go to improve the racing. There’s no way to escape the effects of aero unfortunately.

Now they are talking about generating downforce from underneath the cars rather than from the top. That might help limit the turbulence a little bit but it won’t eliminate it. If you follow another car there will still be dirty air. As long as you have a lot of aero, you’re always going to have this problem, and the more complicated the aero is, which an F1 car is the epitomy of, the more affected your car will be from the dirty air. So unless they simplify the front wing considerably, I am certain they will still have the same problem.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record. The easiest way to get more grip – and it would be so easy – is to simply improve the tires. Even on a much lower level than F1, like when we used to run LMP2 in sports car racing, you could easily spend a million dollars developing the aero of the car to gain, maybe half a second. Then you bolt on a different set of tires that cost maybe $2,000 and you pick up a second-and-a-half.

Source: Pirelli

Source: Pirelli

It’s beyond me that improving the tires is never even mentioned in F1. There are three things that make a race car go faster or slower not counting the driver of course: Chassis, Engine and Tires. The first two are open for anyone who wants to compete, yet the tires are restricted to one manufacturer, to whomever is willing to bid for the exclusivity. As it is today, I don’t think many tire companies would be interested in competing against each other in F1 with the current rules that mandate the same old 13-inch balloon tires they’ve continued to use since the 70’s or maybe even earlier, because they are completely irrelevant to any tire on the road anymore. But if they could change to tires that look at least remotely like what you see on a road car now then I’m sure the tire companies would jump right in. Michelin have already made that statement.

But it’s the Engineers that effectively write the rules today, and for them all the emphasis is on aerodynamics. So for the time being we are stuck with the current rules and the insane amount of money being spent on aero development. I guess if the focus changed from aero to tire and more mechanical grip more than half of them would be out of work immediately. That’s when you need someone with a birds-eye view who can step in and say, “This is what it is, these are the new rules. Deal with it.”

I’m sure that if you took away 60 or even 70 percent of the aerodynamic grip the cars have now and opened up the regulations to allow different tire manufacturers to compete against each other, you would easily gain back 3-4 seconds per lap, maybe more – almost immediately. Then give the cars an extra 300 horsepower and you gain another 3-4 seconds on an average length track.

There’s another thing which is curious in my mind with the current cars and regulations. Seemingly, someone in a high tower has decided that electric cars are the way to go and that’s it. Across the board, road cars, race cars, it doesn’t matter. No other alternatives are available. Anyone who has even the remotest interest in engineering knows that there are a ton of other alternative technologies out there which could be far more interesting and environmentally friendly and for sure more efficient than electric.

But we now have these so-called environmentally friendly hybrid cars with batteries that add nearly 50 percent more weight to an F1 car. The F1 cars used to weigh 500 kilograms. That alone made the cars way more exciting to watch than what we have now.  They were lively. They were moving around, twitchy and nervous all the time. You could really see the drivers working the cars.

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

I remember when I came from F1 to IndyCar. The IndyCars were quite a bit heavier. Everything happened so much slower in the IndyCar and that made it a lot easier. Now the F1 cars weigh as much as an IndyCar. In the bigger picture where F1 claims to be road relevant – which it isn’t – If you applied the concept of saving weight rather than adding it, let’s assume hypothetically, if you halved the weight of every road car and put the focus on weight loss can you imagine how much that would mean in terms of efficiency and for the environment just in terms of fuel consumption?
It would be massive. That should at least be an alternative direction F1 should be going in but they’re now doing the exact opposite.

If you allowed all the brilliant engineers in F1 to tap into the materials science that already exist out there and let the teams to focus on weight savings as an option in designing their cars. And then work out a target number for thermal efficiency and energy consumed that each car was allowed to consume over the course of a race distance. Then leave it up to the teams whether they want to run a normally aspirated engine in a car that will be lightweight and far more fuel efficient or a battery-hybrid car that’s maybe 200 kilos heavier but might also generate more power in an efficient but different way.

From an engineering point of view that’ll help sort everything out because you’d soon find out what approach was the most efficient. That would also provide interest for the fans with cars that were conceptually different from each other and that also looked and sounded a bit different. As it is, all the cars look virtually the same and truthfully F1 has been nothing more than a glorified spec series since the introduction of the latest engine formula. The rules a written so tight that each team has an extremely narrow window to work within, both on the chassis and the engine, hence all the cars looking and sounding exactly the same.

Take away a lot of the downforce, add an extra 300 horsepower, lighten the cars by 200 kilos and put some proper tires on them. You could soon be back near the same lap times they run today but with cars that were mega-exciting to watch. They would run close to 400 km/h down the straights, have much longer braking distances which would encourage more overtaking under braking, and the cars would move around a lot more so you could really see the drivers trying to tame their beasts. It would be awesome!

Another thing with all this, and maybe the most important aspect of all. Every single race track today, is either modified or built to specifically suit these high downforce cars, full of low speed corners and boring chicanes, in order to slow the cars down because of the high grip they generate from the downforce. If the cornering speeds were lower, but straigthline speeds were much higher we could gradually go back to the type of tracks that were far more exciting to watch, where you could really see a drivers laying it on the line with great car control in a series if medium and high speed corners, but with the modern safety standards applied. Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi is a perfect example of this, how is it possible to build something that awful when you have a clean sheet of paper, it’s probably the worst race track I have ever driven on in my entire career. It has 3 chicanes, and 4 first gear corners! Why would you even put one chicane when you build a new track and you have an endless choice if options.

JT – 2017 featured lots of sports car racing with GT racing remaining strong globally while top tier prototype racing gasped for air. The LMP1 class of the WEC looked less vibrant on and off track than it had for several years, demonstrating that the championship had finally drained the resources of the category’s remaining manufacturers, Porsche and Toyota, with its hugely expensive hybrid-prototypes. Porsche announced its P1 exit in late summer.

The situation was brighter in IMSA with the series’ DPi/P2 class gaining entrants even in a transitional season. IMSA’s GT classes remained strong and the outlook for 2018 looks very good with new teams and cars joining . Contrast that with the WEC where the LMP1 class will consist of Toyota and several privateer squads running non-hybrid ICE-powered machines. There’s little doubt Toyota will dominate.

The upcoming 24 Hours of Daytona should be one for the books with a historic line-up of star drivers and teams that will surpass what Le Mans can offer in the 2018/19 “Super Season”. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I agree. The formula that IMSA have come up with for prototypes is great and it’s clearly working, with more teams than ever joining the series. It’s just a shame that there can never be an agreement between Europe and America on the overall rules for prototypes.

It’s sad that egos have to get in the way all the time because I think they have the foundation here in the U.S. for something could be fantastic for everybody. Now the ACO is talking about a silhouette GT formula which is just going to be another money pit for a few manufacturers as far as I’m concerned.

Source:  Scuderia Corsa

As we’ve discussed before, my point has been for some time now, why not just unleash the current GT cars? If you take the restrictors off them they would have another 200-300HP or more in some cases, then give them maybe another 10 percent more aero and some wider tires and wheel arches that would make them look more aggressive also, and they’d be flying around Le Mans. They’d be in the mid to low 3:30s in no time, and that’s always been the target lap time the ACO wants to see for them to feel the track is safe. Make every manufacturer that wants to compete homologate a car to those specs, the road car version of the Le Mans spec car would be sold out in no time and every manufacturer competing would have their own version of the LM supercar. Each manufacturer would be spend serious money on activation if they were competing for the overall win in the 24 hours. So instead of Audi, Porsche and Toyota being the three manufacturers that had by far the biggest presence for years at Le Mans, you would now have maybe 10 or more manufacturers really using the event as a major marketing tool. The costs would of course go up from the current GT development programs for the cars, but this would be amortized over a period of time by all the private teams buying the same cars and spares as the factory teams were using. Even so, it would never get anywhere close to the money that was spent on the current LMP1 cars over the past 4-5 years. You would have the entire field racing with the same cars you can effectively buy, with the best drivers racing them.

With silhouette GTs, what happens to the existing manufacturer-based GT class? You’ll have the current GTE/GTLM cars and then these similar silhouette GTs? I think It’ll be very confusing.
For this year, unless the Toyotas break in one race or another, no one else has a chance of winning in LMP1. Of course, Audi won lots of races when they were the only manufacturer in P1 years ago but even that was a little different. The technology gap wasn’t as big as it is now and the amount of money the manufacturers have spent in P1 in recent years is on a completely different level.

JT – Still, there is a good level of excitement in sports car racing domestically and we even see the emergence here of touring car racing with TCR-spec cars slated to race more extensively in IMSA and with Pirelli World Challenge in 2018. In some ways, the possibilities for racers are opening up, even as the economic climate for racing remains challenging.

SJ – There’s definitely some exciting stuff and I think it’s great what [Fernando] Alonso is doing, trying other categories. That opens up the eyes of all the guys around him. All of a sudden they realize what’s possible. Alonso is maybe the most respected driver in the world, so when all these other guys in F1 especially see him trying these other categories it will for sure make them curious if nothing else.

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

I know for a fact from a couple of drivers I’ve talked with in F1 that they hate the current format. They’re just not having fun. The cars aren’t fun to drive and they’re not finding the whole experience enjoyable. Even some of the young drivers who are just getting started are seriously contemplating doing something other than F1. They just want to go drive something they can enjoy.

On the other hand, after having gotten a taste of what Super Formula and Super GT in Japan are like working with Felix [Rosenqvist], I think Japan has got it right on many levels. Both their series are full-on racing with no restrictors or BoPs, etc. You have brand new tires every time you leave pit lane and everybody’s going for it, all the time. It’s really good, hard racing. And now Jenson [Button] is there (in Super GT) and that’s going to open the eyes of a lot of European drivers and others. There are definitely some good things happening.

Source:  felixracing.se

JT – Formula E built some momentum over 2017 with the defection of Porsche from the WEC LMP1 ranks benefiting the electric championship and other marques joining as well. It’s not the most compelling racing but it has drawn the interest of manufacturers.

SJ – Yes, in a way Formula E isn’t really a series for the crowd on-hand at any race, not yet anyway. The tracks are relatively small so it’s not that easy to pack in a huge crowd even if you tried. The manufacturers are really what will drive the series in my opinion. They will no doubt start spending serious money not only on the racing but also on activation, as they always do when they get involved with a new category.

You’re going to have a war between Mercedes, Audi, Porsche and BMW – all the German makers who have mostly left DTM and will use this as their new arena to compete. You can already see it starting. And then you have Jaguar, Renault/Nissan and Citroen already there and several other car brands looking at it. It’s definitely the place to be at the moment. Typically, the manufacturers go for it while they are in and committed and then there’s a board decision by one or more of them and boom, they’re out. As quick as they arrive, at some point when it doesn’t serve their purpose anymore, they’re gone. It will be interesting to see how all this will develop.

From a driver’s point of view like Felix’s, it’s an interesting place to be, the teams are starting to get serious and as such they want the best drivers they can get their hands on. That’s why there are so many of these great drivers in the series already.

JT – Looking back at the global racing landscape in 2017, which driver do you think did the best job? Which driver from open wheel, sports cars, NASCAR – you name it – which racer performed best?

SJ – It’s always a very difficult questions because each championship and car requires you to become an expert in that particular category. Take a championship like the Australian V8 for example, it’s super competitive with some really great teams and drivers, I mention it just as an example, because they don’t get the recognition over here or in Europe because it’s a local championship. Any driver that do a guest appearance there generally speaking are nowhere. Indycar is a bit the same, it’s so hard to win consistently because the cars are so close and the race strategy plays a huge part in the overall results. We often see drivers qualifying in the back and then roll the dice on pitstops and end up winning races because they got it right. But in the end it will probably have to migrate back to F1 and Lewis Hamilton, he’s now getting to that point where he’s starting to break one record after the other, and that never happens by accident. He’s always had the ability to dig just a little deeper when it matters and this year he had to dig a lot deeper than usual when the car was not always underneath him.



F1 Chinese GP, Fernando Alonso gears up for Indy 500 & the Grand Prix of Long Beach

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 84 -

JT – We haven’t had a chance to chat since before the 2017 Formula One season begin with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in late March. As always, the first race of the season offered opportunity for those willing seize it.

Ferrari did just that, showing pace on par with Mercedes and taking the initiative with pit strategy during the race. Sebastian Vettel got away from the grid well, just behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. He then trailed Hamilton closely, forcing the Mercedes driver to use his tires hard. Hamilton pitted on lap 17 but Vettel remained on track until Lap 22.

Hamilton emerged from the pits behind Max Verstappen and was unable to pass the Red Bull Racing driver despite being on newer tires. The delay allowed Vettel to build a gap which saw him emerge from the pits well clear of Hamilton and he remained in front until the checkered flag.

The result was a widely applauded surprise and a hopeful sign for the championship. Ferrari has certainly closed most of the performance gap to Mercedes. However, on-track passing was at a premium throughout the field. Very few passes were made even during the opening laps. What did you think of the Australian Grand Prix?

SJ – Ferrari has certainly improved significantly over the winter and they proved it. Mercedes didn’t get their strategy quite right and they paid for it.

More than that, Ferrari’s pace doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan. They were quick in pre-season testing and they backed up the promise from the tests by being right on the pace when they arrived in Melbourne. If anything, it looks like their tire management may be the best in the field at the moment, at least with Vettel.

That goes back to a conversation we had in the blog last year. At the time I said I’d bet that Ferrari would gain an advantage from Vettel’s willingness to be an integral part of all the tire testing Pirelli did in preparation for the new tire rule for 2017. He was the only driver to put aside the time to do that. I said at the time that I guarantee this would pay dividends for him going into 2017 and it certainly looks like it has.

I can’t understand why no other driver was willing to do that. If there’s one simple way to gain an advantage, it’s in understanding the tires and even better if you can have an influence on how they are built. That was one of the main reasons why Michael Schumacher was so successful. He spent every day he could pounding around Fiorano when Ferrari was using Bridgestone and they came out with a tire absolutely tailor-made for his driving style. Hardly anyone else could make the tire work but it suited him perfectly.

Every tire company always develop a kind of philosophy on how they build their tires for a certain type of car or series and if you can have an influence on that philosophy – if you can affect and learn the nuances of the construction they use – it makes a huge difference. You gain just that little bit more confidence in being able attack a fraction harder on corner entry. That affects the performance through the whole corner, the way you set the car up and everything. It might be minuscule gains but that can be all the difference you need to win.

Good for Vettel and shame on everybody else for not committing to that testing.

JT – Mercedes and Ferrari were again the main story at last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. This time Mercedes gained the upper hand with Lewis Hamilton dominating the weekend, earning pole position and leading from the start without ever being challenged. Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel had to fight his way to a second place finish. The race began on a damp track with nearly all of the field on wet weather tires. Vettel gambled, pitting for slicks on Lap 2 during a virtual safety car period. Leaders Hamilton, Valterri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen remained on track. They reaped a reward on Lap 5 when Sauber’s Antonio Giovanazzi crashed exiting the final corner, bringing out a safety car.

The leaders then pitted and emerged in front of Vettel. Mired in sixth place Vettel worked for several laps to pass Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Then he tracked down and passed Ricciardo, going outside the Red Bull Racing driver in Turn 6. Verstappen fell to Vettel’s charge on lap 28 after locking up entering Turn 14.

Vettel’s climb back to second provided some drama as did the performance of the Red Bulls on supersoft Pirellis early on. There was more passing at Shanghai - mostly on its long straights with DRS enabling some competitors to blow by those ahead. But the most interesting passing was pulled off in the corners. What did you think of the Chinese Grand Prix?

SJ – The race showed again that there isn’t much between Mercedes and Ferrari. So far the battle between the two is shaping up to be pretty good. Hopefully Raikkonen and Bottas will step it up and be able to challenge for wins too as we get further into the season.

No one really challenged Lewis at any point in China. There was more passing than we saw in Melbourne and it’s interesting because most of the really good passes were almost all two-lane overtakes. That’s something we touched on before the season began. I mentioned that one possibility resulting from the increased grip of the 2017 cars might be the capability to run more than one line through corners.

That seems to be what happened at Shanghai. In the double right-hander that follows the start/finish line there was passing on the outside and the same in Turn 6. The pass that Vettel made on Ricciardo was spectacular and good fun to watch.

But that can only happen at a track where you have extremely long corners, where you’re loading up the car for a long period of time. You’re not going to be able to do that in a traditional corner or a 90-degree corner. At the next race at Bahrain there just aren’t the type of corners that will encourage that kind of passing because one corner follows another pretty quickly. It’s unlikely.

JT – What do you think of the performance of Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen so far?

SJ – Bottas made a mistake in China, no question. But in fairness anyone can do that at some stage, they were tricky circumstances. He’s on the pace or very close it seems, the only difference is that Ferrari is much closer this year, hence the split on grid positions instead of the usual Mercedes 1-2. He certainly did a good job in Melbourne. I’m sure he’ll improve as the season goes on. I don’t think he’ll beat Lewis but I think he’ll be very close.

It’s harder to say how Kimi will do. It seems difficult for him to have everything come together at once in recent years. He’s quick and then when it really matters there’s always some little thing that trips him up, sometimes it’s just bad luck but it seems to happen to him more than it does with Vettel for sure. Time will tell.

JT – While Ferrari and Mercedes top the field, Red Bull Racing falls into a gap some distance behind them but well ahead of the rest of the teams. What do you make of their situation?

SJ – It’s a bit disappointing - for them at least. I think everyone expected more from Red Bull with the changes in the rules. They’ve obviously missed the mark somewhere. They clearly don’t have the speed or downforce to match the Ferrari or the Mercedes on a consistent basis at least. I don’t think the Renault engine is that far behind now but they seem to be lacking some performance in their overall package.

Ricciardo and Verstappen are very close in terms of speed and they’re pushing but the car’s just not there yet. However, with the crazy development curve in F1 I am sure they will eventually be on the same pace as the Mercedes and Ferrari. The Spanish GP seems to be the first race where all the big updates show up, so let’s see what happens after that.

JT – Meanwhile the best of the rest of the teams are anywhere from 1 to 1.5 seconds off the pace of Mercedes and Ferrari, and the gap expands quickly as you go further into the field. If you’re not racing with Mercedes, Ferrari or possibly Red Bull, you’re miles off the pace.

SJ – That was to be expected. Every time you have a significant rules change the teams without big resources are going to fall further back than they were before the changes took place.

The way F1 is today it’s very difficult to come up with a great and different idea. The development on these cars pretty much comes down to cubic dollars, the more you spend the faster you will go. Every now and then someone gets lucky and get it right straight out of the box, but in the big picture it will take the mid-fielders and the back-markers probably another year or two before they’re able to claw back some time to the front runners. Then the gap will be around a second between those teams and the leaders. This happens every time we have a major rule change.

JT – With rules stability costs should also fall a bit. This time around however one wonders whether the mid-field and back-marking teams can hang on financially until the situation stabilizes? There is work going on behind the scenes by the Liberty Media group to try to get teams to agree to reduce costs and spread F1 resources more equitably but will it actually happen?

SJ – There’s been a lot of talk for a while now about cost reduction and how the money will be distributed among the teams going forward. I don’t think anyone really know how to go about the cost reduction issue at the moment, mainly because there are so many opinions on how to do this and to a large degree it comes back to what I’ve been saying for some time now. If you try to accomplish this in a democratic way, there will never be a good solution, a well thought out plan has to come from the top down and if the teams want to play they will have to follow these rules. As it is currently the teams can’t even decide where to have their meetings let alone come forward with any meaningful proposal on how to accomplish any form of cost reduction.

The distribution of funds is another can of worms that could cause some serious problems going forward. I am sure the teams that are benefiting the most will not be willing to give up those benefits freely. This may end up being one of the biggest challenges for the new owners to untangle.

JT – McLaren continues to have a pretty disastrous start to their 2017 season, having failed to finish with either car at Australia or China. Honda’s underdeveloped power unit is the biggest issue for them and it’s costing Fernando Alonso as he languishes in another uncompetitive car for yet another year.

The upside is that there’s a silver lining for IndyCar and its fans. It was announced today that Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix this year, choosing instead to drive one of Andretti Autosport’s Hondas in the 101st running of the Indy 500. This is big news for IndyCar and should be a massive boon for them.

SJ – Yes, this is the best thing that could happen to IndyCar in my opinion. It’s funny, you and I have been talking about this in the blog over the last couple years – that IndyCar really needed to try and get one of the top guys in Formula One to come over and we always mentioned Alonso as a perfect example.

This is really great news and I personally can’t wait to see him go around the Speedway, I’m very excited.

It’s worked out that he’s the driver most likely to want to do this because he’s in an uncompetitive car again. It’s marketing gold and a huge shot in the arm for IndyCar.

JT – That news must have been filtering through the paddock at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend. It was another great event with some good racing, some foul luck for front-runners like Ryan Hunter Reay and Alexander Rossi, and another big dose of frustration for Scott Dixon.

On the other hand, James Hinchcliffe managed to pull off a win for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, one of the smaller teams in the series. He was followed home by Sebastian Bourdais in second place – the winner of the season-opener in St. Petersburg for Dale Coyne Racing - another of the series’ smallest outfits. Meanwhile Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden finished third.
Scott finished fourth and it was obvious that he could have topped the podium if the team’s strategy had been different. They switched to a three-stop pit strategy during the race.

SJ - Scott really should have won, again. He was far quicker than anyone else most of the weekend, just as he was at St. Petersburg. The team chose to go to a three-stop strategy because of the way they thought the yellow flag was going to fall early in the race. The yellow never came and it screwed his strategy completely.

But as frustrating as IndyCar can be with their closed-pit rule during cautions, the racing is still very exciting and I still claim it’s the best racing out there of any major Championship, certainly better than anything else in single seater racing. The first two races show that almost everyone in the series has a chance of winning and the gap between the top teams and the smaller ones is very tight. It was frustrating for Scott to be on the wrong end of the stick again but that stuff usually evens out over the season.

JT – You raced in the Grand Prix of Long Beach in CART from 1993-1996. What are your memories of racing there?

SJ – I always enjoyed racing at Long Beach. The first race I did there, I think I qualified on the second row. But it didn’t turn out to be a particularly fond memory in the race because Mario Andretti put me into the wall at the hairpin before I even got to the start-finish line!

They waved the green flag, we hit each other coming out of the hairpin and it was over before I even got to the flag!

But Long Beach is a great event and it seems to get bigger each year, the crowd is great and the atmosphere is terrific.

JT – Scuderia Corsa has a good finish in Saturday’s IMSA Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan drove their Ferrari 488 GT3 to third place.

SJ – Everybody did a great job. Christina did a great job starting the race and had a good stint. Balzan was very spectacular in his stint and showed some really good race craft. He passed a lot of cars toward the end of the race. He was driving hard and it was a good finish. And the team did their usual brilliant job on the strategy, we gained something like 5 places with the pit strategy we used. We have one of the best teams out there on the scoring stand.

JT – In other news it appears that Felix Rosenqvist will make his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year with DragonSpeed Racing in their LMP2 Oreca 07 Gibson. He’ll share the car with Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman.

SJ – Yes, he tested the car for the first time this week in England and he really liked it. It will be a great experience for him to do Le Mans also. It’s a track every driver should experience, along with the Indianapolis Speedway. They are both iconic race tracks and still as difficult and dangerous to master as they have ever been.