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#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: f1

Silly Season for Drivers and Teams

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 97

JT – It’s been a few months since the last #SJblog. Since then, the IndyCar, Formula 1 and sports car racing calendars have marched forward. We find ourselves in the middle of the summer break for many series and of course that means it’s silly season for drivers and teams figuring out who will be driving where in 2019.

Formula 1 has made the most news recently with driver shuffles kicking off in early August when Daniel Ricciardo made the surprise announcement that he was leaving Red Bull Racing after four seasons with the team. What do you make of Ricciardo’s move?

SJ – It’s interesting, I don’t think too many people saw that one coming. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye behind his decision to move obviously. Whatever the reason, it’s a major loss for Red Bull.

If you look at it historically, Renault has always won eventually when they’ve been involved in Formula 1. Of course, there’s completely different people at Renault now compared to the past but the commitment is there it seems. Just the fact that they’ve hired Ricciardo tells you the commitment is there. They’ve certainly got some good people in the team and I’m sure they will keep adding more. I am sure they must have given Ricciardo’s pretty firm guarantees that they are prepared to allocate the budget and resources required to win the championship. I see no reason why they would not fight with Mercedes and Ferrari eventually.

This situation is different but it’s not entirely dissimilar to when Lewis Hamilton left McLaren, which was then a winning team, for Mercedes who weren’t winning anything at the time. I’m sure he was shown the big plan and the commitment they had to winning the Championship. Interestingly, Mercdedes also had this driver called Rosberg, that no one was completely sure how good he really was and it ended up being a few of years with epic battles between the two. Renault has Hulkenberg that has shown great promise and great speed but never delivered the results, now he will be paired against a proven race winner, will he be able to step up and finally deliver on the promise or will this be the end of his career? I think he will keep Daniel honest and this dynamic could be great for the team if both of them push each other all the time. I don’t think this is a bad move on Ricciardo’s part, he would have always had to deal with Verstappen being favored at Red Bull, at least if what we’ve seen until now is anything to go by. Now he’s the team leader which makes a big difference also psychologically for a driver. I think there’s a good chance that Renault will eventually be on the pace of the top three, maybe not next year, but if you take a three or five year view I feel there is a very good possibility they will. There are always shifts that will come if the rules stays the same for long enough, history shows that everybody will eventually catch up. The new rules won’t be wholesale like it was when the new engine formula came in to play, where everyone’s been playing catch up to Mercedes until this year. Even when you dominate or win, like Mercedes, every year it gets a little bit harder to stay on top. So I think at some point it’s likely that Mercedes will end up with a car that isn’t the best and the dynamic will change. Ferrari is already as quick or quicker in many places.

It may take longer because a lot of things are different in F1 now. One is the massive amount of resources required to be competitive. That’s the main reason why Mercedes and Ferrari are at the front. They’re simply spending more than anyone else.

I can only assume that Ricciardo has been given pretty strong guarantees about the depth of Renault’s effort. That must have been one of the contributing factors otherwise I doubt whether he would have made the jump. He’s obviously seen what the five-year plan is.

At the same time, I also think Red Bull will be very strong with Honda power in the next five years. I think Honda is on the verge of cracking it, and when they do they are normally unstoppable.

Image by: Red Bull Racing

I think the next few years could become very interesting with both Renault and Honda catching up to Mercedes and Ferrari, it has a good chance of being more competitive than we’ve seen in a long time. I just hope they won’t tinker to much with the rules as we’re now on the verge of everyone catching up which will allow the competition to be much closer. But we should never count on the wisdom of the rule-makers, they seem to be experts at making changes where none are needed.

We all know the current set of rules are far from ideal, but at least we have gotten close to the point of diminishing return on R&D and when that happens the racing is always getting better and closer as the gap from the front to the back keeps getting smaller each year. Let’s hope it will stay this way for a while until everyone has figured out  the bigger picture of what really needs to be done. That is a subject for a whole other conversation and it’s obviously a big topic. I am actually working on a big document on that very subject which I should have ready in a couple of weeks, it’s very radical and will require a complete rethink but I hope people will like what I have in mind.

JT – Less than two weeks after Ricciardo’s announcement, Fernando Alonso announced that he would be retiring from F1 for 2019. In comments on his departure Alonso indicated he could still return to F1 if a good opportunity arose and if the series changed enough to produce a good competitive environment.

Alonso added that racing in F1 is no longer enjoyable on track, stating that the predictability of the racing was far too high with little chance to actually compete. He concluded that most of what is talked about in F1 focuses on off-track polemics and politics, not actual racing. What do you think of his decision to leave the series and the reasons behind it?

SJ – I can certainly sympathize with a driver of Alonso’s pedigree, everybody knows he doesn’t belong where he’s at, but that’s the nature of the beast in F1. It doesn’t matter how good the driver is, if you don’t have the best car you will never win or get close to the front. It’s tough to be motivated when you know before the season’s starts that you’re going to be somewhere around 8th to 12th in qualifying and get the odd point here or there.

There’s also this current obsession in Formula 1 with young, fast teenage drivers or drivers around 20 year old. For sure they’re very quick. There’s no doubt about their speed, but we don’t really know how good they are. F1 has turned into a place where driving fast is just about the only criteria that seems to matter. You can see it very clearly in the races. On Lap 1 and Lap 2 there’s more contact and debris flying off the cars – broken wing-endplates and stuff – than there is at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch every year.

There’s very little racecraft and very few of the drivers who have any racecraft. Alonso is obviously one of them, one of maybe five or six. The rest, even some of the experienced guys, I won’t mention any names but it’s pretty obvious by now, just should not have the amount of unnecessary accidents they do. As I’ve been speculating, maybe it’s something to do with these new super long wheelbase cars but it strikes me as very strange that these drivers who are supposed to be the best in the world can’t get past the first two laps without three or four cars per race getting damage in pretty much every single race.

I think one of the problems with F1 is that it’s simply too good. What I mean by that is everything is so well done from the engineering to the simulation of the races that there is literally nothing left to chance, there is no unpredictability left, except if there’s a sudden shift in weather conditions or something else that could not be planned for before the race started. We normally get 2-3 races a year like that and everybody is jumping up and down over what a great race we just had. That should tell everybody something right there. But unfortunately, it’s the engineers that are running the show now as far as the technical rules go, and they won’t back down, it’s just more and more of the same. No one’s willing to give up their toys.

JT – Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc are candidates for other drives. With Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull Gasly is now seen as strong possibility to be a teammate to Max Verstappen. Meanwhile, Leclerc has been mentioned in connection with Ferrari for some time. Each is an example of the youth movement you mentioned.  Neither one has even completed their first season in F1.

SJ – There is no doubt that both of them are very good, I think they are future stars for sure. Just as with Max Verstappen, every now and then we get someone exceptional that pops through that little hole at the bottom of the funnel and I think both these guys are that kind. However, I think it would be foolish to throw them in the deep end with a top team this early, for the same reason I mentioned earlier. They would both fare much better where they are and gain another year of experience in a team with much less pressure and scrutiny than they would get at either Ferrari or Red Bull. If you don’t perform at your very best in every session and race the media is all over you and then the doubt start to creep in and it all goes sideways very quickly. There’s loads of examples of great drivers who never made it once they got the opportunity in the big teams, simply because it was too early in their careers. This works both ways, I don’t understand the rush from Ferrari to put Leclerc in one of their cars at this stage of his career, it will be much better for them to keep him at Sauber and let him gain more experience before they put him in the main team.

JT – In IndyCar news, Scott Dixon resigned with Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott has driven for Chip since 2002, scoring 43 of his 44 IndyCar victories with the team. He seems very content with the decision to stay at Ganassi despite offers from others including Andretti Autosport and the team McLaren may be forming. As his manager, you played a role in the negotiations. Obviously some work was involved despite the fact Scott elected not to change teams.

Photo via: @scottdixon9

Photo via: @scottdixon9

SJ – Yes, there was a lot of talk and a lot rumors, I don’t know where some of these guys get their stories from but it was very amusing to hear some of it. So far from the truth that you have to wonder where the rumors started. Scott certainly had some strong offers but continuing with Ganassi made sense. You know Chip will always put a winning car on the grid, and that is in the end all that matters, the rest kind of falls into place. There’s obviously a huge amount of respect between the two of them and the great success story will hopefully continue for a while longer. And yes, there was a lot of work associated with it and it was quite stressful at times but as a manager you’re there to try and be objective and look at the bigger picture – all the different factors that come into play and I believe Scott made the right decision in the end.

F1 Azerbaijan GP, the latest on IndyCar & Racing Etiquette

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 95

JT – Formula 1 made its third stop of the season in Baku last weekend for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a street circuit event that has become a wild-card on the F1 calendar. The race didn’t disappoint, providing plenty of action and even some racing.

Lewis Hamilton inherited victory after teammate Valterri Bottas ran over debris while leading the final laps. Sebastian Vettel had dominated at the front until stopping for new tires just after half-distance. Bottas stayed out on his original tires longer and led but was expected to drop to second when he finally pitted. However, a collision between Red Bull Racing teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen brought out the safety car with 12 laps to go. Bottas took advantage of the safety car and retained the lead even with his pit stop.

Photo via @lewishamilton

Photo via @lewishamilton

With Vettel running second and Lewis Hamilton in third, the race looked to be between Bottas and Vettel. On the restart Vettel tried to dive under Bottas at Turn 1. But he locked up and barely made the corner. Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen got by and Vettel ultimately fell to fourth, struggling with flat-spotted tires that allowed Force India’s Sergio Perez to pass him for what became the final podium spot.

There was plenty more to talk about – from Force India’s Esteban Ocon clash with Raikkonen at the start to Fernando Alonso’ drive through the field in his heavily wounded McLaren. But the biggest talking point was the crash of teammates Verstappen and Ricciardo. Fans are already referring to Verstappen as “Vercraschen” and most observers are blaming the Dutch driver for yet another incident.  So, take a breath and tell me your thoughts about Azerbaijan.

SJ – Well, first I think it’s a great track. Every year since they started racing there we’ve seen plenty of action and unpredictable results. As I’ve said many times before, I think street circuits generally are the way to go. There’s more unpredictability than you have with the modern road courses with their big run-off areas and generally quite boring layouts. When you go off-line or completely miss a corner on a modern road course you can carry on without any real punishment whereas at a place like Baku, you get punished immediately if you make a mistake. We need more of that I feel, generally speaking most of the street circuits around the world, Monaco being the exception, produce exciting racing and unpredictable results. The atmosphere is great because you bring the race to the people rather than to a track miles away where people have to drive in order to get there. All the City tracks around the world have by far the best ambience, it doesn’t matter if it’s in F1, Indycar, Formula E or any other series.

The long straight in Baku, especially with the DRS, really encourages drivers to have a go, as we saw there was plenty of action in the braking zone. Tire wear wasn’t much of a factor in this race and if the teams weren’t required to make a stop by the rules, many of the drivers would have probably just carried on without any stops. What’s interesting is that at this race and most other races recently is that everyone goes for it like it’s a Formula Ford race on the first lap. I assume they all go mad because they’re all aware that’s their best and sometimes maybe the only opportunity to overtake during the whole race.

It’s extraordinary how many, what can we say…. more than opportunistic moves were made. People were banging wheels everywhere. You have to say, if these are supposedly the best drivers in the world and most of them are getting paid accordingly, it’s marginal at best. I mean a lot of guys just threw the race away almost before it started. There’s no excuse for putting the car in the barrier only a few laps into the race when you have a potential top-six car. Unforced errors at that level are hard to justify, I think. The track conditions were not easy for sure, but that is still not an excuse for throwing away a great result. I can understand if it happened with one of the rookie drivers but in some cases these are drivers with nearly a 100 GP’s under their belt. Not acceptable in my opinion. It’s interesting to note though that it’s almost the same in every series, where you have plenty of very fast drivers, they can all produce great lap-times and qualify well but there’s still only a handful that know how to race well, that have the race craft to win races and championships.

Lewis was fortunate to win this time, but the way he drove is how you win Championships. He didn’t try to force it when he knew he had a bad day but instead let the race come to him. He could easily have tried a move down the inside just like Vettel did but he didn’t and even if hadn’t won the race which of course was lucky, but regardless I think he made the best of what was for him a bad weekend. If Hamilton was lucky, then poor Bottas was extremely unlucky, as was Vettel who dominated the race until the safety car came out with 12 laps to go.

Talking about Ricciardo and Verstappen, frankly they could have easily crashed several times well before the accident if Ricciardo hadn’t given more than adequate room to Verstappen every time where close earlier in the race. It’s the same thing I mentioned in regard to Verstappen’s driving in China and Bahrain. He’s been getting away with his moves for the past three years. But now the tide has turned because every one of them is so marginal, so low-percentage. Eventually, the odds catch up with you and you can’t get away with what you’ve been getting away with forever.

I think almost every driver has been through this at some stage in their career. You do the same aggressive thing one year and you get away with every move. If you look back at all of the moves Max has made it’s been extraordinary that he hasn’t been caught out before and instead it’s been whomever he was dicing with that ended up with a broken wing end-plate or got run off the track or whatever else might have happened but Max always seemed to come out on top. But then things turn around and every move you make goes the wrong way, although he’s not doing anything different, but the tiny margins he’s dealing with all the time are now not in his favor anymore. Part of the problem when you’re constantly cutting it that fine, with one extremely low percentage move after another, is that you’re leaving your own faith in the hands of the guy you’re racing against, and none of the guys at this level will accept to get bullied forever. And, so here we are, all the “genius” moves from the past years now suddenly look clumsy and poorly executed.

At some stage I think the penny is going to have to drop for him. You’ll never ever win a championship driving like he does. He’s still young and I’m sure these past races have taught him that you don’t have to win every battle to win the war and he will no doubt win several more races and championships. But he’s got to realize that he cannot keep doing what he’s doing and hope to get away with it every time.

In this case, the crash was 110 percent Verstappen’s fault in my opinion. Once you’ve made a move in defense you can’t move again, especially not if you’ve opened the door slightly, which is what he did by swerving to the right. At that point, Ricciardo is 100 percent committed to the move on the inside, before then you could see that he was going to either go late on the outside or dive on the inside depending on the line Max chose. Once the door is open and he’s hard on the brakes at the very last moment there’s nothing he can do at that point but continue in the trajectory the car is going. If there’s suddenly an obstacle in front of you, you’re going to hit it, it’s as simple as that. And of course, Verstappen knows that, or should know that. He’s pulled the same trick several times before on other drivers, and it’s always been the guy coming from behind who got the short end of the stick, this time both were out immediately.

What I would do if was Christian Horner or Helmut Marko, instead of constantly protecting him, I would have him sit and watch every video replay of every incident or accident he’s had where he got away with it and make him see how lucky he’s been in the past. Now circumstances have changed a half-percent in the wrong direction and he’s not just costing someone else a front wing or a lost race, he’s costing himself and the team DNF’s and extremely valuable points and not getting away with what he was before. Sooner or later you will run out of luck.

JT – As a matter fact, Verstappen’s two moves in the braking zone are a violation of the FIA’s rules. And yet, the FIA stewards did not penalize him, only reprimanding Verstappen and Ricciardo, apportioning blame to both. Apparently, you’re correct. The FIA will not enforce its own rules. On the RBR team side, it seems they wanted the drivers to share blame so that Verstappen would not rack up any more points on his Superlicense.

The FIA is weak in enforcing the rules. This has been a problem for a long time now and continues to be a problem. When they issue penalties they often issue them for the wrong reasons. But when it really matters and could make people understand that “this is where we draw the line”, nothing happens. I don’t believe in the system of having a different ex driver at every race. It needs to be a consistent and well respected small group of people that are objective and firm in their decisions so the drivers always know where the line is drawn. It’s far to random the way it is now.

It’s the same on the technical side. They write a new set of rules and then three years later you have cars which have aero appendages that were never part of the spirit of the  agreement. Everyone knows this but when every team has, literally, armies of people scouring the rule book to find any loopholes and the FIA doesn’t enforce it strongly enough or soon enough, it eventually gets out of hand and then we get what we have now.

JT – One of the downsides of the race at Baku is the track organization. There were several instances where track workers looked overwhelmed trying to clear the track of cars or debris. Ultimately, the FIA’s laxness – there was a large tree branch on track for several laps, for example – cost Bottas the win.

SJ – I agree, to me it’s a mystery that Formula 1, this super-sophisticated, highest-level racing series in the world, does not have a dedicated team of track marshals that travel to all the venues. How much would it cost to do what IndyCar has done for decades where you have a well trained crew and a pick-up truck with a small jet engine on the back which they use every time there’s a safety car to make sure the track is clean and free of debris? How much would it cost to ship that to every event?

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 2.49.33 PM.png

In particular with modern F1 cars, it’s literally like an explosion when they hit each other. There’s carbon debris everywhere and that stuff is like a needle, the threads of that carbon-fiber. Bottas was the first one to arrive where the collision had occurred and he was screwed. You’re traveling so fast by that point that even if you see something - by that time you’ve already hit it. If there’s any piece of debris left on the track there’s no way you can avoid it.

It’s now 24 years since Senna had his accident in Imola… It’s a theory but I am convinced that he ran over the debris from the start line accident (J.J. Lehto stalled his Benetton on the grid and was hit by Pedro Lamy’s Lotus). There were shreds of carbon-fiber everywhere. It was the same thing as it was this time, some marshals picking up the debris by hand. I think he got a slow puncture which caused him to bottom out when he went through Tamburello and that’s what caused him to go off the track and into the wall. I don’t think anything broke on the car.

This is just my theory but that’s very much what it looked like to me. The point I’m trying to make is, nothing has changed in 24 years. To see a bunch of marshals running around like headless chickens at Baku, picking up debris by hand does not look good.

JT – Sebastian Vettel admitted that his attempt to pass Valterri Bottas on the late race restart wound up costing him but said it was a move he had to try. That seems a fair assessment. What do you think?

SJ – I think he knew that was his only option and in a way I admire it. I know as a driver, if you didn’t have a go, you would lie there all night replaying the video in your head wondering why you didn’t try.

Any driver worth his salt knows that if a win is possible, you have to go for it. His case was different from Lewis as he knew he had a winning car rather than just soldiering on trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

The thing is though,  the tires are so marginal these days. It’s the same point I made after the race in China. I don’t think any driver really knows where the limit is on the tires at any given point, especially not on a restart or leaving the pits. They’re hard to warm up, the pressures come up differently and there’s so many factors that come into play. You can see it throughout the races, even the cars from the same team act differently, if for whatever reason one of the cars get the tires lit up, they run super competitively for that stint and then for whatever reason the next stint the tires does not work they’re nowhere.

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again, it’s ironic that teams are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on sophisticated aero, simulations, CFD and on and on. Yet on the day it just comes down to who can get their tires to work, after all that money has been spent, it literally comes down to a pound of tire pressure or 10 degrees of tire temperature on a set of tires that probably cost less than $5000 for a set. It seems like one car can make its tires work and the other can’t. Suddenly the Toro Rosso with Honda Power can hang with the top cars. This has nothing to do with either the car or the driver, but is purely down to how well the tires are working on the day. The car doesn’t suddenly improve by seconds, nor do the drivers, it’s purely down to the tires.

JT – One of the elements that makes Azerbaijan a wild card race is attrition. There were teams, from Force India and McLaren to Sauber and Torro Rosso which might not have expected a good result. But with some retirements and good driving, they were rewarded.

SJ – Yeah if you look at the results some of the drivers definitely benefitted. In Alonso’s case, yes that helped but don’t forget he is arguably still the best racer out there. What he does with the equipment handed to him is pretty miraculous. He has the ability to really maximize every situation. When he was with Ferrari, he carried the car on his shoulders and nearly won the championship with a car that was not really a championship winning car at the time.

JT – I think seeing Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber score points is satisfying to fans because of the frustration they feel with the fact that the majority of the F1 grid never seems to make much progress. People ask, why can’t they get it together and compete for wins?

Photo via @schecoperez

Photo via @schecoperez

SJ – They can’t get any closer for a simple reason – the cubic dollars it takes to be at the top. The more you spend, the faster you go. It’s nothing to do with innovation or cleverness anymore, it’s just having an army of people grinding away at spending money on wind tunnels and simulations, and honing and tweaking tiny percentages on the cars. That’s the only way to gain performance, because the rules prevent any radical thinking and everyone is stuck fine tuning what you’re allowed to do within this very narrow box. The only team that have been consistently punching above it’s weight year after year is Force India, which they showed again in Baku, getting a podium finish with a car that was definitely not a top three car.

It makes you smile when you hear the constant argument that spec parts becoming parts of the cars will cause F1 to lose its DNA or creativity. There’s been no creativity in F1 for over 20 years now, except innovative developments in the areas where the rules allow it to be, but as far as any new concepts nothing has changed.

In comparison, this is where IndyCar has the technical side so right. And because of that, every team has a chance to get it right on race day and actually win. If you have a top driver, some clever engineers in theory any of the teams could win.

There’s not much you can do to the cars in IndyCar but ironically, it’s very much the same in F1. The big difference is that every team in F1 has to be responsible for making everything on the car on their own. But there’s so little that you can do to the cars by the rules in F1, in terms of any new concepts, that it’s become like a spec series in many ways in as much as all the cars eventually end up looking the same as the rules don’t allow the teams to go a different route even if they wanted to. The engine rules are the same for everyone in that there’s only one concept of engine and every manufacturer have to fine tune and hone every aspect of that one concept in order to get an edge on the competition.

JT – The F1 rules for 2021 continue to be hotly debated. Recently, the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission agreed to increase the race fuel allowance from 105kg to 110kg in 2019, in order to help drivers “be able to use the engine at full power at all times”.

It’s part of F1’s effort to increase overtaking and apparently the teams are also helping with “extra CFD research”. It seems ludicrous that F1 would need to conduct CFD research to understand how it might increase overtaking. A common sense reduction in downforce would surely help and be a simple low cost solution.

As a first initiative, this past week a new aerodynamic rules tweak for 2019 has been implemented which is meant to help cars following each other and improve the overtaking situation. Is this another knee jerk reaction and if so, do you feel this is a move in the right direction?

SJ – Yes, I agree it is very much a knee jerk reaction after only a couple of races into the new season.  You can see recent illustrations of that if you look at F1 going to this higher downforce formula last year to make the cars go faster because it was decided they weren’t quick enough at the time. In part, it was a reaction to the fact that the GP2 or F2 cars’ lap times were getting too close to F1.

Photo via @autosport

Photo via @autosport

So what happened? Collectively they spent probably $100 million per team across the board – if you figure it’s $300 million for the top teams to maybe $30 million for the back of the grid - to develop cars for the new rules with more downforce. So in total it cost the entire F1 paddock close to a billion dollars for this new car to make it go about 5 seconds per lap quicker just so they have a faster lap time than a GP2 car, or to get closer to the lap times they did some years before the Hybrid Formula started.

Consider instead, if you had put a smaller front and rear wing on a GP2 car that probably would have cost less than $50,000 per car which would slow them down by 3-4 seconds per lap. So basically you’re talking a billion dollars to make the F1 cars go faster for that purpose or a couple million at most to slow down the entire grid of GP2 cars.

And in the end, who cares, the difference is completely irrelevant on track. It’s complete and utter madness. Yet no one seems to want to  budge, no one’s backing off. The part I don’t understand is if the money flowing into F1 stays the same as it is now - and there’s no reason why it can’t be - but everyone spend a third of what they’re spending now surely the other two thirds would be profit.

That would have to be good thing in my mind, and the valuation of every team would go up accordingly and actually make the teams worth something again.

JT – IndyCar returned Barber Motorsports Park for what was unfortunately, a rain-delayed race. Josef Newgarden pitted from the lead early for wet tires and that proved to be the right move. He eventually regained the top spot when late stoppers like Sebastian Bourdais and Scott Dixon couldn’t survive anymore on slicks in increasingly wet conditions.

SJ – Yes, Scott was on the right strategy and had it not started raining more heavily, both he and Bourdais would have been looking pretty good for the win.

JT - A week before Barber, IndyCar ran the Long Beach Grand Prix for the 35th consecutive time. Alexander Rossi dominated for Andretti Autosport, winning from pole position. As usual the crowds were large, proving that the event remains a highlight on the IndyCar calendar.

Photo via @scottdixon9

Photo via @scottdixon9

The race wasn’t as positive for Scott Dixon who finished 11th after starting from 4th. Scott ran 3RD and 2nd for much of the race until past halfway when a car hit the wall in turn 10. Dixon and Sebastian Bourdais immediately ducked into the pits but according to IndyCar they entered pit road just as the yellow flag flew. Bourdais was told to drive through the pits and continue around. But Scott was called in and stopped for service. That broke the rules and he was issued a drive-through penalty.

What did you think of the race and Rossi’s dominant performance?

SJ – Long Beach is always terrific. There was a great vibe in the paddock. It’s really become the number two race of the season next to Indianapolis. So many people come out for the race and the crowds are great.

The new cars are racing well and everything I hear in the paddock is very positive about them, from their looks to the sounds they make. Everything is going in the right direction in that area I feel.

Rossi has obviously done a phenomenal job so far this year. He’s got things dialed in very well right now. It’s interesting, with the new car some people seem to have found the magic bullet and others are struggling a bit more than what we’re used to seeing.

The pit stop for Scott was obviously a disaster. The sequence of events did make it difficult though. You had one second to make a decision basically with a lot of factors to consider. It was extremely unlucky both for Scott and Bourdais. The yellow came out literally as they were turning to enter the pits. They really had no choice because they were both on fumes at that point. Scott couldn’t have done another lap if he’d wanted to. Bourdais went through and had to come right back for tires but they pulled Scott in and put tires on. So he got a penalty. It just didn’t work out. If the pit stop had gone as planned I think he had 2nd place locked up.

JT – You’re part of the history at Long Beach. Your first race there was in 1993. You qualified 5th and started alongside Mario Andretti who was 6th. The field was 28 cars! That must have been amazing. What’s your memory of your first Long Beach GP?

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

SJ – I loved the track from the first time I drove it. I’ve always liked street circuits but particularly these kinds of circuits (including Monaco) where there’s a lot of precision and you need to find just the right spot where the grip is, which is not always on the correct racing line. Once you find the right rhythm and the right places to be fast you pick up so much time. It’s a really fun track to drive and race on.

Yes, there were almost 30 cars out there. But at that time a lot of the IndyCar races were like that. It was great. Unfortunately Mario and I collided before we even got to the start line. I was so bummed too because we tried a really wild thing in the morning warm-up. It was something we used to do when we raced at Hockenheim before they had the chicanes in F1. We’d take the Gurney flap on the rear wing and reverse it so that you put it behind the main flap on the rear wing. It gave the car just a little more lift on the rear which didn’t affect the low speed grip that much but made it a lot faster down the long straight.

We didn’t lose much grip in the corners but the car was like 7 MPH quicker than anything else on the straights. I thought, ‘I’m gonna win this race!’ There was no question about it and what happened? I didn’t even get to the start line!

SJ – Finally, let’s talk about racing etiquette a bit. For fans, it’s fun to wonder about some of the fine and not-so-fine points of racing on and off-track. Few people race professionally and fewer still do it at the top level like you did.

Great pressure and great fun come along with that but like in any profession there’s a certain etiquette about how you handle a range of situations. Let’s start that conversation in this blog with this question:

How do you handle a situation in which your car, through no fault of your own, experiences a mechanical/electrical/software failure during a race and cannot continue? What’s the etiquette for the driver?

Do you throw your hands up in the air, pack up and bolt away from the track as quick as possible without a word to anyone? 

Do you stay and commiserate with the team/owner for a while?

Or do you find a convenient lawn chair and get a sun tan trackside like Fernando Alonso during the 2015 Brazilian GP?

Photo via Sky Sports

Photo via Sky Sports

SJ – Usually you just want to get out of there as soon as you can and get home. That’s what you normally try to do. But I always made sure I thanked every person in the team individually before I left the track. It depends on the schedule of the race and other things but I remember when I drove for Ligier in F1, for example.

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

The car was such a dog that you never knew what weekend would be like. I used to have three different flights booked at every race. One was on Saturday evening in case we didn’t qualify for the race,  another was on Sunday afternoon if the car broke down early in the race and then one on Monday morning if we managed to finish the race!

Of course everybody on a team is bummed and pissed off if something like that happens and I think everyone just feels the same way – you just want to get the hell out of there. Then you regroup on Monday or Tuesday afterwards and you go through everything and analyze what went wrong and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

JT - To make this extra fun, let me ask a related question.

Let’s say you’re co-driving a sports car, maybe a prototype at Le Mans, and a co-driver wrecks the car in the Porsche curves – just wipes it out. What’s the etiquette for the driver/s who were not driving in that situation?

Do you commiserate with the co-driver then leave?

Do you want to strangle him and then leave?

SJ – Ha! No… absolutely you commiserate generally, although it depends a bit on the circumstances. I’ve had some teammates who you just want to strangle of course but at the time you give them the benefit of the doubt at least.

Every driver on the grid is a different individual, a different personality. Some guys are just great and we’re all trying hard and accidents happen from time to time. Less often you have a teammate who’s arrogant and blames everything and everyone around them, and it’s never their fault. So there’s no fixed code for that. But I’ve certainly had occasions where I’ve felt like strangling my co-driver and I’m sure there’s been times where they felt the same about me! But in the end, I’ve been lucky to have been teamed with not only some of the greatest drivers in the world but also some really good human beings in general. The camaraderie when you share a car at Le Mans for example is something really special and those moments is something I will treasure for all my life.

First Impressions of 2018 Season

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 93

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

Photo by GPMX

Photo by GPMX

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

Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

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

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

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

Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

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

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

Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

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

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

malboro-mclaren.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Feli'x Instagram ( @frosenqvist )

Photo via Feli'x Instagram (@frosenqvist)

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

JT – How was the racing received in Santiago?

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

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

Photo via Scott's Insagram ( @  scottdixon9 )

Photo via Scott's Insagram (@scottdixon9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, increase power by 200 to 300 horsepower.

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

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

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

Photo by Pirelli

Photo by Pirelli

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

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

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

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