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#110

#110

               Photo: CNN.com 

JT – 2020 proved to be a difficult year for global racing, with the pandemic exposing the sport to the same risks that hobbled nearly every aspect of life. But on the bright side most series in the U.S. and Europe were able to squeeze in a mostly full season of racing through the second half of the year with the exception of some series in Asia.

Formula 1 managed to pull off a 17-race season. Lewis Hamilton took the drivers’ championship while Mercedes GP captured the manufacturer’s championship yet again. On track it was clear that no team could challenge Mercedes for their seventh championship. There was very little racing at the front of the grid except for when the teams first returned to competition in July, an unexpected penalty at Monza or when weather intervened. Hamilton tied Michael Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ championships, winning 11 races while his teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen each won two grands prix. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and Alpha Tauri Honda’s Pierre Gasly were the only other drivers to win, each scoring one victory.

What are your thoughts on the 2020 F1 season?

SJ – Lewis dominated again and in an impressive way I have to say, as you know I’m a big fan. He’s obviously in the best car but it takes a lot more than that. To win seven championships takes a bit of doing. It’s not just what happens on track, it’s all the work behind the scenes that really makes the big difference. He’s been a big part of driving the team forward and nudging them in the right direction. He was already very special in his first year in F1 and is probably the only team mate Alonso has ever had that’s been able to rattle his cage to this day, and that was in his very first year. He has since developed himself over the years into a driver who’s a cut above the rest of the current drivers.

I think he’s had a similar influence on Mercedes as Schumacher had at Ferrari. It’s clear that there’s a very good energy in the team and I’m sure he’s a large part of it. Toto [Wolff] has obviously done a fantastic job as well and Niki [Lauda] was a big part of it too when he was around. They have created a kind of “Dream Team” similar to what Ferrari had when they were dominating for several years.

When a team is winning and they keep on winning it takes a lot of effort on everybody’s part but particularly the leadership to make sure that everyone’s moving in the right direction and to keep the team intact. Only one weak link can break the chain and it’s extraordinary what they’ve accomplished.

Verstappen did an amazing job converting small opportunities and turning them into race wins, he’s getting better and better each year and is now a serious championship contender provided he has the equipment.

The most interesting battle in F1 right now is the battle for 3rd in the constructors championship, where the field is incredibly close and it wasn’t decided until the last race. It really came down to who got it right on the day between McLaren, Racing Point and Renault. If all three of those teams could get just a little closer to the front two teams it would really become a great championship again.

JT – Do you expect Mercedes and Hamilton to carry their success forward in 2021?

SJ – I’m sure they’re going to be very hard to beat again because next year will be essentially the same as this year. Red Bull might get stronger. They have one more year left with Honda as their engine supplier and the same package. They’re clearly getting closer in a lot of places. Max is on top of his game as well, so any slight glitch from Mercedes and it’s unlikely they will get away with it like they have been on many occasions in previous years. I’m sure Sergio Perez will help in many ways with his experience from the Racing Point and the Mercedes package he’s been driving. I’m sure that input will help them up their game a bit too.

I think Red Bull will be able to convince F1 to let them take over development of Honda’s engine. I don’t think F1 has many options in that case. It’s in the best interest of the series and I think it would make the most sense.

But it’s just as certain that Mercedes isn’t sleeping and doing nothing. But again, I think the most interesting battle will be between McLaren , Renault and what will now become Aston Martin, all three with what looks to be more commitment in every area.

JT – McLaren and Racing Point contended for 3rd place in the championship this year with McLaren triumphing. Next season both will be powered by Mercedes. Racing Point will see Sebastian Vettel join Lance Stroll while Daniel Ricciardo joins Lando Norris at McLaren. Who will come out on top?

SJ – That’s hard to say but I’ve got a feeling McLaren is in a good position. They’ve gotten a new injection of money so I think their developments will come at an even faster pace. They’re on the right path. I think Zak’s [Brown] done a great job hiring good people and there’s good harmony in the team now. There clearly wasn’t when he stepped in and I think they’re slowly clawing their way back to the front.

As for Racing Point, they’ll have the same package as this year which should help, and they are investing heavily in new facilities and R&D, I am sure they will continue to be a contender just like they showed throughout 2020.

Also, let’s not forget Renault, I have a feeling they will get stronger this year also.

                      Photo credit: XPB Images

JT – An interesting question is who is the better hire for 2021 – Vettel for Racing Point or Ricciardo for McLaren?

SJ – That’s not easy to answer but I think Vettel will have a lot to contribute with all of his experience. He’s also a pretty good team player I think and that could definitely help. But at the end of the day in both cases generally it’s more to do with what kind of car they have to race. If the car isn’t as competitive as it could be they can only do so much.

If you go down one philosophical path in designing next year’s car you’re kind of stuck with it whether it works or not. It’s really too late now for Vettel or Ricciardo to come in and have an influence on the design. If you’re in a team like Lewis has been for so long, clearly you can have an influence on where development goes for the next season, the year after that and so on.

The cars Vettel and Ricciardo are going to get into next season have been in development for a year already so there’s nothing they can do to change them until they drive them. The drivers might be able to drive around problems and gain a few tenths or so back on track, but beyond that it really comes down to what the car is capable of.

 

JT – Fernando Alonso is back in F1 next season with Renault. What kind of impact can he make alongside Esteban Ocon?

SJ – That’s going to be an interesting one to watch too. Any one of those three teams - Renault, McLaren or Racing Point – could come out on top of the others. They all improved significantly last year. They’ll have a good battle in the midfield and be closer to the front as well.

As a general rule, the longer the rules stay the same the closer the grid ends up getting. That’s why Indy Car is so good. They’ve had basically the same car for many years now and that makes it almost impossible to find any technical gain that will get you an advantage over the competition. Engineers move around from team to team and they take whatever info the previous team had with them of course, which will then move the new team closer to the front. That’s why the grid is so incredibly close in Indycar. In the final race of the Championship last year neither of the two Championship contenders (Dixon and Newgarden) managed to qualify in the top 6, which I think sums up how difficult it is to get it right.

JT – The Haas F1 team will be more closely integrated with Ferrari next year with a new facility being built for them at Maranello. Part of the logic is that Scuderia will be able to reallocate staff from Ferrari to Haas in response to the $145 million budget cap from 2021 forward.

SJ – I think it makes total sense. Ferrari is clearly invested in Haas and it’s in their interest to have as good a handle on it as they can. Clearly Ferrari has slipped in its competitiveness so any help they can get by sharing information between four cars instead of two could also be beneficial in some ways. But if both cars are no good it will obviously not make that much difference regardless, which was the case last year in particular.

JT – At the back of the grid Williams F1 and Sauber Alfa Romeo have uncertain outlooks it would seem. Williams has new ownership but they’ll need a lot of funding to improve. Sauber will also need more help from Ferrari. Can they be more competitive in 2021?

SJ – At least Williams still has the Mercedes package. I don’t know anything about their new owners (American firm Dorilton Capital) and what sort of cash injection they’re bringing to the team. But I think it will be difficult to see any real lift from that next year. If they’re serious about the effort and willing to invest whatever is required then maybe there will be improvement as time goes by. But, as we have seen on several occasions throughout history, F1 is not for the faint of heart, it takes a big commitment to get to the front, but if they are prepared to do that there is no reason why they can’t eventually get out of the hole they’ve dug themselves.

JT – George Russell will remain with Williams next season but his drive, replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for the Bahrain GP, was remarkable. He looks as if he could step into the Mercedes and be competitive right away. What are your thoughts?

SJ – There’s no question he was impressive. He did a great job. And it shows the nature of the whole concept of F1. It’s vital to be in the best car on the grid. Russell did everything you could possibly ask for, grabbing the opportunity and making the most of it. It didn’t work out in the end but he showed what he could do in the best car. I think he definitely put himself on the map for bigger and better things.

I think the whole new crop of drivers are extremely good – Russell, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Max of course. Between starting young in karting and getting a lot of time on simulators they’ve all learned to drive a race car fast. But we don’t know exactly how some of them would do when the pressure’s really on. Leclerc stepped up as the leader at Ferrari last year, the first of the younger batch of drivers to do so.

I think the verdict is still out on whether he has what it takes to deliver a championship. He can’t do it with the car he has at the moment and last season he definitely made a few mistakes. You just don’t know what any young fast driver can do until the pressure is really on in a role like that. That’s when you see the true value of a world champion. It’s one thing to be quick but it’s another thing altogether to lead a team to a world championship.

 

                            Photo credit: Indycar 

JT – Now that Arrow McLaren is entering its third year in Indy Car and with the new pairing of Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist could the team now be considered as competitive as the Ganassi, Penske and Andretti teams that have been at the top of Indy Car for years?

SJ – At the moment in Indy Car you have so much competition. You have Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, Rahal, McLaren and Dale Coyne. Literally any of them can win on a given day. In terms of talent and engineering every one of them is so good now.

It comes down to minute details, a botched pit stop, the wrong strategy or just bad luck. It’s so tight all of the time. That’s what makes Scott’s [Dixon] sixth championship that much more impressive. Indy Car is just incredibly competitive. It’s so hard to win I don’t think anyone can appreciate it unless they see it up close. What’s frustrating to me is the limited amount of recognition Scott gets in comparison to others.

His continuing motivation and ability to push every aspect of the team in every area is amazing. I can see it first hand and I know what goes on behind the scenes. The effort that goes into it… The driving is really the easy part when you’re born with the talent that all the top guys have in all the major categories of racing. It’s all the other bits and pieces that take a lot of work.

That’s even more important now when even the small differences between teams that used to exist – like one was on Goodyears and the other was on Firestones – are really even smaller than they were. Indy Car is a fight at every level.

Photo credit: Indycar

JT – Scott will have new teammates next year at Ganassi with the addition of Alex Palou and seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and the return of Tony Kanaan for the oval races. I assume that won’t impact him too much?

SJ – No, but he definitely wants teammates who can push him. The better a teammate he’s got the happier he is. He knows how good he is. He’s not afraid of anyone, he’d just like to have someone on the same level who can compete and share data. If you have one or two more cars sharing data it’s an advantage.

I think Palou was quite impressive last year. I think he’s very good. He had some pretty impressive races, especially for a rookie.

 

JT – The world of sports car racing has seen some interesting developments through 2020. The most notable came last January when IMSA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest announced the creation of the LMDh joint prototype formula, enabling a convergence in the rules for the two sanctioning bodies. Now WEC-derived Le Mans Hypercar prototypes can race the IMSA-derived LMDhs globally on a level playing field under a common set of rules.

Toyota and Peugeot have committed to Hypercar along with privateer squads like Glickenhaus and Bykolles while Audi and Porsche have said they will race LMDh prototypes. Honda is said to be planning to race LMDh prototypes and there have been unconfirmed rumors that Ferrari is interested as well. It will take perhaps four years until all of these brands can be on the grid but there seems to be some momentum. What are your thoughts on this?

SJ – I’m quite positive about this for sports car racing. I think it could end up working with a common rule-set. There does seem to be a lot of interest from manufacturers and there are quite a few drivers who could benefit from more factory seats being available.

For me, the best part is that after about 30 years we’ll finally have the same rules in America as in Europe again. It defies all logic why that hasn’t existed for so long but it could work well.

JT – The manufacturer interest in the convergence formula is exciting but one wonders if the entry of four or more brands might inevitably drive up costs in the prototype ranks and lead to the economic implosion cycle that sports car racing has seen so many times in the past.

SJ – Maybe. It really just depends on how firm the governing bodies are in enforcing the spirit of the original rules. If they let it slide and let the manufacturers get away with bending the rules it will escalate very quickly. If they can be really strict and enforce the rules it could be quite successful for a period of time.

Everyone understands the original intent of rules but then everybody tries to find loopholes. That’s always been a weakness in F1 with all of the different aero changes they’ve made over the years at an astronomical expense. But it only takes half a season and the teams are back to where they were before in terms of performance. If sports car racing can manage to keep a lid on that kind of thing and enforce the rules they’re starting with there’s a chance it can not only last but really grow into something like it was back the glory days of Sportscar racing.

#109

#109

 

Scott Dixon scored his 6th Indy Car championship title late last month, finishing 3rd at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg behind championship rival Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden who won the race and McLaren’s Pato O’Ward who finished second. It was a difficult race for Scott who had to gain ground on a slippery track after qualifying in 11th and keep pace with Newgarden who started 8th. There was quite a bit of action throughout the race with Scott having to dodge numerous crashes that occurred around him and use his judgment to know when to pass and when to avoid trouble. But as usual his superlative speed and experience made the difference.  

You were on hand for the race, standing in the Ganassi Racing pit area. Was it as tense a race in-person as it appeared to be on TV?
SJ – It was definitely a tense race, full of action, and typical of the drama that most Indycar races have. It had all the ingredients for an exciting finish with both Scott and Josef qualifying relatively far back. As Josef moved forward, Scott had to follow to protect himself from any mishaps, it was absolutely nerve wracking to watch from the pitlane! In the end, both Scott and Newgarden showed why it was those two that were fighting for the Championship, with a display of great race craft when it mattered the most.
JT – Scott’s sixth championship moves him to second for number of titles won in Indy Car behind only A.J Foyt who scored seven. His 50 wins, including the Indy 500 in 2008, rank him third all-time behind Mario Andretti with 52 and Foyt with 67. He won four times during this year, taking three victories in a row to begin the pandemic-altered season. Amazingly, over the course of his 335 races, he has finished in the top ten 243 times. And he’s the first IndyCar champion age 40 or older since Nigel Mansell in 1993.
He also finished second in the Indy 500, scored a third overall victory at the Daytona 24 Hours in January with Wayne Taylor Racing and won last month’s Petit Le Mans with the same team. After the final race at St. Petersburg, Autoweek Magazine asked Mario Andretti if Scott is among the best racers in history.
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“Absolutely,” Mario said. “You look at his record of championships and wins, and we are absolutely in good company. I love the guy, I love what he stands for. He’s definitely one of the best ever.”
It’s clear that since he first stepped into an Indy Lights car at Sebring, broke the track record and joined your Johansson Motorsport Indy Lights team, he has grown into one of the best drivers ever and is still at the top of his game. His talent, skill and judgment on and off-track are exceptional. And his desire to be the best every time he sits down in a racing car seems to burn as bright as ever.
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Do you agree that his achievements should be more widely recognized?
SJ – Yes, I agree most definitely. It’s a shame that Indy Car doesn’t get more recognition in general because it definitely deserves it on several levels. It’s great racing, ultra-competitive with a huge depth of talent in the field now and that’s on display every weekend. It is the most competitive Championship in the world without a doubt.
I think it’s the hardest category of any to string together a whole weekend and actually win a race. You can be on pole in Indy Car but that doesn’t mean you’re going to walk away from everyone else once the race is underway. There are so many more layers to winning a race and it’s extraordinary what Scott has done for so many years. Any slight glitch in the strategy both on fuel and tires, pitstops, in and out laps, traffic etc, and you’re likely to lose several positions. Everyone in the team has to execute perfectly throughout the weekend in order to have a good result. The pitcrew is under massive pressure with only one guy per corner, a second lost under a full course yellow pitstop could mean 4-5 places when everyone stops at the same time. Scott’s pitcrew has been amazing, led by his crew chief Blair Julian, who came with Scott from New Zealand as a kid and worked in my Indylights team as a mechanic on Scott’s car, and the two of them have never been separated since. It’s an incredible relationship those two have had over the years.
If you think about all the different aspects of what makes a winning championship run in Indy Car, especially now, it’s impressive. It’s virtually impossible to get a mechanical or technical advantage. On almost every weekend, there’s never one car that dominates. At one race the Penske’s are out front, and not necessarily all of them, maybe only one of the Penske’s, the next weekend it’s one or maybe two of the Andretti cars and then it’s the same with Ganassi and sometimes Rahal. And there are so many good drivers, but in the end, the championship is typically decided by what driver is the most consistent and makes the least amount of mistakes. There is simply no room for mistakes if you want to win the Indycar Championship.
Most often when you see someone rack up big numbers of championships, wins or podiums it’s when you’re in a category where you can have a car that is completely dominant for a fairly long period of time. If you take Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher for instance, I don’t think anyone can dispute that they are or were the best at what they do at the given time that they’re doing it. But unlike Scott, they had the luxury of only having to beat their teammate or maybe one other car in a good year. In a really great year, they might have to beat four or five cars at the most.
But that almost never happens in F1. It’s rare that there are three cars that could win a given race. It’s the same in Sportscar racing, and has been for a very long time now, where one of the Manufactures totally dominate until they decide to pull out.
So, to answer your question, I definitely think Scott belongs in that very exclusive group of drivers that only come around every so often, drivers that maybe have a few percent more raw talent than their competitors, but a relentless drive to always be the best and to find ways to always improve themselves both mentally and physically.
JT – Scott has demonstrated an amazing desire to win and be competitive every weekend in Indy Car now for 19 years and counting. Many other drivers burn brightly but come and go much more quickly. Scott still has the passion he had two decades ago coupled with the diverse set of skills you need to win in Indy Car, mastering racing on natural terrain road courses, street circuits and short and long ovals. And as you point out, he’s willing to race other types of cars outside of the Indy Car series.
SJ – Scott is always keen to do any other race he can, he has a passion for the sport that is impressive considering the success he’s already had. He’s raced and won in IMSA DPi’s, DPs and other prototypes and the Ford GT GTLM cars. We’re always talking about what other drives are out there that doesn’t conflict with his main program.
He’s just a pure racer through and through, he’s won in everything he’s ever driven pretty much. His dedication to his craft is unheard of. There’s never any attitude or anything. He goes to Bathurst and he just gets on with the racing (Scott raced at the 12 Hours of Bathurst in February co-driving with Jake Dennis and Rick Kelly in an Aston Martin Vantage GT3, finishing 9th).
It’s refreshing because that’s how the great drivers used to be back in the day. They’d race three different cars on the same weekend sometimes. He reminds me a lot of Stirling Moss in that way, he could drive the wheels of anything, and he did with grace and dignity, both in victory and defeat. Encouragingly, I think some of the drivers coming along in the new generation are more like that again. Some of the younger guys like Lando Norris are keen to jump in and try different kinds of racing. Obviously, Fernando Alonso has no problem doing that. He has raced at Indy and in sports cars and off-road. So, I think the purity of racing is starting to come back and I really like that.
I think that all of the racing some of the guys have done on simulators recently has helped them realize that there might be categories outside of F1 for example, that can give them a lot more pure pleasure in racing and driving. Everything in Formula 1 is so optimized on every level that it kind of takes away a lot of the challenging elements of racing, things which any driver worth his salt craves. The cars are amazing and the technology is mind blowing, but as a result of that, a lot of the driver input becomes less important.
If you love racing, you’d want to go somewhere like the Nurburgring or Indianapolis because it’s an incredible challenge. You know it’s going to punish you if you screw up but at the same time to get it right and to master it is incredibly satisfying. I think any driver has that feeling when you’ve done something that requires you to dig a bit deeper than your comfort zone allows you.
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JT – Meanwhile, Felix Rosenquist who teamed with Scott again this year at Ganassi also had a good season, scoring his first Indy Car win at Road America and finishing 11th in the championship. But his third season in Indy Car will be with a different team. Next year, he’ll race with the new Arrow McLaren SP team that had its maiden full season campaign in 2020.
Felix, who you also manage, is another driver with a diverse background, having competed and won in Formula E, DTM, Super Formula, Super GT and the Blancpain GT Series. His pairing with Pato O’Ward, who finished 4th in the Indy Car standings this season, should be fun to watch.
SJ – Yes, it’s a new challenge for Felix with a new team. A number circumstances dictated the switch to McLaren, but I think it’s going to be a great environment for Felix. They’re a strong team already, and yet they’re a bit of an underdog and he likes that. But the team is definitely on its way. They’ve improved massively this year.
With the influence of the F1 resources that they have and the ability to refine the few technical bits you can on an Indy Car, they should be even more competitive. I think it will be a good step for Felix. With Pato, the team will have two young guys who can push each other hard.
JT – Turning to Formula 1, the course of the season has been clear once again since it began. Mercedes has been utterly dominant, winning 11 of the 13 races contested so far with Hamilton taking nine victories to Valtteri Bottas’ two. Mercedes clinched the manufacturers’ championship at Imola and Lewis Hamilton will undoubtedly capture his seventh title. There remains little to watch racing-wise in F1 unless foul weather or some other unforeseen circumstance intervenes.
SJ – It’s a weird dynamic. I’ve tried the best I can to be positive about F1 but it’s tough when it’s so certain that one team, one car is going to win. The series is making little technical tweaks here and there but they’re not going to fix the problem. I keep saying it but it’s blatantly obvious to me that they need to start completely fresh with a new formula. The obsession with aerodynamics and the money invested in this area has been counterproductive.
If they’re so concerned with F1’s DNA and each team building its own car – all that does is lead to astronomical costs, as everything is so optimized and expensive to develop. And in the end, everyone ends up building basically the same car anyway. When someone gets an edge like Mercedes has had for so long now they’re just going to dominate. The factors that prevent anyone from having a shot at winning need to be eliminated, at least to the extent that there’s the slightest chance that the teams in the midfield can have a chance of winning on a good day. But, it is also clear that despite the car being the best in the field, if it weren’t for Lewis Hamilton there would have definitely been more races won by Red Bull, so in many ways it’s Lewis who in the end does make the difference even for Mercedes. They have the best overall package and Lewis is a huge part of that of course.
JT –  Drives in F1 for 2021 are still not completely decided with seats at Haas F1, Williams and possibly Red Bull Racing up for grabs. What do you make of the driver market?
SJ – Red Bull seems to be supportive of Alex Albon still. They haven’t replaced him with [Pierre] Gasly which is the pattern Red Bull has demonstrated before. But who knows? I think it’s tough for anyone, especially a young guy like Albon to be Verstappen’s teammate.
I think you need someone with a bit of experience who might rattle Max’s cage a bit, not just on the track but mentally as well. Verstappen’s in charge, he’s massively quick and he delivers every race as true team leader does. It would take quite a high caliber driver to succeed alongside him. In my opinion Red Bull would be better off running someone solid and experienced with Max who can just keep scoring points to help the team. And if Verstappen has a bad day that driver can step up and get a podium or a win if the car is good enough.
Williams has the same challenge any team has in F1 these days. You set the ship in motion and take a direction. If it doesn’t work out it takes about three years to turn the ship around. The team management and direction is a massive undertaking these days. I don’t know anything about the new owners (American investment firm, Dorilton Capital) and I guess any restructuring will have to play out. And the drivers look like they’re staying.
Haas looks like they will go with two rookies for next year, which makes sense in a way, why not try some new fresh blood when what you have is clearly not bringing them further up the grid. If they can save the money spent on drivers salaries and allocate that towards car development instead, it makes sense to run a couple of rookies until you get to a point where you have car that will bring you to the front of the mid pack at least, then a fast and experienced driver could make the difference in how many points the team will score over the season.
Force India or Aston Martin as it’s called has pretty strong resources now with the group that Lawrence [Stroll] has assembled. I think we’ll see more and more influence from Mercedes. Vettel will relish a new environment there to work in, the smaller team atmosphere. It’ll be some fresh air for him to get in a new environment. He’s obviously not as bad as his results have been lately. Clearly this year the Ferrari has been built around Leclerc as he’s the new leader in the team. From what I understand he likes and can drive a car that is quite pointy and nervous on corner entry. If you don’t like that, if it’s not your driving style, you’re basically screwed as soon as you turn the steering wheel.
That’s how it was with Michael (Schumacher) at Ferrari. No one else could drive the car the way he liked it. If you can drive a car that is always on the edge of being loose, that’s always the quickest way. But the car has a very small window in which it works so it’s easy to overdrive it. And that’s often what happens when you’re a little bit behind the car. You end up trying too hard, overdriving and by doing so you’re actually going slower. This is the battle Vettel is facing right now and it’s very tough to pull it together when you have a car that doesn’t suit your natural driving style.
JT – While 2020 has been tough on everyone, you’ve put your time at home during the pandemic to good use, painting in your studio a lot and coming up with new Stefan Johansson products.
SJ – Yes, I’ve been extremely busy here in the studio, painting almost every day and we’re starting to commercialize some of the art, especially the abstract paintings. I had no intention of doing that when I started, but the style of the art lends itself very well to those types of products.
All those paintings are inspired by my memories of racing on different tracks over the years, the images are something I think of when I think back to racing at a certain track. Every one of the paintings is named after a corner or section of different grand prix circuits.
We started making some face masks based of one of the paintings for fun really but we’re actually selling a lot of them. We’re now doing hats, skateboards, surfboards and a whole range of other clothing items that will be launched gradually over the next 6 months.
And we’re doing prints of the original paintings in three different sizes which have been extremely popular. We’re branding it all around the abstract art. It’s colorful and eye catching. I’m quite chuffed that it’s been so well received.
I enjoy it all but the portraits I do separately are more serious art. There’s quite a lot of effort in terms of the research I do before I even start to paint them as the text I overlay once the subject is painted is really what brings meaning to the work. The whole process is quite time consuming. It takes almost a month to do one portrait. I like all of them for various reasons but I just did one – a “Lucha Libre” portrait of Lewis Hamilton where he’s wearing a Mexican wrestling mask painted in his helmet colors. It’s fun and different and I want to do more of that concept. I just finished one of James Dean and one of Steve McQueen. They’re all meaningful to me and I hope they will cause some level of emotion in my viewers too. I sell all the art on my website and so far the response has been very positive.

#108

#108

SJ Blog #108 - July 17, 2020. 

JT – We last chatted for the blog in early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic brought racing and many other activities in the world to a halt. For most of two months there was no live racing, just virtual competition on gaming platforms among gamers and professional racers. Then in mid-May, NASCAR became the first series to go back to the track, racing at Darlington without a crowd successfully.

Indycar resumed racing in early June at Texas Motor Speedway, again without spectators but with a largely successful and smooth return to live racing. At the beginning of July, Formula 1 finally got underway for 2020 with the Austrian Grand Prix. The series also raced with no crowd on hand.

On track, the Austrian GP was less polished than one might have expected. Despite months to prepare for the first event of the year, nearly half the grid failed to finish the race with just 11 cars running at the checkered flag. Mercedes was absolutely dominant, having a large pace advantage on every other team in the field. Valtteri Bottas won the race with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Lando Norris finishing a surprise second and third respectively. A clash between Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Alex Albon sent the Red Bull driver spinning and led to a penalty for Hamilton who finished fourth.

Mechanical/electric failure struck Max Verstappen’s Red Bull early on while he was running in second position. Thereafter, Bottas and Hamilton ran away from the field. Two safety cars to retrieve Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and George Russell’s Williams were the only reason the field tightened near the finish. From car failures to contact between Hamilton and Albon, F1’s return to racing seemed rusty compared to the opening races for Indycar and NASCAR.

Last weekend, part two of the double-header at the Red Bull Ring took place, the Styrian Grand Prix. Once again Mercedes was dominant, with Lewis Hamilton winning by a wide margin from the pole and Valtteri Bottas finishing in 2nd place after starting 4th. Ferrari had an embarrassing performance when Charles Leclerc ran into Sebastian Vettel at Turn 3 on the opening lap, eliminating both cars from the race – this after Ferrari had rushed updates to the cars for the Stryian GP. Max Verstappen tried to hold second place as the race wound down but never stood a chance of holding off Bottas with his much faster Mercedes and the aid of the gimmicky DRS. Lando Norris and McLaren looked competitive in the mid-field once again. What was your take on the Austrian double-header?

SJ – The surprising part to me of the first race was the reliability. I can’t remember the last time half the field was out of the race because of mechanical failures. I don’t know if that was due to the combination of characteristics of the track – the curbs are very vicious at Spielberg, much more so than at other tracks. I think that played a big role in the failures.

Despite the big budgets and incredibly high levels of engineering, all the teams are pushing to the limit. Clearly, they pushed a little too far in some cases. There has also been an obvious lack of testing on track for the teams. I don’t think they completed all of the testing they were supposed to do before the pandemic stopped everything. Not being able to do any track running since then hasn’t helped either.

But at the level F1’s at you would expect the teams to have better reliability. This is like going back to the Turbo days (1980s) when things used to blow up every practice session. But knowing how F1 works I think you’ll find that even by next week there will be a big improvement in reliability. The rate of speed at which F1 can react to problems is very high. I’m sure that fixes to whatever issues there were will be made quickly to a large extent.

Overall, I think it was an interesting scenario given the level of competitiveness from different teams and the way race one played out made it interesting at the end. The first race of the year always has more unknowns than what follows. Ferrari was the big disappointment. Even with Leclerc finishing second, that was due to safety cars and penalties.

It’s interesting how F1 has changed in that regard. In the past, almost no matter what happened, F1 would not bring out a safety car. Indycar was the other way around and now that’s almost reversed.

It’s rare to see the safety car come out in Indycar unless it absolutely has to whereas in F1 they don’t mess around now. It’s immediate. If there’s a car parked on track they bring out the safety car. That’s something they never used to do.

Race 2 wasn’t as interesting at the front. Unfortunately for the last several years, Mercedes taking P1 and P2 is a given. But there was some good action in the race. The guy that’s impressed me massively is Lando Norris. I think he’s doing a fantastic job, racing hard and not doing any silly mistakes. It’s good to see as opposed to the Ferrari drivers for example, who both made some pretty fundamental errors that really shouldn’t happen from drivers at that level.

Things absolutely fell Leclerc’s way in race one with the safety cars and he drove a fantastic race to finish 2nd in a car that clearly didn’t belong there, but last weekend he really threw away the race on the first lap. He was quick to take the blame but nevertheless, it was a pretty bad mistake.

JT – As mentioned, Leclerc didn’t do a good job in race 2. What did you think of Ferrari’s double DNF?

SJ – Definitely not one of their best weekends. It’s hard to see how Ferrari can have much success this year, even more so because this season is so compressed and there will be very little opportunity to recover. If you start out on the wrong foot as they did before the season began and the car is not 100 percent there conceptually I don’t know how they’re going to get caught up. Right now they’re 5th in the standings (61 points behind Mercedes and behind McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Racing Point Mercedes respectively) and speed wise, it seems to be an accurate indication of where they are too.

JT – After race 2 at the Red Bull Ring, Renault lodged a protest against the legality of Racing Point’s RP20 arguing in effect that the RP20 uses a Mercedes design with Mercedes components for its 2020 cars. The accusation is that the RP20 is mainly a copy of the 2019 Mercedes and not a Racing Point-designed car. What do you think of the protest?

SJ – Well, why wouldn’t you copy as much as you could of something you know works? For example, if I were Ferrari I would make my car as much of a copy of the Mercedes as I possibly could and then maybe implement some of my own ideas along the way. Every team knows in pretty good detail what every other team is up to. So doing that would make sense to me. But never underestimate the ego of F1 designers. They are the people who make the major decisions in teams these days because the cars and the technology have gotten so complicated that the team principals don’t have a clue about the intricate details. They can’t be part of the heavy technical dialogue about the cars because they simply don’t have enough knowledge and their decision making has to be guided by the information they’re being given by their technical team.

 

     Image: PlanetF1.com

 

JT – Sebastian Vettel looked out of sorts and off the pace in the first race, and not quite there in qualifying or practice for either race. Do you think he simply had a bad race or is the situation at Ferrari – which is not renewing his contract for next year – so difficult that he has lost his confidence or desire?

SJ – With any sport at the highest level, 90 percent of the performance is really in your head, especially so in F1. Everybody that gets to that point has tremendous raw talent. But if things don’t flow right it’s very easy to struggle. We’ve seen it so many times in racing. You’re either the windshield or the bug.

You can have one season where every single move you make sticks. The next year you try to do the same thing and every time it goes wrong. After two or three times where it doesn’t go well you start analyzing and questioning yourself. Once you start thinking about it, it’s over, it has to happen instinctively and naturally. If you doubt for a fraction of a moment before you make a move you’re already on the backfoot.

With that in mind, the move that Vettel tried on Sainz was incredibly low percentage at best. If he thought that attempt would stick it really surprises me. But he’s got the pressure of driving alongside Leclerc and a mix of other pressures typical of F1. I’m sure there’s no lack of motivation but he’s clearly not in a happy space at the moment in terms of the team. And I know what that’s like as a driver. If the team’s not behind you, you have an uneasy feeling when you walk into the garage every morning.

Vettel strikes me as a driver who’s always driven on emotion more than anything. When he gets pumped up he can do magical things. You don’t become world champion four times if you’re not extremely good at what you do.

JT – Going back to Ferrari’s performance as a team, seeing their struggles over the last several years and particularly last weekend got me thinking that this is the Ferrari that has existed for most of F1 history. People still seem to think in terms of Ferrari as a dominant team with Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Jean Todt making a nearly unbeatable combo. But the current Ferrari is more like the team was in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s. In a way it seems a return to the form Ferrari has had for more periods of its F1 participation than not. Do you agree?

SJ – Like all the top teams, they’ve definitely had their ups and downs. They were only moderately successful through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Then Michael came along and they put together the dream team. It was a combination of people that made them almost unbeatable. Since then they’ve not had the chemistry they had at that time. If anything, I guess it goes to show how tough it is to be on top in F1 all the time. McLaren had a period at the top then fell way back and now they’re slowly working their way back up the grid.

I think Ferrari has put [Mattia] Binotto in a tough situation being primarily a technical director and then make him into team principal. It’s more than a full time job to do both things. As we know, being team principal of an F1 team is not for the faint of heart. They don’t call it the piranha club for nothing. The paddock is full of some pretty switched-on guys with massive egos so you’ve got to be on top of it all the time and you can never take your eye off the ball.

JT – Another off-track move affecting Ferrari is their signing of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz to replace Vettel next season. Seeing Ferrari’s current form one has to wonder if Sainz is confident he made the right decision in going to the Scuderia.

SJ – Yes, you have to wonder but what I really don’t understand is the reason they went after Sainz or anyone this early. Vettel not being re-signed started the dominos falling but why the hurry to sign someone else literally within days?

There are conflicting stories of what happened between Vettel and the team but nevertheless Ferrari has a whole season ahead of them before they would have had to make any decision about who would take Vettel’s seat. It’s not like Sainz is the guy that everyone wants and you had to sign him up tomorrow otherwise someone else would grab him. I can think of five other guys on the grid that I would definitely consider along with him. I’m not saying Sainz isn’t good but he’s not world champion material yet in comparison to other people he’s been paired against in teams.

And with Sainz leaving McLaren there has been more driver market movement taking place than you’d imagine without a race even having taken place. More movement than we’ve seen within probably the last three years.

JT – Which of the mid field teams has impressed you most so far?

SJ – I guess McLaren has been the most impressive. They’ve really managed to stay closer to the front and they have a momentum now. I think Racing Point hasn’t achieved their full potential yet. They’ve been fast but for some reason little things have been happening that have set them back. And obviously there have been circumstances that have affected all of the teams.

 

Image: SkySports F1

 

JT – Max Verstappen seems to be rather frustrated after the first two races. Clearly, the Red Bull Hondas are no match for the Mercedes and as mentioned, in the battle with Bottas during race 2, there was no doubt that Valtteri would eventually pass Max for 2nd place. What are your thoughts on this?

SJ – Of course it’s frustrating for Max, but that’s what you get in F1. You’re never going to win a championship or even races unless you’re in the right team at the right time. Unfortunately in this period (since 2014) there has been only one team to be with. That’s your luck as a driver unless you have extraordinary circumstances. All things being equal you know Mercedes will win and if you’re not in that team too bad. Had he not retired in the first race he would have won, with both Mercedes cars being wounded.

JT – As a spectator it’s also frustrating knowing not just that Mercedes will win almost every race but seeing their faster cars enabled further by DRS. It’s pretty lame seeing any of the cars from different teams open a rear wing and breeze past the car in front of them without any effort in the DRS zones. But it’s even more annoying when a car like a Mercedes which already has a huge gap on the field strolls past cars ahead of it with DRS. What’s your take on this?

 SJ – It’s a band aid solution, and I’ve been saying that since the first day they introduced the idea. If you have to come up with gimmicks like that to make the racing interesting then obviously there’s a much deeper problem. If they had addressed the core of this problem ten years ago it would have looked very different today.

We all know the problem is aerodynamics. The cars are optimized Nth degree and as soon as there’s any disturbance of air, particularly in front of the car, the performance is affected. In that regard, as I’ve been saying for a long time now, Indycar has it right in terms of their competition rules.

With their push-to-pass system you can defend if someone attacking you from behind is using it. Not only that, it adds another dimension for the racing on TV because you can see the number of seconds of push to pass boost any driver has left to battle with those around him. And as a driver you have to be smart about how much you use it and when. If you use it all up trying to gain positions at the beginning of a race you could be vulnerable late in the race. So it’s not just a boost of power for passing, there’s a strategic or tactical element to how a driver uses it. And it gives the TV commentators another picture to paint, another component of the racing to talk about.

With DRS, as soon as the car behind you is within a second of your car, it’s game over. You’re just a passenger. You’re just sitting there waiting for the guy to come by. 

JT – Speaking of driver market movement, it was announced this week that Fernando Alonso is returning to F1 after his hiatus since 2018, joining Renault F1 as the replacement for Daniel Ricciardo who is headed to McLaren to replace Sainz. Alonso will be paired with Esteban Ocon. Alonso will race for McLaren in the postponed Indy 500 this season and then be back on the F1 grid in 2021. What are your thoughts on this?

SJ –  I think it’s great for F1 and racing in general. Alonso is a huge name and he’s still one of the best drivers in the world, he’s one of the few that have shown over and over that he’s capable of doing things that is way beyond what the car is capable of. It will be exciting for everyone to have him back.

JT – McLaren and Racing Point Aston Martin had competitive outings in Austria. It’s only two races but are they the best of the rest now?

SJ – At the moment they are but it’s hard to gauge. McLaren already showed a lot of promise last year and if they can continue to evolve they’ll be in good shape. Zak Brown has done a great job putting the right people in the right places. [Andreas] Seidl is running the team and he’s doing a great job moving the team forward. They look stronger and happier than they have in quite a while. I think they’re on the right path and once they transition to the Mercedes powerplant they’ll be a real force for sure.

And [Lawrence] Stroll is very impressive in his guiding Racing Point, we can see the results of that already. He’s a very intelligent and successful businessman and he’s little by little putting all the wheels in motion to move the team further up the grid . I think Racing Point will be very strong and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them eventually become what Red Bull ended up being when they came into F1.

All of the teams have been feeling a financial strain of course and there’s the budget cap that’s coming which is supposed to lower costs but even with the proposed cap there’s still an astronomical amount of money required to be competitive. As we all know, the budget cap may be ‘X’ but that doesn’t mean that ‘Y’ won’t be spent because if there’s one thing the teams are extremely good at, it’s bending the rules.

There will be all sorts of creative ways to find more resources to get more performance from the cars. I’d be shocked if everyone followed the letter of the law in the strictest way, without trying to find the unfair advantage. 

JT – The F1 stewards say they followed the letter of the law in assessing a 5-second penalty to Lewis Hamilton after his contact with Alex Albon near the end of race 1. What’s your take on the incident?

SJ – At best, I’d say it was a racing incident. If anyone should have been penalized I’d say it should’ve been Albon. He made his move on the outside which puts all of the emphasis on Lewis avoiding an accident. In other words, if Lewis left his braking to late and comes into the corner too hot, where is he going to go if Albon is already on the outside?

There’s only one way to go, straight into Albon’s car. Albon braked later by going to the outside and was a wheel ahead initially but they were only halfway around the corner. In my opinion Albon threw away a win. Both Mercedes were already limping and couldn’t really  attack and Albon was on fresh tires. Bottas was only a second and half ahead. He could have passed both of them with the time left.

I just think that was an impatient and low percentage move to try and pass on the outside. It’s not the best move to get past someone no matter what situation you’re in. If you’re going to pass on the outside you better have a lot more speed and be totally sure that you’re able to keep the car on track because chances are you’re either going to get hit by the guy inside you or not make the corner yourself.

 

 Image: F1

  

JT – Moving on to Indycar, Scott Dixon won his second race in a row in dominant fashion at Indianapolis, driving a flawless race. For a change the caution flag that fell near the midway point of the race was beneficial to Scott and he romped away from Graham Rahal by almost 20 seconds at the finish.

The racing at last weekend’s Road America double-header was absolutely fantastic – far superior to anything F1 has produced in recent years. Scott won on Saturday with some great race craft and passing. On Sunday, Felix Rosenqvist took his maiden win for Ganassi after a thrilling battle with McLaren’s Pato O’Ward. Not only has Scott won three of the four Indycar races of the season, he also won at the 24 Hours of Daytona at the beginning of the year. I’m sure he’s excited that he’s not fighting a come-back battle so far as he pursues his 6th Indycar championship. And Felix must be very excited to have scored his first victory.

SJ – Yes, what a great start to the year between Texas and Indy and totally dominating both races, and winning at Road America. And with Daytona he’s three for four so far. You can’t start off much better than that. Road America was just great. Every race in Indycar is so good. It’s amazing to watch. The racing is really hard to beat or even to match.

I think Scott’s win on Saturday and winning three in a row is the first time anyone’s done that since the old days of Indycar with A.J. Foyt when the series was a little bit different. It’s so hard to win now which makes it even more impressive. He just keeps getting better each year, the way he won these three races we’re all quite different, but all of them show the incredible race craft he’s got, where he always seems to produce whatever is necessary to fit the strategy that will work best in the circumstances. Whether it’s saving fuel and still maintain a good pace, or just put the hammer down and produce five qualifying laps when that’s what’s needed to get in front of the pack for the next pitstop.

Felix had a fantastic race on Sunday. You could tell he had the bit between his teeth and that he had a really good chance of catching O’Ward. I don’t know if people could tell, watching on television but when [Will] Power sent [Graham] Rahal spinning on the first lap and he made contact with Felix – Power had a day of being out of control, he looks desperate and ended the race for both Rahal and Hunter-Reay – he hit the wheel center on Felix’s right front.

That meant that the team couldn’t get the wheel on or off quick enough on every pit stop. They really had to force the wheel to get onto the hub. It was the same on every stop and the crew were fighting like animals to get the wheel on. That’s why he lost like four seconds on every pit stop.

O’Ward looked like he was in good shape for a while after the last pit stop but once his rear tires started to go away then it becomes really hard to maintain any pace. Then he caught traffic (Conor Daly). If you have a car that’s already marginal and you’re on your own you can handle it but when you catch traffic it becomes really tricky. That’s kind of what allowed Felix to catch Pato in the end. I think if he’d have had a clear road Felix might not have caught him in time.

But Felix drove a fantastic race and never gave up, every lap was qualifying effort and his pass was superb. He finally got the monkey off his back by winning his first Indycar race, the first one is always the hardest one.

JT – The weekend at Indy also featured Indycar and NASCAR running together with the Xfinity Series running on the road course the same afternoon as Indycar and the Cup teams running the oval on Sunday. It seemed to be a popular combination for all involved.

SJ – Yes, everyone enjoyed it and I think it was a great idea. Why wouldn’t you do it? If they could have had a crowd there it would have been a full house I’m sure.

I’m glad the racing season is back on track again. It’s exciting and the racing has been great so far. Strangely, the pandemic has led to more activity on the business and political sides of racing with changes in budgets and more instability in the driver’s market than there has been in any regular season this early in the year. With the long break I think everyone has had some time to reflect on the bigger issues of what really matters and what doesn’t in terms of what the future of racing will look like. Let’s hope we will see some good and sensible plans going forward so that we can all enjoy many more years of spectacular racing with interesting technological solutions to the problems the sport is facing.

#107

#107

 

SJ Blog #107   -   January 22, 2020. 

JT – With the calendar just turned to 2020, it’s time to take a look back at the Indy Car, F1 and sports car racing news and events that made the biggest impacts in 2019.  I’ll kick things off by asking what you think is the single biggest story of last year?

SJ – Roger Penske buying Indy Car, I think, has to be the biggest story. It’s very significant and everyone’s very excited about it. You really couldn’t ask for a better leader for any racing series and I think you’ll see him start adding some exciting things to Indy Car quickly. It’s the best thing that could have happened to Indycar in my opinion. It’s interesting that it’s pretty much the only major racing series left that is run by someone from inside the industry, most other championships have migrated away from being run by the founders or have been bought out by larger groups who then put their own people from the outside in charge of running the business. Roger Penske is the only leader that I can think of that has not only built a colossal global business empire, but also has the background, experience and detail knowledge in motorsports that will prevent many of the costly and often wrong decisions we see being repeated in some of the other major series in the world.

JT – Looking back at Indy Car’s year seems the best place to start. It continued to gain momentum in 2019 and remained the most competitive open wheel racing series in the world. Field size averaged 22-24 cars and drivers among ten teams with several more drivers and teams appearing in single or multiple races. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won the 2019 driver’s championship, his second Indy Car title.

He was chased closely all year by teammate Simon Pagenaud (who won the 2019 Indy 500), Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. These drivers finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the championship.

A strong rookie class included Felix Rosenqvist (the top rookie) Colton Herta (who won two races), Santino Ferrucci, Marcus Ericsson and Pato O’Ward. O’Ward raced only a partial season in 2019 but joins the series full time in 2020 with rookie-teammate Oliver Askew in the newly formed Arrow McLaren SP team.

Apart from the Penske news, what most impressed you about the 2019 season and what did Scott Dixon think of it?

SJ – By Scott’s standards it wasn’t the greatest year. It always seems to be that way the year after he wins a championship (Scott won the 2018 championship). It’s always an average kind of year for him. Things just don’t fall into place quite right. But last year really came down to mechanical failures more than anything. That’s what really dropped him out of the championship.

But then it seems the same for almost anyone who’s won the championship the previous year, they always seem to have an average season following the Championship win. This just shows how difficult it is to win in this series. No one will ever have a huge car advantage, all the teams are good today, and the level of drivers is getting stronger each year.

Indy Car is really about execution and consistency. It’s hard to break away from anyone except if you score wins in the double-points races. If you keep scoring at every race you’ll be high up in the championship but it means you have to be near the front every single race weekend.

JT – Does Scott think the level of competition in Indy Car is continuing to increase?

SJ – it’s obvious, I think he can see the competition getting tougher and tougher. The level of drivers keeps getting better and it’s high already, and all the teams are catching up as well.

It’s what I’ve been harping on about for years – if you have the same rules over a long period of time it’s inevitable that everyone will end up with very closely matched equipment, especially in a series like Indy Car where there’s not a huge amount that you’re allowed to do to the cars in the first place. Sooner or later every team figures out the stuff that works and the stuff that doesn’t, and the margin between the top teams and the smaller one’s keep shrinking each year the rules stay the same, it’s the same in every series.

JT – One of the ongoing stories of 2019 was the development of the cockpit aeroscreen that the series will mandate for cars this year. It’s a change that every team will have to manage with impacts on handling and car set-up. Scott has been involved in on-track testing of the aeroscreen since its inception. What’s his view of it as the new season approaches?

SJ – As far as the visibility, it doesn’t seem to bother Scott or anyone else who’s driven with it much so far. They all seem pretty happy with it. The main thing is the same thing that applies to the Halo in F1, the aesthetics.  The handling however is another story, adding almost 65lbs to the top of the car will definitely make for some strange handling issues that I am sure every team is already working hard to overcome. Typically, if you only move a few pounds around the car, you can feel it immediately as a driver, so to have that much weight that high up will definitely take some getting used to.

But it’s something we have to accept. The Halo has been on the F1 cars for a while now and you don’t tend to think about it much anymore. I think it will be the same with the aeroscreen after three or four races. It’s just there and it’s part of the program after that.

JT – As mentioned, Felix Rosenqvist earned top rookie honors in Indy Car this year with some terrific performances. Felix has a wealth of experience in open wheel cars from F3 and Indy Lights to Formula E. He also raced in Japan’s Super Formula in 2017. Pato O’Ward raced in Super Formula last year and returns to Indy Car for 2020. He’s joined by 2019 Super Formula rookie of the year, Alex Palou who signed with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh for the 2020 season. It looks like there’s beginning to be a pathway to Indy Car from Super Formula.

SJ – Yes definitely, there are guys from Super Formula looking at Indy Car and guys from F2 as well. Indy Car is definitely making more noise everywhere and why wouldn’t it?

Unfortunately, if you’re not part of one of the manufacturer’s main programs or their B-team program in F1, you have virtually no chance of making it into the series. Ferrari has their junior program. Mercedes has their junior program. There’s Red Bull and McLaren as well but what’s left after that? Again, the Indycar ladder system is quite well structured in that it allows whomever wins the Junior category through the ladder system to progress to the next step via the prizemoney being awarded for winning the championship. It’s not enough for a full budget but at least it get’s you quite far down the road to secure a seat. And besides, the good teams always want the best drivers in their cars and are often prepared to subsidize some of their budgets in order to make it happen. In the European system, you could win every race and the championship and you’re pretty much on your own trying to move forward from there, unless of course, you’re locked into one of the junior systems with one of the big teams.

JT – There were some very good performances from Indy Car drivers this year including some of those already mentioned. Who do you think was the driver of the year in 2019?

SJ – Yes, there were great performances from several of the drivers on various occasions, but in the end, it would have to be Newgarden I guess because he won the championship. It wasn’t like he lucked into many races. The team and Newgarden won it together with good strategy, having fast cars pretty much everywhere and Newgarden’s speed and consistency. He did a top job.

JT – Turning to the 2019 Formula 1 season, the championship had moments of excitement here and there but it was clear after the first few races that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were going to wrap up a sixth championship. Hamilton won eleven of the season’s 21 races, ending the season nearly 100 points clear of teammate Valterri Bottas who finished second in the driver’s championship followed by Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.

Mercedes won the first eight races of 2019 and for a period it looked like no one else would win. Ultimately Ferrari and Red Bull won three races each. But Mercedes won 15, capturing its sixth manufacturer’s championship 235 points ahead of Ferrari. Bottas won four grand prix while Verstappen won three. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc won two races with teammate Sebastian Vettel scoring just one win. McLaren finished fourth in the championship, improving considerably to occupy the “best of the rest” position. Renault, which scored a fourth-place finish at the end of the 2018 season, fell to fifth in the constructors standings last year.

As we’ve just discussed who you thought was Indy Car’s driver of the year. Now I’ll ask who you think was 2019’s standout driver in F1?

SJ – Well, I think Lewis is in another league compared to the rest of the drivers at the moment. He’s elevated his game and every year he gets a bit better. When it matters he always seems to find that little bit extra. As I said in a recent blog, I think if he carries on the way he is now he could end up being the best driver in history.

I hold him in the same league as Senna and Schumacher already. Everybody keeps saying he’s in the best car. And yes, he is but no one said that when he left McLaren to go to Mercedes. That’s part of your job as a driver – to look at the bigger picture and find out enough background and information to know which team to choose, when you are in the luxury position to do that, which maybe only 2 drivers in any given period does. We have a long list of the very best drivers from each generation that always managed to get with the wrong team at the wrong time.

Mercedes didn’t look like an obvious choice when he went there but between Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff convincing him and showing him the resources, their game plan and everything Mercedes had to offer it was clearly the right move. And making that choice is maybe a more important part of the job than driving the car in the end. You constantly hear the other drivers complaining that anyone could win in Lewis car, which may be true, but they’re not in his car which means he’s played the game better than the rest of them. Prost did the same when he snookered everybody by going to Williams which then ended up being the championship winning car, Senna was stuck at Mclaren with a car that was nowhere as good as the Williams, which then allowed Prost to win yet another Championship.

JT – Who was the most improved driver of the 2019 in F1?

SJ – It has to be Verstappen, he really stepped up his game last year and is now a serious contender for a championship. I think all the rough edges are now rounded out and he’s become a real threat on a consistent basis. He had some spectacular races last year. The races he won weren’t easy races to win. He did it by being fast and with smart racecraft he recognized situations he could turn into race wins and did so with perfect execution.

JT – Which team improved most in F1 in 2019?

SJ – I think Red Bull and Honda pushed forward a lot but I suppose McLaren made the biggest jump forward. Honda has made some gains in performance and they’ve had more reliability. As I’ve said many times, if they stay committed long enough I’m sure they will eventually get on top of it and end up dominating. Red Bull/Honda/Verstappen is my bet for the next period of domination in F1.

McLaren has definitely turned the corner. With the budget cap coming in after next year, the playing field will be slightly more level. Another year with [Andreas] Seidl in charge (Seidl is McLaren Team principal) and with them getting Mercedes engines again in 2021 could make them pretty strong.

JT – F1’s biggest off-track story in 2019 was the definition and approval of its 2021 rules package which combines changes in aerodynamics aimed at reducing downforce and a $175 million budget cap for teams. While Liberty Media and the FIA contend the new rules are a significant change for F1, the team chiefs have begun to acknowledge that very little will change in the competitive order of the series. Do you agree?

SJ – I agree with that. I think as long as aerodynamics are the primary factor for car performance it’s never going to change. There will just be costly new rules to try to band-aid a problem which I don’t think can be fixed.

If you made aero and tires equal in importance to the performance of a car or aero and engine equally contributory to the performance then I think you’d have a chance to really level things. But when aerodynamics is still streets ahead of any other factor for the ultimate performance you’ll just have the same teams in roughly the same order.

JT – The likelihood that the 2021 rules package will not change the pecking order in F1 competitively has some teams considering whether they should continue beyond 2021. Haas F1 has indicated it is weighing its future. Last week, team boss Gunter Steiner said it would be wrong to try to persuade team owner Gene Haas that the new rules for 2021 will give the team the opportunity to compete at the front of the grid.

"It's very naive. It's not going to happen," Steiner told Motorsport.com about the prospect of smaller teams fighting for wins in 2021.

Haas is one of the four remaining independent teams in F1. Independents have a long history of coming and going in Formula 1 but losing independent teams now would be different to the departures of the past. Attracting new independents to F1 would be much more difficult now given the extreme expense involved with racing in the series. This presents a real problem for the series, do you agree?

SJ – Anyone that goes into Formula One thinking it’s a good business must have forgot to bring their calculator. There are clearly other factors that come into the equation. Partly it’s the seductive environment of F1, it’s glamorous and it’s definitely a club for the big boys only. If you look through history, Haas has lasted about as long as most of the independent entrants that is basically funding the program out of their own pocket. They stay around for an average of maybe five years. Frank Williams is an exception of course, because he’s been there almost since the beginning, and most of the other teams that are still around that started out like Williams have since either been sold or migrated into another entity.

But yes, it’s definitely harder to replace or add new independents now. The barrier of entry to F1 has gotten so high that it’s virtually impossible for anyone to start a new team, unless you do what Haas did and effectively become a B-team, utilizing the resources and R&D from one of the main teams. The system in it’s current format is built with the manufacturers in mind more than anything, as they are the people that effectively call the shots.

But there needs to be a system in place because otherwise every Tom, Dick and Harry would show up. You need to have a relatively high barrier of entry – not like what it is currently – but high enough to make sure efforts are credible. That’s kind of what happened in the 1980s when we had pre-qualifying.

(In the late 1980s/early 1990s, as many as 39 cars would enter each race. The dangers of having so many cars on track led F1 to introduce a pre-qualifying session for teams with the worst records over the previous six months or teams new to the series. Only the four fastest cars in pre-qualifying were able to join the regular qualifying session where 30 cars would compete for 26 places on the grid.) 

I was a part of that with Onyx (the Onyx Grand Prix team competed in the 1989 and 1990 seasons in 26 grand prix) and that’s not good either. I think you need to have the franchise formula with 20 cars or 24 on the grid at each race, whatever the number is decided to be. It needs to be justified and teams can’t go in and expect to get a hand-out from the governing body without proving themselves to be serious first.

The real problem now for the independents and all the teams really is that the rules are so restrictive that they have driven the costs to the extreme. It’s insane and it means you’re paying exorbitant sums to develop exactly the same type of car everybody else is building. It’s inevitable you’re going to be on the back foot both financially and more importantly also on the competition side.

If you had a more open set of rules and you were a manufacturer with the money to spend to prove a new technology and market it in F1 then I think that would encourage a lot of manufacturers to step in. Hypothetically, If a manufacturer could race with hydrogen power or whatever concept they wanted to pioneer – I’m sure that would attract more manufacturers to enter the championship.

JT – A continuing story on and off-track in F1 was the tires from series supplier Pirelli. Made to work within a very tight window of temperatures and pressures at the request of F1, the 2019 tires were nevertheless criticized by many of the teams in the field. But ironically, a new compound designed by Pirelli for 2020 was tested post season in Abu Dhabi was unanimously rejected by the teams. All 10 F1 teams voted to keep the 2019 Pirellis for next season.

SJ – Again, it just leaves you scratching your head. As I’ve said, my view is that F1 should open up tire competition. We already have engine competition between four manufacturers. Why not let the tire be a component of competition as well?

That would fix the problems you mention very quickly because the tire manufacturers would actually have to make the best tire they can. That’s not the case now. Pirelli is obviously stuck between a rock and a hard place because they have every team wanting a tire that will work with their particular car. Some teams get their cars to work with the tires Pirelli is required to make now and some don’t.

And it’s the irony I’ve been talking about for two years now. The teams spend hundreds of millions of dollars on aerodynamics and everything else but if their tire pressures are two pounds off or if they can’t get the tires to light up at the right temperature, their race is ruined.

JT – In the sports car racing world, the World Endurance Championship finally acknowledged in 2019 that the era of extremely expensive, manufacturer-developed hybrid LMP1 cars it had relied upon was dead. Privateer hybrid P1 efforts had no chance of competing with the machines from Toyota, the sole manufacturer left for the 2018-2019 season.

After a long delay, the ACO and WEC announced they would field a new “hypercar class”. The still-expensive concept had to be changed several times as it failed to attract significant manufacturer interest. But late in the year Peugeot Sport announced it would join the hypercar class from 2022 onward with a hybrid hypercar. Peugeot will thus join Toyota and Aston Martin in the class. Nevertheless, the efforts all seem disjointed with different timelines and varying budgets. The hypercar class will be expensive and it doesn’t seem to have stirred much excitement. It’s not clear that this murky formula will be successful. What do you think?

SJ – Yes, I am not sure I still fully understand where it will end up. What is the difference going to be in the end? How competitive will it be, how many cars in the top category? The fact that Peugeot committed to it is a big help to WEC but it remains to be seen how the hypercar class will work out.

As I’ve already said, why do they need to mess with creating a whole new class yet again? The GT cars today are so good that they could easily take the role of the top class if you took all restrictors off them. They would be spectacular. Give them 10 percent more aero, one-inch wider tires with wider wheel arches so they will look really racy and take the restrictors off the engines. Most of the cars racing in the GTLM category have 2-300HP less power than the same road car version, which is ridiculous. If you did those changes to the existing GT cars they would soon run in the mid 3-minute, 30-second range at Le Mans (the 2019 LMP2 pole winning lap was 3:28.8), which seems to be the sweetspot for what the ACO considers to be a safe laptime around Le Mans.

All the manufacturers would be out there in full force fighting for the overall win of the Le Mans 24 hours, and if privateer teams could buy the same car as the manufacturer teams and run in the pro or pro-am categories you would have huge fields with spectacular looking cars and all the best drivers representing the manufacturers. The homologated LM roadcar version of each car would be sold out in no time for almost every manufacturer so it would also generate an income stream for the manufacturers to amortize the R&D and other auxiliary costs in manufacturing the race cars. 

As it is now, you will again have maybe 8-10 cars at best for the hypercar category and they will again be the only cars with any chance of winning overall.

#106

#106

LEWIS HAMILTON WINS HIS 6TH F1 TITLE AND PENSKE IS SET TO PURCHASE THE INDYCAR SERIES, THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY AND IMS PRODUCTIONS

November 15, 2019

#SJblog 106. 

JT – The 2019 racing season is winding to a close for most major championships but the biggest racing news of the year broke unexpectedly at the beginning of November when it was announced that Roger Penske’s Penske Corporation will purchase the Indy Car Series, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IMS Productions.

It’s a hugely significant development for Indy Car. What are your thoughts on one of racing’s legendary figures buying the series and the Speedway?

SJ – It’s absolutely the best thing that could ever happen to Indy Car. Roger Penske is a legend within the Racing and Automotive Industry. Everything he’s ever done, he’s been impeccable and successful in every way. If there’s anyone who has the integrity to put to rest any concerns that he also owns a team in the series, it’s Roger. Tony George has been involved in a team for years and owned the series and no one’s ever mentioned it, Bernie Ecclestone owned Brabham for years while he also owned and ran Formula One very successfully, so I don’t think that’s even an issue. Besides, the competition side of the series is run by a group of very competent people and it’s obviously in everyone’s best interest to run things strictly by the rules.

This is very positive for the series in particular. It’s good for the Speedway too but the track and the Indy 500 has and will always be a success, just like the Monaco GP, thanks to its history. On the flip-side I think this is a very interesting development because most other championships have migrated away from leadership that have any form of background in racing, and more towards business or marketing people that often don’t even have a particular strong interest or passion for the sport. Most series are now led by people who have no history in racing or any intimate understanding of motorsport in general. There is no one that I can think of that have a better overall understanding of how the sport work on every level, that is also a hugely successful businessman than Roger Penske, I think this is a very crucial quality for the leadership of any Championship. 

I’ve been saying for some time now that the only thing that’s been missing from Indy Car to this point has been a strong marketing team that can promote what I believe is the best racing series in the world in terms of competition and at the same time develop the business alliances that are required to make the series grow. If we can now add all of these other components it could be massive, this is the best news ever for Indy Car.

I don’t think it will be long before we will see a third Engine Manufacturer being announced, followed by new marketing partners and sponsors. Selling or promoting the series becomes much easier when he’s involved because he’s well known and respected as a very serious player in the Automotive world. 

JT – Penske’s buy of Indy Car adds more excitement to a 2020 season that already had good buzz with McLaren joining the series full time, Meyer-Shank partnering with Andretti Autosport to run full time, the return of fast rookies Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta and Santino Ferrucci, and driver shuffles like the move made by Marcus Ericsson to join Chip Ganassi Racing.

SJ – Yes, Ericsson will join Scott and Felix. It makes sense for Ganassi because the guys who had been part of the Ford GT program in IMSA for Chip can now form the team for Marcus. And obviously it’s a great opportunity for Marcus. It’s good to have three cars on track too, that’s more data to share between all the cars in the team. 

There’s no doubt, next year should be exciting, very interesting. 

JT – Turning to Formula One, the season is nearly over and Lewis Hamilton scored his sixth F1 title at the U.S. Grand Prix while Mercedes GP had already wrapped up its sixth manufacturer’s championship. Obviously Hamilton is in top form but his achievement was something of an anti-climax as it was quite clear from early in the season that he and Mercedes would triumph again such was the domination of the car and its driver this year. What are your thoughts on his championship and the season?

SJ – Well, for Lewis and Mercedes it’s kind of the same as it was for Schumacher and Ferrari back in the day. That’s just F1 isn’t it? You have one team which sometimes finds that magic bullet. Mercedes sort of has the same kind of dream team that Ferrari had back when they were dominant. Toto [Wolff] is obviously doing a great job with Niki’s [Lauda] help before that, and then Lewis being the amazing driver that he is. He’s definitely a step above the rest now and is able to pull out that little bit extra when it really matters and sometime win races he shouldn’t really be able to win under normal circumstances, and he has the technical team to back him up.

I am sure that Lewis plays a much bigger role outside the cockpit than we know.  I think he’s a big motivator and factor in the direction of the team, pushing everybody and getting the best from them. I think he’s really stepped up to the role of team leader, in the same way Schumacher was with Ferrari. I hold him on the same level as Schumacher and Senna now, maybe even more.

I say that because he’s done it all the way with grace and dignity in a sportsman like manner. He’s never pulled a dirty trick on anyone and always raced hard but fair. That’s what I like more than anything. Both Senna and Schumacher were not always fair players as we all know. What Senna did to Prost for instance, taking him off track at the first corner at Suzuka (1990 Japanese Grand Prix - with both cars retired, Senna clinched his second world championship) was completely unacceptable. To basically pre-plan before the event to take out your main rival on purpose with zero consideration to what could happen to the other 20 cars following you into a 5th gear 180mph corner is something I don’t think any other driver would ever think about. I wonder what would have happened today with the endless penalties for every little infraction a drivers does if someone pulled the same stunt. 

I really hope that the way Lewis races will now become an inspiration to the new generation of drivers, to bring back pure racing with respect where you race hard but fair. Then we wouldn’t have to worry so much about blocking or all of this other nonsense we now have to constantly make up new rules and penalties for. 

I think Lewis has driven with great maturity this year. He’s at that point in his career where he has the confidence and experience to know that you don’t necessarily have to win every battle to win the war. He has the capacity to back off when you need to back off but pounce when you need to pounce, and map out the race accordingly. 

That’s what has made Lewis so good, especially this year. He wasn’t always on pole but he has the ability to figure the race out, to save tires when he needs to or attack at the right moment. He’s been at the top since his days in junior categories and pretty much beat Alonso in his first year in F1. That takes a bit of doing. No one else has done that to this day. I think he’s exceptional and will probably go on to break every record if he and the team continue in the way they have until now, and I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t. No one can beat Mercedes in terms of resources, they have an incredibly strong group of people and the best driver on the grid.

JT – On the other hand, Hamilton’s rivals, particularly Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, have been stumbling. Vettel has made several mistakes in 2019 that cost him good finishing positions. Likewise, Ferrari – and the rest of the grid – have lacked performance compared to Mercedes. And it could be said that other top drivers including Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc, have made mistakes as well.

SJ – Yes, that’s true. With Leclerc you sort of expect it because he’s new to Ferrari and still quite inexperienced, especially in terms of being at the sharp end of the grip where you’re not allowed to make mistakes because they will always be more costly and noticed than if you’re somewhere in the mid pack. It’s inevitable that you’re going to make the odd mistake here and there. But he has won twice this year. Vettel has been struggling a bit there’s no doubt, and it’s evident to me that he is not comfortable with the car, or maybe even with this type of car that the current rules mandate. I don’t think it suits his style of driving and what often then happens is that you keep pushing harder and then end up overdriving the car, which makes you go even slower. It’s a tricky balance to find and I don’t think he’s found the setup that gives him the feedback and confidence he needs to consistently stay on the limit without going over it.

JT – In October, Liberty Media and the FIA unveiled new technical, sporting and financial rules for the 2021 Formula 1 season. They include simplified front wings, restrictions on barge boards and other aerodynamic devices, and an emphasis on underbody ground effects for downforce. A $175 million cost cap per team will be in place for budgets (however driver salaries and salaries of the top three employees at each team are exempt from the cap, along with other exemptions) but will not be enforced until March 2022 when F1 teams will finally be required to turn in their financial data to the FIA. 

The aerodynamic restrictions are intended to allow cars to follow each other more closely and promote more opportunities for passing. But by 2021 the teams’ aerodynamicists may gain back a significant proportion of the downforce lost to the rules. On the financial side, the $175 million as a cost cap isn’t really much of a reduction in spending for the majority of the teams. In fact, only the top teams actually spend $175 or more million currently.

All in all the 2021 rules – some of which still are under negotiation with the F1 teams – don’t seem to move F1 away from its current form much. What’s your take?

SJ –  I don’t see a lot of difference when you look at things like the cost cap. There’s only three teams that are spending more than that already and I still have serious doubts about how you can police the budget. I think there are so many ways around it that you can’t control it. When you add in the driver salaries, top three executives etc. it’s still going to end up with a significant difference in budget between the top teams and the also rans. I’m having a hard time understanding how these rules are going to bring the costs down, if anything I can see a big increase in the budget as it always happens when you have a major rule change, the R&D costs go through the roof until things stabilize after a period of time of rules stability. 

More than that, I think if you had a set of rules that would actually discourage excessive spending on aerodynamics in particular, that might be significant. But I don’t think that will stop with the new rules. They say they’re hopefully going to find a way to differentiate the cars too but I can’t see that happening. They may look a little bit different the first year but there’s only one way the air likes to travel and everyone will find out pretty soon which way that is under the new rules. Then every car will look exactly the same again. As long as aero is the key differentiator, it’s inevitable that the cars will eventually end up looking the same. However, it’s great news that they’re getting rid of the barge boards and all the bits and pieces that are currently hanging off every flat surface there is on the car.

The only difference again is that all of the teams have to make nearly every part themselves, again at a huge cost. People keep saying the DNA of F1 will be gone if you standardize areas or parts of the car. But the DNA was gone 35 years ago! Before that you had V8s, V12s, V16s, V6s, turbos, naturally-aspirated engines – radiators in front or in back. It’s all gone. The romantic notion of the DNA of F1 doesn’t exist. It hasn’t existed for decades. There is no room for any conceptual creativity, it’s already determined by the rules and as such it’s inevitable that every car will look and sound exactly the same.

Will the racing get better? We’ll see. Maybe it will improve a little for a small period of time but I think as long as you have high downforce cars it will be extremely difficult to avoid all of the current issues. And it’s one thing to test wakes and aerodynamics in a sterile environment but it’s completely different in the real on world on track in a racing situation. When you’re following cars and constantly turning there are so many other variables, I think it will be hard to make any real change to the racing with cars that are still primarily dependent on aerodynamics for the majority of their performance. But you can certainly see that they have been trying very hard to make the right changes, so hopefully it will be heading in the right direction. The car certainly looks much better visually.

JT- It was announced today that Peugeot have committed to the new Hypercar program for the WEC series, what are your thoughts around this?

SJ- First of all this will probably cement that it will in fact become a reality. We now have two or maybe three major manufacturers committed if we count Aston Martin also. Most likely we will now see one or two more join once they know it will definitely happen. It’s good news for the WEC and the ACO for sure and it will remain to be seen how this will pan out in the bigger picture between the current teams running prototypes of different kinds, and some of the GT teams. Will any of them commit to the Hypercar or will it only be Factory run teams. Hopefully it will turn into a good formula with several manufacturers and teams being represented.