#119 - Andretti/Cadillac and much more!

 

 

JT – Indycar’s 2022 season ended over three months ago with Will Power capturing his second championship title at Laguna Seca. Scott Dixon finished 3rd in the standings, 39 points behind Power and 23 points adrift of Power’s Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden. With time to reflect, how does Scott view his 2022 season?

SJ – Last season, I think he had mixed feelings about it. Obviously, the Indy 500 was devastating. (Dixon pitted on lap 175 after leading much of the race but a pit lane speeding penalty dropped him to the rear of the field, and he finished 21st.)

Had he won Indy, he would have been in a really good position for the rest of the season. The double points they award at Indy are so important. You carry that with you through the rest of the year. Look at Ericsson. He won Indy (his only 2022 win) and he was still in the hunt for the championship at the last race.

By Scott’s standard he didn’t have the best year but it’s the 12th year in a row that he’s been in the hunt for the championship at the final race, and he’s won at least one race every year since 2006. That’s extraordinary, especially in a series like Indycar which is probably the most difficult and competitive championship in the world. No disrespect to any of the younger guys that people have been raving about for a while now, but some of them were barely in the top ten in the championship, which just goes to show how incredibly difficult it is to consistently be in the top in Indycar.

JT – Ironically Scott is so accomplished and remains so fast that some people take him for granted. In other words, they simply expect that he’ll always be at the front and almost overlook how amazing his speed and consistency are.

SJ – Yeah, it’s interesting. If he doesn’t win it’s like, what’s wrong with him? But he never makes a fuss about it whether he’s winning or not, he’s still as motived as ever, and he just gets on with it and he enjoys it the way that he always has.

 

JT – Marcus Ericsson’s Indy 500 win certainly raised his profile in Indycar and beyond. It’s good for him and for Ganassi too. The team will look slightly different next year with some new personnel and the departure of Jimmy Johnson. What are your thoughts on the team?

SJ - Of course, winning the Indy 500 is life-changing. Marcus is driving with a lot more confidence now which I think he didn’t really have before in F1. It’s really gelled for him at Ganassi. The team is very supportive, as they are for all of their drivers. Everybody gets really equal treatment. He’s working really well with his engineer and has been very solid since he arrived at the team. It looks like he’s a lot more comfortable with the car, and with that comes the confidence and then everything starts to click.

The driver lineup is changing slightly with [Marcus] Armstrong coming in (Armstrong will drive the No. 11 car Jimmy Johnson drove the last two seasons on road and street courses. A driver for the five ovals hasn’t been announced yet.). He’s got a great pedigree from Europe and I’m sure he will be able to add some real value to the team.

Ganassi has been a top team for more than 20 years now and this will obviously continue going forward. It’s a great environment for any driver to be in a team where there are no compromises, Chip has always provided his drivers and engineers whatever tools they need to get the job done, no excuses.

 

JT – Felix Rosenqvist was under some pressure at Arrow McLaren SP this year and for a time it wasn’t certain he’d return with them for the 2023 season. But it’s been confirmed that he’ll be back and that has to be a lift for him. What did Felix think of his 2022 season?

SJ – I think he was quite happy with the year in terms of his own performance. He obviously did step it up big time this year. I was quite impressed with him and how he dug himself out of the hole he was in the year before. He had a few mechanical issues with his car which potentially prevented him from getting some big results. He probably could have won a couple races that he lost that way.

He was certainly in the top-three in quite a few races and on the right strategy to win in at least two or three races and then something went wrong with the car. Had those things not gone wrong he would have had a really good year.

But he’s pleased with the way he worked himself out of that slump he had the year before where he just could not get his head round the car. Between him and Craig [Hampson] (Felix’s race engineer) they figured out how to make the car a lot more comfortable to drive and importantly make it suit his driving style more.

In general terms though, they still had issues with tire wear and other small things. I am sure they are working on those things for next year. It’s a set-up issue and Pato [O’Ward] had the same issues. It’s been helpful that they both get along really well with each other and there’s a great friendly rivalry which is also helping the team to push forward. They hang out a lot in their free time and vacation together. They’re close, which is always good. I think the addition of Alex Rossi will be good for the team too as he will no doubt bring some different perspective on set ups etc.

JT – As mentioned, Jimmy Johnson will not be back with Ganassi next year, having decided to become part owner of Petty GMS, returning to NASCAR to play a role with the team. He’ll also race the Daytona 500 and perhaps a few other NASCAR events and hasn’t ruled out doing select Indycar and sports car races as well. His two years in Indycar were brief but he handled the completely new experience with class and gave the series some good added exposure. Do you agree?

SJ – Absolutely, and on the ovals which are his wheel-house, he was quite impressive. He found lines that no one knew existed at some of the tracks. It was awesome to see what he did at Iowa for example.

I really admire his ability to be that humble and just go out and suck it up, trying to do something so radically different from what he’d done his whole life. It was quite impressive. He’s an absolute class act as a person and he will be missed in the Indycar paddock without a doubt.

JT – Other NASCAR drivers including Kyle Busch have expressed their desire to race at the Indy 500. It sounds like there could be several who have interest.

SJ – Oh I think so and I think Busch’s desire is very real. He’s been trying to find a way to do that for a while now. The guy I would love to see in an Indycar is Kyle Larson. I think he would be really good and adapt quickly to the different car race craft. He’s a special driver.

JT – Apparently Indycar is producing a six-part docuseries called “100 Days to Indy” that will air on the CW TV network leading up to next season’s Indy 500. It will have a reality series-type format that will chronicle the category’s personalities. But it’s hard to say if it will be similar to Formula 1’s “Drive to Survive” series that aired on Netflix and was credited by some with raising awareness of the world championship.  What do you think of the idea?

SJ – I hope they won’t just try to copy “Drive to Survive”. They’re going to have to have a format that’s different.

I think what “Drive to Survive” did for F1 was really expose it to the American market, a market which they couldn’t crack before. I would have never expected it, but this show totally changed the landscape for F1. Every race is sold out. In fact every race last season had record crowds pretty much.

Hats-off to Liberty Media. Whether you liked the show or not, they definitely elevated the profile of F1 to a whole new level. The valuation of the teams is in the stratosphere now. Five years ago you could have bought some of the teams for less than a dollar basically and just taken over the debt.

Now, they’re talking fantasy numbers. Most of the teams have no interest in selling but if the few that might consider it were for sale it would be for very, very serious money.

JT – Next season there will be an unprecedented three F1 races in the U.S. with the addition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Do you think the three races, including Miami and Austin, are sustainable?

SJ – At least right now, I think they’ll be 100 percent sustainable. All three of them are sold out. And the tickets for Vegas are apparently very expensive. It’s hard to say how that will play out in the longer term, but for now it’s on a roll like we’ve never seen before.

It’s impressive that it has gotten to this stage. I don’t think there’s any other sport that comes close on a global scale. World Cup football is now without a doubt the biggest single sporting event in the world. It’s amazing how it engages every single country on the planet, except America of course.

But that’s only once every four years. F1 is racing somewhere in the world every two weeks and it’s huge everywhere they go now with a calendar that lasts most of the year. It’s televised globally and has a massive audience. There’s no other sport that comes close to it in that regard.

JT – The 2022 F1 season was defined by the battle between Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari basically. But by mid-season Max and Red Bull left Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Ferrari in the dust. Verstappen set a new record with 15 wins in a single season. What are your thoughts on the 2022 season’s championship fight?

SJ – Ferrari came out of the box with by far the best car I think. It was spectacular at the beginning of the year, fast and it was visually beautiful to look at. But it was impressive the way Red Bull caught up and eventually passed them as the car development continued throughout the year.

And Max was really a different driver this year. With a world championship under his belt and having matured a little bit more he was in a different league to everyone else this year. I think Max will just keep getting stronger. He’s still only 25 so he could have another ten years at least. I said this before last year even, I think he’s going to be dominating with Red Bull for the foreseeable future if the same people in the team stays together.

They’re going to be extremely hard to beat. Max is just going to get better and if [Adrian] Newey is still there and the current technical team is there, the operation is super slick. Their pit stops are always the quickest. They’re doing everything right and it will be hard to overcome the momentum they have now. 

JT – What do you think of the performance of Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez?

SJ – He was good, particularly in the beginning of the year when the car suited his driving style more. But as the season went on it migrated more toward Max’s style and the car became difficult for Perez to drive.

It’s a bit like with Schumacher. There are only a few guys that can drive a car that’s so pointy and on the verge of being loose all the time. But it’s absolutely the quickest way if you can manage it. There’s nothing that kills speed more than understeer. If you have a comfortable car it’s not going to be quick enough. But if you have a driver that can handle a car that’s super pointy you will generally have an edge.

JT – Red Bull Racing was found by the FIA to be in violation of F1’s $145 million spending cap for 2021. The team was fined and will have to forfeit 10 percent of its allotted wind tunnel time next season after exceeding the 2021 cap by $1.8 million. Team principal Christian Horner was adamant that “not one penny” of the overspend “was spent on performance.” Meanwhile McLaren head Zak Brown accused Red Bull of cheating in a letter to the FIA. What do you make of the spending cap drama?

SJ – What I don’t understand is that a lot of teams have been saying that half-a-million dollars is worth two or three tenths of a second or whatever in lap time. But if the budget cap is $145 million – two years ago the top teams were spending $600 million.

By their logic that means they would have been going at least ten seconds faster?

I don’t follow that logic. It makes no sense to me. I can’t imagine that half-a-million dollars with the way the teams operate would make that much difference. Maybe it does… But it doesn’t seem to make sense that an amount like that compared to a whole season’s budget could make that kind of difference.

As I’ve said from the beginning, ever since the idea of this rule was presented, I don’t know how F1 is really going to control spending. If there’s one thing F1 teams are good at, it’s bending the rules. That’s always been the case and in some ways that’s what makes it interesting. The level of creativity from the technical guys is just extraordinary, finding that last little edge that they look for by interpreting a rule slightly differently.

In this case it’s a different interpretation because they now have to find a way to go around the budget cap. In my opinion, that’s much easier than trying to find a way to find a loophole in the technical rules of the cars. The teams will do whatever they need to do to be competitive in this environment. I think there’s going to be a trend and there will be continuous arguments about how certain things in the cap can be interpreted.

It’s inevitable. Since they started the budget cap, I’ve said give it three years and no one’s going to talk about budget caps anymore because they won’t exist anymore. At least not in the way that the spirit of the rule was meant to be. Just as what has often happened in the past when they introduced new technical rules to slow the cars down or whatever the reasons were for the rule changes. Within a couple of years, all the teams have worked a way around the rules and they’re pretty much back to where they started but in a different way.

JT – As you said in your “Make Racing Great Again” manifesto on F1 a few years ago, allowing real technological freedom in the rules for car/powerplant design could potentially eliminate some of the problems of a rigid technical formula including insanely high budgets.

SJ – Yes, my main argument was to open up the rules for different concepts of design. If you really could enforce a strict budget cap, I think now would be the opportunity to open the rules for new concepts on engine technology, weight reduction, limited aero, and all the other inputs you can work on.

Without a shadow of a doubt we already know that there are certainly better and cleaner ways of propelling a car than with electric-hybrid powerplants or than with electric motors period. Why not open the doors to engine manufacturers to come up with a whole new concept as long as they stay within the budget cap and meet all the criteria for sustainability?

The counter argument was always that budgets would go through the roof if you opened up the formula. But engine makers could at least conceptualize the whole thing on paper. And then if they think it is worth pursuing they will figure it out.

If F1 allowed manufacturers and teams to figure out what is actually the most effective, cheapest and most environmentally friendly source of energy to propel a car it would take them five years and it could change the whole car industry. If they were free of outside influence, I’m sure they could come up with something that no one’s ever thought of until now.

F1 is now big enough globally that people wouldn’t be able to ignore it. If they could prove that a concept or a technology is far superior than what is currently being used, it could potentially benefit the entire world of transportation, how could anyone argue with it? If F1 had the guts to do that it could change everything.

 

JT – How about the Ferrari side of the championship fight for 2022? What did you make of the drama surrounding the team’s sometimes questionable race strategy and the lack of development in the later part of the season? Both elements ultimately led to the resignation of team principal Mattia Binotto and his replacement with outgoing Alfa Romeo Sauber chief Frederic Vasseur.

SJ – It’s hard to understand some of the mistakes Ferrari made on strategy. They missed the very basics, like sending Leclerc out on intermediates in Brazil when the track was drying. Rule number one has always been, when there’s weather is that you go for the driest possible setup until you can’t drive it anymore.

If you only get half a lap before it rains it’s going to be quicker than running around on intermediates. It’s hard to understand the logic behind a gamble like that.

I don’t know the details, but In general I think it was a classic case of Binotto losing support from the top at Ferrari. I think the mistake they made to begin with was to give him both jobs, running the technical side of the team and managing it. Either one of those jobs are not for the faint of heart, it’s a brutal environment in either post. What team in F1 has the technical director being the team principal as well?

Vasseur is obviously very good, but I guess time will tell how it will go. I’m sure there’s going to be some upheaval in the team initially. Maybe he gets the whole ship pointed in the right direction. Vasseur’s a strong personality and he will most likely inherit a car that will be even better than the current one, so hopefully he will get a good head start that will allow him to work on all the details. In the end it was all the small detail mistakes that proved very costly for the overall championship.

JT – What did you think of Mercedes’ season? They took a gamble with their design and it didn’t pay off. Then they lobbied the FIA to institute new requirements to limit the porpoising their car suffered from.

SJ – That’s just part of the game. You do what you can to get the advantage back. Red Bull or Ferrari would have done the same if they were in that situation.

I’m sure Mercedes’ car for next season will have a more conventional design and they’ll fine tune the basics rather than having something so different. How many of the radical car designs that we’ve seen over the years work? Theoretically they could be better but most of the time they don’t work.

I’m impressed they got it working as well as they did toward the end of the season. They had a winning car in Brazil for example.

George Russell was impressive in his first season with the team and if they get a more consistently fast car he will be right up there with Lewis.

I was impressed with Lewis, how he kind of sacrificed his own performance, especially in the beginning of the season, by just taking wild gambles with the car set up in the hope of finding a direction or something to cling on to in terms of helping the development of the car.

JT – Among the midfield teams Alpine and McLaren battled for “best of the rest” for most of the 2022 season with Alpine scoring 4th place. Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin competed for the 6th spot behind Mercedes GP. What do you think of their performances?

SJ – For Aston, their 2022 wasn’t an impressive year. They were just part of the midfield. They do have a new factory being completed and they’ve hired a lot of people but they’ve really only just gotten started on their 2023 car. It’s hard to know how they’ll do next year.

Like all of the midfielders, one year they get it right and the next year they’re nowhere. Then they get it right again. Obviously I think it will be hard for them to get better than being the best of the rest in the short term. It remains to be seen how it will work out with Alonso. If he gets a winning car underneath him, he will still get the job done, this I’m sure of.

At face value you would say he would have been better off staying where he was with Alpine. They’ve got a car manufacturer behind them with good resources and a good technical team as well. I think they have more quality attributes at the moment. But again, I don’t know the details, and whatever caused Alonso to make the jump it was a big surprise to everybody.

For McLaren, losing Seidl (Andreas Seidl replaces Vasseur at Sauber to oversee Audi’s arrival in F1) is a big loss. In fact, I think McLaren is probably the biggest loser out of the midfield because Seidl obviously did a terrific job with the team since he joined it. It will remain to be seen how this shake up will affect the various teams. Seidl is obviously incredibly competent and capable.

JT – Another member of McLaren in 2022 who is no longer with them is Daniel Ricciardo. He’s returning to Red Bull Racing as a reserve/test driver next season. After a decade on the grid he’s on the sidelines. What do you make of his situation?

SJ – I don’t know how he got into the place he’s in at the moment. Lando [Norris] is obviously seriously good. But I don’t see how Daniel could have been that far off him pretty much all the time, since the very beginning of him joining the team, it always seemed to be 3-4 tenth difference between the two of them.

Obviously something with the McLaren didn’t work for him. His big thing was being an incredibly late-braker. He was pretty spectacular in that sense. No one could come from as far back as he could and manage to out-brake people like he did.

But I don’t think the car allowed him to do that the way he did at one time. It’s always a matter of being comfortable with the car. It seemed similar with Vettel. He’s shined every once in a while since then but he never seemed to regain the form he had with that Red Bull with the blown-diffuser. That car suited his style of driving perfectly and he was able to take advantage of it.

On a different level, It was the same kind of thing as Felix with the McLaren Indycar in 2021. You’ve got to have a certain comfort level to have the confidence to push the car to the limit. If a car bites you in the butt all the time when you try to take it to the limit, you inevitably start hesitating and you’re never quite sure so you always leave a tiny bit of margin. When you’re one with a car you can be on the limit all the time and it’s totally comfortable, you’re precise and always at exactly the right spot on turn in, which then helps you carry that little bit extra speed through mid-corner and get on the power a bit earlier than if you’re constantly fighting the car.

When you’re developing the car it’s normal that almost subconsciously the engineers will always gravitate to the quicker guy in a team because the car is fast when he’s driving it. So then it suits one guy better than the other. If one driver’s always out front then most of the work is going to happen around that car. It’s human nature.

JT – Who do you think was the most improved team in 2022?

SJ – Ferrari was massively improved from previous years. They sort of came out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone expected that Ferrari would come up with a car that was really fast right out of the box.

JT – The effect of F1’s DRS system in 2022 was thought by most, including fans, to be too powerful, allowing following drivers to make passing a car in front a non-event that often happened well before a braking zone. Arguably it killed much of the excitement of passing. That was evident in comments from Ross Brawn, F1’s recently retired managing director of motorsports. Brawn suggested that DRS should be made less powerful. What do you think?

SJ – I think we’re at the point now with the cars where you can clearly follow a car more closely than before.

As I’ve said many times before, I think they’re at the point now where they could get rid of DRS and the racing would still be interesting. It would be more interesting if they instead used the same or a similar push-to-pass system they use in Indycar for example, where you have a limited amount of extra power for the duration of the race. That would add an element of interest for the commentators also. Someone’s only got 12 seconds of push-to-pass left, someone else has 30 seconds and so on. You could see the data for each driver on-screen and it can and will play a role in how a race ends. There would be a lot more tactical scenarios to play out that would add another layer of interest.

With the current DRS, as soon as you get to a straight and you deploy it, the other guy in front of you is a sitting duck. It’s got no relevance anymore for the racing. It would be far better if F1 had a system similar to Indycar, or at least limited the DRS to a certain number of deployments for the duration of the race rather than an unlimited amount of times.

JT – Formula 1’s 2023 schedule has 24 races. That’s two more races than the series staged in 2022. The grind is so long that there has been talk of a “development holiday” for the first days of the year because the teams are worn out. Is the F1 schedule too long now?

SJ – I think everyone in the teams thinks F1 is having too many races. Teams are now starting to work in shifts. The toll on the mechanics in particular is pretty brutal. It’s tough on the families. But it’s a money thing. More races equal more revenue.

 

JT- This week there was a joint statement from Andretti Global and Cadillac that they have entered a bid for a new F1 team entry. What are you toughts?

SJ- I think the Cadillac angle caught most people by surprise. At face value it’s hard to make out how this will work in practical terms. Having a major manufacturer will without a doubt lend a lot of weight to their bid for a slot on the grid. What is interesting to me was the respective statements from the FIA and F1, and I can sense all may not be well between the two. The FIA was very excited and positive to the announcement, whereas the F1 statement was very cold and neutral and didn’t even once mention the Team or Cadillac by name, and basically just said there is huge interest in F1 from many different entities and like with all the rest they need to evaluate their proposal in detail. I know we already have HAAS as an American entry, but I think this will make a huge impact in the US with both Cadillac and Andretti being household names. What is most interesting to me though, is how they plan to go about it, starting a F1 team from scratch today is definitely not for the faint of heart, it will be a colossal undertaking.

JT – We can round out this edition of the Blog by mentioning that Scott Dixon will be racing in the Daytona 24 hours once again in January, driving a Cadillac V-LMDh along with Sebastian Bourdais and Renger van der Zande. It’s a race he always seems to enjoy. But there’s been word from IMSA teams that the spec-hybrid engine LMDh prototypes are significantly more expensive to run than was advertised.

SJ – Yeah, the cost is astronomical. They cost more than any privateer budget to run a prototype has ever been I think - way more. They’re way more complicated and require way more people to run. When the manufacturers come in and are fully committed things tend to get complicated.

JT- You have also been very busy with your art this last year, with exhibitions in the different places around the world. It looks like you have made a lot of progress since you started taking it more seriously a few years back.

SJ- Yes, it’s been good, I have a show running in Sweden at the moment and one in Santa Monica. I had another show last year in London in association with Sotheby’s and the Royal Automobile Club. It’s been really good, and I have been selling quite well, which is obviously very pleasing. I have just started doing a new series of Automotive paintings too, which have become very popular, and I’ve sold very well both with the originals and the prints of that particular series. I plan on doing several more events in 2023 to show and promote my art, many of them tied to Automotive events of different kinds.


1 comment


  • Robert Saunders

    Great insight and perspective by Stefan as always.


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