JT – The 2022 Formula 1 and Indy Car seasons had yet to get underway when we last chatted for the blog. Four grand prix have now been raced in F1 as well as the first four races on the Indy Car calendar. Beginning with F1, the first races seem to have confirmed that cars can follow each other more closely. That has arguably made the racing a bit better although many would observe that any time there’s a new rules package as there is for 2022, the status quo is disturbed and the racing is more interesting for a period of time. Nevertheless, there does seem to have been some more passing, albeit aided by DRS which may actually be too powerful now, making many of the passes a foregone conclusion. And at the front, two out of the four rounds were led from the green flag to the checkered flag by the winning driver. What are your thoughts on the new rules and the racing so far?
SJ – Clearly, they’ve made improvements in the cars being able to follow each other which was the intent of the new rules, so I think they did a good job with that overall. I quite like the look of the new cars too, compared to the most recent versions at least. But it looks like we’re almost at a point now where the DRS has just become a tactic and unless you use it at the right point on the track it works against you. As we saw in the first two races with Leclerc and Verstappen, both drivers held off on passing each other at different points so that they would get the DRS at the right place on track. They actually let the other guy lead until they were sure they could use the DRS in the right spot. I think it’s become a burden on the outcome of the races because drivers are now playing the tactic of when and when not to use the DRS. Instead of out-braking each other they’re doing something else... It’s like you want to brake as early as possible so you don’t pass the guy in front of you going into a corner. Otherwise he passes you right back down the next straight. It’s weird to watch and obviously defeats the object of the exercise to some degree. The way the DRS is deployed, there’s no way for the leading driver to defend or race with the guy trying to pass. You just can’t keep them behind you. So, it’s critical to be in the right place when you deploy.
JT – Interestingly at the most recent grand prix at Imola, the first part of the race was run in wet to partially-wet conditions and thus, DRS was not activated. But there were still a couple of passes made and they were much more interesting battles to watch than one driver simply sailing by another with their rear wing open.
SJ – Obviously it depends on the track but I think it’s at a point now with the new aero packages and the DRS where it would be at least worth trying a race where no DRS was available. The racing would be so much better if drivers had to figure out how to pass a guy in front instead of just having the rear wing open up. You might not get as many passes but I don’t think more passing always makes it better. A real battle between two guys where one outfoxes the other is great. That’s what you used to have to do. You had to use all of your skill and cunning and every trick in the box to figure out a way to pass the guy. That could last 30 laps but eventually, if you kept at it, the driver in front would eventually crack and make a small mistake and you could get by. I think F1 is at least at the point now where there could be less DRS, where the difference between a car with DRS and one with the rear wing closed could be half what it is now. Maybe meet in the middle somewhere.
JT – One of the other things complicating the racing is a side effect of the new ground effects aero-package. Most of the cars are porpoising now as they gain speed on straights and approach corners. Some, like Mercedes, are more affected than others. The teams seem to think it’s a novel situation but as you point out, this has been seen before in F1.
SJ - The cars are obviously a nightmare to drive with all the porpoising, but it makes me laugh in a way because as I came into F1 in the 1980s, that was the era when the ground effects cars were still there. We had the same problems then as they do now. Porpoising was always a problem. It seems strange to me that there was no prior on track testing done with some kind of mule car to see what the characteristics of the ground effects car would be considering how drastic this rule change was. I don’t know what made F1 think the cars suddenly weren’t going to porpoise when the basic concept is the same, where the whole underbody serves as a big wing basically. Interestingly, good old Rory Bryne (ex-Benetton and Ferrari designer during the Michael Schumacher era) who’s in his 70s now and lives down in Thailand still consults with Ferrari and is in very close contact with them. He and [Adrian] Newey may be the only designers still around from that era and while all the teams have been complaining about the porpoising, When the team brought it up, Byrne said, “Well, yeah I kind of expected that might happen, but we used to do this and that and the other, and it seemed to help a bit.” Who knows if that helped or not in this case, but Rory is in my opinion one of the best designers in F1 history and never got anywhere near the credit he deserved for all the championship winning cars he was involved with. The development rate for the teams is going to be insane until the end of the season and I think they’ll get the porpoising figured out quite soon. One thing they’re extremely good at in F1 is solving any big problems very quickly. At least in this early part of the season it’s been great to see that both Haas and Alfa Romeo have been near the front. But you can sort of see already that the front runners may be moving further away from them even with the first batches of development parts that showed up in Imola.
JT – Are you surprised by Mercedes’ struggles with their car so far?
SJ – Yes, I guess how wrong Mercedes got it is the big surprise so far. It’s a pretty radical concept and if they can make it work it will probably be incredible, the question is how long they are prepared to stick with it until they switch to plan B and abandon the whole idea and go with something that is more conventional. I think one of the advantages a team like Ferrari had coming into this year is that they obviously gave up on developing their cars last year very early because they were so far out of the championship battle. Ferrari probably started on this year’s car way earlier than anyone else or put more effort into this year’s car throughout last season. But total respect to them because as bad as they’ve looked the last two years, to come out and blow the doors off everybody in the first couple of races is pretty impressive. Plus, their car is just gorgeous, the best-looking car on the grid I think.
JT – Do you think the significant amount of people Red Bull was able to hire away from Mercedes affected them?
SJ – At some point it’s got to have an effect. Mercedes obviously has a massive talent pool but you’re going to feel the pain at some point. Still, as it always is in racing, it’s never one thing. It’s a combination of several small developments that eventually make a huge difference. You can see it in Indy Car where even though all the teams run the same cars, Penske and Ganassi will take one item, something you may not even notice, and refine it. Then they do the same with some other small thing and you add it all up and it makes quite a difference. For Red Bull, there’s no question that having Newey is an advantage. I think he’s still very much on top of things and their car looks very good. I have a feeling that over the course of the year they will get better and better. I still have my money on Verstappen winning the championship. Like I said at the end of last year, this is the start of a 5-10-year Red Bull/Verstappen domination.
JT – Apparently F1 fans have been pretty enthusiastic about the sprint race format that we saw at Imola and F1 teams are generally supportive. Liberty Media has three sprint races scheduled for 2022 and proposed as many as six for 2023. But the FIA is opposed to the idea and basically killed that expansion at a recent meeting of the F1 commission. What’s your take on the sprint races?
SJ – I’m kind of neither here nor there to be honest when it comes to the sprint races. I don’t find them that interesting and for the points available, no one’s going to put it on the line. There’s the usual incident at the start as a few people get tangled up but aside from that no one’s really risking a lot to win them. Obviously, if they had a sprint race at Monaco, that’s different. The drivers would do whatever they could to get on pole because it’s so likely that you’ll win the race if you start on the pole. But otherwise I don’t think the sprint races make for a lot of action.
Photo credit: Sky Sports
JT – Some teams have a lot of catching up to do in terms of their pace under the 2022 rules. Surprisingly, McLaren is one of them. Lando Norris was able to score a podium at Imola but otherwise the team has struggled to match other outfits that have been well adrift of it in recent seasons. What’s your take on McLaren?
SJ – They were surprisingly strong at Imola which is interesting considering how much they’ve struggled before then, but it’s quite possible they had a major breakthrough with some of the new parts they brought to Imola. Apart from Ferrari and Red Bull, at every race so far there has been a different team that has been really quick even if they were nowhere before. I think it’s just part of what we’ll see with a rapid rate of development until the end of the season. The big breakthroughs are going to come for almost every team going forward until they get to the point where there’s saturation in development and then it gets down to the details. But I think with this new aero package there are still so many things for all the teams to understand.
JT – The upcoming Miami Grand Prix is brand new for F1, the series’ second race in America along with the existing race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Next year there will be a third round in the U.S. with the addition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. What are your thoughts on Miami and a trio of races here in 2023?
SJ – I think Miami will be fantastic. Formula 1 is really on fire now. It’s unbelievable how popular it’s become especially here in the U.S. I never in a million years thought a TV show (“Drive to Survive”, Netflix) would make such a big difference but it’s elevated the series to a whole different level. The amount of people I see daily now who are just addicted to Formula 1 is amazing. And they didn’t even know what F1 was two years ago. It’s great for motorsport in general because it helps everything. Indy Car is on a big upswing too - not for the same reasons - but just the general trajectory is brilliant. I think the energy and the buzz around Miami will be phenomenal. No one knows what the race will be like but they seem to have done a pretty good job with the track. Apex (Apex Circuit Design), I did a little work with them a few years ago on a couple of track projects and they’re really good guys. They know what they’re doing and hopefully the track will at least be a departure from the Tilke (designer Hermann Tilke) tracks. We will find out very shortly if they got it right or not. And then Vegas will be crazy, I’m sure. It’s all positive. It’s exactly what we need. We’ve only really had one crown jewel before in F1 - Monaco. These two races are both going to be huge. Austin was already big last year. But the advantage with the new races is that they’re in the cities, Miami and Vegas. That’s the way to go. We all know that. Abu Dhabi has turned into a great race and Singapore has always been fantastic so F1 now has some really great venues. You have to say that Liberty [Media] has figured it out and taken the series to a whole new level. And the crowds Indy Car is getting are great too. St. Pete (the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg) was sold out and Long Beach (Long Beach Grand Prix) had the biggest crowd it’s had in years. It’s exciting. All of this is going in the right direction.
JT – VW Group looks likely to enter F1 in 2026 with Porsche and Audi possibly. But both brands have publicly stated that they won’t fully commit until they see what the new regulations for 2026 look like. Obviously, F1 would like to have two more manufacturers on the grid. Do you think Porsche and Audi are looking for leverage with regard to the regulations?
SJ – I’m sure there’s some jockeying there. There always is. I’m sure they want to test the water a little bit and see how much their influence weighs in the scheme of things. That’s where the FIA and Formula 1 really need to be strong. I think they can be stronger than ever now because it’s clear that the value of the teams is climbing just from the increased interest in F1. Every day there’s another team that wants to join the series - from Andretti to car manufacturers to rich guys.
JT – There have been comments from some of the existing teams expressing concern that Porsche and Audi might share knowledge and resources, not operating as truly separate manufacturers. Do you think that concern is warranted?
SJ – If their sports car project (Audi and Porsche raced against each other in the WEC between 2014 and 2016 in prototypes) is anything to go by I’d say there’s no problem. There was no sharing between those two in the WEC. They were very competitive internally.
JT – Another commercial trend in F1 that you’ve observed is increasing sponsorship from crypto-currency businesses.
SJ – Every single team apart from Haas is now sponsored by a crypto-currency company and it’s not small money. They’re all pretty serious sponsors. I think the crypto firms are turning into the new tobacco sponsors – like the cigarette companies the series had sponsorship from years ago for about three decades. It’s serious involvement and I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger.
JT – Turning to Indy Car, Scott Dixon just raced to a 5th place finish at the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. He finished 8th at the season opener in St. Pete, 5th on the oval at Texas and 6th at Long Beach. His finishes have been solid but he’s yet to score a podium. It looks like the competition in Indy Car has gone up yet another notch. Scott and the Ganassi team are being pushed hard it seems.
SJ – Indy Car is always great racing but the level of competition amongst all the teams and drivers is just off the charts. Almost every single car has a shot of winning. You can see it in qualifying too. It’s just brutal. You can’t leave anything on the table anymore. At St. Pete, Scott and the team went for the alternative strategy, stopping early, which proved to not work out in this case. But even so, in a typical year in the past, he would have still recovered to a podium. This year all he could do was 8th. That’s the difference. On a bad day in the past, Scott was never worse than 5th. But there are just so many more really good drivers and cars now. You have to be on top of it every weekend. Any little issue is magnified now more than ever.
JT – The month of May at Indy is almost upon us, and everyone will be pushing hard. Penske has looked strong at every race so far with Scott McLaughlin winning at St. Pete followed by two wins for Josef Newgarden at Texas and Long Beach. And while Penke’s performance wasn’t as stout at Alabama, Will Power still scored a 4th place finish ahead of Scott with McLaughlin just behind in 6th.
SJ – Yes, Penske has been strong at every race. I think they’re obviously doing a good job, but it also looks like the Chevrolets are a bit stronger too this year comparatively. That’s going to show at Indy I think. It’ll be interesting to see and I’m sure there will be a record crowd for the 500 this year.
JT – In other news your artwork is getting lots of attention and not all of it is on a traditional canvas.
SJ – Yes, it’s starting to gain some good traction now. I’m doing a show here in Santa Monica that’s going to run for a full year in a place called the Water Garden. I will have one building for my art and I will exhibit six paintings, all quite large-scale portraits from the series I call “Friends, Heroes and Wankers”. It’s quite a prestigious exhibit here that has been running for years. Then I’m flying to Sweden next week to do a show there that’s going to have 14 paintings in it. And then I’m working on some very cool merchandise that will have my art incorporated in the design. Last year I designed a couple wraps for Porsches racing in Porsche Cup. And I’m currently working on doing some cars running at this year’s Le Mans in different colors with my art wrapped on the cars for the race. We will make an announcement soon on that project. All very exciting stuff!