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Filtering by Tag: indycar

Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist at Laguna Seca, McLaren joins IndyCar and F1 Recap

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 104

JT – Indy Car’s season finale at Laguna Seca – the series’ first trip to the circuit since 2004 – was an interesting, tension filled race. Josef Newgarden ran a conservative pace, finishing 8th but close enough to championship rivals Scott Dixon (3rd), Alexander Rossi (6th) and teammate Simon Pagenaud (4th) to secure the title. 

Scott had a good race but had to battle for his podium finish, fighting with winner Colton Herta, 2nd place finisher Will Power and Pagenaud from the drop of the green flag to the checkers. Felix Rosenqvist had a terrific race, finishing 5th after starting 14th. Rosenqvist claimed the Rookie of the Year title and 6th in the championship standings. Scott finished 4th in the championship.  

What did you think of the race and the season for Scott and Felix?

SJ – There was a great energy and a lot of action in the paddock all weekend with lots fans coming to see the cars and teams. Overall the event was great and the racing was pretty good – better than expected as Laguna Seca is notorious for being a very difficult place to overtake. Due to the flowing nature of the corners and no real straights it’s never been an easy place to pass.  With that in mind I thought Felix did a great job, he pretty much passed every car he got by on-track. It wasn’t strategy calls that got him to 5th place. 

Had he not made the small mistake in the first round of qualifying and then receiving a very strange penalty, and instead started where he could have – I’m sure he could have been on the front row because he was super quick all weekend – in which case he would have been in with a shot to get his first win. But the little things make a big difference in Indy Car, everyone has to execute perfectly to get a good result, drivers, pit crew and the guys on the scoring stand. If any one of them messes up it’s very hard to recover because the racing is always so close. In my opinion, Indycar is by far the most difficult series in the world to get consistently good results. This is why you rarely see anyone win more than 3 or maybe 4 races in one season, it’s nearly impossible to get a consistent edge on the rest of the competition.

Scott did a superb job in qualifying getting on the front row, he wasn’t that happy with the car all weekend up to that point, but he seems to always find that little bit more when it really matters. He fought hard first with Herta and then both Power and Pagenaud, it was a great battle throughout the race, with really close racing but no blocking or touching from either of them. It’s great to see when three really good and professional drivers are racing hard, and they showed how it can be done without contact or penalties, great stuff. Overall it was a pretty good season for Scott and Felix but it wasn’t great for either of them, it could have definitely been a lot better. At Indy, Felix had his accident and then in the race, neither he nor Scott had a good day with both of them getting caught up in the Rahal/Bourdais accident (Scott finished 17th, Felix 28th) and that hurts at Indy because it’s a double-points race. Anyone that scores well at Indy carries that points advantage the whole year. If you don’t score well, or at all at Indy, that really puts you on the back foot for the rest of the season. 

Scott had kind of an unlucky year with two mechanical failures in a row right at the tail end of the season (at St. Louis and Portland). Again, that meant no points at all and when you don’t score in Indy Car it really hurts you. If you keep scoring at every race you pick up decent points and you stay in contention.

And all of the teams in Indy Car are catching up to the top teams. Scott agrees that the competition is tougher now than it’s ever been. When you have a car design where it’s relatively difficult to make any big gains, it’s difficult to gain an edge. Any small gain one team or another has soon gets caught up to by the other teams. But that’s one of the great things with Indy Car. It’s incredibly hard to win consistently because there are so many good cars and drivers. 

JT – It’s now official that McLaren will be a full time team in Indy Car next season with the merger of McLaren and Arrow Schmidt Peterson for 2020. 

SJ – I think it’s great news for the series, to have a team of that caliber and history to enter Indycar is good sign in every aspect. If they could get one or two more and some big name drivers they will be right back where they were in the early 90’s when Mansell came over. Big sponsors and a lot of manufacturers pouring big money into the series. I think it’s a smart move for them to join forces with SPM as they are already a well established team with a good engineering group, if they can add more resources and some of their F1 engineering expertise they will be a real threat to rest of the top teams.

JT – There were 24 cars on the grid at Laguna Seca and as you’ve said there’s a possibility there could be even more at many races on the 2020 Indy Car schedule. That’s a possibility Formula 1 does not have. FIA chief Jean Todt recently said he does not expect any new manufacturers to enter F1 in 2021 and he has not seen “solid” contenders to become new teams in F1 in 2021. “At the moment we are happy in having ten teams,” Todt says. “Time will tell if things will change in the future, knowing that the good figure is between 10 and 12 teams.”

Those aren’t encouraging statements. F1 not only needs an overhaul of its technical formula, it needs to cut the cost of participating sharply. Shouldn’t the series be looking to attract new blood? New competitors?

SJ – Not necessarily, I think if you have 22 really strong cars you don’t need more. On the other hand, yes, the barrier of entry has become almost impossible now to start a team from scratch. You either buy one that’s on the brink of going out of business, like Racing Point did with Force India, or you have to spend an insane amount to launch a new entry. It’s no surprise that manufacturers or teams aren’t lining up to give F1 a shot. 

It’s clear that the teams are no closer to agreeing on anything regarding the new rules package so the chances of seeing any new teams before that get’s sorted out are virtually nil. 

Some teams are worried about losing the “technical freedom” of Formula 1 and then there are others who are in favor of more standard parts, but no one seems sure how to formulate that and what parts should be standardized or not. As far as the argument about technical freedom, there really is no technical freedom, the rules are so strict that every team essentially is making the same thing, at an enormous cost of course. Every now and then, one of the top teams, who can afford to spend the money on R&D will discover some version or angle within those rules that gives them an edge for a while until everybody catches up again. But conceptually, there is zero room for innovation, everyone is using the exact same engine layout and they are all powered by the same energy source. The cars all look the same except for minor aero widgets that are different at every race, but again there is no room for innovation, just fine tuning the same concept. As I’ve said repeatedly, the only difference is that in F1 the teams have to make everything themselves rather than buying it from a supplier. But you end up with components that are only slightly different from one another between teams. One of the arguments I keep hearing is that if they all use the same components from one manufacturer, and there is a failure, then all the cars will fail. It’s strange in that case that they manage to make that work in pretty much every other championship without any real problems.

JT – The most recent F1 round was Russian Grand Prix, a race which Ferrari seemed to have in its control. Sebastian Vettel leapt ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at the start and lead until his first pit stop. Leclerc, having pitted earlier and setting fast laps, looked set to undercut Vettel and take the lead. But on his first lap out of the pits the hybrid energy recovery system in Vettel’s Ferrari failed, causing him to stop on-track and trigger a Virtual Safety Car. Hamilton and teammate Valterri Bottas who had been unable to challenge the Ferraris had not pitted yet. The VSC effectively gave the two free pit stops and they both leap-frogged Leclerc. The order remained unchanged to the finish with Mercedes scoring an unlikely 1-2 (Hamilton/Bottas) and Leclerc relegated to 3rd. 

There was also controversy after the start when Vettel – with the aid of the slipstream he gained from Leclerc – continued to increase the gap over his teammate without handing the lead back to Leclerc as had supposedly been agreed before the race. The controversy dominated TV coverage of the first half of the race. Among the top four cars - the Ferraris and Mercedes -  there were no passes for position on-track throughout the race. Changes of position only occurred via the pit stops. What did you think of the Russian GP?

SJ – Well, it was certainly a perfect example of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I can relate to what happened before the race. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat in meetings before races where the engineers and also some drivers are trying to plan out the start and the first lap. Every single time that I can recall, by the time you let the clutch out at the start, whatever plan was in place went out the window. 

There are so many variables that you just cannot predict what will actually happen. To try to make a plan like Ferrari did with the slipstream for Vettel and then what would come next with Leclerc, it’s doomed to fail. Then there are all the permutations of what was agreed and what wasn’t agreed. But what was Vettel supposed to do? He got a blinding start and got a great run by everyone. Was he supposed to back off immediately? 

And so Ferrari’s race went completely pear shaped from then on. It looked early on like Leclerc had the race pace. I would have thought he could’ve gotten into DRS range with Vettel. And you would have thought he could draw into DRS range of Hamilton or Bottas later on. But it looked like he just didn’t have the pace when he needed it this time. Vettel looked like he really had the bit between his teeth and was back to being the guy we’re used to seeing so it was a shame he didn’t have the car to take it to the end. 

It looked like whoever was following the lead car had a really hard time staying close in turbulence. I think it’s partly just the nature of that track. 

JT - Watching the situation between Vettel and Leclerc unfold and hearing the TV commentators wheeze on at length about whether Vettel would or should give the lead to Leclerc quickly became annoying for me as a spectator. Yes, F1 is a manufacturer’s championship and there are intra-team dynamics because of that. 

But as a fan, those team or manufacturer dynamics make zero difference to me. I do not watch racing to see competition decided by agreements made before or during a race. That’s not what racing is supposed to be about for spectators and team orders have never been popular with fans. Yet they still persist in F1 and it makes the series look extremely weak. Shouldn’t this be embarrassing for what is supposed to be the world’s top category of racing? 

SJ – I think it’s part of the show. Since they added the radio communications to the TV feed we get to hear all this, but it’s always been the same more or less.  What confuses me with F1 is, wasn’t there a rule several years ago that no team orders were allowed? Did that just fade away or did they actually change it? I can’t recall if, why and when they took that rule out. In a way I think it’s a good thing they did, it’s better to be transparent about it and make it a part of the show, because the teams will always find a way to make it work either way. Remember Multi 21 with Red Bull a few years back?

The other one that confuses me is that there always used to be the rule that you cannot rejoin the track after going off without a flag marshal waiving you back onto the track. But it seems there are cars flying all over the place now like a swarm of bees and they just come back on track wherever they choose. Leclerc went off in the chicane at Monza, rejoined and won the race. He clearly made a big mistake and should have been penalized but nothing was done. Whereas Vettel who went off in Montreal and also rejoined without waiting for a clear track got penalized.

What’s really worrying though when you look at the upcoming rules for 2021 is that the teams all disagree. They all have their own interests at heart not surprisingly but as long as they’re allowed to be part of the rule-making, nothing will change in Formula 1. When I look at my crystal ball, I can see ten years in the future and basically nothing’s changed. We’re still complaining about no one being able to pass, the racing’s still boring and the budgets are even higher than they’ve been before. And we’ll have about three to five big rule changes on the cars, all in the interest of making the racing more interesting, all based around Aerodynamics of course. But none of them will change anything. The events will get bigger with more celebrities, concerts and other gimmicks to attract a big crowd. The actual race will become the side show to the whole GP event. They’re already talking about qualifying races and reverse-grids instead of getting to the root of the problem which is the cars. Fix the cars and everything will sort itself out.

JT – McLaren has announced that it will switch engine suppliers for 2021. Next year, the team will fulfill the last year of its contract with Renault but will once again have Mercedes power in 2021. It’s slightly surprising given that previous McLaren leadership said a customer engine deal would never enjoy the same kind of performance as the works team. What do you make of it?

SJ –  I think it makes sense, they will finally have a proven race winning engine, along with the rest of the packaging to build a race winning car. It’s now up to them to get their part back to where they used to be. The wheels are already in motion and new team principal Andreas Seidl is clearly doing a great job getting the team back on track. 

JT – Prior to the Russian round, the Singapore Grand Prix was won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (his first win of 2019). At the front, Ferrari turned the tables on Mercedes with better strategy, pitting Vettel early. He undercut Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas and his teammate Charles Leclerc. When the others pitted he emerged in the lead - a lead he never relinquished. But the passing was done in the pits, not on-track. Prior to that Leclerc led, lapping at such a slow pace that everyone, including the back-markers, bunched up behind him.

There was some passing among the midfield contenders with Daniel Ricciardo making his way up the order early in the race but then making contact that ended his night. Others made passes as well but it was a bit hard to follow on the TV coverage. What did you think of the race?

SJ – The beginning of the race was just ridiculous. The last place car in the field had the fastest lap. How is that even possible? All the drivers were on their team radio asking, “When can I go, when can I go?!”

I think Vettel’s win may help put him back in his groove a little bit. He drove a good race and Ferrari made the right call for him. What I don’t understand is how Mercedes could get their strategy that wrong. You would have thought that they’d split the strategy between their two cars and have one mark Vettel and the other mark Leclerc. 

It’s crazy when you consider there’s 40 people sitting behind computers at each of the top team’s home base and they’re all looking at endless streams of data and they still manage to get it wrong, not just once, but quite consistently in fact. Not just Mercedes but generally speaking across all the top teams. Had they just had an engineer on pit lane and the driver evaluating the situation you would never have made the decision Mercedes made. Either the drivers would have said, “I’m coming in because Vettel’s coming in.” Or the engineer would have made to the call to pit immediately. 

You have about five seconds at best to make that decision and you just have to go from experience by the seat of the pants sometimes and make the call. That’s what Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher were so good at back in the day. A lot of that comes from doing sports car racing for a while. You get used to strategy calls like that because you can’t mess around during an endurance race where you have to pit multiple times. You’ve just got to go for it. 

If you try to look at all of the data and factor every single scenario in, it’s already too late. That was clearly the case here. Mercedes blew it because they didn’t or couldn’t react quickly enough. 

When everybody was going that slowly it was obvious to me just sitting at home watching on the TV, that whomever came in first would get a huge jump on the rest, so when Vettel pulled the trigger you would have thought at least one of the Mercs would follow asap.

Leclerc clearly wasn’t happy with the decision to pit Vettel first and I can definitely understand why as it was obviously the right choice to go after the win. It’s hard to say if that was a team-wide decision or just made on the spur of the moment by Vettel’s side of the garage. 

JT – Sadly, the lack of race craft of several drivers was on display again at Singapore. There were at least three instances of contact that seemed easily avoidable including Haas’ Romain Grosjean’s collision with Williams’ George Russell. 

SJ – Yes, it’s sometimes mind-boggling how poor the race craft is among these guys. You’re almost lost for words. You see stupid moves you don’t see in a Formula 1 race at times. And it just keeps happening over and over again. They’re blindingly quick on a lap but their race craft is non-existent, but somehow that seems to be enough to keep the team owners happy. I would have thought points, as valuable as they are for the teams, would have more emphasis than a few quick qualifying laps. Interestingly though, the new crop of drivers that has come along in the last couple of years all look extremely good, which makes me think that in 3 years or so when they have the experience and are ready to be champions assuming they’re in the right car, the racing could become really good.

Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen, Beginning of a New Era? Exciting Races in Both F1 and IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 103

JT – Formula One has staged three Grand Prix since we last chatted for the blog. The most significant news off-track is reporting that the FIA and Liberty Media plan to adopt ground effects for the 2021 cars. The goal is to do away with many of the complex aerodynamic devices found atop the cars currently. Instead there will be a simplified, less sensitive front wing and a series of Venturi tunnels feeding a deep twin diffuser that will produce much of the car’s downforce. The concept is reminiscent of the ground effects F1 cars that raced between 1979 and 1983, and similar to what the Dallara’s currently fielded in Indy Car employ to produce downforce. 

The FIA says the combination of ground effects, simpler aerodynamics and front wheel deflectors will all work together to help cars to follow each other much closer. In addition, the series will feature low-degradation tires that have far less drop off than the current high-degradation tires from Pirelli. The changes are similar to what you have been arguing for, for several years now, though they don’t go as far. What do you think of the changes?

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SJ – Some of the points in their plan are similar what I’ve been suggesting for a while, which is not surprising as it’s just common sense really. What’s interesting is that they (Liberty Media] actually did the exercise that I’ve been asking about for some time now – which is to paint all of the cars white and then see if anyone can tell them apart. Apparently there were only three people in their office who could tell the difference between them. I think the comments I’ve made for a while are now becoming clear to lots of people, I’m not trying to say that I’m the only who thought of this as I’m obviously not, but if the engineers and technicians can’t even tell the cars apart it’s safe to assume that not very many of the millions of fans will be able to.

Their proposal to maintain the level of downforce with more ground effects rather than getting all of the downforce from the top of the car looks better but I still think as long as you have a car that relies primarily on aerodynamics for its performance – which the cars will even with ground effects – I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the problem of turbulent air. Computer modeling, wind tunnels and everything else the aerodynamicists have can never simulate well enough what’s going to happen in the real world. Once cars are on track together there are so many factors which upset the ideal circumstances they have when they use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind tunnels.

I still strongly believe that a huge reduction on aerodynamic downforce which is then countered by less weight, more tire grip and more power is the way to go to retain the same performance we see now but with much better racing and more interesting cars to watch both on the track and estethically.

JT – Apparently, F1 hopes to reach agreement with teams about the new rules by September 15. But how likely is that? And how much of what they’ve proposed will be negotiated away?

SJ – If they’re waiting for a set of rules that everyone will agree on, it will never happen. They can continue to have meetings until the year 3000, and nothing will change apart from some minor pointless details. They need to get the teams and the engineers out of the decision-making process. It should be up to the governing body and the commercial rights holders to come up with a set of fair rules that make sense to everyone who participates, not just the top two or three teams – something that’s more controllable and makes sense financially for all participants. If the teams don’t trust the people that is running the championship they shouldn’t take part in the first place. As soon as the teams get involved it’s inevitable that they will serve their own interests first and as such we end up with a grid-lock and eventually a set of rules that is full of compromises mostly in order to please the manufacturer teams. Teams and manufacturers always come and go, Ferrari being the only exception, which makes it even more important that they will come up with a well thought out set of rules that will stay in place for a considerable amount of time, as this is always the best way to control both the level of competition and the costs. Rules stability have always proven to be the most efficient way for a successful series.

JT - The races at Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, and Hockenheim featured more action than the season’s preceding eight races. Red Bull racing’s Max Verstappen took the win in Austria after overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc two laps before the checkered flag – the first victory for a team other than Mercedes in 2019.

In England, Lewis Hamilton won, taking his seventh victory in 10 races. Teammate Valtteri Bottas led from pole and looked to have control of the race until a safety car was called for Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo which spun off. Hamilton dived into the pits, essentially getting a free pit stop, and leap-frogged Bottas. Behind, Charles Leclerc and the two Red Bulls fought for the podium. 

In Germany, rain came, leading to a variety of errors from drivers and teams. Max Verstappen survived a spin and five trips to pit lane for wet, medium and dry tires to win the race. Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas both spun off track in the wet with Bottas’ off ending his race. Hamilton finished 11th on track after multiple offs and a penalty for entering pit road beyond a cone denoting its limit. Post-race penalties to the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Giovinazzi promoted him to 9th. Sebastian Vettel stayed on track to finish an unexpected 2nd after starting from the back of the grid. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat rounded out the podium with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll finishing 4th.

Following the races, Liberty Media’s Ross Brawn said the excitement they provided was a great response to the “vitriolic criticism” of F1 this season. But of course, the only reason Hockeheim had any “excitement” was because of rain. What’s your impression of the last three races?

SJ – Yes, the last three have all been terrific races with plenty of action and some surprising results, especially the last one at Hockenheim. F1 typically has two or three great races every year – always when the unknown enters into them - weather conditions or something else that can’t be simulated or predicted beforehand. Taking the predictability out of the racing is exactly what we’re looking for. The race at Hockenheim was a classic example of this. It was simply that the rain came and went and the teams had to adjust accordingly. Most of them got it wrong at least one and some of them many times. I think they changed tires like five times. But nevertheless it turned out to be a very entertaining race to watch, with several surprises in the end result. It’s great to have a race like this once in a while regardless of what the category is, but wouldn’t it be great if every race could come down to drivers competing hard on the track in equal cars, and different strategies on both fuel and tires played a big part of the end result. 

Austria started out being kind of boring and then it came down to the tire situation. Verstappen was on fresher tires and he was catching everyone hand-over-fist. At every race, whoever can make the tires work is so much quicker than the rest. The Red Bull chassis are always very  good too and the Honda engineers are really starting to get the job done.

I think this result is the beginning of a new era. As I said a year ago when the switch from McLaren to Red Bull happened, eventually Red Bull, Verstappen and Honda will dominate, probably for four or five years once they get it right, which they will. When Honda is committed they always get it right in the end, and once they do they are very hard to stop. I think the combination of Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda might be the new Dream Team that will be very hard to beat in the next 5 year period, as long as all the main people stay committed. 

Ferrari continued having their problems at Hockenheim too. Both cars had issues in qualifying for Hockenheim and then in the race they were better. Vettel did a great job moving forward with some brilliant moves especially in the first few laps. Leclerc got schooled by Verstappen in Austria and realized he had to roll up his sleeves and get a bit more aggressive. I think he did a great job at Silverstone (Leclerc finished 3rd) but obviously he made a mistake at Hockenheim, like several others did in the same spot. I think they all got caught out by how incredibly slippery the track surface was once you got into the runoff area, under normal circumstances theirs is no real change in the grip level once you go into the runoff, but here it was like ice.

There was more dicing at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring. Maybe it’s the nature of those tracks because they’re fast and flowing. There aren’t really any stop-and-start corners at either track. And with the amount of downforce the cars have now, you don’t really have to be on the racing line to carry the speed through the corners. It’s almost like oval racing, the way they drive around some of these corners – one car on the outside and the other on the inside, doing the same speed. Normally if you’re not on-line you lose your pace. We’re seeing some outside passes that we didn’t see before at a few of the tracks, which is great to watch, so maybe the high downforce is actually working better in that regard at these specific tracks and corners. It certainly provided some great racing and passing.

Bottas did a good job at Silverstone but the safety car just came at the wrong time. It certainly worked in Lewis’ favor and he obviously got a bit lucky which he admitted. But when things are going your way, almost everything you do seems to work. When they’re not, everything you try seems to go wrong. Vettel on the other hand is definitely on the flip side of that cycle. I also don’t think Vettel is comfortable with the car now. 

I don’t think he’s ever been really comfortable with the cars of this era – the hybrid cars. They clearly don’t suit his driving style. I don’t think he can get the cars to operate the way he wants them to, to have confidence and be comfortable with them. The Red Bull he had with the blown diffuser and everything, it obviously suited his driving style perfectly.

JT – You think Mercedes set up was wrong for both drivers at Hockenheim?

SJ – It looked to me like Hamilton and Bottas had very similar problems. They went off at the same corner in almost identical circumstances where the rear just snapped without even a wiggle, it just went into a full spin immediately. That would lead me to believe something wasn’t right with their cars. Whatever set-up they had was affected worse than anyone else, maybe the car bottomed out in that particular spot or something else went wrong. It seems strange though that both drivers would do identical mistakes in exactly the same place in the same corner.

JT – Whatever the case was for Mercedes and the rest at Hockenheim, the Indy Car race at Mid-Ohio was far more exciting. There was fantastic racing throughout the field. Scott Dixon won after some terrific dices with Will Power and even his own teammate Felix Rosenqvist. It was proper nail-biting racing. 

Source: @scottdixon9

Source: @scottdixon9

Congratulations go to all of the guys on the podium with Scott finishing on top, Felix in 2nd place and Ryan Hunter Reay in 3rd. But special congratulations to you. You’ve had a role in all three drivers’ careers. Of course, you manage both Scott and Felix. And though many may not remember, Ryan Hunter Reay came into Indy Car racing with your American Spirit Team Johansson in 2003. Ironically, Hunter Reay’s first-ever Indy Car podium came with your team at that season’s Mid-Ohio round where he finished 3rd! He went on to win the 2003 season-ending race at Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.

SJ – Yes, even when you have three great races in F1, you turn on Indy Car on any weekend and the race is nearly always a nail biter which is rarely over until the last few laps. Every race ends up being exciting right until the end. Mid-Ohio was another brilliant race! Felix was on a different strategy than Scott. Rossi and Newgarden and Power were on different strategies and everyone was racing hard on track, and it went right to the finish line with only 0.09 separating the first two cars. If F1 ever had one race like that people would go ballistic!

When Felix and Scott were racing each other at the end, I seriously thought I was getting a heart attack! I was freaking out but it was great! For me personally it was fantastic obviously to see them get a 1-2. And I believe that’s the first 1-2 finish Ganassi has had in Indy Car since Scott raced with Dario [Franchitti]. And with Ryan finishing third as well it was an amazing day.

JT – Even the previous round, on a completely different type of track – the short oval at Iowa Speedway – was exciting and unpredictable. Scott had a very difficult night with the car not responding to a host of set-up changes and was running in 16th place. But pit strategy and a caution flag at the right moment late in the race allowed him to charge up to 2nd place! Josef Newgarden won the rain-delayed race and was doing donuts 1:15 am central time

SJ – It was a crazy race and I still can’t believe Scott managed to pull his way back to 2nd after being a couple of laps down at one point, but again, this is what makes Indycar the best racing in the world right now, it has all the right ingredients for close and unpredictable racing. As far as the competition side of the business goes, they are doing pretty much everything right. The only thing I’m having a hard time to understand is the lapped car rule, where the backmarkers can still race the leaders even when they are about to go a lap down. I don’t think it’s fair that they should be able to effect the outcome of the race. If it’s not your day, you should just move over and let the leaders continue to fight until the end, rather than getting caught up for laps behind someone who’s over a second a lap slower. 

JT – Haas F1 continues to struggle on track. Their car, the VF-19, is obviously part of the problem. But the drivers are another liability this year. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen can’t seem to stop running into each other. They have an open rivalry of course but what’s taken place between them at nearly every race of the season seems illogical. Gunter Steiner recently said he was more than frustrated with their behavior and shouldn’t have to be mediating between them when he should be focused on making the car and team better. Why not sack both Grosjean and Magnussen and perhaps replace them with Indy Car drivers?

SJ – Unfortunately for them, the situation at Haas is almost comical. I can see it being justified if they are fighting for the lead or the championship, like Lewis and Nico was a few years back, but I think even those two had better discipline and race craft than the Haas guys do. It’s ridiculous to be fighting as teammates over 10th position and keep bouncing into each other race after race. Something’s not right there. These guys just have no race craft. And how much patience can Haas have, it’s not like either of them are World Champion material or ever will be? Haas shouldn’t have to be thinking about them in addition to making the car better or whatever else, if you are paid driver you are there to enhance the overall performance of the team, not give them an added headache to deal with pretty much every weekend. 

If any of these guys were to race in Indycar, not just the Haas guys but in general, they would have to make some major adjustments in order to be competitive. Execution is everything in Indy Car. If you or the team get one thing wrong you lose several positions immediately and fighting your way back from that is almost impossible as close as the racing is. And at most of the tracks you don’t have run-off areas where you can rejoin the rack after bouncing off someone else or missing the apex, so if you tangle or have to go off track for any reason, your day is pretty much over. 

The irony is that F1 teams are now considering guys like Pato O’Ward who left to join Red Bull in Super Formula in Japan and Colton Herta is being considered by a number of teams. Both of them are super talented but if you look at what they have done in Indy Car – for an F1 team to consider them kind of sums up the mentality of Formula 1. Neither one of them is ready for F1. They have one good race in Indy Car and then a series of others with mistakes or poor execution. It’s the most bizzare situation at the moment, where Formula One has now become some kind of training ground for young talented drivers. Every now and then you will find a Unicorn, like Hamilton or Verstappen for example, but for everyone of those there’s a graveyard of other really talented drivers that got spat out of the system very early on for a variety of reasons but primarily because they simply weren’t ready either mentally or technically. 

But this is how they think in F1. It’s all about really young and fast drivers. If you’re over 20 years old, no one in F1 will even look at you it seems. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be patient and take a driver who’s 23, 24 or 25 years old who’s had four or five years of hard racing behind them duking it out in other series and has shown that they’re a proven winner. 

JT – That’s a great point. Why wouldn’t F1 teams be looking at relatively young Indy Car drivers like Josef Newgarden or Alexander Rossi? Rossi’s been in F1 before but only with a back-marker team. Both guys are proven winners. Newgarden already has an Indy Car championship under his belt (2017) and Rossi is a threat at every race. Both are competitive with the series’ most decorated and experienced racers like Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter Reay, etc. Felix Rosenqvist is another possibility. He’s really beginning to show his talent in Indy Car. 

SJ – Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. These guys have been in Europe in the early days of their careers and now they’ve been racing hard for a few years and have a lot more experience. Now is the time that F1 teams should be looking at them not when they started their careers over there and had virtually no experience with either the tracks or the people they were racing against.

The Predictability of F1, Indy500, WEC GTE-Plus & the Sad Departure of Our Friend Niki Lauda

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 101

JT – The Spanish Grand Prix was the fifth race of 2019 F1 season and, like the four races that preceded it, the outcome was never in doubt. Mercedes finished 1-2 for the fifth time. Lewis Hamilton won taking the championship points lead back from teammate Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen rounded out the podium with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc trailing behind.

The best of the rest finished 20 seconds behind Hamilton. Once more there was little passing on track. Only Mercedes seems to perform consistently. What are your thoughts on the season so far? 

SJ – More than anything it seems that whoever can get the tires to work wins. Mercedes was struggling in the beginning. I think Ferrari had perhaps a slight advantage in the first race or two which they didn’t capitalize on. It seems like no one can consistently get the tires to work except for Mercedes – even if they don’t sometimes get it right until race day.

For the rest of the teams it’s totally random. Especially in the mid field the teams get the tires to work at one race but not at the next race or vice versa.

Why are Mercedes getting it right? I think it’s what sums up Formula 1 right now. They simply have more resources and are able to throw everything but the kitchen sink at whatever problem they encounter. This is why I don’t understand why teams like Ferrari seem to be all for the continual pissing contest approach to F1 - just throwing dollars at it. Who’s going to win against Mercedes in a contest like that? as long as they are committed to F1 it will be near impossible to beat them under the current set of rules.

I think we were all hopeful before the season started that this year might be different. The testing looked promising but it hasn’t gone that way, and it’s not that surprising.

JT – That competitive imbalance and the utter predictability of F1 in recent years is literally killing interest in the series. That’s what spurred you to write your 25-page proposal to “Make F1 Awesome Again”. The treatise recently appeared on Motorsport.com , pitpass.com and some other outlets. Reaction to the ideas you offered has been mixed from fans and from people working inside F1.

JT – First, I have to say it’s one thing to make the proposal I’ve made and offer ideas, it’s relatively easy to be a “grand stand expert”,  It’s another thing if you’re in charge and guiding F1 and you’re in the line of fire for making those decisions. But the trend we’ve seen in making changes to F1 for quite a while now is either too much too soon or too little too late it seems – either an overreaction to something that happened or not enough for something that needs to happen.

It’s a very comprehensive and detailed document which took the best part of a year to write. A lot of work and research went into it. To make a very quick summary, until F1’s (and racing in general) over-reliance on aerodynamics is addressed I don’t think it’s really going to matter much what else is done because aero dictates everything right now. Yet it is the one factor that negatively affects all four main pillars of the business of F1, them being, COMPETITION, ECONOMICS, ENTERTAINMENT and RELEVANCE.

For anyone who has not read the document, what I am proposing is to set a fixed limit on downforce, in order to eliminate the importance of aerodynamics and instead shift the engineering focus to other areas that will force designers and engineers to become more innovative and find performance from other areas of the car, maybe even things we have not even invented yet.

Really, one of my main proposals is to open F1 up again to meaningful innovation. Some people outside of F1 have questioned how you could bring an F1 car down to a weight of 500 kilograms as I’ve proposed. The whole point is that there should be the engineering freedom to try different ideas. If you want to run a two-stroke engine, run a two-stroke with no radiators or whatever. Get rid of the batteries for the hybrid system and you’ll remove a huge amount of weight right there. You could go in whichever direction you choose governed by a fixed rule on how much energy you are allowed to use. If hypothetically, a two-stroke turns out to be the best option – weight versus power versus energy use – well then use it. Or use another solution, as long as you meet the criteria of a fixed amount of energy consumption for the duration of the race.

One of the reactions I’ve gotten from the various forums on these websites is that limiting downforce or using other technologies would be taking the series backward, they somehow think I am a fan of going back the 70’s with cars that had no downforce and were sliding all over the place. But what I’m trying to say is the exact opposite. If people think the series is at the cutting edge of technology by constantly relying on aerodynamics as the prime source of performance, they’ve got it backwards.

The aerodynamics used in F1 has been the primary source of technology to make the cars go faster since the late 70’s, because it’s by far and away the easiest way to get more performance from a racecar, unfortunately to the detriment of all the other factors that make racing exciting and interesting to watch. There’s so much more technology out there that could be employed or developed for a race car if you significantly diminish the role of aerodynamic downforce. Aero is always the easiest way to get performance, so by limiting the importance of it, teams would be forced to become more innovative and creative in finding new sources of performance provided the rules are open enough for them to explore these areas.

I’m trying to encourage new thinking. Interestingly, I’ve had several people who work in F1 currently, including some of the top technical directors,  contact me saying, “Great article, love it. Absolutely the way to go” They even agreed with my comments about keeping the engineers out of the decision making process for the rules, which I thought was more refreshing than anything.

The other area I got a lot comments and some criticism on was about my proposal to use standard components for a  lot of the parts on the cars. It’s the same old argument that if you standardize the parts of the cars it will eventually become a one make formula and F1 will lose it’s original DNA. My point is that although the teams currently have to make many of the parts of their cars themselves, the parts they make are all essentially the same. Everybody’s basically doing the same thing but at an astronomical cost, why not instead agree on all the parts that make no difference in the end, and instead shift the focus to areas that are not yet touched on and let there be some creative thinking to find out what they may be and then allow the teams to develop new ideas in these areas. Because the rules are written so tight and restrictive all the cars eventually end up looking identical, because within the current rules there are no options to go out on a limb and create something different. Everybody end up polishing the same concept to the umpteenth degree, at a cost that is astronomical for each team. The fans don’t see or for the most part don’t care about any of this.  All the cars have the same concept of wings, brakes, gearbox, electronics etc and there’s no room for anyone to even think of a different concept or layout of a car, they all end up looking the same. The point is to force the teams to refocus on areas which are open and free and develop technology that may not even exist yet. Open it up and really innovate. That’s my point.

JT – Formula 1 must make significant changes very soon if it wants to retain global interest and its status as the top category of motorsport. With every uncompetitive race that passes I hear from more and more fans that they no longer have the desire or time to watch grands prix where the outcome is completely predictable before the race begins. They are tuning out in large numbers. Do you agree?

SJ – I agree, I’ve had a huge amount of emails on that very subject recently. It’s exactly that – people are telling me , “I’m over it.” “I’m tuning out.” Or, “I’ve been a fan for 40 years but I’ve had enough.” Political correctness is not going to keep this thing going, my belief is that it needs to go in the opposite direction, we need to bring the awesome factor back somehow.

JT – The Indianapolis 500 is fast approaching. We had the qualifying last weekend with a lot of excitement, especially at the back end of the grid where the bumping of the last three positions turned out the be full of drama. Fernando Alonso and Mclaren failed to make the race, what are your thoughts on this.

SJ – You’re absolutely correct in that there was a lot of excitement both during the qualifying weekend and the build-up during the week. From a driver and team point of view, there is nothing that comes even close to the pressure of qualifying at Indy, it brings out the best and the worst in everyone it seems. It was a mixed bag this time due to the extreme weather conditions that made it very difficult for all the teams that had a late draw in the line. All the cars running early in the day made it on the grid comfortably, whereas the late draws really had to fight for it. Felix was on the bubble a couple of times and had to go out for a new attempt, I think he was pretty happy when it was all over. Many people were shocked that Mclaren didn’t make the grid, but frankly, the way they went about it certainly made it difficult for them to ever consider winning the race, and when things started to go wrong with the odd delays and the crash in practice, the odds were massively stacked against them to even qualify, which is what happened in the end. Alonso did what he could, he was flat for four laps, but if the car is not underneath you there is nothing you can do to make any difference. I have to make one comment though regarding Alonso, I assume he came back this year with the intent to win the race and not just be there to participate, after missing out on a potential win last year. Between himself and whomever it is managing him or advising him, what on earth where they thinking going with a one car, one off race program trying to beat the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti?

Indy is a brutal place, it’s plays with your mind all the time, you can have a perfect car in the morning and then the wind direction changes or the track temperature goes up and the car becomes undrivable an hour later.

That’s why when the opportunity came up for Scuderia Corsa, which I am the Sporting Director of, to join Ed Carpenter’s team we jumped on it immediately, they have a well run team and arguably the fastest cars every year at Indianapolis. Ed Jones did a great job qualifying the car 4th,  and the team is looking very strong with their 3 cars quaiifying 2nd-4th for the race.

Scott had a rough draw too and ended up running in the heat and the wind, he ended up 19th which is not exactly where he wanted to be, but he seems pretty happy with his race set up so hopefully he’ll do his usual magic and work his way to the front.

JT – The World Endurance Championship seems to be in a bit of a mess as its 2018-2019 season winds down. A new formula for its LMP1 class was supposed to be in place by now but the WEC’s proposal to race “hypercars” based on pure race developed cars that would be later homologated for the street and some hypercars currently in production for consumers has failed to win support or commitment from auto manufacturers.

There has been a proposal from some manufacturers which mirrors what you have been suggesting for at least two years already. They call it “GTE-Plus” but it’s basically the same idea you’ve voiced for un-restricting the horsepower of current GTE cars and providing them with a bit more aerodynamic grip and larger tires. It’s not certain that there’s enough support for that idea but it could be WEC’s “plan B”. In the meantime, it looks like the championship’s 2020-2021 season is in jeopardy for the LMP1 class. With no formula in place as of late May, manufacturers will not have enough time to design and field cars by the time that season begins.

SJ – No one seems to be ready to make a decision and it’s not surprising. I don’t know where it’s all going to lead. The thing is, they’ve always been dependent on manufacturers because they pour so much money into the WEC. But only Toyota is left now and it’s not certain what they’re going to do.

My stand has been, for a while now, to just get rid of the prototypes. We don’t really need them anymore. Even If you freed up the current GTE cars they could be about 10 seconds per lap quicker around Le Mans almost immediately. That’s all you need. If you just allowed the current GTE cars to run without restrictors with even the same horsepower as the road cars they’re based on – that would give them 250 to 300 horsepower more than they have now. That’s probably worth about six seconds per lap alone.

Add ten percent more aero and wider tires with better grip and you can get to 10 seconds per lap quicker pretty easily. That’s where the WEC has said they want speeds to be – in the 3 minute, 30s range. And if you can do that, as I’ve said before, pretty much every manufacturer will want to be part of it. It could be huge with some of the best drivers in the world fighting it out for the overall win. Every manufacturer would pour huge money into the activation as well as the competition because they would be able to fight for the overall win. That’s a big difference to just winning your class.

The costs would be much lower, because the development costs could be amortized over a period of years and recouped by selling customer cars to privateer teams that would compete with essentially the same cars as the factory teams. A GTE or Hypercar with those relatively minor modifications wouldn’t ever get anywhere near the cost of a hybrid prototype car. And you would just have to homologate a car that’s within reason. The homologated “Le Mans” version car would almost certainly sell out in advance so it would be a money-making operation for all the manufacturers.

How do you quantify prototypes today anyway? An LMP2 car today is so restricted that it’s a complete joke. You build these amazing cars and then you do everything you can to slow them down. Every car on the grid including the GT cars are currently so restricted that it makes no sense on any level. A GT car today, even a roadcar, is so much more advanced in every area compared to 15-20 years ago. So why go through all the trouble of restricting them when they can go as fast as a prototype did back then if they were unrestricted. This is the reason I am arguing that there is really no need for a prototype class anymore when we have these amazing GT cars on the market from virtually every sportscar manufacturer in the world. Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, Lamborghini, BMW, Corvette etc would all be fielding factory teams and then sell the same car to the privateer teams.

The GT or Hypercar based formula will work great at Le Mans as long as they strictly enforce the rules. What always seems to happen is that there’s a set of rules that start out with good intentions. But then it doesn’t take long for manufacturers to find loopholes but instead of enforcing the rules they have or shutting down the loopholes immediately, the ACO and FIA let it carry on. Then when one manufacturer does something, everybody else has to do the same, and on and on it goes. After 3-4 years you can barely recognize the original car because everyone has been bending the rules and got away with it.

That’s always been the trend and it’s the same in F1. This is one thing I like about American racing, they don’t screw around. If NASCAR or Indycar sees someone pushing the envelope beyond the spirit of the rules, they shut it down immediately.

JT- Finally, we sadly found out today that Niki Lauda left us. I know you raced against him in F1 in your early years and towards the end of his F1 career. Did you get to know him at all during that period.

SJ- Yes, it’s very sad. He was an amazing guy, both as driver and a human being. He was probably the one driver I tried to model my early career around in many ways, because he was such a hard worker and thinker. He always had the ability to look at the bigger picture and figure out what he needed to do get the results in the end. What he did as a racing driver was absolutely amazing, his fightback from the accident, walking away from it all in the middle of a race literally and then come back a few years later and win another world championship is just incredible. And then all the success in his other life with the aviation business, a very special man indeed. His personality was fantastic, always straight to the point and a fantastic sense of humor. A very sad day for all of us in the racing community.