CONTROVERSY AT THE CANADIAN GP, TIRE WARS & THE COMPETITIVENESS OF INDYCAR
JT – The Canadian Grand Prix has been the subject of controversy since the race took place. While leading the race, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel ran wide between Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s Turns 3 and 4, reentering the track just in front of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. After a brief evaluation of the incident, F1’s stewards gave Vettel a five-second penalty for impeding Hamilton. Hamilton crossed the finish line 2nd behind Vettel but with the five seconds applied, he was declared the winner.
Vettel was angered by the penalty, as were fans and many current/former F1 drivers and racers from other categories who weighed in with their frustration. Ferrari has requested the FIA review the penalty. What are your thoughts?
SJ – Unfortunately, nothing is new under the sun. The one time this season so far they actually have a great race on their hands which would have been an epic battle to the end, they manage to ruin it by meddling with these random and completely inconsistent penalties.
I know some people have come out and said the penalty was deserved because Vettel broke a rule. Strictly speaking, this may be true, but this also signifies the problem we have at the moment. Formula 1 already has far too many rules. How many more scenarios are there going to be where they will come up with a penalty instead of letting people get on with racing? If you strictly follow the rule book you could also argue that you are also allowed to change direction once on every straight, which is another stupid rule by the way, which if the argument the stewards put forward was that Vettel changed direction once he had the car under control is then negated by the next rule. Each year the rule book keeps getting thicker, with more and more rules to cover every possible scenario both on the competition side and the technical side, in parallel, as we all know only to well, the racing is getting more and more boring and sanitized.
I’ve made my view on the random driver stewards/race control situation clear many times. I’ve been totally against it since they started it. I think they need one or two people who could be ex-drivers like Indycar has but they are the same people at every race. It’s been clear for years now that F1’s random driver steward process doesn’t work. I read someone’s argument that this system works great because they have four Stewards that alternate between the races, and five different driver stewards. To me that’s three stewards and four drivers to many! There is no way you will ever get consistency with a system like this, hence we have these random decisions in almost every race that are completely inconsistent from similar incidents that happened in an earlier race.
It would have been so great to see Vettel and Hamilton go for a real fight to the end, as it were, Lewis was just cruising knowing that all he had to do was finish within five seconds of Vettel, a total anticlimax to what would have probably been the best race of the season.
JT – Apart from the controversy at the Canadian GP, most of the teams continue to voice the same complaint at every race. They cannot get Pirelli’s very temperature-sensitive tires to work. Only Mercedes seems to be able to make them respond consistently.
SJ – Yes, it’s the same story over and over again up and down the pit lane. On some weekends one or other of the teams may get their car to work but they all seem to struggle apart from Mercedes which seems to have gotten a better handle on the tires than the rest.
I think a lot of that is just resources. The more money and resources you have the more manageable it is to find a quick solution. But I find it extremely ironic – and it goes back to my “Make F1 Awesome Again” document – that here the teams are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on aerodynamic development and other elements but the bottom line is the majority of the performance comes down to the tires most of the time.
They’re the cheapest component on the car that really matters by a hundred times. You’ll find performance from the tires a hundred times quicker than you would out of anything else you develop on a car. I just don’t understand the logic of forcing one tire manufacturer to build a terrible tire. It makes no sense. If you opened the tire supply up I can see at least four manufacturers that would jump onboard immediately.
They would all pour a ton of money into marketing and development for the teams they’d work with and the racing would be really interesting. At some tracks the Michelin’s would be quick, at others the Bridgestone’s would be quick, at some the Pirellis would be fast and at some tracks it might be the Hankook’s or whoever else would choose to supply tires. Some tires will be really good in qualifying and not so good in race trim and vice versa. It would mix up the grid and make the races far more interesting.
Yes, the top teams would want to make sure they were on the right tire but you need to do something to introduce variability, something to make it interesting and less predictable. And I don’t remember the “tire wars” being terrible when we last had them. It was never a problem as far as I can recall. Everyone was happy to compete and get the best out of the tires, do the required tire testing. At some tracks the Bridgestone’s were quicker, and at some the Michelin’s were quicker.
Eventually, one manufacturer might get an edge but then the others partner with different teams and continue the development – it’s part of the whole process.
JT – Meanwhile, the deadline for presentation of F1’s 2021 rules has been delayed with teams and F1 chiefs opting to wait until October to unveil them. The end of June had been the previous deadline. Disagreements among the teams on some of the fundamentals are said to be the reason for the delay.
SJ – They can keep tweaking the rules until the year 3000. The teams are never going to agree. They haven’t been able to agree on anything so far so what makes anyone think they’ll agree on the new rules?
It’s impossible to get the teams to agree to the same set of rules. Because everything is now run like a democracy and the teams have to have their say in everything we’ll end up with some half-assed compromise that won’t make anyone happy, least of all the fans. That’s the reality of it. As I’ve been saying all along, the series needs to be run like a benevolent dictatorship with people running it who have an acute understanding of the business. They make the rules that all the teams will have to follow, end of story. That’s the only way it can work.
There is no way you can try to please everyone. Once you set a fair, coherent set of rules that make sense, that’s it. People will say some teams will then leave the sport. If they don’t want to play, let them leave. As long as the barrier of entry to F1 is not so high financially that almost no one can join, which is currently the case, other teams or manufacturers will soon replace them.
After more than a year of deliberations, they’re now talking about a $150 million cost-cap – not including engines, drivers and marketing. So you’re basically back at $250 million before you even start. So everyone apart from the top three teams is already screwed because none of them have a budget that size even today.
JT – The most recent round of the 2019 Indycar season came at Texas Motor Speedway where Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden held off Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi to win, executing a clever pit stop strategy that put Newgarden in front for the final stage of the race.
Scott Dixon was competitive all evening, leading at times. But with just 19 laps remaining, Scott and rookie Colton Herta made contact while battling for 3rd place in turn 3, sending both into the safer barrier. The DNF saw Scott fall to 4th in the championship standings, 89 points behind leader Newgarden. Felix Rosenqvist finished in 12th position. Obviously, it wasn’t a great outcome for Scott. What did you think of the contact between him and Herta?
SJ – Looking at the video replay a few times afterwards, Herta had both wheels over the inside at the bottom of the track going into the corner, so once they got in the corner there was no room to keep the foot down and his car just crept up the track until they made contact. It’s just one of those things. I think Herta was lucky to get away with several of the moves he made earlier in the race which were also right on the limit. I think his driving was a bit marginal all day long, but It’s to be expected from a guy with the amount of talent that he has. I like his driving a lot I must say, he’s brave and full of confidence, with a huge amount of natural talent. But at places like Texas and Pocono, it’s maybe a little too much considering the consequences if something goes wrong, not only for yourself but also the guys you’re fighting with. It’s a little like Verstappen in his early years, he just puts the nose in there, and if the guy he’s about to pass doesn’t move or give enough room there will be contact, they’re low percentage moves that look amazing when you get away with them, but as soon as it turns the other way, which it always will eventually, you look like a schmuck. It’s part of the learning curve, especially when you consider how young these guys are when they get their breaks. Verstappen at some point understood this and is now a much more complete driver.
Scott lost quite a few points so that’s going to make it very tough for the championship going forward. It’s not over but it’s not easy to come back from that far back.
Felix results doesn’t really give credit to the effort he’s put in. He qualified on the second row next to Scott at Detroit but unfortunately things didn’t go his way in the race. It’s just about putting everything together for a whole weekend and a whole race, between the driver, the team and the strategy. That’s what makes Indycar so difficult. At the Indy Grand Prix before the 500, where he started from Pole Position, there were some issues in two of the pitstops and Felix had problems keeping the tires under him during the whole race. And the accident he had in practice for the 500 – that will set you back big time.
Having the confidence that the car is underneath you at Indy is critical. When it comes unstuck, it will let go pretty quickly as he found out the hard way. It’s a confidence thing and after that you’re never quite sure when you can rely on the back end of the car. It’s always a balancing act. He got comfortable and did a great job in the race, moving up through the field throughout the race. Unfortunately both him and Scott both got caught up in the Bourdais and Rahal accident.
JT – It’s interesting to look at Indycar on any track and compare the level of competition with what we see in F1. There’s no denying Lewis Hamilton has had a very impressive career with five world championships to his credit. But, at most, Hamilton has to beat only one or two drivers to win those championships. Scott Dixon is a five-time champion as well but in Indycar he’s had to best a large number of competitors to earn each of his championship titles. It seems to me that the depth of the competition in Indycar makes Scott’s achievements more impressive. What are your thoughts?
SJ – I don’t think there’s anyone in the F1 paddock that can touch Hamilton at the moment, he’s on a different level and is just getting better every year, so in my opinion he deserves all the success he’s had without a doubt. But as you correctly point out, the facts in F1 will tell you that there’s never been a world champion in all the history of F1 that did not have the best car. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s a championship in the world that’s harder to win in than Indycar right now. Winning three to four races in a season of Indycar is a huge accomplishment. There are so many factors at play and you don’t have the predictability you have in F1. Look at Texas. I think we were all surprised when Newgarden emerged at the front near the end of the race. He came from nowhere!
Team Penske made a fantastic call on strategy and played their pit stop cycle perfectly. It’s impossible for something like that to happen in Formula 1. Indycar has that variability and so many good drivers and teams. I keep saying it but I think it’s the best racing of any series in the world right now. Nothing comes close. Every single weekend is flat out hard racing. Can you imagine if even one F1 race was like that? People would go crazy.
JT – It strikes me that the complete lack of competitive balance in F1 might induce talented drivers coming up through the open wheel ranks - from F2, F3, etc – to aim for Indycar rather than F1. If you’re a hot young prospect and you want to compete against top drivers in a championship where the competitive balance between teams is close, why not skip the lopsided soap opera that is F1 and go do some real racing in Indycar?
SJ – To be honest, I think we’re going to see more and more of that. At the same time, it’s not easy for any of those guys to come over here and get a ride at the moment. But if there are drives which open up, I don’t think anyone could disagree that Indycar, tough as it is, is a series where at least you have a possibility of winning. There’s no possibility in F1 unless you’re driving for the right one or two teams. One of the issues though is that the drivers in F1 today make it there at such a young age, which works out great in F1 because the main criteria is just to be able to drive the car as fast as possible, race craft doesn’t matter anywhere as much as it does in Indycar or Sportscar racing. The reason is that everything is so perfect in F1, the engineering of the cars, the simulations, the tracks that are smooth like a dance floor with huge run off areas, the adjustability of the cars through all the devices on the steering wheel. All these things take away a lot of the elements a driver has to deal with in most other types of racing.
JT – Scott Dixon was one of several Indycar drivers who raced at Le Mans. Predictably, the 24 Hours left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. The overall outcome was never in doubt with Toyota dominating in LMP1, winning over the nearest P1 car by six laps. The GTE battle had great potential even in the final hours. But the pit/safety car rules at Le Mans trapped Jan Magnussen’s Corvette at pit out, allowing the winning AF Corse Ferrari to go by as Magnussen idled in pit lane.
Scuderia Corsa, where you are the Sporting Director, ended up with a podium finish after the Keating Ford got disqualified after the post race scrutineering.
Scott finished 5th in GTE Pro in the #69 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT after the sister #68 car was disqualified from its 4th place finish for having a fuel capacity .83 liters over the limit. The GTE Am winning Ford GT of Keating Motorsports was disqualified as well for a fuel infraction, a tenth of a liter over the limit.
What did you think of the race and how did Scott view it?
SJ – I thought the race was unusually uneventful this year, with only two cars in the race with a realistic chance of winning, the only interesting battles was in the other categories. I feel sorry for Mike Conway and his co drivers as they clearly had the pace to win this time. Mike was very impressive to build the gap early on that they were able to maintain throughout the race, until the very end when it all went pear shaped for them.
It was a good result for Scuderia Corsa in the end, we just didn’t quite have the overall pace this year, but the team did a terrific job overall.
Scott was a bit frustrated I think, it seemed the Ford’s never quite had the pace throughout the event, and then they had a few unfortunately minor things go wrong on their car that basically put them out of contention.
As usual, no one is happy with the BoP unless you’re on the top of the podium. It’s a tricky one and I wish there was a different way to compete, but for the time being I can’t see anything change in this area.
JT- Finally, last weekend we had the French GP at Paul Ricard and the Indycar race at Road America. Two very different race tracks, do you have any comments on the nature of the tracks and the outcome of the races?
SJ- Yes, two very different race tracks for sure. Although Paul Ricard is quite an old track in F1 terms, it’s been updated and modified significantly since the first GP they held there way back. However, the layout is not that much different, they’ve only added a few standard issue F1 chicanes. After the race we got all the usual complaints of an extremely boring race with no passing and no action throughout. But to be fair this track never invited any great racing, it was always difficult to pass and hard to get a run on the driver in front due to the layout of the track. Most drivers, including myself hated the layout of this track because it has no natural flow, it’s very choppy and you can never get a good rhythm going. I never considered it to be a good track for either racing or testing. Bernie Ecclestone bought it some time ago and turned it into a mausoleum of how a modern GP track should look, the run off areas are incredible with the different surfaces which are also color coded. I remember losing the brakes once during a 24 hour test in preparation for Le Mans, at the end of the long straight. The car stopped on it’s own before I hit anything, the last rows of asphalt was like glue and it just stopped the car on it’s own, amazing!! Everything including the Pit complex is done the absolute maximum, but the place have no character.
At the other end of the spectrum is Road America, one of the few remaining old school tracks that is incredibly challenging and unforgiving. If you put a wheel wrong it will punish you right away. Every driver I know absolutely love this place, it reminds me of Brands Hatch but it’s even faster and more flowing. The race was again very exciting, if you don’t count Alexander Rossi, who just checked out and left everyone to fight for second. In typical Indycar fashion there were great battles throughout the field. Both Scott and Felix put in some very good recovery drives and salvaged some good points on what looked to be a bad weekend for both at the start of the race.
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