JT – The Indy 500 was a good race on many levels. Unusually, the race was caution-free through over two-thirds of its duration and the cautions that did arrive near the end were thankfully not too dramatic and brief. It was good to see Ryan Hunter-Reay out front crossing the finish line just ahead of Helio Castroneves, becoming the first American to win the 500 since Sam Hornish did it in 2006.
On the other hand, Scott Dixon’s day was going well until he spun unexpectedly. You were there for the event as usual, what did you think of the race?
SJ – Yes, it was a good race, with a very exciting finish as almost every Indy 500 ends up being. I think the decision to red flag the race when the last caution flag came out was a brilliant idea in order to give the fans a real finish, which it definitely ended up being. For me, IndyCar racing is the best racing in the world right now. Every race is exciting and the championship is wide open until the last race every year. It’s tough racing with a lot of different drivers that can win races.
Ryan Hunter Reay did a phenomenal job and I think it was a great outcome for IndyCar. Right now there’s Ryan, Will [Power] and Scott Dixon who seems to be the three guys who can deliver results on a consistent basis. The moves Ryan made to win were great and he was there at the front all day and he absolutely deserved the win.
They’re still trying to figure out what actually happened to Scott when he had his accident. Seemingly there was no warning, the car wasn’t loose and there was always a small push in it. He was just running his usual strategy of running very lean and conserving fuel, trying to get an extra lap advantage on everybody else in terms of when he needed to pit at the end of each stint and then be able to short-fill on fuel on the final stop and get out of the pits ahead of everyone else.
He felt he would have easily had the speed to go to the front if he had wanted to but he just sat there comfortably in the top-five as he’s the master of doing, waiting for the right moment and then the car just snapped. So all in all it wasn’t the best day for Ganassi Racing all around, or the best month for that matter as qualifying was not that great either.
JT – Kurt Busch’s drive was very good. What were your impressions?
SJ – I was very impressed, I think he did a fantastic job. It’s not easy to go from one type of car to another. These days, you need to be a specialist in every category of racing you compete in. Obviously, his oval racing experience helped but I think he did a terrific drive. He didn’t put a foot wrong in the race.
He had that mishap in practice but that probably helped him in a way, maybe waking him up a bit to how sensitive these cars are.
JT – The Monaco Grand Prix went pretty much as expected. Mercedes dominated yet again with Rosberg beating Hamilton to the finish line this time. Many had speculated that the street-course nature of the circuit would help the other teams close the gap to Mercedes in terms of performance but that wasn’t the case.
SJ – Yes, it was a typical Monaco race really. All the speculation beforehand about the other cars being able to get closer was just nonsense. You know, people always talk about the rain for instance, as an equalizer. Even rain doesn’t make much of a difference these days. You still need a good car under you. The best-developed cars with the best grip and drivability are still going to be quickest in the rain.
So those arguments are moot these days. Mercedes is going to be quick everywhere in every condition.
JT – With Mercedes having won all six grands prix this year and still maintaining a clear advantage, the battle for the championship looks to be between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. That’s nothing new for Formula One. I suppose it’s enough to retain fan interest.
SJ –I think it is, it’s always been this way in F1. Normally you may have two teams fighting for the championship or occasionally three but most of the time it’s just two, and often, like this year, it’s just within one team. Mercedes’ dominance is impressive but it’s also not too surprising.
When you have wholesale rules changes like they did for this year the chances are much greater that one team – especially one with massive resources like Mercedes – is going to find the magic bullet. If the rules stay the same for a period of time, everybody will eventually catch back up. As I’ve said so many times in the past, rules stability is what makes good and close racing.
JT – That’s undeniably true. What seems ridiculous is that these comprehensive rules changes in the interest of “green racing” and more relevant technology have done nothing to improve the actual racing. The racing itself is less competitive at the front this year. Clearly, Formula One is still not “green” in any way and the rules changes forced teams to spend a fortune to develop these new cars. Why go through the expense of the changes if they don’t improve the series’ main product – the racing?
SJ – Yes, that’s the point many people have made since the season started. The bottom-line I suppose is that everybody has to be politically correct these days – even in Formula One. Everybody has to be seen to be “doing the right thing” whether it’s the right thing or not.
Formula One is a very high visibility sport and I think the pressure to change came mostly from the auto manufacturers because they needed to be seen supporting something that had green technology. Again, if the rules stay in place for two or three years the other teams will get much closer. But it’s true that these kinds of very technical changes make it increasingly difficult and subsequently very expensive.
All bets are off now as far as budgets. The big teams are spending exorbitant amounts of money again – back to the levels that were in place before the cost-cap discussions began. And I just don’t know how they could ever police a cap. If they can’t even police the technical rules for the cars adequately, how are they ever going to police spending?
F1 is already massively complex and it doesn’t bear thinking about how complicated it could get if you have to enforce something like that. One of the best ways to manage it in my opinion is to look at all the parts on the cars that have no relevance to the overall performance or any technology development that could be of long term benefit to the car industry in general and make them standard components supplied by one manufacturer. This is the case in almost every other category of racing and it helps bring the costs down substantially. There will still be plenty of scope for the teams to be creative and find solutions that will give them an edge over their competitors. As it is right now, pretty much every single little bracket on a F1 car is done in house. No wonder they employ close to 1000 people now just to make the chassis. It’s crazy!
JT – Leaving aside the exaggerated press coverage of the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg, it is at least interesting that they are competing so strongly.
SJ – Yes, you wouldn’t expect anything else. They’re both tough competitors and they’re very close to each other in terms of their level of driving but in different ways. Their competition sort of reminds me in a small way of the Alain Prost/Ayrton Senna rivalry.
You have one guy with a copious amount of natural talent who wears his heart on his sleeve and makes comments in the press continually. Then you have the other guy who’s equally competitive but chooses to play his game more behind closed, the end result is very similar but they just have different ways going about it. Nico seems to prefer to operate more behind closed-doors and not vent in the press all the time, much like Prost used to operate. Senna, just like Lewis, used the press all the time and according to him, at every race pretty much the whole world was against him, unless he won of course. There was never a day without drama of some sort and that was the case at almost every grand prix. But in the car he was just phenomenal. Prost on the other hand worked equally hard on the team and any other angle he could think of to get the upper hand, it’s all part of the game. Sport is like war, but without the weapons.
Lewis is kind of the same as Senna in that regard. His method of mind-games is clearly to use the media to his advantage. I found Lewis’ recent comments about how Nico has led a privileged life a bit absurd. I think they have both had a relatively privileged life from a very early age. Lewis has had everything handed to him on a silver plate since he was 13 years old. He always had the talent to back it up of course but how many karters have the opportunity he had? Fully supported drives in Formula Three and GP2? I think his comments were a bit unfair.
Of course, if you give the media even half-a-percent of a story they will absolutely run with it. Just for fun, we used to play games when I was in Formula One, particularly at McLaren with Prost, where you would tell a journalist something that was supposedly an “exclusive”.
In the morning you’d say to him, “You’re the only person, I’m telling this. You’ve got to promise me to keep it to yourself.” Then we’d start a stopwatch. Most of the time, the story would come back to you by lunchtime. Before you’d get in the car for the second practice some other journalist, completely different from the one you spoke to, would come to you and tell you – “I’m the only other person who knows about this but….”
The story would have made it around the entire paddock in less than three hours!
JT – Interestingly, at Red Bull Racing it seems to be Sebastian Vettel who is suffering bad luck in terms of reliability while Daniel Ricciardo has had fewer problems with his car. Still, Ricciardo is acquitting himself well and has so far withstood the pressure of being Vettel’s teammate quite well.
SJ – Yes, it’s funny how that works. As I’ve said before, you’re either the windshield or the bug. When things go your way you can’t put a foot wrong. Every decision you make is the right one, every move you make sticks. Everything just falls into place.
Then suddenly, you’re slugging it out and everything that can go wrong goes wrong. That’s just the natural cycle. But Vettel’s a strong guy and he won’t let this trouble him. If you know the reason why things are happening there’s no reason to get beaten up. I am certain he’ll come back and be right at the front.
Having said that, I think Ricciardo is doing a phenomenal job. He’s very good in the car obviously. He hasn’t made any mistakes so far and finishes where the car allows him to finish. That’s the mark of a champion.
And he came through the Red Bull development program and had to compete all the way. Vettel did as well. From that point of view you’d have to say that the program Red Bull has in place really does work. If you’re not good enough you don’t progress and that’s the right way to get weeded out.
Marlboro’s program used to be the same. There were hundreds of drivers of different nationalities who were part of the program and only the best made it to the top. Really, Red Bull’s program is in many ways a copy of what Marlboro did. That’s how I made it. I got into their program and managed to rise through the different levels until they got me in with Ferrari and McLaren, which were both sponsored by Marlboro.
JT – Now that the season has progressed, what do you think of Ferrari’s position?
SJ – They’re struggling obviously. Both drivers are ringing the neck of the cars, you can tell. They must be an absolute handful to drive. I don’t know exactly where they lack performance but it’s probably a bit of everything and that won’t be easily fixed. It will probably be next year before they’ve fixed what they need to fix.
JT – That lack of relative performance from Ferrari for yet another year has added fuel to speculation about Fernando Alonso’s future with the team.
SJ – It’s hard to know where the truth lies. Everybody’s in love with each other when they have a car that works great but I’d imagine by now that Alonso must be extremely frustrated. Obviously, every year that goes by his chances of winning another championship diminish. Although he should rank as one of the greatest drivers in Formula One, he hasn’t been in quite the right place enough times throughout his career.
JT – The 82nd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours is rapidly approaching. The battle at the top in LMP1 looks like it should be very interesting. Audi, Toyota and Porsche will be pushing each other hard. What do you anticipate?
SJ – I think it will be great. I think it’ll be a frantic race and my prediction is that the outcome will be determined by driver error more than anything. It’s almost inevitable that the pace is going to be high and everyone will be right on the limit. The chances of someone tripping up will be pretty big.
I think you have a better chance of that affecting the outcome than reliability issues. You only have to put your car in the wrong place at the wrong time once – especially with these marginal-at-best second and third drivers in the GT cars.
Any unscheduled pit stop seems to affect the race much more than being a tenth quicker on a lap. On that note, maybe the wily old fox from Denmark (Tom Kristensen, nine-time winner) will have a chance to win again. He’s brilliant himself of course, but where he’s really good is to rally his co-drivers into a game plan and then make everybody stick to it.
JT –LMP2 drivers in the WEC, Tudor United Sports Car and ELMS series have recently echoed comments you’ve made before about the relative lack of speed of the P2 cars compared to the GTE/GTLM and GT3/GTD, and how this necessitates risky overtaking in the brake zones. What are your thoughts?
SJ – The whole rules thing is so screwed up now it’s not funny. Across the board, in nearly every top level category, the cars are just weird to drive now and they keep trying to slow them down even more! We used to do nearly 400 km/h on some straights in F1 back in the mid 80’s! The people who got killed weren’t killed because of the speed. They all lost their lives literally because of freak accidents.
Elio [de Angelis] was killed when his car became airborne after the rear-wing came off. That could just as easily happen today. Today, tracks are much safer than they were then. Ayrton’s accident was also a freak accident. The same with Ratzenberger.
The whole “slow the cars down” with horsepower mentality is just wacky. The cars aren’t even good to drive anymore because of this. The P2 cars are so dumbed down now that they’re worse to drive than a Formula Three car. They have no power, they’re all about momentum. If you even think about breathing the throttle at all you lose three-tenths in one corner. You have to carry momentum all the time and it’s now all about mid corner minimum speed. It’s a whole different driving technique.
Combine that with all the modern race tracks where there are mostly slow and medium speed corners now which makes the momentum thing even more important. The GP track in Austin has six 1st gear corners in an LMP2 car, really…one is OK or maybe 2, but 6 is just ridiculous. All done to make the racing more interesting, which of course it doesn’t, in fact it does the exact opposite of that because the top speed is to low because there’s no power in the cars, the aero/braking efficiency is so good on a modern prototype or single seater that the braking zones are incredibly short which all combined makes overtaking more and more difficult. Which comes back to your question about the difference between the GT’s and the P2 cars, if you’re in a P2 car and you don’t get the power down absolutely perfect on the exit of a corner there’s not enough grunt to power past the GT cars which then opens the door for a banzai late braking move to avoid getting hung up behind the GT car in yet another corner which of course kills the lap time for the P2 guys, so it’s kind of a vicious circle in a way.
JT – Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix in dominant fashion with teammate Nico Rosberg finishing second. Clearly, Mercedes GP still has a significant advantage over the rest of the teams in F1. After the Bahrain Grand Prix there was optimism from some observers that the racing would be more unpredictable going forward but that appears not to be the case. What did you think of the Chinese GP and which team is second best currently?
SJ – Well, China was quite a typical Formula One race really. Lewis did his job extremely well all weekend and was never challenged. It’s difficult to say which team is the closest to Mercedes right now. Every race is different but Red Bull seems to have had the best consistency of the rest. Ferrari had a good run with Alonso in China. I think the big problem for the drivers, even for Hamilton and Rosberg, is to get the comfort level they like to have from their cars. Vettel is struggling and Räikkönen is struggling. They’re struggling to get their cars to the point where they can attack with the style of driving they have.
Usually it comes down to corner entry. If you can’t get the corner entry sorted, you’re screwed the whole way through. I think that’s the problem they’re dealing with. All of the things that are going on with the cars now– the “re-gen” on the engines (Energy Recovery Systems) and all these other systems - there’s so much going on as soon as they get on the brakes that it has to be difficult to get on top of. I don’t know all of the technical aspects but listening to the comments they’re making I get the feeling that a lot of their difficulties have to do with how they interact with those systems. To get the level of comfort they need, to have the systems not getting in the way of their driving style and to be able to carry the maximum speed to the apex of a corner – all of that is really critical, if you loose even ½ tenth in each corner it soon adds up over the course of a lap.
JT – Some drivers seem to be adapting to the new cars and systems better than others. And while we speculated that drivers new to F1 this year might adapt more quickly, having never driven the previous cars, it looks like some of the veterans, including Fernando Alonso are adapting pretty well.
SJ – Different eras and different types of cars suit some drivers better than others; it’s always been that way. I’m certain that with time both Kimi and Vettel will get the cars to where they like them to be but right now the cars clearly don’t suit their style of driving. Both of them are typically the best in the whole field at making their tires last the longest for example. That’s what Kimi was so good at with Lotus in a car that was clearly inferior in many ways to the others.
Alonso however, always seem capable of getting the most out of what is given to him in every situation year in, year out. Also, he’s like a bulldog on the first two laps of any race. He always manages to pick up a few places. He still manages to make a difference in a car that may not belong in the positions he finishes each race.
JT – Interestingly, Adrian Newey was not present in China for Red Bull. Apparently he was back in the U.K. working to make improvements to their cars. Meanwhile, Stefano Domenicali left Ferrari the week after the Bahrain GP and his replacement Marco Mattiacci was on hand.
SJ – Red Bull won’t be able make up their deficit to Mercedes in laptime just from the chassis if they’re allegedly down 80 horsepower to the car that is beating them. It’s pretty obvious that all the Mercedes powered cars are strong because they currently have that power advantage. There is no substitute for horsepower. I think Newey like all the rest of them will be looking for improvements in every area they can find.
F1 today has become an insane development war. It never stops, it’s 24-7 for everybody involved. Red Bull probably decided that Newey was better being at home and just working away than staying in a hotel room Shanghai. Obviously all the team is somewhat limited during the first few fly-away races of the year. Having said that, apparently every morning there are crates full of new stuff arriving for every team. It’s gotten to the point where it’s silly.
For me at least - and I think some of the bigger teams have the same outlook – it would be better if they mandated a stricter rules criteria which would automatically limit a lot of this development, especially aerodynamics where it’s completely out of control.
I don’t think anyone for a second expects that Mattiacci coming to Ferrari will make a difference right away or expect him to come in and have the “magic bullet” that will make them a World Championship winning team again. The car, at least for Alonso, was certainly better at China but the teams are like big ocean-liners. There are so many different people involved and so many different aspects needed to get them going in the right direction. It’s really about making everyone in a team work well together and gel. Ross Brawn put a team together at Mercedes that’s now dominant, even though he’s no longer with them.
Poor old Domenicali, I think he just had enough.
JT – What do you think of the intra-team battle at Mercedes between Hamilton and Rosberg? Rosberg retains the championship lead for now but Hamilton has surged lately. The comments they’ve been making about each other have been in the press quite a bit lately.
SJ – First of all, I don’t understand why every single conversation in every team it seems is somehow aired in public. Why? This kind of thing has been going on for 30 years or more. Of course you’re going to have team rivalries, this is completely normal. The first guy you always want to beat is your teammate. These mind games have been going on forever but you didn’t need to flush them through the media.
They talk about their data. Apparently, Lewis made some comment about Nico looking at his data before Bahrain. Well of course he’s going to look at Hamilton’s data. Everybody looks at each other’s data. It’s the benefit of having two strong cars in a team. It speeds up development for everybody. There’s nothing strange about that.
I really wish we had data when I had [Alain] Prost as a teammate (McLaren 1987) to figure what he was doing that was so different on track. We had nothing back then. It had just started to creep in at that point. Senna, luckily, got it when he joined (McLaren 1988) and the data was then quite reliable even if it was still very basic compared to now. But before that, you were blind. You had to rely on whatever you could feel, and the engineers had to rely a lot more on the comments the drivers gave them regarding car behavior, engine performance and characteristics and pretty much everything that you could think of that was going inside and outside of the car. I wish I could have looked at data to see how Prost was applying the throttle, his steering inputs and much more, that would have been great. Even without all that, I learnt more from the one year I worked with Alain than all the other years combined, he was a genius in the way he worked around the car and how he dissected all the information. If you can’t figure out your shortcomings with data there’s something wrong. It’s so incredibly helpful.
It’s not only the drivers, it seems everybody in the teams has to constantly air everything in public. I guess they need to keep their PR folks busy and any little comment seems to be taken out of context and blown into some big deal as long as it makes news.
JT – Speaking of that era of Formula One, there has been a lot of reflection in media this week on it being 20 years since Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola. What are your thoughts?
SJ – Yes, it’s now been 20 years since we lost a driver in Formula One, which is a great thing; I hope it will be a lot longer than that before it ever happens again, if ever. It was truly a shock for all of us when Ayrton got killed because he was the standard for all of us, the king of the field especially when Prost retired.
I wasn’t his biggest fan in general to be honest, maybe because we were competing against each other and as such there was the rivalry that comes from that. I had and still have an enormous amount of respect for him as a driver, he was probably the fastest and most naturally talented driver the world has ever seen, but he certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. But then, I was nothing more than a minor blip on his radar for a short period of time. More than anything though, the anniversary of his loss reminds me of all of my other friends that I was very close to who died as well – Michele Alboreto, Elio de Angelis and Stefan Bellof - and of Jeff Krosnoff who I was involved with in an accident. Every time it happens it does leave a scar in the back of your mind there’s no question about it. They were all great guys, great drivers and great friends.
JT – Force India - one of your pre-season picks as a team to watch - is doing well. Nico Hulkenberg has driven pretty well consistently and Sergio Perez looks much better as well.
SJ – I have to say, despite all the grief I gave Perez last year he’s actually done a great job this year. He beat Hulkenberg in Bahrain and got a podium which was awesome. So he’s obviously comfortable in the team and with the car. I’m sure he learned a lot from the McLaren experience. And Force India is clearly doing a good job this year.
All of the teams in F1, even the smaller teams, are great teams if you think about it. The effort they put into it, even a Caterham or a Marussia, is massive but that gets forgotten because you have all of these monster teams up front. If you took their effort and ability and put that into any other form of racing they would be first class competitors. The whole level in F1 is insanely high in terms of the people they draw, their attention to detail and the resources they invest.
JT – Many have speculated about Lotus-Renault’s future in the sport, wondering how long the team will continue. What’s your view?
SJ – Well they’re not the only ones with challenges and it’s been like this for years now in F1. A lot of the teams are really scraping the barrel to find the funding. But as I’ve said before, F1 isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s the maximum you can do in our sport, or in any form of sport for that matter.
I think the view that Bernie takes is, why should these guys get a free handout? Tony Fernandes (Caterham principle) is obviously a very astute businessman. He’s got a team that’s basically been on the back of the grid since they started but I don’t see the difference between him and say, Ron Dennis at McLaren. Ron lives, eats and breaths F1. It’s his passion and the only thing he cares about is winning F1 races and World Championships.
If Fernandes put that same amount of effort into his team, I’m sure the team would be closer to McLaren but it’s not. For Fernandes it’s a bit of fun thing along with many other things he’s doing. He’s also got a football team on the side (Queens Park Rangers). He’s got an airline (Air Asia) and many other ventures. Stop complaining and get on with it. That’s my view. He’s there with one foot in the pool but not committed 100 percent. Of course, the teams that complain the most are the one’s who don’t even have sponsors. There’s not a single sponsor on the Saubers or the Marussias or the Caterhams really. They’ve got the odd little thing here or there but for all intents and purposes they haven’t been able to find one proper sponsor. So why should Bernie pay for it all, is probably what he’s thinking.
JT – Touching on McLaren, they haven’t had the best season so far. They had a podium at the Australian GP but since then have looked lost even though they have Mercedes powerplants. Do you think they might be looking ahead to 2015 and their new partnership with Honda?
SJ – No, definitely not. With the resources they have there’s no reason why they should be on half-throttle and looking forward to Honda. Really, I think they’ve just gotten the car wrong again. Like I said, these teams are a bit like ocean-liners. They take a direction and commit to it and to change course takes time because everything they do is integrated, especially the development of the car.
When you have to change the whole philosophy of how you’ve designed the car, it’s not a matter of changing on thing or another. It’s a massive undertaking. For the last four years in a row they’ve basically done the same thing. They have a car that looks promising in testing and then they struggle during the season.
JT – You’ve said that the controversy over the sound of the F1 cars continues to puzzle you. Why?
SJ – I just don’t get it. I’ve only heard the engines via TV but if anything, I actually found the sound of the old high revving engines extremely annoying because they were so loud that it was uncomfortable for the ears. It gradually ended up being that way because again the rules got completely out of control.
To me, as long as the racing is good and the cars look spectacular, that’s what matters. If you compare the cars from the 1990s with their wide track and wide tires to today’s cars, I think they just looked awesome, and they were awesome to watch with them moving around a lot more. To watch Senna’s onboard footage qualifying one of those things was spectacular.
JT – Your WEC campaign with Millennium Racing has been put on hold for now. The team hasn’t been able to access the funding it had been promised and so you’ve missed the first two races at Silverstone and Spa. Apparently, your appearance at Le Mans is in doubt as well.
SJ – We’ve been told repeatedly that the money is just days away but it’s very complicated to get it released in time and I guess it’s a sign of the times. The bottom line is that we’re not doing Spa which means we’ll probably miss Le Mans as well because our slots will be taken by a reserve team. Our only hope is that ACO has used up every reserve team it has now and if any drop out and our funding arrives we may have a chance. But we’ll need to get very lucky for that happen.
JT – On the bright side, you’ll be racing with Kyle Marcelli and Scuderia Corsa in the team’s No. 64 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 at Laguna Seca this weekend at the fourth round of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. You’re also the team’s sporting director so I guess it was a good alternative given that you won’t be at Spa.
SJ – Yes, obviously there was a change of plan so I’ll be racing the Ferrari with Kyle which I’m looking forward to. I think it’ll be a good opportunity for us and we’ve always done well together. So, all in all, it’s not a bad change really.
JT – You were at the Nürburgring last week with Mazda Motorsports Team JOTA in the VLN series driving a Mazda MX-5. Sounds like good fun. How long has it been since you raced on the Nordschleife?
SJ – The race I did last weekend is the four-hour race which is the precursor to the Nürburgring 24 in June. Everyone at the JOTA team are all friends of mine and they asked me to join them for the race. I said, “What the hell, it’ll be fun.”
I must say how unbelievably cool the track still is. It’s weird because a lot of the drivers I’ve spoken to over recent years haven’t liked it. Then you add in the fact that you’re in a really slow car like the Miata and you’re looking in your mirrors all the time but I had the time of my life. It was a lot of fun.
You just have to have a different approach for your race strategy. I’ve always been used to being in the quickest cars where you spend all of your time anticipating the slower cars and trying to lose the least amount of time in traffic. It’s the same thing in a car like the Miata just reversed. You have to anticipate the faster cars coming up behind and be at the right place on track to give them room and not block them because they’ll block you as well. You’ve got to carry momentum and roll out of the throttle maybe 50 yards early so they have time to go by on the corner entry. Or you can stay in the middle so they can’t pass and let them get by at the exit.
But it was just great and the track is still fantastic. I loved it. It’s been 31 years since I last raced there! I did the last-ever proper race they did there in a Group C Porsche 956 with Joest Racing. Back in those days we had the 956s doing damn near 400 km/h (248 mph) on the straights on a track so narrow there’s barely enough room for two cars in some places. You can’t even imagine how bumpy it was – not harsh bumps but these long undulations where the car compresses completely. And we had more downforce in those cars than the cars have now even. It was insane! I knew it was like that in the race car back then but now having done it again I realize how crazy it was. But it was a good crazy, the ultimate thing you can do in a race car as far as I’m concerned.
The cool thing is that we’re going to do the 24 Hours in June the week after Le Mans.
JT – The American team industrialist Gene Haas is launching to race in F1 in either 2015 or 2016 has been making news lately. Apparently, it’s a serious effort and has been recognized as such by Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA. What are your thoughts?
SJ – One thing I’m puzzled by is why he didn’t just buy an existing team? There are several out there that would have given their left arm to either have a partner or sell to him. Obviously he’s a smart businessman so there’s a reason he’s doing it the way he is but to have an operation in America and, if the rumors are true, to have Dallara build the car? It will be very difficult. Remember the last time Dallara built a car? (Dallara chassis were used by the Hispania Racing F1 Team for the 2010 season) It was a disaster, and not because Dallara is a bad company with bad designers, because they are not. It’s a fantastic company with really great people.
It is simply a reflection of how massive an undertaking it is today to build a winning Formula One car. Whether you’re using a customer car or not in F1, the resources you need to build it are huge. Justifiably or not, the biggest teams have 100 people in their design offices alone. Okay, so Haas has a wind tunnel (the Wind Shear wind tunnel owned by Haas Automation in Concord, North Carolina) which I suppose many teams have already used and will be a big help. But the sheer challenge of setting up all of that from scratch rather than aligning yourself with an existing team and adding your resources seems like more of headache than you would want.
You have to invent, design, manufacture, test and then race every last component on your car – every single item. There’s nothing that you buy off the shelf. The scope of that is mind-boggling. We’ll see. It is great that the effort is being done. It’s great for racing in America. Hopefully they’ll be successful and they’ll have what’s been missing all along – a good American team in F1.
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JT – You’ve been quite busy since our last blog, getting ready for the WEC season-opener at Silverstone with Millennium Racing and working in your new role as Sporting Director with Scuderia Corsa. As things worked out, Kyle Marcelli took your place in the team’s No. 63 GTD Ferrari 458 at the 12 Hours of Sebring. How did that transpire?
SJ – As we mentioned in the last blog, the team decided we should have a fourth driver for Sebring and only one Gold-rated driver. The ratings TUSC uses mean I’m a Silver-rated driver so initially the team turned to me and said, “You can be the Silver.”
But when I arrived at the track Kyle called me and said his team basically hadn’t shown up.
(Marcelli was to drive with the No. 7 Starworks Oreca-Chevrolet FLM09 squad at Sebring but team-owner Peter Baron decided to withdraw the LMPC car shortly before the race due to previous damage at the Rolex 24. Kyle co drove with Stefan at the 2013 Sebring and Petit Le Mans races)
I had a word with my team and told them I was happy to step aside if they would put Kyle in the car. I knew he’d do a great job for them and it’s more important for him to get in the car for his career than it would be for me to do a one-off race in a GT car that I’m not that familiar with anyway.
So that’s what we did and Kyle did a great job all weekend. (Marcelli set the fastest lap in the Ferrari) Now he’s got himself pretty much sorted with the team for the season so that turned out well for him. I was happy to help him because he helped me get the drive with him at BAR1 Motorsports last year.
JT – The race didn’t end well for Scuderia Corsa. The No. 63 fell out of contention, losing several laps due to a technical problem, ultimately finishing 18th. That was particularly unfortunate because the car led the race on several occasions.
SJ – Yeah, we had an electrical issue unfortunately. We were running in the top five all day and we definitely had the pace to bother the leaders. We were saving our powder for the end of the race, resting our Gold drivers so they’d be ready to go in the final couple hours but the problems took any opportunity for a good finish away.
JT – What did you think of Sebring otherwise? Obviously, the race was marred by both poor driving and officiating.
SJ – I don’t think I’ve ever seen worse driving standards in any endurance race. Some of the drivers that were out there have no business competing at that level of racing. Their brain capacity is 100 percent used-up just to drive the car. They have nothing left even to look in their mirrors, adjust switches or do anything except to keep the car on the road. And I’m sure that can’t be fun for them either. They must be miserable out there when they’re not on top of the situation.
The low standard seemed to be particularly prevalent in the PC class. The PC cars are serious race cars – every bit as high level as the P2 cars and even more because they don’t have traction control and other systems that the P2s have to make life easier for the drivers. They’re actually a bit harder to drive but they’re only a little over a second slower.
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JT – On the officiating side, TUSC made several mistakes at Sebring including the now well documented errant penalty on the No. 22 Alex Job Racing GTD Porsche for contact with No. 49 Spirit of Race GTD Ferrari 458. The series then compounded the mistake by failing to penalize the car which actually made contact with the Ferrari – the No. 912 factory Porsche North America GTLM RSR – the car that went on to win the GTLM class.
SJ – The fact that the officials wouldn’t budge is unbelievable. If you remember last season in IndyCar with Scott’s (Dixon) penalty at Sonoma it’s a similar situation. If there’s even a shred of doubt before you hand out a penalty, why not wait until you can fully evaluate the situation?
You can always assess a penalty later - even after the race – once you’ve had a chance to objectively analyze the facts. But just throwing something out there as a penalty that you can never take back once it has been handed out, it’s simple incompetence.
I can certainly sympathize with the guys in the control tower, it’s a high pressure environment up there, but so it is for the guys at the scoring stand in the pitlane, as well as for the drivers of course. It’s a very stressful job being a steward or race official obviously and having the pressure of dealing with a situation like this one while the race is underway doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t envy them for a second but it doesn’t take away the fact that what happened at Sebring is inexcusable and to some degree unfathomable that it could down the way it did. I have a feeling that ego’s might have got hurt and somehow clouded the judgment a little.
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JT – The official WEC preseason test at Paul Ricard known as “The Prologue” took place last week and the first race at Silverstone Circuit is just a couple weeks away. The season is rapidly approaching for you and Millennium Racing.
SJ – Yes, the team was at the Ricard test and the cars are mega-quick. Everywhere we’ve been testing the cars are fast so I think we’re in good shape engineering-wise. Now we’ve got to get all the drivers together and do the final preparations.
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JT – We last spoke prior to the opening of the 2014 F1 season at the Australian Grand Prix. Since then, the Malaysian Grand Prix and the Bahrain Grand Prix has taken place as well. There has been a lot of comment about the season so far from a number of perspectives. What are your thoughts?
SJ – Well, if we talk about Australia first, bearing in mind how the pre season testing went, I was massively surprised and impressed by how many cars finished. Secondly, I was surprised by how close everyone was already. At Malaysia and Bahrain they were even closer again. That underlines again how impressive the engineering in F1 is overall. It’s incredible what all of the teams have achieved in such a short space of time. Some of the teams couldn’t even do three consecutive laps in testing so it’s very impressive how far they’ve come.
On the other hand, if I had commented before Bahrain I would have said the same as everyone else did, that the racing sadly seems to be even more boring than it was before. Then we get an amazing race in Bahrain where there is great passing and fights for position throughout the filed and throughout the race. So in the end, it seems that everything is back to normal, some races will always be boring and some will be absolutely fantastic, like the one in Bahrain. If we talk about the sound of the cars which many people seem to have an issue with, I honestly don’t see it being that much of a problem, it’s a perception based on what people are currently used to and people will very soon get used to this noise level also. If a car is performing and it looks fast whether it’s 140 decibels or 90 decibels, who cares? I really don’t see the issue.
The turbo engines we had back in the 1980s weren’t that noisy but they sure as hell performed and people didn’t seem to dislike them very much. I think it’s just a matter of getting used to the new noise.
I think the bigger issue is how complicated everything has become, particularly the whole fuel flow rule. (In addition to mandating a 100 kilogram fuel capacity limit, the FIA mandates that 2014 F1 cars must regulate fuel-flow at 100 kilograms per hour.) I’ve asked probably ten different current and ex-F1 engineers and designers to try to explain this rule to me. Honestly, I haven’t been able to get an answer that satisfies me from any of them. They say the flow has an impact on the power the engines develop and over what time. Apparently there’s some theory that drivers would lift off on the middle of the straight once they used the maximum power to accelerate out of the corners. It’s clearly obvious that no drivers were consulted on this, why on earth would you lift in the middle of a straight to save fuel if you’ve already used up to much coming out of the corner, it’s absolute nonsense thought up by some engineers who’s looked at whatever theoretical calculation will give them the absolute best fuel economy versus power scenario. Any driver worth his salt knows there are much more effective ways of saving fuel than lifting on a straight before you reach the braking zone.
Besides, everyone has the same size fuel tank (100 kg). If you use too much fuel in the beginning of the race or for that matter at any point in the race, you won’t make it to the end. Isn’t that enough? If you want to use 1,500 horsepower for three laps, that should be your prerogative. You’ll have to back off at the end of the race obviously to save fuel because you’ve used too much earlier on. That’s what we used to do with the turbo cars of the 1980s, that’s what we do in Sportscars, that’s what they do in Indycars. The races do become quite interesting from that point of view.
The FIA talks about the fuel-flow in terms of safety (limiting the power of the engines). We know the drivers can handle more power; in fact I am sure they are all begging for more power. I don’t see the safety aspect of this at all. I don’t understand why they need to complicate things so much. One of the most common complaints from all drivers currently is that all forms of racing have been dumbed down to much with engine restrictors. It used to be very common for any car in any high level of racing to be close to 1000hp, even in race trim. Indycars, Sportscar and of course also F1, now it seems they are all around the 650-800 hp mark, which really takes away a lot of the skill elements from a drivers perspective. I remember actually getting wheelspin and powersliding coming out of turn 2 at Indy in Qualifying, it was awesome!
But again, I don’t see what this whole fuel-flow thing is about. Aside from the fact that teams are having issues with metering the fuel, why is it even necessary? I’m not able to understand why the rule is there and I’m not the only one. Again, I’ve spoken to some highly qualified former F1 chief designers and technical directors, and they’re all shaking their heads just acknowledging that it’s a rule and that’s the way it’s written. That’s the only answer they can give me.
Whether you’re talking about F1, IndyCars or sports cars, you’re always marginal on fuel. You only have so much. At Le Mans you drive on the limit but you drive smart. If you drive smart you can actually get an extra lap out of a tank of fuel. You pick a point to brake at and then coast into the braking area, and all of the other tricks you learn over the years. I’m sure today’s top drivers in F1 would learn how to do that too very quickly, and most of them already do. If someone has chosen to run an engine at, let’s say 1,200 hp, for a period of time then so what? That’s what they chose to do. More power equates to more fuel. You don’t get something for nothing. You burn more fuel to make more power. It should be a choice teams can make, knowing they will have to conserve fuel if they do that.
Normally, you have a fuel number on the wheel. That’s the number you have to stick to. If you go over for a lap or two, you have to back off for a bit to bring your consumption back to that number. There are some very interesting ways to achieve that through the way you are driving. But unfortunately the drivers have nothing to do with that now.
So you keep coming back to the thought, why don’t you just fill the cars with fuel, have them go as quick as they can and may the fastest man win? That’s what I always thought racing was all about.
Also, the fuel mileage these new engines make is 5.3 miles per gallon. They’re about as far away from being “green” as you can be. The whole environmental, green aspect of this is complete nonsense. This is racing – 22 cars competing every fortnight around the world, trying to put on a good show with supposedly brave young men risking their lives to be the fastest man in the world. That’s it, or at least that’s what it should be all about.
JT – Agreed. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that the whole F1 circus travels by air and by sea to these races across the globe. A Boeing 747 burns approximately 25,000 pounds of fuel per hour. The sport is not environmentally efficient in any way. And despite the money spent and effort that has been made to comply with the radically different 2014 rules, it doesn’t appear to have made the competition any better so far. It may not be as good actually. What’s more, the same basic four teams – Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and McLaren - are at the front of the grid.
SJ – Exactly, there has been a tremendous amount spent on this new formula – new engines, hybrid systems and chassis designs – for what? As far as I can see nothing’s really improved.
If anything, the advantage the best-funded teams have is bigger now. Whenever you introduce new rules, obviously the teams with the best resources are going to succeed faster and react quicker to changes or problems than teams with smaller budgets.
I keep saying the same thing over and over - rules stability. That’s the best way to improve racing. The trade-off between the money spent and the performance increased levels out more and more every year you have the same rules. Those are times in Formula One when a team like Jordan [Grand Prix] could actually win a race. The same rules year-in and year-out allowed them to catch up and narrow the gap to the big teams.
In IndyCar now, the rules are very stable and there’s very little that teams are allowed to do. The racing is generally very good and very close. Last year, IndyCar was by far the best racing in the world in my opinion. Theoretically, every team has the ability to win if they have a decent driver. Mike Conway cleaned up at Detroit last year, winning in a Dale Coyne car. Something like that will never happen in F1.
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JT – Mercedes has been dominant in the first three races. It looked like Red Bull had closed the gap in Malaysia but then slipped back again in Bahrain. Team boss Christian Horner now says Red Bull/Renault main challenge is to achieve the same straight-line speed the Mercedes Powered can achieve.
SJ – One thing I’ve managed to learn from the people I’ve spoken to is that the Red Bull cars are already miles quicker than any other car in the corners. They just don’t have the power they need yet. If Renault solves that problem they’re probably going to be right up there with the Mercedes guys. That’s what competition is about. Sometimes one engine is better than another. Right now it’s evident that you need a Mercedes engine to stay up front, they seem to have a very significant power advantage at the moment, which showed up even more clearly in Bahrain with both the McLaren and Force India cars being very competitive this time.
Bahrain certainly had a very interesting mix of teams upsetting the status quo with both Force India and Williams running upfront most of the race.
JT – You’ve commented previously on the fines and penalties Formula One levies. For 2014, the penalties seem more frequent than ever.
SJ – Yes, there’s a constant handing out of penalties and fines. Like the incident with [Daniel] Ricciardo at Malaysia – surely he was penalized enough by some poor mechanic making a mistake and not securing his left front wheel, costing him a massive amount of time in the pits. (The FIA deemed Ricciardo’s release from his Red Bull pit box with the unsecured wheel “unsafe” and he received a stop-and-go penalty and a 10-grid-spot penalty for the next race, the Bahrain GP)
Apparently no one’s allowed to make a mistake without being punished anymore. Look at Kevin Magnussen - he gets into the back of Kimi [Raikkonen] at the start. (The FIA handed Magnussen a five-second stop-and-go penalty) That was a racing incident, pure and simple. These things happen all the time. Throughout the history of racing you’ll find that in almost every race someone will have contact with someone else in the first couple of laps in a tight corner where everybody’s climbing on top of each other and scrambling for space.
Why the penalty? Magnussen’s race was over anyway. Unfortunately he screwed up Raikkonen’s race as well but that’s racing. If a driver did that on purpose and drove into another car to retaliate or something that’s one thing. But this was a simple mistake, a driver error. The same is true with Ricciardo’s mechanic. He just made a mistake. He wasn’t trying to harm anyone. And Ricciardo… what could he do? It wasn’t even his mistake.
The situation with penalties now is completely over the top. It’s like we’ve talked out about before with all these ex-drivers at every race as “guest stewards”. It’s like these have to justify themselves being there somehow. I guess they don’t feel like they’ve done their job unless they’re handing out useless penalties. They need one guy who goes to all the races doing this job, rather than some of these random ex drivers who really shouldn’t be up there in the first place.
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JT – The IndyCar season got underway at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last weekend. What did you think of the race?
SJ – It wasn’t the most exciting race and an unusually uneventful for IndyCar there. It was interesting however because while watching it in the pits on the scoring monitors you could see that every single car in the race was doing the same lap time. They were within three-tenths of each other top to bottom.
The race was all about track position. And when everyone’s doing the same lap times it’s impossible to gain time on your competitors or try to pass. It’s not an easy track to pass on anyway.
JT – Will Power won for Team Penske but caused some controversy with his very slow restart 28 laps from the finish. The field stacked up behind him and the accordion effect of his slowing pace led to cars swerving and an accident between Marco Andretti and Jack Hawksworth. Power didn’t receive a penalty. What’s your take?
SJ – Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt in that apparently there was some confusion about what they were told regarding restarts in the drivers briefing. But it sure looked to me like he was pulling a bit of a naughty-one on Castro Neves in particular because he was just behind Will.
When you do that of course the whole field has to check up and the accordion-effect typically hits the midfield cars. Everybody has already gotten on the gas and then those following are later and later on the brakes and you see what happens.
Can you imagine if something like that had happened in F1 - the talk that would have been flying? The world media would have been all over it.
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JT – Scott Dixon finished in fourth place for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. I suppose he was somewhat satisfied with the result?
SJ – Yes, it was a weekend of damage control more than anything really. The team wasn’t generally on the pace the whole weekend. They were hanging around in the top six but they were never really hooked up. Scott was never really happy with the car. It was always a bit on the limit the whole time so in the circumstances fourth wasn’t a bad result at the first race of the year.
There was a good buzz in the paddock the whole weekend, and I feel Indycar is gaining some momentum again. Let’s hope they can get the message out to more of the fans that this is maybe the best racing in the world right now.
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JT – Since our last blog you’ve been busy preparing for the upcoming WEC season and you’ve taken on a new role with Scuderia Corsa, the 2013 Rolex GT champions. The team now races its Ferrari 458s in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship’s GTD class and has Ferrari Challenge Series programs as well.
SJ – Yes, I’ve known Giacomo Mattioli (team principal) for almost 30 years now and just before the Daytona 24 he asked me to join them. I’ve been appointed “sporting director” for the team this year. I’ll be at most of the [TUSC] races this year and I’ll be overseeing the drivers, doing a bit of coaching for their Ferrari Challenge drivers and with the GTD drivers as well. I’m looking forward to it.
JT – Apparently you’ll also be doing some driving with the team.
SJ – Yes, after I joined the team we started having discussions about which Silver-rated drivers to use for Sebring. I didn’t really say anything but almost inevitably they all said, “Well, what about you?”
That’s how it came about and I was testing one of the 458s this week at Buttonwillow [Raceway] ahead of Sebring just to get familiar with the car. I’ll be driving with Alessandro Balzan, Jeff Westphal and Lorenzo Case’. The GTD class is very competitive and Sebring should be a good challenge.
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JT – You’ve also been testing with Millennium Racing ahead of the WEC season, most recently at Motorland Aragón in Spain. You’ll be driving the No. 23 Oreca 03 Nissan with Mike Conway and Shinji Nakano. The P2 class should be very competitive this year. How did testing go?
SJ – It was quite good. The cars are really well prepared and very fast in comparison to our competitors, the engineering level in the team is very high, I have been very impressed by the detail and intensity so far, everybody in the team really wants to win. It was a good test for me as I got to spend more time in the car than the last test we did in Bahrain, and little by little it’s getting closer to where I want to be. I ended up the test about a half-second off Oliver Turvey. I’m quite happy with that because he’s probably the standard of the P2 category in terms of speed right now. He’s the third driver (test driver) at McLaren and a super fast young driver who’s knocking on the door to F1.
We’ll have one more preseason test at Magny-Cours in March right after Sebring. The P2 category looks like it will have very strong driver lineups and strong teams across the board so I’m looking forward to it.
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JT – Testing for the 2014 Formula One season has continued with the second and third of three on-track tests having concluded last week at Bahrain. The Renault-powered teams are having significant reliability and performance issues with four-time constructor/drivers champions Red Bull Racing being the most notable squad affected.
It looks now as if RBR’s quest to win its fourth title last year had negative consequences for the development of its 2014 car. Together with the issues Renault is having, they seem to be in real trouble ahead of the opening Australian Grand Prix. What are your thoughts?
SJ – I am not sure if the 2013 season has had any bearing on the new car, I think it’s a combination of possibly pushing the envelope just a little further in terms of trying to optimize the new package, with all this new technology there are so many things that can go wrong and every single failure no matter how minor it is, it will still have a huge effect on the overall running of the car.
Generally though, to have this little time of actual running on-track with such a new concept is crazy. Sure, some teams seem to have gotten their cars more right than others and can run more laps than others but I don’t think you can truthfully read anything into the lap times yet. Literally everyone is still at such an early stage of their car development.
I think once Red Bull irons out the problems that have prevented them from running their cars in anger – they’ve been four seconds off the pace so they’re not really even running their cars hard yet– they’ll be ok. The rumblings I hear are that their car looks mighty on-track even with the lack of pace they have now. Once they solve their reliability issues I think they’ll be right back at the front.
All of the Renault teams are struggling obviously and correcting any problems with the power-plant will be much more difficult than with the chassis. You’re only allowed to do development up to March and then you have to present the FIA with a defined engine spec. After that, you’re only allowed a few adjustments to aid reliability. It’s only the chassis that can receive further development and all of the teams continue that through the season of course, as they always do.
The other factor is that it has become so incredibly complicated just to operate these cars now. There are the batteries and hybrid energy-recovery systems and power transfer systems – it’s insane. Is it really necessary one may ask? Pretty much everything on the car is managed by electronics now, and to make everything work in sync is a monumental task for the engineers, I would not be surprised to see a lot of cars retiring in the first 2-3 races from this alone before everybody will gradually start to figure things out. I spoke to one of the drivers after the first test and apparently there was a small sensor that failed on his car, which then caused the entire brake system to fail. Thankfully he wasn’t going very fast at the time, but still fast enough to go off the track. The cost for the manufacturers to develop all this new technology must be astronomical, yet there is all this argument for a cost cap. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but maybe I’m missing something…
JT – We’ve spoken previously about this complexity and as you point out, it’s not just the cars that are complicated. Formula One itself has been complicated by rules designed to supposedly improve the racing.
SJ – You’re absolutely right. We now have so many artificial elements that have been inserted into the racing. There are at least five factors that are now in the rules that the drivers have to consider all the time in order to get the most out of the car.
You have the DRS (drag reduction system), the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), the tire regulations (For 2013 tires were designed to degrade rapidly, causing some tire failures and controversy. For 2014, the tires have been designed to last longer), the fuel limitation and the double-points rule. All of these things are there to spice up the show supposedly. In addition we then have these 2-3 second pit-stops which have very little or no bearing on the end results of the race unless there’s a mechanical malfunction in the equipment somewhere. If they eliminated the crew to one person per corner the stops would take around 8-12 seconds instead and they would most likely have a bigger effect both on the outcome of the stop but also the strategy the teams would choose as it would mean the time saved by not stopping would possibly alter the strategy if you choose to stay out rather than stopping.
Most of the races are now on “Sanitized” tracks where there is no punishment if you make a mistake or go to fast in a corner, all the tracks have very similar characteristics and there are very few “knife edge” corners left where you can “hang it all out” and it will make a difference on the lap time. The cars are so good now and the braking zones are so short that there is very little opportunity to out brake an opponent. So, it all has to happen with a push of a button instead, which is a pity. I really feel that a huge part of what used to be the “art of the game” is gone. I remember many times where you would literally fight with another driver for the entire duration of a race, one in front trying everything he could to keep you behind, without blocking, and the other trying everything he could to get past, the racing was great and the crowd could really appreciate what was going on and how hard both drivers were trying. If you compare to Soccer for example (or football as we call it in Europe…) it’s an amazing game and it hasn’t changed since forever, there are many games that end in a 0-0 draw but it was still an incredible game and the crowd could appreciate that all the players used their skill to the maximum.
I don’t understand how these things really improve the racing. With the fuel economy now required it’s possible these guys may be crawling around during portions of the races. Not only have the drivers been complaining about the tire situation over the last couple years, now they may have to go half-throttle because they don’t have enough fuel to get to the end of a race.
All the teams have been keeping very quiet about the fuel limitation so we don’t really know how that’s going to play out until Sunday afternoon in Melbourne. One hundred kilograms for an hour and forty-minute grand prix isn’t a lot of fuel. That’s another reason why it’s kind of pointless reading anything into the lap times in testing.
Firstly, who knows what kind of fuel loads different teams are running during the tests? Secondly, no team has been able to run their cars in anger for that many laps. And how do they know what kind of pace they will be able to run over a race distance with that amount of fuel?
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JT – Granted, it’s hard to judge testing times but Mercedes GP have been quickest and seem to have better reliability than many other teams. What are your thoughts on their form?
SJ – They have been able to do more of their testing program, undoubtedly. And it’s clear right now that the two teams with the deepest resources in Formula One are Red Bull and Mercedes. Mercedes has been chipping away at it over the last years. They were already second-best last year.
They have good momentum going into this season and Ross Brawn obviously put a good infrastructure in place with their technical team before leaving at the end of last year. I think they’ll be tough to beat for sure. I have a feeling Mercedes might be the team that will ride the next wave of domination in F1. They certainly have the resources and all the ingredients in place to make it happen.
JT – What are your thoughts on Ferrari?
SJ – It’s hard to say. Their car seems to be ok but the one thing we know is that they probably have two of the best racers in recent history in their cars (Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen)., and with these new rules that will probably have a lot of bearing on the end result, at least until everybody starts figuring out how to distribute a race in the most effective way. If their car is near good enough and they have reliability then you know they’ll be near the front or at the front in every race.
JT – How about McLaren?
SJ – McLaren seemed to start out pretty well in testing but they’ve stalled a bit in the later tests. You just don’t know what kind of program they’re running. They may not be so interested in lap times. They may just be trying to build an understanding of their car and optimizing race set-ups. I am sure that Ron Dennis will have a positive effect on the team, even if it may not show immediately. Eric Boullier is a racer by heart and have shown that he’s very good at managing the race weekend to the fullest effect.
JT – Williams F1 seem to be fairly strong in testing.
SJ – I think Williams are the dark horse this year. They’ve hired a lot of good people and Pat Symonds (Chief Technical Officer) is without a doubt one of the best guys in pit lane. He was behind Renault’s success when they were winning championships. He’s a protégé of Rory Byrne who’s with Ferrari now and he’s put together good personnel at Williams. The team really looks like it may be getting back to its glory days again; the have a new sponsor with Martini and the cars looks great. It would be a great story and everybody in the pitlane will be over the moon to see them back again.
Felipe Massa will be hungrier than ever and was always very quick anyway. He’s been quick in testing and don’t forget, he was quicker in qualifying than Alonso at Ferrari several times last year but couldn’t quite put it together in the races. Now he’s sort of number one in the team again, which will be good for his confidence after being beaten up and playing second fiddle to Alonso for a few years.
JT – Like Red Bull, Lotus-Renault looked to be suffering in testing from the power unit problems that plagued the other Renault-powered teams – perhaps even more so.
SJ – It’s hard to get a reading on Lotus. They’ve lost so many people over the winter, good people. I can’t imagine they can continue the momentum they had last year. A great Formula One team is basically made up of the people in it and the chemistry between them. Having lost many of their key people is going to have an effect.
JT – If the top teams are facing significant challenges developing their new cars, the rest are in even tougher circumstances with the possible exception of Force India.
SJ – That’s true. For instance, the Caterham cars look worse this year than last year. But Force India does look pretty good with both Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Perez doing good laptimes, and it looks like their car isn’t too bad. They could be another surprise this season.
JT – For Marcus Ericsson, the first Swedish driver in F1 since you left the sport, the Caterham’s lack of pace is not the best news.
SJ – That’s right but despite what we have to assume will be a pretty bad car, at least he’s in the team with Kamui Kobayashi. That will give him a yardstick of some merit to measure himself against. The question is how long Kobayashi’s motivation will last. Having been there and done that already in F1 (2010-2012 with Sauber), the last thing he would want is to be in a terrible car.
JT – Who among the rookies set to race this year do you think might impress?
SJ – Well [Kevin] Magnussen certainly looks very strong so far. But we all know that it’s one thing to drive these cars fast and another thing to race them well. They’re two completely different issues. Until the racing starts it’s hard to judge. Magnussen will be very quick I’m sure but when he comes up against some of the big boys it’s going to be a new challenge for him.
The one thing in his favor is youth. Youth is a benefit in this case and especially if you’re in a quick car because you don’t have any fear and you don’t care really who you’re driving against. You just go out with one thing in mind – to win. That could be good for him. It’s exactly what happened to Hamilton in his first year with Alonso as his teammate. Every trick Fernando tried to pull on him was like water of a goose.
JT – Might he and the other rookies also benefit from the fact that their first drives in F1 coincide with this new-generation car? They don’t have as fixed an idea of what an F1 race car should be as the veterans so maybe they’ll take to it more quickly.
SJ – Yes, I think that’s definitely the case. Throughout testing and the early part of the season everyone has to adapt to these cars and the rookies may be comfortable more quickly.
JT – IndyCar has been in winter testing-mode as well. Have you heard much news of note?
SJ – Again, it’s tough to get a good read on what’s happening. None of the teams have really been running much together so it’s hard to say. Scott (Dixon) has been pretty happy with his progress so far. He thinks the engine from Chevy is great. (CGR switched from Honda to Chevrolet for 2014) and he’s looking forward to the season.
JT – Some of the more sensational off-season racing chatter involved Danica Patrick and Richard Petty prior to the Daytona 500. Petty opined in a pretty forceful way that he didn’t think Patrick was capable of winning in NASCAR. Many, including her team owner, Tony Stewart, leapt to her defense. It all amounted to nothing much more than entertainment but it is a point for debate. What are your thoughts?
SJ – Yes, there was the silent camp and then those who were having a go at Petty for his comments. I like Danica a lot. I think she’s got a great spirit and she’s a great racing driver.
But the bottom line is that she’s had the best equipment you can get your hands on in IndyCar and NASCAR for a good part of ten years now and she’s won once in Indycar when everyone else ran out of fuel. It’s as simple as that. Those are the facts. It’s not that she has been in a position to win races and been unlucky and dropped out. It’s just that her record of where she has finished so far seems to be the limit for her.
That doesn’t mean she’s not a great driver but she’s not a race winner or a championship winner and that’s a big difference. That’s not mean-spirited criticism, it’s just the facts. The political correctness is getting more and more annoying in general I think, no one is allowed to voice any opinion just about anything anymore without getting slammed by someone. If there were as many women racing as there are men, there is no doubt in my mind that there would be several female drivers winning consistently in all categories of racing, it’s pure statistics. The same way we now have four German drivers in F1, it’s because there is a huge amount of young drivers from Germany coming through the ranks inspired by the success of their heroes like Schumacher and Vettel. We don’t yet have many great drivers from China for example, due to the simple fact that there is no racing culture or any real infrastructure in place yet for the younger drivers to develop their talent. Once it takes off there we will no doubt have several great drivers from China also.
Author: Fabrizio Crescenz - March 10, 2014
Read full article at:
Photo & article via: www.autosport.com
Article link: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/112513
By Gary Watkins
Former Le Mans 24 Hours winner Stefan Johansson will return full-time to the cockpit in the 2014 World Endurance Championship at the age of 57
It will be the first time that Johansson has contested a full season since his assault on the 2007 American Le Mans Series with the Highcroft Racing HPD squad.
Johansson said: "I've been dabbling for the past few years, but I suddenly realised that I haven't done a proper programme since 2007.
"I'm really excited about this and I can't wait to get back in the groove.
"If you had told me when I was young that I would still be racing at 57, I wouldn't have believed you, but as you become older you realise what is important to you.
"Racing is a way of life that I enjoy."
Johansson will be the silver-rated driver in the second Millennium entry alongside team returnees Mike Conway and Shinji Nakano.
He has links with Delta-ADR courtesy his participation in the Grand Prix Masters series in 2005-06 and with Millennium through Fabien Giroix, for whose Gulf Racing Middle East P2 team he was entered in three rounds of 2012 WEC.
Conway is returning to the Silverstone-based team despite becoming Toyota's test and reserve driver for 2014.
Dowson said: "It is good that Mike has decided to keep working with us despite all his other commitments [which include an IndyCar road course programme with Ed Carpenter Racing]. We regard it as a bit of a coup."
It appears likely that Conway will miss at least one race with Millennium to drive for Toyota when Kazuki Nakajima is racing in Super Formula in Japan.
The first Millennium car will be shared by Delta-ADR regular John Martin, European Le Mans Series stand-out driver Oliver Turvey and Giroix, who is part of the Millennium Development investment group.
Turvey, who notched up four poles in the 2013 ELMS with the Jota Zytek squad, joins Millennium after a successful try-out with the team in Bahrain in January.
McLaren Formula 1 development driver Turvey said: "After last year, I wanted to step up to the WEC and I'm really excited to be with Millennium.
"It has a really strong engineering set-up, and if we all work well together, we should be in with a good chance."
-------------------- Photo via: www.imsa.com --------------------
JT – The Rolex 24 took place last weekend. It was an interesting race, representing a new beginning for sports car racing in the U.S. with the launch of the Tudor United Sports Car Series. The crowd appeared to be strong and competitors seemed to be largely positive.
SJ – Yeah, I have to say there were a lot of people and a pretty good buzz about the event – much, much better than I have seen in previous years.
JT – The race itself was interesting although IMSA’s balance of performance (BoP) between the Daytona Prototypes and the P2 machines was not ideal. There was of course the expectation that the DPs would be faster at Daytona but the gap was larger than expected. What did you think of the relative competitiveness among the prototypes?
SJ – Well, that was a given almost. I think Sebring will be a lot different. Daytona is all about horsepower and top speed. Cornering doesn’t really matter that much comparatively to other tracks. Sebring on the other hand is all about cornering. IMSA actually pegged the DPs back, giving them slightly smaller restrictors before the race and made some adjustments to the P2 cars.
Of course there was a bigger speed difference than I think they would have liked but the lap time difference was only about eight-tenths between the fastest DP and the fastest P2 car. That’s not small but the whole track is just a few corners in the infield and the rest is all of that banking so it’s not too surprising. When they get to Sebring I think it will be a different scenario. We all knew a P2 car wouldn’t be as fast over a lap at Daytona.
-------------------- Photo via: www.imsa.com --------------------
JT – Ironically, if you had remained on the roster of the No. 9 Action Express Corvette DP as you were at the “Roar Before the 24” you could have been on the podium. The No. 9 finished third in a 1-2-3-4 sweep for Corvette DPs.
SJ – Yes, well that’s life. I was never supposed to do the race in the original planning, Fabien kindly brought me along but we soon found out during the test that it’s unworkable to run 5 drivers so I still think it was the sensible thing to do because there were four already contracted drivers as it was (Brian and Burt Frisselle, John Martin and Fabien Giroix) and five is just to many. Each driver has to do four hours, twenty minutes by the rules so it’s not really a good way to do it. The winning car at the 24 usually has three drivers.
JT – Another point of controversy during the 24 was the finish. A full-course caution was called with just 25 minutes remaining when the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America went off course. The car restarted and was back on track pretty quickly and yet IMSA threw yellow flags. Of course that bunched the field but that shouldn’t have happened. A local yellow flag was clearly all that was needed. This seems like yet another attempt at orchestrating a close finish.
SJ – Yes, I thought that was a bit marginal too. At that stage of the game you throw a local-yellow. Of course it’s one way or another these days. At Le Mans somebody needs to be lying limbless in the middle of the track before they’ll throw a full-course yellow but at Daytona they go to a full caution if there’s a candy wrapper on the track. The yellow near the end of the 24 was definitely over the top.
JT – There was also controversy over the last lap penalty issued by IMSA to the GT Daytona class No. 555 Level Five Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi for supposedly causing contact with the No. 45 Flying Lizard Audi R8 LMS driven by Markus Winkelhock as Winkelhock attempted to overtake the Ferrari for the class win.
Per Guidi was handed a 75-second penalty for avoidable contact and fell to fourth at the finish. However, replays showed clearly that there wasn’t really contact. Three hours after the race, IMSA reversed its penalty and reinstated the No. 555 Level Five Ferrari as GTD-class winner.
SJ – Well, at least they did the right thing in the end. The penalty was obviously a bit harsh. On the last lap you’re going to go for it no matter what and there wasn’t really any significant contact. Reversing the penalty was the right thing to do.
JT – Prior to the Rolex 24 there was quite a bit of discussion about the revised driver-ranking system the FIA issued as 2013 ended. I understand the FIA’s argument that ranking drivers provides incentive for amateur or “gentlemen drivers” to participate in sports car racing with a chance to “win” something. But I think it’s overly complex and needless. I think pros and amateurs should compete together just as they always have in sports car racing without all of the confusing and frankly ridiculous “Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze” ratings. What’s your view?
SJ – I don’t disagree. It has obviously helped me recently but to be perfectly honest about it, I think it’s a bit unfair. It’s really disrupting the whole driver-market. There are a lot of professional drivers who cannot get a drive because of it. I don’t know how much longer it will be around.
There are some really weird driver-ratings. There is a bunch of quick young guys who are still classified “Silver” and some poor old buggers who are still “Gold” or “Platinum” rated. There’s no sensible reason behind the ratings.
JT – While you were not racing at Daytona, you have confirmed a full program for the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with Millennium Racing in one of the team’s ORECA-Nissan P2 cars. Is there a chance you’ll race at the Sebring 12 Hours as well?
SJ – The plan is to do the full 2014 WEC season. There’s been some talk about Sebring but if the team does race it will probably be with only one car. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely I’ll be a part of it. But we’ll be testing in February and March anyway ahead of the first WEC race at Silverstone.
I do think P2 will be the most competitive class in the series and I think it will have the most entries. Obviously, there are some great teams and drivers in the series now too. I was very impressed at Bahrain with the level of engineering in the team. I think it will be a really good championship this year.
JT – When will you be testing your LMP2 ORECA-Nissan with Delta-ADR/Millennium Racing ahead of the WEC season opener at Silverstone?
SJ – There’s a test at Sebring on February 21 and 22 but there’s also a test in Spain on the same dates at Motorland Aragón. It sounds like I’ll be going to Aragón. I’ve never run there before but I hear good things about it. It’s supposed to be a great track.
JT – One of the most interesting pre-season developments in Formula One is this week’s news that Eric Boullier (formerly team boss at Lotus-Renault for four seasons) has been appointed as McLaren’s new Racing Director. He’ll report to the team’s newly-created “Chief Executive Officer of McLaren Racing”. No appointment has been made to that post yet but many speculate that former Mercedes F1 director Ross Brawn could take the position. What do you think of the news?
SJ – Boullier is a great guy, a great racer and I think he’ll do a terrific job, there’s no question. The question still remains though – who’s going to be the team principal? Will they bring in Ross Brawn or will Ron [Dennis] run it? They seem to have made it clear that Boullier won’t be running it. If anyone is able to persuade someone to come and join McLaren it’s Ron so maybe Brawn joining the team could happen.
JT – Most of the F1 teams debuted their 2014 cars this week at the first pre-season test at Jerez. New aerodynamic and powerplant rules have resulted in cars which look and sound different to those of recent years. Many have commented that the cars’ new nose/front wings look very odd and that their turbo V6 engines sound poor by comparison to the V8s and V10s of the recent past. What’s your take on it all?
SJ – Well it’s interesting to see all of the new cars and the teams’ interpretations of new rules. We haven’t really seen much to indicate the performance of the engines yet and their impact but one thing is for sure. I don’t think there’s a single car on the grid that looks anything like what the rules said they should look like. Everybody has obviously gone out on a limb again with the design of the cars’ noses.
Apart from the fact that they all look absolutely hideous now, I come back to my contention that the FIA at some point should step in and say, “Here’s the front wing for this season. It’s the same for everybody. Make it work.” I don’t understand it. There are still a million things you can do behind the centerline of the front wheel with sidepods and engine covers, the shape of the tub and so many elements.
When you see all of these new noses and front wings, and all of the stuff that’s bolted onto the front of these cars it’s staggering - the amount of work that’s put into all this, for what? There’s absolutely no reason for it. Who really gives a damn? Make it the same for everybody and 50 percent of the aerodynamics budget would go out the window immediately. It would be the same for everyone and the fans wouldn’t even notice.
All of the teams keep complaining about the costs and yet their technical directors apparently agree to these rules or even make the rules. I can see how their minds work though, with every one of them thinking, “Ah ha! I know something about how to deal with this and we’re not going to tell anyone else.” I think that’s where the FIA needs to step in.
Max Mosley (former FIA president) used to be great at that. When he would see something that got out of control, he’d throw a “hand-grenade” in the room and all the teams would scream like crazy for a couple of weeks and then the dust would settle and everything would be fine. It’s just as ridiculous with all of the electronic systems on the cars.
I spoke to one of the teams which had one minor sensor on the car fail apparently and that basically caused its rear brakes to fail – complete brake failure because one sensor was broken! The driver nearly crashed twice because of this but thankfully the speeds they are doing are still very slow so there was enough margin to save it before the car left the track. It’s mind-boggling how complicated the cars are to run now. As far as the sound of the new engines goes, I think everybody will get used to them pretty quickly.
-------------------- Photo via: www.mclaren.com --------------------
JT – Obviously, with the new F1 rules comes a measure of chance. Many have opined that the 2014 cars will be subject to reliability issues through the first several races until proven. This would seem to be logical. Do you agree?
SJ – Oh, for sure. If you look at the state of the testing now, it could be seriously embarrassing for the first few races of the season. Again, the expense of all the simulations the teams are running right now is huge. The general consensus among the teams seems to be that the budget has increased by around 25% due to the new rules and engine formula. It’s hard to wrap your head around that when everybody knows that there’s not a single team on the grid that’s not already hurting financially. There is no doubt that there will be a number of reliability issues in the beginning, but if there’s one thing that racing people are good at it’s fixing problems at a mind boggling speed, so I think 3-4 races into the season things will start to get “normal” again and there will be a real pattern developing as to what car and team is really the fastest. But the start of the season will be quite chaotic I’m sure.
JT – Also part of the Formula One off-season intrigue is a video making the rounds, showing Ferrari’s new La Ferrari circulating at their Fiorano test track recently. The noise its powerplant is making sounds suspiciously like what the Scuderia’s new 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 may sound like. It’s rumor at this point but given the testing rules in F1, this seems plausible. What’s your take?
SJ – Well, I’m sure they [Ferrari] are not the only ones if this is the case. I’m sure there are others doing the same thing in different ways. It’s a good example of why this cost-cap rule is so difficult to enforce. There’s no way in a million years you’ll be able to control the teams or enforce the rule effectively.
The top teams have a multitude of people working all day long to find ways around every rule that’s written. This cost cap rule would be one of the easiest to get around. The FIA would have to spend every moment of the year with a massive staff trying to control all of this. Enforcing a cost-cap would be such an overwhelming procedure that it will be impossible in my opinion.
Like I have said in previous blogs, they should be looking at the areas the teams are spending the most money on – which is typically the aerodynamics. Try to limit the importance of the aero and refocus the development elsewhere. Teams will always find a way to spend money. I think we’re almost at the point now where it may be cheaper to open the rules a bit and not be so strict. As it is, optimization is hugely expensive.
If the teams were freed up - kind of similarly to the freedom designers have for Le Mans prototypes – that might actually be cheaper. Le Mans is now the only venue where there’s pretty much a wide open rule book. You can run a diesel or a Delta-Wing. Allowing that variety is probably cheaper than running wind-tunnels 24-7 to get a three percent gain in aero compared to other teams. That’s what it comes down to now.
JT – It was announced last week that Swedish GP 2 Marcus Ericsson will be driving for Caterham in 2014, what are you thoughts?
SJ- It’s great news of course, It’s been 23 years since I did my last race in F1 so this is something all the race fans in Sweden have been waiting for a long time. This is a great opportunity for Marcus to show what he can do at the highest level of our sport, and he’s actually in a great position having Kobayashi as his team mate, as he’s already an established driver with some pretty good results over the years. If he can beat him he will get everybody’s attention and who knows what that might lead to. The first and most important objective for Marcus will be to do just that, beat his team mate at any cost, if he can do that I think there will be more doors opening for him as time goes by.
JT – On a related note, as we have discussed previously, Gene Haas, the co-owner of NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing, has reiterated his intention to apply for a spot on the F1 grid in 2015. He acknowledges that he may not be successful and that he has had discussions with Bernie Ecclestone to that effect but maintains that his effort is a serious one. It’s an evolving story. Do you think his aspiration is realistic?
SJ – Yes, I think he is very serious about his ambitions to enter F1. He wants to start a new team on his own which seems like a very difficult way to do it. Of course, I don’t know the ins and outs of how they intend to structure this deal but it would make more sense to me to just buy an existing team?
A, you would get prize money from whatever the pre-existing team had. B, you are just buying an entry. You could probably buy any one of the current teams except for the top four or five. Some of them would probably chew your left arm off if you offered to buy them. But as I said, I don’t know all the reasons behind it and as such I am not qualified to comment. These are all very smart guys and I am sure they have done their homework before getting this far. One thing is for sure, it would be great to see an American team in F1 again, maybe that together with the Austin GP now being a permanent fixture on the calendar is what’s needed to give F1 the foothold in the US market it’s been missing all these years.
JT – The proposed New Jersey Grand Prix has been postponed again. Originally planned for June 2013 it will not happen in 2014 either. Despite that, the consortium behind the race headed by former YES Network chief, Leo Hindery Jr., said it was still optimistic the event will go forward. That statement sounds dubious at best. How do you view it?
SJ – Leo Hindery is obviously a pretty smart businessman. He’s been incredibly successful in all his other endeavours through the years. But as anyone who spends even an afternoon doing some due diligence on the history of F1 promoters will soon find out, it is probably one of the toughest businesses possible to make any money from at the moment. As we have noticed in recent years, nearly all of the recent promoters are backed by their local government one way or another, and any loss I assume is just written-off as tourism or regional promotion. The Nürburgring has been bankrupt how many times? Silverstone is not doing great. Spa is the same. Monza is on the limit every year. It’s a very tough business to make money in.
JT – In racing-related entertainment news it was recently noted that Ron Howard’s 2013 film “Rush” was overlooked for any Oscar nominations. It’s not really racing news but some folks Tweeted their frustration over the snub. Any thoughts?
SJ – I’m not really able to say whether it was deserving or not because I haven’t seen the other movies that might be candidates. But I thought Rush was a good movie if you look at it purely as a drama. I think it was lacking in terms of reality because I know that there was certainly not the animosity in real life between James Hunt and Niki Lauda that you see projected in the movie. But movies are movies and that’s what they seem to do to try to make them interesting.
It’s definitely worth seeing though and I’d recommend that anyone see it. Although I’m really looking forward to seeing the new film that’s just come out (1-Life on the limit) which is more like a documentary. It’s been getting great reviews from everyone within the Racing community and apparently really captures the soul and spirit of the racing in that era.
JT – The Bathurst 12 Hour race for GT3 and GT4 cars takes place next weekend on the famed Mount Panorama course three hours south of Sydney, Australia. Would you be interested in racing there?
SJ – It’s one of the few proper, classic tracks I haven’t raced at. I would love to have a go at it before I stop. It’s supposed to be unbelievable. It would be great to do it! There’s also a chance I might do the 24 hours at Nurburgring this year, the last race I did there on the famous Nordschleife was in 1983 in a Porsche 956 with Joest Racing together with Bob Wollek. We finished 2nd behind the factory Porsche with Jacky Ickx.
------ Photo via: http://axracing.com/ ------
JT – Congratulations on the USC Daytona ride with Action Express! On December 19 Action Express Racing announced that Stefan is set to join Fabien Giroix and brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship 24-hour season-opener in the team’s second Corvette DP.
SJ – Thanks, yes I am very excited to be racing at Daytona again, it’s been a few years since my last race there. Action Express is a great team with a great history and I’m very proud to be part of their line up this year. I have just finished the first day of the test [the Roar Before the 24] at Daytona, and I am now on the flight from there to Bahrain for a three day tire test in the LMP2 car, so a very busy schedule in January!
JT – Judging from the testing so far, the DPs seem to have an advantage over the P2 cars at Daytona.
SJ - At Daytona for sure with the long straights and high speed banking. I think that may change though when they get to the other events during the season. There is also one more reset of the rules before the race so let’s see how it will work out when we arrive for the race. One thing is for sure, it will be a very competitive race, there a lot of great teams and drivers and it is the largest grid they have in modern history more or less. I am really excited and there was a good buzz in the paddock, everybody is eager to get going!
------ Photo via: http://www.evo.co.uk/ ------
JT – The Porsche 919 LMP1 debuted a couple weeks ago with its driver lineup of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Marc Lieb. That should add a bit of excitement to the 2014 World Endurance Championship. I guess we’ll see how quickly they can come out of the box.
SJ - Yeah that’ll be interesting to see. They are quite early with the program so whatever teething problems they may have, as well as pure performance issues will most likely be well sorted by the time they arrive at the first race of the season. It’s not like it’s their first time racing in the top level of sports car racing either, so I am sure they will be very competitive from the get go. They have a strong driver line up and some very good people on the technical side, I expect them to be right on the pace from the start.
JT – In Formula 1 news, the FIA has put forward a rule for a season-ending double-points race designed to keep the driver’s and constructor’s titles alive right to the end by offering twice as many points in Abu Dhabi next November. The drivers and teams don’t seem to like it but Bernie Ecclestone has said he’d actually like to extend the double-points concept beyond further to the preceding two races. What do you think of the season-ending double-points race?
SJ – Well, like most other people who’ve heard of the idea, it strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction yet again to the fact that one driver and team has been dominating the previous season. Sometimes you’re going to have a driver that dominates. It’s just the nature of the beast. I think that if they should do anything in Formula 1 to make it more interesting for the fans, the TV viewers, they should look at the double-headers they do in Indycar. They worked great last year. I realize there are much bigger logistical issues as far as TV broadcasts and other elements in F1, but the two races the same weekend in Indycar gives you a chance to score double points. Let’s say you have a double-header in Monaco. It would be fantastic. The crowd would love it. TV viewers would love it. Maybe the crown-jewel events, say three races a year or however many you decide, could be double-headers. It’s certainly worked well for Indycar. Which leads me to my next comment, far and away the best racing in the world at the moment in my opinion is Indycar. Every year the last 2-3 years it’s been fantastic whether it is by design or luck I don’t know but the format has been working incredibly well for them. Pretty much every single Indycar race this year has been exciting and has gone right down to the wire, and the same for the Championship, it’s always decided at the last race which is fantastic. It’s just a shame they haven’t been able to market it better. Hopefully, that will change. It sounds like there are some good things being put in motion.
JT – There’s a story that has emerged recently that cites comments from Lotus to the effect that all the top teams are struggling financially. I guess it’s fair to say that everybody is feeling the pain.
SJ – Absolutely, no question. It is tough times in general for motor racing at the moment, but maybe even more so in F1 simply due to the massive costs involved. It’s tricky with F1 because everything is taken to the absolute limit. What magnifies that cost even more is the constant introduction of new rules, which means that every team has to react accordingly with new designs that will comply to new rules. For example, some years ago they introduced DRS [Drag Reduction System], this is almost irrelevant now because everybody’s got it figured out. KERS [Kinetic Energy Recovery System] is the same. However, the cost of implementing all these different things are just mind boggling. Now we have the mandatory pits stops to improve the show, and everybody have now gotten so good at it that we are constantly seeing 2 second pit-stops. I just don’t see the point when everybody is doing them within half a second of each other so it’s almost completely irrelevant now. But again, the cost of being able to do pit stops at that speed with all the equipment and training they need is probably the budget of a good GP2 team just to get that part right.
Now, more than ever, everybody is feeling the pinch. I’ve said it many times before and I repeat it again, the best way to keep the costs down over a period of time is to maintain rules stability. This also typically makes the whole field more close and the racing more competitive as the trade of between spending money on R&D and the performance gain you will see on the track diminishes every year the rules stay the same and the gap between the smaller teams and one’s with bigger budgets get closer each year.
JT – Cost might be one of the difficulties in trying to do a double-header round in Formula 1. They’d likely be talking about doing an engine-change if there were two consecutive races.
SJ – I’ve talked to a couple of engine people about that. The original idea of the current engine formula was of course to bring the cost down. [Before the engine-limit rule] I don’t know how many engines they went through in a race weekend but it was basically a new engine every session and then another one for the race plus spares. Indycar was like that in the Champ Car era too. It was mental. Everybody was just going for it with special qualifying engines etc. It’s all related to how competitive a series is. When they implemented the new engine rule which mandates they have to run an specific distance and amount of races before they can change it have basically resulted in enormous costs in terms of materials and R&D in order to achieve the maximum power without the engine breaking. It is quite impressive how reliable the current F1 cars are but of course it all come with a very hefty price tag for the engine manufacturers, some claim it’s almost a wash between the previous cost of bolting a new engine in at the end of each session compared to the cost of making the new generation engines. The bottom line is simple, the more competitive a series is, the more money is being thrown at it. If manufacturers, engineers and team principals who want to win had $10 billion a year, they would find a way to spend it. That’s just the nature of the beast but it’s also what makes F1 so fascinating.
But there has to be a middle ground. At the moment, pretty much everything is governed by aerodynamics. If you remember, they put a rule out a few years ago where they changed the front wing and banned all the aerodynamic widgets everywhere on the cars. Look at the front wings now, they’re as complex as ever. Give or take, eighty percent of the aero on an open wheel car is governed by the front wing. In my opinion, if they did a simple thing like requiring everybody to use the same front wing given to them by the FIA, it would cut out an enormous amount of the money being spent on aerodynamic work and the insane amount of wind tunnel development every team does.
Also, do we really need all the systems controlled from the steering wheel, I don’t even know if the drivers are all that excited about it. If a driver can’t handle a car with 850 something horsepower with the amount of aero grip they have, they shouldn’t be there in the first place in my opinion. F1 is supposed to be the top of the ladder and according to a lot of the drivers I have spoken to they generally feel the cars are almost to easy to drive now. Let the drivers sort out the drivability of the car, that’s what racing should be anyway. Today, you’ve almost got to be an engineer just to get the car out of the pit lane because there are so many knobs and switches and buttons on the steering wheel. The crazy thing is that everybody has them now. The difference in F1 is that you can’t go and buy it off the shelf. Every team has to design, develop, manufacture, test and make every single part on the steering wheel and every other part on the car for that matter. The cost of all that is just staggering.
You could also limit the amount of people involved in pit stops and change these ridiculous two second pit stops. Just limit the amount of people you’re allowed. That would make it more interesting like it is at Le Mans for example. The pit stops are more of a challenge and they actually make a difference.
JT – As you’ve said before, most of the things done in pit stops in the past were done because they had to be. Now you don’t really have to make any pit stops. You could have tire compounds built to degrade at a rate that would actually last a race distance.
SJ – I don’t think it would hurt if at least they have that option. You would plan the weekend completely differently. That would be part of the strategy. When I was in F1 I was never particularly great at qualifying. Part of the reason was that I simply didn’t put a lot of focus on it, so I never became a specialist at it. I hardly ever ran the car with super low fuel and with low ride-heights because it was almost irrelevant. Ten laps into the race, it was a different scenario anyway and it was easy enough to pass someone if you had a better race set up and a car that you knew was going to be consistent for 80 or 90 laps. Race day pays the points. It’s always nice to be on top of the time sheets for the ego but that’s about all it gave you, except places like Monaco where the grid position will always be crucial of course. On the other hand, you see a lot of drivers who are absolutely spectacular in qualifying but are completely useless in the races, each thrive and survive in their own way.
If you had longer pit stops, let’s say in the region of 15 to 20 seconds, then it would be debatable whether it would be better to try to run the distance without stopping versus making stops. With the short pit stops now, everybody’s running the softest tire compound they can get away with.
JT – Surely, there have been a lot of measures aimed at making the race even more of a sprint than it would normally be. But tires that degrade very quickly interrupt that flow anyway and with DRS having been figured out by all the teams, there’s a little more passing but not a lot
SJ – In the beginning DRS made a monumental difference but it’s sort of petered-out and now it seems like it’s back to normal again.
JT – What you see is guys defending with KERS. They get on the KERS really early exiting a corner so they can at least limit the gains of the fellow behind with the DRS open.
SJ – Yes, like I said, everybody has got it figured out now and they know how to maximize the various systems and it’s pretty much back to normal again. In Formula 1 there are 20 cars whizzing around a track every fortnight for an hour and 45 minutes. Is KERS really that relevant in a global sense? The extra cost of those systems alone is just bonkers.
JT – Talk of a budget cap in Formula 1 is back again and seems to be more serious this time.
SJ – Yes, for all the reasons and many more we’ve just touched on. But I don’t see how you can create a budget cap and enforce it. They tried with a resource restriction agreement and it just seems that little by little, everyone just tends to forget these things. I can’t see how you could police it without making it incredibly complicated. We know how incredibly creative the engineers are in F1, it wouldn’t take them long to figure out a way to circumvent whatever policing the system the FIA have in place. It is the same problem they have every time they try to clamp down on the rules, the teams each have over 100 super smart engineers in the design office against maybe 15-20 guys at the most in the FIA. You can imagine it doesn’t take them long to find loopholes in the rules no matter how tight they try to write them. Besides, I’m not sure there’s even a fair way to do it. There’s no reason why Force India for example can’t be where McLaren is today. It’s not as if billions of dollars fell out of the sky onto McLaren’s parking lot. It’s purely hard work. Ron Dennis created what is McLaren today. Everything that is there is purely down to him and a group of very talented and very hard working people. It didn’t just come from nowhere. I don’t for a second believe that the net worth of Ron Dennis is the same as Vijay Mallaya or the Russian guy who owns Marrusia for Example, or even Tony Fernandez of Caterham. The difference is that there is 100% dedication to winning and that means whatever it takes to get the job done, I frankly don’t believe the bottom of the grid teams are capable or prepared to do that, hence they are where they are…
I firmly believe that a true capitalist system should work in sport. May the best man win. It’s part of the whole process. It can’t be a democracy just as a racing series very rarely works if you run it like a democracy. That’s why Bernie’s done such a fantastic job with F1 and the France family has done such a fantastic job with NASCAR. They’ve been run like benevolent dictatorships. There are usually only one or two individuals who have the bird’s-eye view who can see what needs to be done three years down the road. Most teams can only look six months ahead because that’s what their cash-flow allows. If you look at both F1 and NASCAR over the year, both series have made the teams and team owners who had the required skill set, ambition and work ethic to become successful incredibly wealthy from the sport. The one’s who weren’t fell by the wayside, and this is absolutely the way it should be in my opinion. F1 is not for the faint of heart, it’s the ultimate arena for the best of the best in our field and I sincerely hope it will stay that way.
So I really don’t support the concept of capping budgets. I think there are a lot of things you can do to bring the costs down in general without anyone even noticing, but there should always be a reward for the guy who wants to put in the extra hours, the extra work and brainpower, and who’s a little smarter than the rest.
JT – It has long been said that the battle to win on-track is also fought off-track. It’s the resources, talent and other things that tip the balance.
SJ – Of course, even more so. The races are won or lost back at the factory. Most of the top F1 teams have between 100-150 in the design office alone! I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. In the last 20 years every F1 championship except for four has been won by a car that either Adrian Newey or Ross Brawn was involved with. That says a lot.
JT – On the driver’s side there have been a few announcements or non-announcements over the Holidays. Heikki Kovalainen doesn’t know whether he’ll stay with Caterham or not because Kamui Kobayashi is coming into the team. Sauber is to retain Esteban Gutierrez who must’ve gotten a cash infusion. Isn’t it embarrassing that almost 50 percent of drivers in the world’s top open-wheel series are paying to be there? In NASCAR most drivers are paid to be in the seat.
SJ – It’s really atrocious at the moment I have to say. I’ve always been a pragmatist in that I believe that if you’re genuinely good enough, you’ll find a way to make it. But I really don’t think that works any more. The cost barrier to entry for a potential Formula 1 driver is so massive now. If you start in karting and work your way up, assuming you win everything along the way, it’s still going to take a good part of 15 million Euros to get to the point that you can show you’re ready for Formula 1. Then it’ll probably take another ten million Euros to get the seat. You have the odd exception like Kevin Magnussen who landed a McLaren seat this year purely on merit. It will be interesting again to see how he get’s on with the added pressure of F1 and all the things that go with it.
The other thing is that the way the cars are today, the technique of driving is very different than what it used to be. The tracks are very different and the amount of time they spend in the simulator are different. But you can’t train race-craft except in races and that’s where their deficiencies show up. Sergio Perez, for example, certainly has speed but he doesn’t have race-craft. I think that’s the case for a lot of the new generation drivers because they don’t get enough racing. Everybody was giving Romain Grosjean a hard time in 2012, quite rightly so, I’m glad to see how he improved in 2013. As we speculated at the beginning of the year, he certainly had the speed and skill. He needed some confidence and he did come through. I think that was also in large part due to the team which made him feel comfortable and gave him that confidence. Eric Boullier is a great team manager, a pure racer. He has a great feel for it and I think that’s really important. Having Kimi Raikkonen there was obviously a great benchmark and that helped. If Perez would have been given the chance of a second year at McLaren I think there’s a good chance the same thing would happen to him also, he was often quicker than Jenson but struggled to put it all together in the races.
JT- Luca Di Montezemolo was quoted this week saying he thought the simulators that is being used by every single F1 team today are a joke.
SJ- I agree with him 100%. The cost to make these things now are astronomical and quite frankly at the level they perform they have no relevance to anything outside of trying to make the experience as identical to a real F1 as is humanly possible. Why you may ask? Simply to get back to the point they were before the on track testing got banned. Without knowing the exact cost of running a current F1 on a track I can’t imagine that it will come anywhere close to the cost of making these unbelievably sophisticated simulators. I think it would be great for everybody to have some real track testing with the teams and their cars, the drivers would benefit and the fans would certainly love it.
JT – You’ve recently returned from Asia where you visited the penultimate round of the WEC in Shanghai then traveled to Macau to be part of the celebrations surrounding the 60th Macau Grand Prix. You took part in the “Legends of Macau” - the Scirocco R China Master Challenge race - which brought together previous winners of the Macau GP in identical Scirocco Rs to race the circuit once again.
Other invitees included Emanuele Pirro, Mike Conway, David Brabham, Martin Donnelly Nicola Larini, Julian Bailey, Keisuke Kunimoto, Jorg Muller, Rickard Rydell, Duncan Huisman, Steve Soper and Tim Harvey. It turned out to be a short race for as you had contact at the start and didn’t even get to complete a lap. Too bad you weren’t able to race but it looked like a fun event.
SJ – Well, obviously the race was a disaster but it’s was a really fantastic event anyway. We had very little practice time on track but the week in general was great. I could not believe how things have changed in Macau since I was there in 1988. But the cool thing is that the track itself is exactly the same as it was in 1988.
Nothing has changed and I have to say, I genuinely believe it’s the greatest track in the world right now without a doubt. The circuit is exactly the same as it’s always been and it’s incredibly challenging. It’s the only proper racetrack out there with no chicanes added and some very mighty corners. The fact that they still run motorcycles there too is insane. They’re doing almost 300 kmh (186 mph) at the end of the straight!
The twisty section of the track at the top is quite tricky to get the hang of and even to memorize is quite hard. There are so many corners close together and they’re all kind of the same and on top of it they’re all completely blind, every one of them. You’re just going into the corner on faith. The marshaling is marginal at best so if someone is in trouble around one of the corners there’s a good chance he will be collected by someone, which is exactly what happened in the WTCC race where there was a massive pile up and the race had to be stopped.
Steve Soper was starting in front of me and I got off to a blinding start – more pure luck than anything. Steve had a bad start. I tried to go inside him and he closed the door a bit and there was nowhere to go. I was completely blocked in. I nudged him a bit and he got sideways and collected me. Then boom, boom, boom, and it was game over. It was a racing accident and it was a pity both for Steve and me but at least we ended up having a nice dinner together that evening.
The Scirocco R was quite nice actually. I was surprised how well it behaved but it wasn’t conducive for passing. You couldn’t really slipstream with it or anything. But it was a really nice week and good to see the other drivers. The city is just mind-boggling now with all of the casinos and everything that goes on there.
(Photo via: http://www.themotorreport.com.au/)
JT – Formula One wrapped up the season with the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos recently. Sebastian Vettel won again, taking his record ninth consecutive win. Mark Webber closed out his career in second with Fernando Alonso on the podium in third. What are your thoughts on the race and the season for Vettel and Red Bull Racing?
SJ – The summary really is that Vettel is just on a different planet at the moment. If you think about the season and ask who the breakout driver of the year would be, I would say it’s almost got to be Vettel despite the fact that he’d already won three championships. He went to a whole other level this year compared to where he’s been before.
Of course he had a great car but so did Webber. The only time the whole year that Webber was even close to winning was in Malaysia when there was the team order controversy. I think if there hadn’t been team orders Webber would not have won anyway. It would only have been team orders that would have given him a chance to win.
With any great driver at any period whether it’s Schumacher or Vettel, and they’ve been the most dominant, it’s always about the whole package. Every so often you get this total domination when you’re able to put it all together, molding the whole team around you as a driver, like both Michael and now Sebastian have been able to do and it is of course what all great drivers try to do. Prost was very good at this too, until Ayrton came along and spoiled the party for him.
JT – Interestingly however, the driver who finished second in the championship - Fernando Alonso - did so with a Ferrari that was arguably only the third or fourth best car in the championship. That’s a pretty strong drive over the season.
SJ – Yes, he’s phenomenal. There’s no doubt about it. Him and Vettel are clearly the top two drivers right now. But as Bernie [Ecclestone] commented today, there always seem to be some distracting dramas around Alonso and those things may at times take your eye off the ball, I think that causes you to lose a little bit of focus from time to time.
Yes, Alonso was in a severely uncompetitive car compared to Vettel, no doubt. And maybe the best formula for a team to win championships is not to have two superstars but to have the package that Red Bull has had where one driver molds the team completely around him.
Webber was very good but not among the top drivers. Neither were Barrichello or Eddie Irvine or anyone else who was a teammate with Schumacher. They were all journeymen, good drivers but not in the last two or three percent that’s required to be at the very top.
Only guys like Schumacher, Vettel, Prost, Senna and a few others have been able to do that and it’s so much more than just the driving. The one quality they all have had is the ability to mold a team around them and it becomes their team. The car they have is perfect for them and that’s how it has to be if you want to win consistently. If you look at the current paddock, I don’t know how many drivers there are who would be able to do that.
JT – It has now been officially acknowledged that Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn is leaving and will not return with the team in 2014. We’ve spoken about it before but what do you think about his departure?
SJ – I think, as I’ve said before, there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians in this team. Ross is a pretty straightforward guy and I’m sure he felt that where he’s at in his life, he didn’t need to deal with all that and decided to take a walk until something better shows up. I doubt he’s finished with F1 yet. I suspect he wants to evaluate what other possibilities are out there and take on a new challenge as he’s done successfully before. It will be interesting to see what happens with Mercedes now.
JT – The dominoes have fallen in the driver reshuffle for next year with Pastor Maldonado’s announcement that he would go to Lotus Renault. It looks as if Force India will have Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez while Adrian Sutil looks likely to sign with Sauber. The changes seem to be steps sideways for most of the drivers, not a step forward.
SJ – I think the only loser in the whole shuffle there is Hulkenberg. In my opinion he should have done a deal much earlier and probably could have. But with the financial situation at Lotus, who knows whether they’ll be able to produce a competitive car for next year.
JT – Apparently, F1 has proposed that all drivers must make two pit stops per race for new tires in 2014. They would also not be allowed to use the “prime” tire compound for more than half a race distance. The rule hasn’t been approved yet but is being considered. What are your thoughts?
SJ – I just don’t see how that makes the racing more interesting. As we touched on in the last blog, these two-second pit stops are a load of nonsense to me and they’re costing the teams a fortune to be able to execute. Plus, they don’t alter the outcome of the races the slightest bit because everyone’s become so proficient at them.
There’s no thrill or excitement about them because most of the teams are within half a second of each other on the stops. I think it would be more interesting if they left the option open and you could either choose to do the distance on one set of harder compound tires if you could manage it or use a softer compound and make pit stops. Leave it up to the teams like it used to be. There would be more variety if you did it that way.
When I was racing in F1 we had three compounds to choose from and you would evaluate whether you could do a race distance on one compound or not. I used to run the same set on Friday for one run, get a heat cycle on them then run them on Saturday again for one run to put another heat cycle on them and then save that set for the race. That way you had a really good set with just enough durability and performance to make it to the end of the race. In fact, I almost won the Mexican Grand Prix that way until I had a slow puncture and had to stop, otherwise it was the perfect strategy. I finished 3rd in Portugal in the Onyx using the same strategy, I did the whole distance on one set whereas everybody else stopped for tires at least once. It made the race interesting and it showed that the different strategies did work if you planned it right from the start of the weekend.
(Renault has Unveiled it's 2014 F1 Turbe v6 - Photo via: AutoSports.com)
JT – Formula One’s move to turbo-charged V6 engines for 2014 has some worried that the change will rob the sport of excitement while others contend that the shift will result in more unpredictable results for the season. You were part of F1’s last turbo-era. What are your thoughts?
SJ – The technology today is completely different to what we had back then. I think there will inevitably be a period of development and dramas during the season where there will be some engine failures so I do agree that it will be unpredictable. And, just as with the engine, it will be the same with the cars.
Again, there are a whole new set of rules with different aero and the packaging that will be needed for the turbo engines. Typically in situations like this the teams with more funding can overcome problems quickly. But occasionally you get one or two teams in the mid to the bottom of the pack that get things right more by accident than by design and they have a very good year. Then they’re back to nowhere again the following year.
But without a doubt next year will be a very unpredictable season, both in terms of outright performance and also in overall outcome of the Championship.