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Filtering by Tag: Sebastian Bourdais

The Star Drivers of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, F1 News & What to Expect in 2019

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 99

JT – The Rolex 24 at Daytona kicked off the 2019 season for many this year. The field was stacked with competitive cars, teams and star drivers from the DPi ranks down to the GTD cars. Just a few of the famous drivers racing included two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, five-time IndyCar Champion Scott Dixon, CART champion and F1 star Alex Zanardi, DTM champion Rene Rast, Rubens Barichello, Kamui Kobayashi, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastian Bourdais, Romain Dumas, Felipe Nasr, A.J. Allmendinger, Simona De Silvestro and Timo Bernhard with many more on hand.

Video via NBC Sports YouTube Page

In fact, with its early season date and the quality of competition (with very few gentleman drivers these days), it’s reasonable to argue that the 24 Hours of Daytona now boasts a higher level of driving talent than the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, you’re absolutely right. Because it takes place in January there is no conflict for any drivers apart from the one’s racing in Formula E, which means we get some really high quality drivers from every category of racing. Daytona is always a great way to start the season, because it’s a 24 hours race you get a lot of seat time and most of the time the conditions are far from ideal which means you have to improvise quite a lot both with the handling issues of the car and also with the constant traffic between faster and slower cars.

There’s a very good mixture of single-seater guys, NASCAR guys and sports car drivers. It’s a very strong field of drivers that’s for sure, and you often find yourself in a group of 3-4 great drivers duking it out over a double or triple stint. It’s a lot of fun and it really gets you in racing mode before the real season starts.

JT – The race itself was very interesting and very competitive throughout the field until rain began falling near 5 am. Ultimately, Fernando Alonso, Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi won overall. That means that Alonso now adds the Rolex 24 to his two F1 championships and his Le Mans 24 win last year. Next up for him is the Indy 500 this year.

What did you think of Alonso’s drive and the competition overall?

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Unfortunately, Scott, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lost five laps in the No. 67 Ford GT due to early contact with the wall by Briscoe. But they rallied back to 4th place overall, just a lap behind the GTLM class-winning No. 25 BMW M8 GTE. It’s a shame the race had to end under red flag.

SJ – It was a pity the rain came, it really ruined what could have been an epic race, with great battles going on in all the different categories, but it was sort of an anti-climax at the end. Alonso had some fantastic stints and really put on a clinic at one point. Being the great racer that he is, he must have been loving it out there, actually racing hard against some of the other top guys in the prototypes. It was a tough one to swallow for Scott and the guys, fighting back from where they were laps down, had they stopped one lap later for what became the last stop in the race, they would have won. Scott had a couple similar monster stints as Alonso in the middle of the night where he was just flying.

JT – In pre-season F1 news, the Formula One Promoters Association (FOPA) recently complained that Liberty Media would significantly harm the series if it proceeds with a plan to move to more pay TV for coverage of the series globally. FOPA is concerned that such a shift will dramatically decrease the number of viewers of F1 on TV.

The group also protested an apparent deal between Liberty Media and the promoter of the upcoming F1 street race in Miami. The promoter was offered a profit share partnership rather than the more traditional model where races pay tens of millions of dollars for the right to hold the event. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I have to agree with the promoters. In terms of TV, this is a dilemma that started a while back. Now the promoters are starting to feel the crunch too but I think the teams have already felt that for some time.

It may be coincidental but since F1 started being televised on pay-TV (cable TV) rather than broadcast TV the eyeballs have dropped dramatically. So has sponsorship. What used to be a $100 million title sponsorship deal is now in the range of $15 million. It’s totally changed the dynamic because sponsorship is so much harder to come by. It has completely changed how revenue flows to the teams.

Every team, apart from the manufacturer teams, is now 100 percent dependent on Liberty Media or the series to fund the bulk of their programs. Sponsorship used to be what kept the teams going and whoever was willing to work a bit harder was able to find more money and hire the best people, etc. The money that came from Bernie [Ecclestone] at the time was the icing on the cake. That’s definitely not the case now.

A pay-wall might help the bottom line for Liberty Media short term but at the same time the whole eco-system of the series is shrinking. The more viewers you lose – at some point a line is crossed and that model can’t work, so unless they are able to find another method, whether that is through digital media or other forms of generating real interest and growth it will be problematic.

I never understood why Liberty made it public knowledge that they’ve offered Miami a race essentially for free? No wonder the promoters are frustrated. It’s inevitable that they’re now all asking “What about us? We’ve been paying you tens of millions per year to host a race with fees on top of that.” There is most likely more to this story than we know and we have to assume they are on top of this situation.

Personally, I am not convinced all the effort of cracking the US market is really worth it in the end, they have been trying for the best part of 40 years now and things have not changed a whole lot. To me it seems like a lot of heavy lifting to try and penetrate the cultural differences between US Sports and European or Global sports in general. Soccer, or football as it’s called in Europe is still minor compared to the NFL, NBA and Baseball for example. The US have always had their “own” sports that are equally minor in most other parts of the world.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2019 F1 season with rules changes going into effect what kind of impact do you think they can make?

SJ – Well, I think the 2019 aerodynamic rules which are aimed at supposedly helping more overtaking happen will make absolutely no difference – zero percent. All it’s doing really is costing the teams another 15 million Euros each to develop their new aero packages.

There was a recent article in Autosport with Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s aerodynamicist, where  he is attempting to explain why the FIA made this rule. And what they were trying to achieve.  I read first three paragraphs of it over and over again, and just glazed over in the end, it’s so complicated to even try to understand his explanation. I even talked to a former F1 technical director and designer and he said, “yeah I read the same thing and I didn’t understand a word of it.”

I think this sums up the current situation quite well, I am a huge fan and am trying to stay in tune with what is happening in the business from both a technical and business point of view, we have a highly qualified F1 designer and we both agree that it’s now gotten so complicated that it’s impossible to make any sense of any of it. If these are the guys making the rules, we’re in serious trouble. No one, excepts the boffins that wrote it, can understand the rulebook anymore.

JT – Since the announcement that Charles Leclerc would join Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari this season was made there has been speculation about how much Leclerc will push Vettel and whether that could destabilize Vettel or the team itself. What do you think?

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

SJ – I think he will push Vettel, there’s no doubt. The only thing that separates the really good drivers from the rest today is race-craft. Speed has little to do with it anymore because the way the cars are engineered, drivers are going to get to the limit of the cars pretty quick. I think Leclerc will be up to speed quickly, how he will go in the races we will have to wait and see. Every indication until now would say he will do a great job, but we won’t know until the pressure is on.

One would hope that Ferrari would stay away from politics and look at the bigger picture and what the best strategy would be to win the championship. Ferrari’s been known in the past to let emotion get in the way of an objective, balanced approach. Their best hope to win the title is still with Vettel, so I believe that’s where the emphasis will be.

Leclerc has had a full season now with Sauber (Alfa Romeo) so he’s not exactly a rookie. But I think race-craft will come into play at some point. It’s a similar situation to what Max Verstappen had coming into Red Bull. He was obviously mega-quick from the start but you didn’t really see the flaws until he got into a car that could actually win races.

When you throw away a race you could have won, it’s a different story than if you’re fighting for 6th or 7th place. So that will be different for Leclerc but I think his pace will spice things up a little bit. He’ll do well. He’s got good management with Nicolas Todt who knows the business very well and that will probably help him too initially.

JT – Of course, Leclerc’s signing last year isn’t the only development at Ferrari. Shortly after this year began it was announced that Maurizio Arrivabene would be replaced as team principal by Ferrari’s technical chief, Mattia Binotto. What do you think of Ferrari’s move to put Binotto in charge?

SJ – I don’t think it’s necessarily a good move. To put all of the responsibility on Binotto I don’t think is a good idea. He’s been the technical director and he’s obviously very good at that. Why would you distract him from doing what he’s good at? He’s too valuable as technical director in my opinion.

They had a car last year that was, at least for a while, the best car on the grid. Now Binotto is going to have to clutter his brain with all of the other nonsense, sitting in the FOM meetings, dealing with all of the politics and the daily dramas of running a top level F1 team. It’s a tough responsibility and a lot for one guy to handle.

JT – One of the most significant changes to the F1 grid for 2019 is the transition of Force India to “Racing Point F1 Team”. Canadian billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll and a group of investors acquired the team last summer and are taking it into a new era with Sergio Perez returning as a driver alongside Stroll’s son Lance who moves from Williams to Racing Point. How do you think the re-made team will perform in 2019?

Image via: @thisisf1

Image via: @thisisf1

SJ – I think they will go very well. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing in recent years and just add the better resources and stability that Lawrence will bring, I think they’ll be very competitive. Lawrence is successful for a reason as he’s proven in all his other business endeavors. He hires good people and lets them get on with it – a bit like Flavio Briatore was when he ran Benetton and Renault. I think they’ll be very strong.

JT – How do you think Haas F1 will perform this season? Though they continue to receive criticism from other F1 teams for their mode of entry into the series as a client of Ferrari, they’ve been solidly in the mid-pack.

SJ – Haas hasn’t done anything that wasn’t in the rules. I’ve been advocating that path for years. That’s what I tried to do when I had a stab at creating a new Formula 1 team some years ago - the “B team” principle if you like. 

Why wouldn’t you do that if the rules allow it? I think it’s going in that direction across the board now anyway. Teams like Williams and McLaren will find it harder and harder to stay competitive being independent. When you look at the resources Mercedes and Ferrari have, not only do they have money, the best people and equipment, they now have two extra teams of cars running. That’s more data, more of everything at a time when testing is basically banned. They can utilize every possible opportunity they have to gather data.

I think Haas has the potential to improve but they’re dependent on what Ferrari gives them. If Ferrari’s good, particularly on the engine side, I’d say they’ll be good too. The engine is the big leap for Haas and for Sauber as well obviously. Last year Sauber all of a sudden leapt from the back to the front of the mid-pack.

JT – Sauber has been the stand-out of the F1 paddock since Alfa Romeo/FIAT took an interest in them and installed Frederic Vasseur as team principle. They also have Kimi Raikkonen driving for them this season alongside Antonio Giovinazzi. How do you think they will perform?

SJ – With Alfa Romeo now taking a bigger stake in the team I think they will be the favorite underdog now. Kimi has such an incredible following and his fans will be pumped up. And Vasseur is very good. He has a winning mentality and he knows the business inside and out. You can see that he has definitely lifted the whole team since he joined last season with his approach and discipline and how driven he is.

JT – Renault has also experienced significant change with Daniel Ricciardo having joined the team and the manufacturer having ended its relationship as engine supplier to Red Bull Racing. Now the team has one of the top drivers on the grid and can focus more on its own philosophy for engine development. Where do you think they will figure in the 2019 season?

Image via: @danielricciardo

Image via: @danielricciardo

SJ – I think if Renault is still committed to delivering the resources they’ve promised – and I think they are – they have a pretty good engineering group to rely on. The leadership of the team isn’t really F1 or racing people and that can lead to the wrong decision being made here or there. But I think they’ll be pretty strong.

JT – Further back on the grid are McLaren and Williams F1. McLaren made what some consider positive news with the hiring of Andreas Seidl, the ex-boss of Porsche in the WEC, as its new managing director. His arrival along with new drivers Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris has created a small amount of momentum.

At Williams F1, the return of Robert Kubica to F1 alongside rookie George Russell is the main news. How do you think both teams will perform this year?

SJ – I think hiring Seidl is a very good move for McLaren. That should definitely help the whole program. But it will still take more time to rebuild everything there, even with Seidl coming aboard. An F1 team is like a big ocean-liner these days in terms of how long it takes to respond or change course. Once you make a policy decision or a philosophical decision on the design of a car it’s very hard to change direction. You kind of have to stick with what you’ve got which is what happened last year to McLaren with their aerodynamics. They discovered at some point early on that they went down the wrong avenue with aero and they were stuck.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Williams improving much. They made some poor decisions in previous years and I don’t think they have the resources or the budget to crawl out of the hole they are now in.

JT – Back at the front, Mercedes goes into 2019 with the same basic cast of people and will likely be strong again. Red Bull now has Max Verstappen as its clear number one driver with the departure of Ricciardo. They also have Honda stepping up, supplying them as well as Toro Rosso. How do you think these two will fare?

Image via: @lewishamilton

Image via: @lewishamilton

SJ – It will be the usual suspects up front, no question. Mercedes will be right there. Lewis is getting better and better every year and I don’t think he’s even close to his peak yet, which should be a huge concern to all the other teams and drivers. He’s the one driver who at the moment you can say with 100% certainty is really making the difference when it matters.  I think Red Bull, not necessarily this season but maybe by 2020, will be very strong. I’ve got a feeling as long as Honda is fully committed, and as I’ve been saying for three years now, they will eventually get it right. And when they get it right they will dominate.

With Red Bull it will only be a matter of time before they crack the code. I think we’ll see Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen totally dominating at some point in the next five years.

I think Verstappen really blossomed last year. He had a couple of bad races at the beginning of the season with some silly mistakes. But along the way it seems like something clicked and he’s now kind of figured it out. I think he’s at the point now where he can see the big picture. I think you’ll find that next to Lewis he’ll be the most complete driver among the guys out there. He’s going to be very hard to beat.

JT – In more refreshing racing news, IndyCar is looking stronger and stronger for 2019 and beyond. The series has signed a new title sponsor – Japanese tech firm NTT - continues its multi-year TV deal with NBC/NBC Sports which will now televise all IndyCar races including the Indy 500 and has gained a new presenting sponsor for the Indy 500 - insurance provider Gainbridge.

Logo via IndyCar

Logo via IndyCar

There’s talk of additional races with a return to Australia in 2020 and possibly Japan as well. Car count is up with grid numbers likely to be in the mid-20s. Ex-Formula One drivers and hot-shoes like Felix Rosenqvist are joining the series, and the level of competition should be higher than ever. What are your thoughts looking ahead to the 2019 season?

SJ – I’m excited about IndyCar. Jay Frye (IndyCar president) and his guys are doing a great job. They’re racers and they know the business inside and out. They’re pragmatic in their approach and I think the competition decisions that have been made have been great. It’s going from strength to strength.

And they’re doing it in increments. It’s not like knee-jerk wholesale changes. It’s just fine tuning it a little to make it better every year. I know they’ve also been trying hard to get a third manufacturer onboard. They’ve talked to everybody and I’m pretty confident that at some stage one of them will join, which would be great.

Amongst the top level racing series in the world, IndyCar is relatively affordable in the overall scheme of things and a very attractive proposition for any team or manufacturer to join. The support the manufacturers give definitely helps. If a third manufacturer joined in, then I think IndyCar would really take off. We are seeing more and more teams joining, and the grid is now limited by the engine supply more than anything. If there was a third engine manufacturer we would see even more teams joining.

We now also have two Swede’s in the series which is great for all the fans back home, I know both Felix and Markus are both fully committed to IndyCar and it will be exciting to see how they get on.

Image via @scottdixon9

Image via @scottdixon9

Scott in the meantime is quietly preparing to defend his title for the fifth time, and I fully expect him to come out just a little better than he was the previous year. He never stops to amaze me, the discipline and work ethic is incredible after so many years. He’s definitely one of the best in history in my opinion. The competition is getting stronger every year and he just keeps grinding away, racking up points and wins.

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.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Jules Bianchi's unfortunate death, British GP, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indycar's latest & LMP2

Stefan Johansson

RIP Jules Bianchi

Jan Tegler – We begin this extra-large edition of the blog with the sad news that ex-Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi passed away last weekend after head injuries he sustained last October in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. His car impacted a mobile crane being employed to recover Adrian Sutil’s Sauber which slid into a runoff area the previous lap in rainy conditions.

Many have observed that the race should have been under a safety car at that point. What’s your view?

Stefan Johansson – Obviously it’s very sad and a strong reminder that Formula One and Motor Racing in general can still be dangerous when the circumstances are not right. Maybe now is not the right time to discuss this matter but I do agree the race should have been under the control of a safety car after the first incident. That’s an aspect of competition American racing has gotten right. Any time there’s recovery or safety equipment on-track or anything that does not belong on the track for that matter, there should be a full course caution or a safety car. I think that should be a standard around the world. If you try to use any form of subjective judgment of the situation, things like these can and will happen from time to time.

Massa and Bottas

JT - The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was somewhat more interesting than most of the F1 races this season. The Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas managed to get past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg by lap three. They held off the Mercedes until the first pit stop cycle but once the cycle was complete Hamilton was back in the lead. Notably, neither Mercedes driver was able to pass the Williams on-track. Conversely, both Williams passed the Mercedes on the circuit.

There was some controversy over Williams’ decision to allow their drivers to race even though Bottas lobbied to have Massa let him go past. Some thought the team handled the situation incorrectly, arguing that if Bottas had been allowed to go by Massa he could have gapped the Mercedes enough to stay in front after the first round of pit stops. By the finish, the Williams had dropped to 4th and 5th respectively.

SJ – Apart from the fact that Mercedes is still clearly dominant, it’s hard to say where Williams are now. They’ve obviously caught up a bit from where they were at the beginning of the year when they were down on performance compared to Ferrari. I don’t know if Ferrari has lost a bit of pace or if it was just Silverstone that didn’t suit them. But in the end, I don’t think any of them have closed the gap to Mercedes at all.

I think Williams made the right decision with Massa and Bottas. You should let the drivers race, especially in the situation they are. It’s not like they have any chance of winning the championship. I think sooner or later Mercedes would have gotten by them anyway.

It’s true that the Mercedes weren’t able to get by the Williams before the first pit stops and it comes back to the typical scenario I’ve been talking about for years now. When almost all of the cars’ aerodynamic downforce is dependent on the efficiency of the front wing you’ve really got to get a good run on the guy in front of you to get by when you’re in dirty air behind them.

I guess the DRS (drag reduction system) helps at some tracks more than others but Silverstone has such fast and flowing corners that if you don’t get really close to the car in front of you, you can’t get a good run. The straights aren’t long enough for the DRS to make a difference.

Silverstone is unique because of its combination of fast and medium-speed corners and aero is king. Had it been a more twisty track with lower speed corners, harder braking zones or 90-degree bends, I don’t think it would have been a problem to pass. But you’re completely dependent on aero to get good mid-corner speed and have proper acceleration from a corner. Every corner at Silverstone demands that. If you’re in dirty air you can’t attack early enough and you’re just sitting behind the other car waiting for your front end to take a bite.

Alonso and Button - McLaren

JT – As you mention, Ferrari doesn’t seem to have made much progress recently after having made consistent gains in performance earlier. Where are they in terms of their speed? More disappointingly, what is the situation at McLaren? You and many others expected them to be better by this point in the season but Alonso was only able to manage a 10th place finish (scoring his first point of the year) at Silverstone. Jenson Button didn’t even complete one lap, crashed-out ironically after Alonso spun into him.

SJ – Again, it’s hard to say. All of the teams are now developing their cars at a high rate, particularly the top teams. But really, the gaps between them are remaining about the same.

Scuderia Ferrari - Monaco GP

It seems Ferrari have taken a step backwards if anything. The gap certainly has not closed. There is no doubt they have been made to look better than you would normally expect by the fact that Red Bull and McLaren are both completely lost.

The gap to pole in Monaco for this year’s race was seven-tenths of a second, which is exactly the same gap Alonso (in his Ferrari) had to the pole last year (Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing machines qualified third and fourth) - the only difference being that the cars in between (the Red Bulls) were further back this year so instead of being fifth, they (Ferrari) were now third.

At McLaren there are a combination of problems, all made more challenging by the current rules. If you don’t get a car right from the moment the season starts you’re almost buggered the whole year. Renault is kind of in the same boat as Honda, not as bad – but there are really only two manufacturers who’ve got their engines sorted – Mercedes and Ferrari.

Everybody keeps talking about the “golden era” of the McLaren-Honda relationship when they basically cleaned up for a couple of years with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. What people tend to forget is that relationship didn’t start until Honda had already spent five years in F1, developing their engines to what they finally became. The early days were no walk in the park. I know that very well as I drove the first car they entered in 1983 with Spirit and the scenario was not that much different than it is today.

I used to joke at the time that I stopped doing all my physical training during the week because I got more than I needed on the race weekends with the engines blowing up in every session and I had to run back to the pits to get in the spare car to finish the session. Eventually they got it right of course, and then dominated before they decided to pull out. It was a similar scenario the second time when they poured enormous resources into the F1 project for several years with nothing to show.

They then decided to pull out again and more or less gave the team to Ross Brawn. And we all know what happened after that. Had they stayed in another year they would have won the World Championship! The bones of the current Mercedes Team are effectively what Honda started, and paid to set up!

McLaren-Honda F1

And with these rules, I can’t understand why you’re allowed to do as much as you want with the car (the bodywork, etc) – you can bolt new parts on every session – but you’re not allowed to touch the engine. And it’s not like this aero and chassis development costs nothing. When you’re already spending nearly $500 million, who cares? Let the teams go at it. The concept of saving money is already completely broken.

It’s always more expensive for teams to try to circumvent rules than it is to have more open rules. That’s why it’s ridiculous to talk about cost-capping F1. There are so many clever people in each team that you’re never going to be able to stop them spending money to find ways around the rules. The only way to manage it in my opinion is to make as many of the parts on the cars which are irrelevant to their overall design common parts, and pick out the most costly development areas and limit those. Everyone knows what they are but it’s almost like no one wants to give up their toys.

Max Mosley

Or, you don’t limit the teams at all. Let them go until they all kill each other. Some people worry about the manufacturers leaving. But if you look at their presence, as Max Mosley said years ago, the manufacturers don’t care really. They just throw money at F1 as long as it serves their purpose, and when they change their mind, they’re gone, in literally one board meeting – they’re out. This is exactly what happened to Toyota, Honda and BMW. From one moment to the next, they were all gone.

Audi Spots

JT – The same appears to be true for sports car racing. And if you look at the LMP1 class in the WEC now, some of those manufacturers are spending just about as much as the top teams in Formula One.

SJ – Yes and they do it for one race essentially, Le Mans. The way the manufacturers view racing has always been the same. In every series where manufacturers involve themselves heavily and start duking it out they basically ruin it eventually.

They all pull out at some stage and then it takes about three or four years to rebuild. At that point the racing is great with a lot of privateer teams with some factory backing whether it’s for the engine or whatever. Then the manufacturers return and you have another cycle.

The only manufacturer who’s been different in that regard is Audi. They stayed committed to Le Mans even when they had no one to race and afterward when rules were clearly stacked against them. They fought on and managed to win partly by being clever on strategy and great execution, and by the other teams simply screwing up when they should have won.

Sauber F1

JT – Discussions among F1 manufacturers, top teams and those at the back of the pack continue on the issue of “customer cars”. What’s your view?

SJ – Well, I don’t understand the attitude of some the smaller teams. They say customer cars will ruin Formula One and that they have 300 people employed and what will happen to them? At the same time they’re scrambling for every penny because the cars are so expensive to make now and they can’t afford to pay their people or their suppliers in many cases.

Back in 2003, I came up with the idea of a “B” team or “shared resources” concept (a customer car, essentially). We were going to do it with one of the top three teams at the time. Unfortunately, the sponsorship fell apart so the project never happened. Our budget then was $80 million in total – engine, car, travel – for the whole thing, and it would have been a potentially winning package.

It’s important to remember that none of the back marker teams out there now would exist without a whale of some sort. That whale might be a wealthy individual who buys into the team and then hangs around for two or three years before he disappears. These days, it’s mostly Bernie [Ecclestone] or FOM who end up being the whale for everybody. Or, it’s the drivers bringing the money.

None of these lower tier teams have any real sponsor now. Look at Sauber, they don’t have one sponsor except for what the drivers have brought with them. Manor’s the same and Lotus has been scraping the barrel for years now. So why wouldn’t these teams like the idea of a customer car?

Niki Lauda - F1 1978

If I was Manor and I was offered a Ferrari I’d jump at it! Who wouldn’t? Their budget would be less than it is now. The car would already be developed and sorted and you could run the team with probably 60 people. It just makes business sense.

And with the limited resources these teams have they’re never in this lifetime going to design and build a car that’s going to be competitive with a Ferrari or a Mercedes anyway. They won’t be able to afford it. The traditionalists argue that F1 has always been about innovation and new technology but that’s complete nonsense.

There really hasn’t been any breakthrough innovation or new technology developed in Formula One since the 1970s. They’ve basically been fine-tuning existing technologies. There has been some development in aerodynamics specific to the race cars but mostly that technology has been borrowed from other realms (the aerospace industry).

And ridiculously, even that borrowed technology is banned in F1 before it’s fully developed for the sport. The blown-diffuser technology Red Bull was using (2010, 2011) gave them an advantage for a year essentially and then it was banned.

With a customer car you still get to be part of the show, you still get money from Bernie and you could actually make some money if you do it right. As far as I’m concerned it’s the way to go.

Haas-F1-Ferrari.jpg

JT – Isn’t that what Haas F1 is trying to do with Ferrari currently?

SJ – Exactly, they’re pushing it as close to that as the rules will allow currently. They’ve done their homework, they’ve listened to the right people and it’s the way to do it.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – Recently, Juan Pablo Montoya suggested a simple solution for improving the racing in F1 remarking, “If you take away the tire sensors, the temperature sensors, and just leave the pressures, the racing will get better by 10 percent straight away. I’m certain of that.” What are your thoughts on his idea?

SJ – Yes, that could improve the racing but that’s only one small item. I think the first thing they should do before anything else is get rid of all the nonsense on the steering wheels (differential settings, ignition timing, brake balance, energy storage, DRS, fuel consumption, engine modes, and much more).

The driver should be able to manage the car himself without all of these aids or settings. I guarantee any driver worth his salt would love it. The bravado that’s been a traditional element of racing is a huge part of its attraction. I know as a driver how good it feels when you’ve been taming a car and you’ve had it on the ragged edge, controlling it with the throttle and steering. That’s what it’s all about. The fans can see that too.

All the driver aids can be great to help you go faster and it makes the driver’s job easier. In the early stages of development you might have an “unfair advantage” which is great but from a pure pleasure point of view of driving and in terms of a challenge it’s all nonsense.

NASCAR Sprint Cup

JT – The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway last week saw the series using a lower downforce package for the Cup cars. The drivers reacted very positively, saying it was much more satisfying to drive cars that must be tamed and which penalized drivers for overdriving or under-driving.

SJ – Exactly, and it’s not surprising. The type of pack racing we saw at Fontana (IndyCar) might satisfy spectators but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with skill. You could put literally anyone in a car under that kind of racing condition and they would be in the middle of the pack. It’s a recipe for disaster.

It surprises me when some people suggest that this was the best race IndyCar has ever had. It was exciting to watch in the beginning but soon there was the realization that something ugly was about to happen. Is that what we want – a gaggle of 26 cars where it’s pure luck if you get sucked up to the front of the pack? There’s no difference in the handling of the car from the first lap to the last during a stint - every car is exactly the same speed as the next.

On the other hand, you don’t want racing where it’s impossible to attack. You have to find the right balance and a car should be at least somewhat difficult to drive, deteriorating as a stint goes on. When you have ten laps remaining before the end of a stint your car should be a bit of a handful.

You could de-emphasize aero or give cars another 200 to 300 horsepower. Find a balance between power and downforce. People keep saying cars will be too fast if you give them more power. Who says what’s too fast?

Have there actually been any measurements of how much greater an impact is if you’re doing 238 mph instead of 226 mph? I doubt it’s much. If you have an accident at those speeds it’s going to hurt no matter what. Who can say what the magic number is for cars being too fast? I think it’s great if they’re faster.

F1 Tires Issue

JT – You also mention the role tires could play in all of this.

SJ – Yes, we’ve talked about how much people are spending on aerodynamics in Formula One many times but what strikes me is that simultaneously, they have a tire that is very bad. The series mandated that the tire should be terrible, in a way. What kind of logic is that? Teams are spending hundreds of millions on aero and other developments to make the car go faster. Then, they are forced to run a tire that is artificially made to be bad in order to help the show? It makes absolutely no sense.

If you opened up the tire supply in F1 to several manufacturers the tires alone would improve lap times by 6-7 seconds in no time. And they could last as long you wanted. Just look at the tires the P1s run at Le Mans – four stints on one set! That’s four hours of running and they do the quickest lap times on the fourth stint sometimes. And that’s with cars that are both heavier and have more horsepower than an F1 car.

So I would get rid of a lot of the aero – half of it. If you have that kind of grip in the tires you don’t need as much aero. A lot of the dirty-air problem cars following other cars experience will be gone. You can gain all of the lap time and more back with tire grip. Give the cars another 200-300 horsepower, better tires and you could easily go 10 seconds faster than they do now.

That brings the driver back into the equation more because they’d actually have to look after their tires over a stint. Now, the tires just fall off a cliff after five laps which leaves you cruising along slowly trying to make it until the next pit stop. You could have tires that would last a stint, two stints or possibly a whole race.

It will be a no-brainer for tire companies to make tires that allow the cars to be six to seven seconds a lap quicker. Think about how much F1 teams spend now to gain one second of lap time. We always used to joke when I was racing about how much money the teams would spend on wind-tunnels and other developments, huge amounts, and yet you bolt a new set of tires on a car and you’re two seconds quicker right away - for a cost of $2,000.

I can’t understand why no one is thinking about this. The tire companies would enjoy developing tires like they used to and not being strangled by a bunch of restrictions and they would get great marketing from it as a result.

Indycar Iowa

JT – IndyCar has raced on two ovals in the last two weeks - the Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway. Addressing last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 first, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport finally turned their season around with a win.

Meanwhile, there was potential for a big shakeup in the championship after Juan Pablo Montoya’s Penske suffered a suspension failure early in the race. Scott Dixon would have gained considerably in points with a good finish but he too did not finish due to component failure. Scott now finds himself third in the standings behind Montoya and Graham Rahal who finished in fourth place at Iowa.

SJ – Iowa was interesting. It’s ironic that there were a bunch of mechanical failures - failures that you never see in IndyCar these days – and that both of the main contenders for the championship experienced the failures. When Montoya crashed we all thought this was going to be the first weekend he actually had a problem all year and Scott could finally gain on him.

But it was straight back to square one again - a seal on Scott’s right rear half-shaft failed and that was it.

After having so many problems early this season it looks like the Hondas are finally catching up to the Chevrolets. Ryan won and Graham Rahal was quite strong again. The Rahal team’s strength looks like it’s bled over a bit to the other Honda teams because they all seem to be running stronger. Maybe Iowa was more suited to the Hondas as some tracks might favor their aero kit.

In Scott’s case, he was sort of chasing the track all night. He started out with the car being quite loose and the team dialed that out with wing and tire-stagger. Then it started pushing like crazy and they were trying to dial that out. But he was making the car better, waiting to pounce at the end of the race. Then the shaft failed and well, that’s racing.

Sage Karam and Ed Carpenter

JT – Near the end of the race, rookie Sage Karam made some moves on track that displeased several drivers including Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal who both voiced their displeasure with him strongly. What did you think of his driving?

SJ – I completely sympathize with Carpenter. I think what Sage did was absolutely over the limit and it wasn’t just Carpenter he screwed up. He was chopping a lot of people all day long.  On ovals in particular, there is a certain code of conduct, especially when you run more than one line around the track. You can’t just move up and down the track and take the air off the other drivers’ cars.

It’s not fair to the other drivers because particularly on an oval you have to pay some respect to each other. If everyone drove that way, there wouldn’t be one car left on track. You could see very well on camera that Karam just drove Carpenter up into the wall basically. You stay in your line and you race hard but it was already tight when he decided to move Carpenter all the way up. Carpenter had the choice to either keep his foot in it and crash or lift and actually get on the brakes. I would certainly have been plenty angry too.

Indycar - Bourdais

JT – IndyCar’s Wisconsin 250 at the Milwaukee Mile was a fun race to watch with good competition. Sebastian Bourdais drove very well, scoring an upset win. His KVSH Racing team was fined after the race for violating the minimum car weight rule, however. Nonetheless, Bourdais’ driving and Jimmy Vasser’s strategy worked to a tee.

Scott Dixon finished seventh. Pole-winner Josef Newgarden finished third and continues to show that he’s matured as a racer.

SJ – I enjoyed it too, it was definitely fun to watch. Bourdais did a great job and when you’re that hooked up (Bourdais almost lapped the field) on an oval it’s awesome. Scott had a similar experience back at the Texas race. He just checked out. When the car is working that well, it feels amazing.

Bourdais’ team made a really good call as well. Pitting out of sequence and putting him in clean air was the way to go, much better than being in the middle of a pack. Even with a good car, by the time you work your way through that traffic the tires go off.

Scott got shuffled back in the last laps due the air being taken off his front wing on a couple occasions. He wasn’t happy but that’s racing sometimes.

LMP2 - 2017

JT – The FIA, ACO & IMSA recently announced the four chassis constructors (Onroak, Oreca, Dallara, Riley/Multimatic) eligible to build LMP2 prototypes under new global regulations for the class in 2017. IMSA P2 cars will be able to utilize engines from multiple makers but the FIA/ACO will mandate a single engine/electronics supplier for the WEC, ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series. American teams will be able to compete at Le Mans and in the ELMS using the U.S.-based engine packages but will have to revert to generic bodywork from the chassis constructor they choose.

The sanctioning bodies claim the new regulations will bring stability to the class, creating economic conditions under which the chosen constructors can build cars for a global market profitably. One has to wonder if it will work out the way officials imagine it will. It will certainly limit the diversity which makes sports car racing appealing.

SJ – I don’t agree with the limit of four cars. I don’t see why you can’t have the class be more open. If you can and are willing to build a car to the regulations you should be able to do so.

You know what’s going to happen anyway. Out of the four constructors, one or maybe two will be the car/cars to have. Then the other two or three constructors won’t be able to sell cars anyway.  It’s the natural culling that happens in every championship. You’re always going to have one car that’s a little better than the rest. Look at CART and IndyCar. First the car to have was the Reynard, then the Lola and in more recent years, Dallara. The same in F3, and on and on it goes, it happens in every championship.

Dallara has basically decimated everybody in whatever category they’ve entered. So chances are that the same thing will happen again. Whether it’s Onroak, Oreca, Dallara or Riley, you can be sure there will be one car that’s going to be quicker than the rest. All you need to do is look at the history in every racing series.

If someone’s willing to put the money and effort into building a car why not let them do it? That’s what the spirit of racing is all about.