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Filtering by Tag: Silverstone

Indycar Iowa Corn 300, F1 British GP at Silverstone & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – Usually, we lead off the blog chatting about Formula One. It remains the technical pinnacle of global racing and the most widely known form of motorsport. It was also a huge highlight of your career and a world you’re still intimately familiar with. But some would argue that Formula One is no longer the pinnacle of open wheel racing from a competition perspective.

In recent years IndyCar has returned to the top of the heap competitively. As you’ve observed, even drivers in F1 have taken note. The experience and ability of today’s IndyCar pilots is the rival of any racing series in the world. It makes one think back to the glory days of CART when Nigel Mansell, fresh from winning the Formula One World Championship in 1992, left Europe and F1 to come to America to race Indy Cars in CART. You were there as well, having left F1 in 1991 to join Bettenhausen Racing.

And once again, as is usually the case these days, last weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series race – the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway – was the best race of the weekend. It proved more interesting than the British GP even though Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden nearly lapped the field. But the racing was great throughout the field. As I know you agree, that makes IndyCar the right place to start this week’s discussion.

SJ – I agree with you that the actual racing in Indycar is hard to beat. It was a terrific race again. You can’t beat short-ovals. As far as the racing goes, it doesn’t get much better. There’s always action – non-stop. And the action isn’t just at the front. There are battles going on all through the field all the time.

As I’ve said, the competition in IndyCar is the best out there right now. At almost any track, there’s hardly more than a second between the front of the field and the back.

However, I don’t know how many drivers or fans are taking notice, I still think the sharp end of F1 is a good as it’s ever been, maybe even better. There is a lot of depth of talent and a number of World Champions competing at the same time, plus some incredibly talented new guys, like Verstappen and Sainz for example. F1 is still the pinnacle for sure, it’s just a shame they are not able to really display their talent in equipment that is more challenging.

JT – I remember NASCAR driver Mark Martin saying many years ago that a talented driver can overcome poor car balance on a road course by driving around it, essentially “carrying the car”. But he added that there’s no way to do that on an oval. Basically he said that you can be the world’s best driver but if you miss the setup on an oval you’re finished.

SJ – Exactly, there’s nothing you can do. It’s sheer torture if your car is not balanced, and especially so if the car is loose (oversteer). I went through that a few times too many back in the day with Bettenhausen.

I remember one year at Indy when the team did an engine installation before the race. One of the bushings for the engine mount was twisted just slightly. They didn’t realize that. But it was enough so when they did a torque-check with a torque key it was tight.

As soon as the car got loaded up at full speed, which was on the first lap going in to Turn-3, I felt this clunk as the engine came into position. From then on, there was maybe a millimeter of play in that bushing. Over the distance back to the rear wheels, a millimeter of play in the bushing translated to probably five millimeters of play at the wheel.

The car was absolutely un-drivable. It was stupid-loose one lap and on the next it was pushing like a pig! It was totally inconsistent. You didn’t know what it was going to do from one lap to the next. We should have just parked it but stupidly you hang in there hoping there’s going to be a multi-car accident that puts cars out of the race and moves you forward but of course, no way. That was 500 miles of sheer torture.

You’re just spent if the car is off. You’re fighting the thing all the time. Even on the straights it can be a handful.

JT – At one point, Josef Newgarden had lapped everyone but the leading car. He and Ed Carpenter Racing must have absolutely nailed the setup. Have you ever driven a car that worked that well on an oval, and if so, what is that like?

SJ – I had a car that worked quite well but never that good. But when you have a car that’s hooked up on an oval it is the most fun racing you can do. It’s fantastic. You’re racing all the time, every lap.

Scott [Dixon] had a car like that last year on one of the ovals where he was absolutely dialed in. Unfortunately, the team missed the setup on the car at Iowa at the beginning of the weekend and eventually had to revert to last year’s setup. Scott basically ran it like that and improved it as much as possible through the race. On every pit stop they dialed it in to get a decent balance but at least the car was drivable.

Scott finished third but didn’t really gain much in points. (Pagenaud finished fourth) Scott’s been very unlucky with DNFs, scoring no points. He probably would have won Race One in Detroit if the car hadn’t had a mechanical problem. And then again, at Elkhart Lake (Road America) he probably could have fought for the win or at least second place if the car hadn’t let him down.

That’s at least 80 points off the table for Scott and Pagenaud is doing what you do to win championships, scoring points in pretty much every race. He’s won several times this year and he’s basically just having consistently good finishes. With a championship as close as IndyCar’s is, points make prizes. If you score in every race you’re gonna be right up there fighting for the title. So it’s going to be very tough to beat Pagenaud.

JT – The Chevrolets dominated at Iowa. Only three of the top ten finishers were in Hondas. That’s odd considering that Andretti Autosport won just last year with Honda at Iowa and that they won the Indy 500 with Honda this year.

SJ – It’s very strange. Honda kind of dominated Indy but apart from that they’ve struggled at every other track. It’s odd how they managed to be so good at Indy but not anywhere else really.

JT – In the wake of the rain-postponed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, IndyCar announced that the race will “resume” at the 71-lap mark where it was halted on August 27. Newgarden, now second in the championship standings, will not be allowed to race as he and Conor Daly had a massive accident before the race was red-flagged. Scott has made the gracious and intelligent point that the Texas race should be re-run in its entirety for the sake of the fans who waited out multiple delays. That seems only logical.

SJ – Yes, it makes no sense to just run a partial race. Everyone will be starting from scratch anyway, going through the whole weekend ritual of practice just as they did before. Obviously, you can’t send them out on track without practice because everything will be different – different track conditions, different temperature, everything.

It would be much fairer to simply start from scratch. It will be a completely different race anyway.

JT – Newgarden is obviously a proven winner with victories on road and street courses, and now an oval. Many are speculating that IndyCar’s top teams have their eyes on him, including Ganassi.

SJ – He’s been the new, young hope since last year when he won and was very impressive. He certainly hasn’t gone backwards this year. He’s doing a very good job and it’s no surprise that people are looking at him. I also think that Ed Carpenter’s team has done an amazing job, their engineering group is clearly on top of things.

JT – The British Grand Prix had a predictable outcome. Mercedes finished first and second on-track with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton winning his home grand prix once again. With the start having taken place under safety car due to rain, he had had an advantage once the field was released. He gained a couple seconds right away and was never really challenged. He was also lucky, as were some others, not to crash after an off course excursion on dry tires.

SJ – Yes, to have a clean track in front of you in a wet race after the safety car releases you is huge. That’s why Lewis pulled 100 yards on everybody right away. You tend to do that when you have no visibility problems and the opportunity to control the start. That was a given almost.

I don’t think the conditions were that terrible to be honest. I don’t know what the current cars are like to drive but I’ve certainly had many races where the conditions were much worse. I think they definitely held the safety car out there for too long. The start is a great element of the excitement of a grand prix and you didn’t get that at Silverstone.

JT – Nico Rosberg became embroiled in a battle with Max Verstappen who passed him after the first round of pit stops. Verstappen’s pass was impressive and delayed Rosberg’s progress. Rosberg finally gained second place back on lap 38 of 52. By then Hamilton was gone but Rosberg left Verstappen behind quickly and was gaining on his teammate until a gearbox issue arose. He couldn’t get drive in seventh gear and asked the team what he should do.

Unlike at the European Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton had electronics issues and the team informed him that they could not advise him on what to do because of F1’s ban on radio coaching, Mercedes told Nico what to do. It’s confusing because in one instance, they opted not to advise Hamilton for fear of a penalty but at Silverstone they did speak to Rosberg and must have known there would be a penalty. That’s what happened and Rosberg was demoted to third with a ten second penalty following the race. The radio ban and Mercedes’ decisions make no sense.

SJ – The whole thing, the radio ban, is a complete joke as far as I’m concerned. I hate to complain again but at least with IndyCar and NASCAR when they see something getting out of hand they nip it in the bud right away.  F1 creates these monstrously complex vehicles and then gets way down the road before they realize that what they’ve done is causing huge problems.

As I’ve said for the last three years, the multitude of complex settings and technical adjustments on the current cars’ steering wheels never should have been allowed – these insanely complicated differentials and gearbox settings and on and on.

Either you have radio communications or you don’t. With the complexity of these cars engineering was telling the drivers on every straight what settings to have for the next corner – which is ridiculous of course. So they then ban all kind of communication. Which effectively means that currently you can’t even tell a driver what to do even if there’s a technical fault on the car.

What does the radio ban have to do with advising a driver how to fix a fault? It’s not like Rosberg’s performance was going to be better than it was before the gearbox issue came up if the team told him how to resolve it, all it will do is allow him to finish the race.

In the case of Perez in Austria it was outrageous that they couldn’t tell a driver that his brakes were about to fail because of this radio ban. Imagine if that happened at Monaco coming out of the tunnel? There’s no logic to any of it.

Beyond that, if you allow the designers to make cars so complex that you have to tell a driver how to drive them during a race…. You’ve got to pull back and get back to basics, fast! What we have now is what I keep repeating – engineering porn. That’s all it is. The drivers don’t even understand half of it so how can the public?

There have been three races in a row – Baku, Austria and Silverstone - where there have been issues with the radio ban.

JT – This seems to be a good illustration of how irrational F1 is these days. Mercedes decides not to tell one driver what to do at Baku to avoid a penalty, then tells the other how to proceed at Silverstone and gets that penalty – a penalty which logically could have been awarded during the race. Why did the decision have to come after the race? The whole thing is nuts.

SJ – Yes totally. I can’t help myself, I get up at 5am every Sunday there’s a GP as I live in California, all excited for the race, get a nice cup of coffee and it starts and then I think, ‘why do I bother?’ You just sit there getting angry. It’s crazy.

I’m the biggest fan in the world. I love racing and I love F1. It’s my passion and I watch every race live and I just end up being frustrated because of the absurdity of what takes place. And if that’s what I’m thinking, I can only imagine what the casual fans think. You have to wonder.

There are so many strange things going on all the time with this subjective rule making that it’s very difficult not to get worked up about it. A good example is this nonsense going on with track limits and white lines. At Silverstone they said if you put four wheels over the line in three of the corners there was a penalty, no compromise. But in all the others it was ok? (The FIA proclaimed a “zero tolerance” policy for exceeding track limits in “certain corners” at Silverstone)

What is that? If you go over the white line anywhere, that should be it. If there’s a penalty for exceeding track limits then apply it to the entire track. In tennis the ball is out if it goes past any of the white lines. They don’t call the ball in if it crosses a white near the net or something. If it’s out, it’s out.

Why is there all this subjective judgment all the time in F1? If the rule is that you don’t exceed the white lines and you go over them then you should get a penalty – simple as that. The officials, not only in F1 for that matter, have gotten so used to these endless gray areas. It’s not the drivers’ fault. If they actually enforced that rule every time someone crossed a white line I guarantee you after two races no one would go over the line.

Make it a stop-and-go penalty for races or take away a lap time in qualifying or practice. And do it during the race or session, not afterwards. They have cameras around the tracks for that. It would be easy to monitor. And as a driver all you want to know is where you stand, black and white. For instance, you already know that if anyone crosses the white line leaving the pits they get penalized. Why shouldn’t it be the same on the race track? That’s the kind of consistency everybody wants.

JT – In the last blog we chatted about the difficulty of following F1 races via television coverage. We agreed it’s difficult to keep informed about what’s taking place in the race for different competitors while it’s in progress. Apparently we’re not alone in that view.

SJ – Yes, I spoke to a couple friends in England, two former F1 designers, after the race. They both agreed that it’s so confusing trying to follow the races live on TV. There’s barely any information on screen and the commentators are all busy yapping away about their own theories or whatever so they miss half the action.

I think there’s a lot more that could be done to make following the race on TV easier. You could present graphics on-screen that would make it easier to understand what various competitors were doing as it happened. That would spice up the coverage and make it a lot more interesting and intelligible for everyone.

Maybe you have graphics for what tire a given driver is on and how many stops he’s made. That gives you an idea of what strategy everyone is on. Pirelli has different color coding for the tires but the problem is you don’t see half the cars on screen during an entire broadcast or at least parts of it.

JT – Again, Max Verstappen’s performance was impressive. He out-qualified teammate Daniel Ricciardo and finished on the podium, ultimately in 2nd place while Ricciardo was 4th.

SJ – I think that everyone, including myself, who had doubts about him is being proved wrong. He’s doing an incredible job apart from that hiccup in Monaco which he seems to have learned from. But ever since he got into the Red Bull Verstappen’s been impressive to say the least. He’s super fast, his race craft is amazing and he’s probably one of the best overtakers in the field already. If he manages to pick the right teams going forward, there is a good chance he could smash every record there is in F1.

JT – Kimi Raikkonen was finally re-signed by Ferrari for 2017. Apparently, Sergio Marchionne wanted the deal to get done and they made it happen quickly. Some have suggested that his re-signing was in part spurred by Kimi’s willingness to be a number 2 driver at Ferrari. You don’t necessarily agree.

SJ – That’s possible but I think more than anything there’s a nice harmony in the team and a good relationship between the drivers. And I’m not so sure that Kimi will play number 2. Right now he’s third in the championship and Vettel is 5th. Ok, Vettel has maybe been faster in general but not all the time.

Had Kimi been in a position to win more often, I think all the effort would’ve gone behind him last year. I wouldn’t by any means count him out. Assuming Ferrari can provide a winning car for both drivers, I’m pretty sure Kimi will be a contender.

Unfortunately, Ferrari’s performance at Silverstone seemed a bit weak and it’s been that way for quite a few races now. I think they’re slipping back. Red Bull’s definitely making gains and their Renault engine is pretty close to everyone except Mercedes.

JT – As the race was the British Grand Prix, it’s even more appropriate to talk about the performance of Williams and McLaren which, to put it plainly, was lackluster at their home GP.

SJ – I think what Williams has done with their car shows they’ve must have taken a gamble in some areas and it’s obviously not working. I touched on it in the last blog but I also don’t think that the engine advantage they’ve had with the Mercedes power unit is what it was in the past.

Everyone’s closed the gap to a degree now so that makes it more difficult. Last year, their chassis looked better than maybe it was partly because they had a bigger advantage with Mercedes power. That’s no longer the case and now Red Bull, Toro Rosso and even McLaren are able to give them fits.

That’s what always happens when you have rules stability. It’s the best way to even out racing. Now for 2017 there will be wholesale rules changes yet again with more aero and bigger tires. It’s just going to lead to the same thing. Mercedes and the big teams will have a huge advantage. One of the mid-fielders will probably get it right and the rest will be nowhere.

I like the idea of the bigger tires for next year but they’re adding even more downforce and now the obsession is faster lap times. Who cares? The cars might go 10 mph faster and five to six seconds per lap quicker but the competition will be just the same because of the aerodynamics. The racing won’t change for the better. It’ll just be a bit faster and it will cost everyone a mountain of money to develop a new car.

No one will still be able to pass because of the aero. You saw that at Silverstone last weekend. All the commentators were going on about Verstappen not giving Rosberg an inch, etc. But you can’t get close enough to the car in front of you now, especially those medium speed corners where aero is so important. You get to a certain point on those straights at Silverstone and then in the corners the front of the car washes away as you get to close behind the guy ahead. It was the same story in Barcelona.

So through the corners you lose enough ground and when you exit them onto the Hangar Straight for example, you can’t get close enough to pass even with DRS. It’s the same for everybody and it was only when they encountered traffic and Verstappen also had dirty air to deal with that Rosberg got close enough to have a go. That’s how he got back by Verstappen.

With McLaren, I have a sneaky feeling that something’s going on because they’re talking a big game - Alonso and even Ron [Dennis]. I don’t see why they would do that unless they know something. I think they’ve definitely got something in the pipeline. I do believe they’ll eventually get back to the front because they have the resources and the people to do it.


To make F1 a bit more fun and engaging, we've implemented a fun game named #F1TOP3, where Formula One fans around the world have the opportunity to win prizes, including brand new limited edition Stefan Johansson Växjö Watch (valued at $7,500)! It's relatively easy: click on the black button above and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

A quicker alternative is to post on Twitter & Instagram with the following:

  1. Twit/Post a photo and list your top 3 drivers in the correct order along with the hashtag #F1TOP3
  2. TAG:

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Chinese GP, Indycar GP of Long Beach & Alabama, and WEC at Silverstone

Stefan Johansson

Photo by: motorsport.com

Photo by: motorsport.com

JT – Two weeks ago, F1 made the third stop on its 21-race 2016 calendar, visiting Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. The race had more than the usual amount of action due to a shuffled grid and first-lap contact for a number of cars. Lewis Hamilton was forced to start from the back of the pack after mechanical woes in qualifying.

On the first lap, Sebastian Vettel made contact with Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, damaging Raikkonen’s car while setting off a chain reaction incident that brought other cars to the pits for repairs including Hamilton. Rosberg started cleanly and vanished, leading flag to flag for his third consecutive win of the season. Hamilton was only able to climb to 7th place while Vettel came home 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen recovered to 5th place. Meanwhile Daniel Kvyat and Daniel Riccardo looked strong for Red Bull Racing finishing 3rd and 4th. What did you think of the grand prix?

SJ – Well it seemed as if everyone blamed everyone else for the start incidents. Rosberg got the job done and it’s funny how the dynamic changes so fast. Now everybody’s on about how Rosberg is dominating. But that’s not exactly the case, just as it wasn’t the case when Hamilton was winning last year. Small nuances always make the difference. This year, luck hasn’t been on Hamilton’s side so far. But we’re only three races into the season.

It’s hard to put the blame on anyone for what happened in the first corner after the start. I’m not sure who hit who at first. Vettel blamed Kvyat for coming from nowhere and left him nowhere to go, but looking at the video replay, the door was left wide open and Kvyat took the opportunity to gain a few places. What happened after that is the normal chain reaction where a driver is either trying to avoid someone else or taking the opportunity to pass someone if there’s a gap left open.

There’s no question that Red Bull has a very strong car. Adrian Newey and his team of designers always comes up with a good chassis and I think things will be even more interesting when F1 gets to some of the European tracks that are more demanding in terms of balance. Shanghai is a horsepower track with a very long straight. Red Bull could definitely be a threat on some of the tighter circuits.

JT – Though Vettel and Raikkonen finished well given their troubles, Ferrari still doesn’t seem be able to put together a clean weekend.

SJ – Exactly, I don’t think we really know the truth of their potential yet. Various circumstances have come up at the races so far that have created challenges for them. There hasn’t been a real apples-to-apples comparison between them and the other teams. That will be worth watching.

JT – If you consider the other top teams, I think it’s fair to say that McLaren-Honda still isn’t progressing the way you would expect. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren’s substitute for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain, is the only team driver to have scored a point. They may be closer to the pace than they were last year but clearly they still have a long way to go.

SJ – They’re definitely getting closer. It’s hard to say exactly what the circumstances are for the team but I still believe they’ll get a lot stronger and will eventually get things together. It’s just taking longer than expected.

JT – Another meeting of F1’s Strategy Group takes place this week, supposedly the final opportunity to define the rules for 2017 and beyond. Mercedes GP boss Toto Wolff says he doesn’t want the rules to change because “performance between the teams is converging to create great racing.” Other teams want changes, arguing that the racing isn’t that terrific and that Mercedes has an interest in keeping the rules the same given their performance advantage. Do you think anything of substance will result from the meeting?

SJ – I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance. I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.

If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing. Frankly, I think they’re better off not doing anything. Whatever they might decide to do will inevitably be more expensive and we all know that F1’s business model is unsustainable. Rules stability will always bring the costs down and eventually also level the playing field if you keep the rules consistent for a long period of time.

JT –Bernie Ecclestone recently drew criticism for saying he didn’t “know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn’t be taken seriously.”

F1 world champion Mario Andretti offered a slightly different but similar view commenting that, “Formula One has been in existence for what, 66 years, and we've only seen five women try and compete and none have really been successful.… Saying women can do it - bottom line, they have to prove it.”

What’s your take?

SJ – Frankly, I don’t necessarily agree with the fitness aspect because F1 cars today aren’t that physical to drive. I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it. There are, mostly, no hand-outs, no favors, unless of course you’re one of the pay drivers but assuming all things are being equal.

But the second there is a female driver who is good enough to get to F1 on sheer merit they would have a much better chance of getting an opportunity than any of the men would. What’s really important to recognize is that the likelihood of a female getting to the level you need to be at to compete in Formula One is very small because there aren’t enough females pursuing it.

I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it.

My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.

JT – IndyCar has raced twice since we chatted for the last blog with races at Long Beach and last weekend’s Barber Motorsports Park round. Penske’s Simon Pagenaud took the win at both events. Scott Dixon finished second at Long Beach and 10th at Barber. Controversy broke out at Long Beach when Pagenaud was warned but not penalized for crossing the line at pit exit in an effort to stay ahead of Dixon in the final stage of the race. The lack of a penalty for the infraction did not sit well with many and highlighted flaws in IndyCar’s new three-man committee of race stewards. Pagenaud finished in front at Barber after a spirited battle with Graham Rahal. No penalties were issued for contact between the two drivers.

Both races ran under green flag conditions from start to finish - impressive and nearly unprecedented, particularly at Long Beach. What did you make of both races?

SJ – Long Beach was interesting and confusing. I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision. As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce. If you cross the yellow line with more than two wheels, you have broken the rule. It couldn’t be more clear than that. There are probably 25 drivers every weekend in some race, somewhere in the world that get’s a penalty for doing just that.

I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand.

At Barber, what can you say? Unfortunately Scott always seems to be in the right place at the wrong time and gets tapped from behind. Every time that happens to him the race always seems to go green the whole way and he had no chance of recovering. It’s frustrating because his pace was definitely good. He was almost a second per lap quicker on his fastest race lap than anyone else. He would have definitely been in the hunt at the end of the race if he hadn’t gone to the back of the field after the contact.

The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist returned to the U.S. to resume racing in the Indy Lights championship last weekend after two races in Europe – both in a Mercedes AMG GT3 – in the Blancpain Sprint Series and the ADAC GT Masters championship. Things didn’t go quite as expected for Felix at Barber Motorsports Park where he finished 14th in race one after contact with Santiago Urrutia and 8th in race two.

In their Sprint Series debut at Misano, Felix and teammate Tristan Vautier were very competitive, running fast laps and holding a podium position in the late stages of the main race before cruelly running out of gas. Rosenqvist finished well at the GT Masters round in Ochersleben, earning 10th in race one and 4th in race two. His schedule is challenging, going between open wheel racing and sports car racing.

SJ – At Barber, I think the team (Belardi) had a bit of a struggle from the moment they unloaded. They had massive tire wear and they were fighting the car the whole weekend. They never really got on top of it. It’s a tough championship. Indy Lights has some very good talent right now.

If you look at racing in America overall, there’s pretty good depth in all of the categories. IndyCar is really quite impressive. Take a guy like Alexander Rossi who was super promising coming out of GP2. He’s running on the last two rows of the grid. I think that says a lot. It’s a very tough field now.

Misano was good because Felix was almost half a second quicker than anyone else and everyone was quite impressed. But unfortunately they didn’t make to the end of the race.

JT – The first race of the 2016 season of WEC took place at Silverstone two weeks ago. It was a rather fraught race for several drivers and teams with Brendon Hartley crashing out in his Porsche 919 and the sister Porsche making contact with one of the Ford GTs. The No. 8 Audi went up in smoke due to hybrid system failure.

Meanwhile, the No. 7 Audi took the checkered flag in first place. However, a post-race penalty for excessive wear on a front skid block led to the car’s exclusion. The No. 2 Porsche 919 therefore took the win. Some saw the ruling as harsh and Audi initially appealed the ruling then withdrew its appeal. What’s your view?

SJ – A rule is a rule. It might seem a stiff penalty but it is what it is. Apparently, the car wasbouncing and wore down the skid block but that’s not the rule makers’ fault. That’s an element that those running the car have to manage.

If you have rules, you have to adhere to them. A car might be 300 grams too light and you could argue whether that was any kind of advantage but if it’s too light, if it violates the rule, that’s it.

JT – Last winter Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested Alfa Romeo might return to F1 as a constructor to gain publicity for the brand and compete at the highest level. When asked if Alfa might consider racing at Le Mans, he said he preferred F1. You differ with his view.

SJ – Yes, he said that F1 is the maximum of technological expression in the automotive world and that’s where Alfa should be.

But that’s actually not true anymore. I think the WEC is significantly more technologically advanced than Formula One is today. At least you have some technical choice in WEC. F1 is incredibly restricted with a complex and expensive engine formula which only allows one approach at a massive cost.

Everybody has to build exactly the same engine and chassis. You’re not allowed to do anything outside of their very restricted little box. Consequently, all F1 is, is optimizing a very strict rules package. There’s little room for innovation. In the WEC there is at least room for a bit of innovation with the freedom to try different versions of the P1 concept.

On the other hand, the P1 cars now require Formula One level budgets and that’s for just six cars and three teams spending stupid money. You can’t really even count the Rebellion non-hybrid P1 cars. Why they’re running in P1 and not P2 is beyond me. And of course, if the VW Group decides it wants to do something different than sports car racing it’s game over for the whole thing.


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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.