JT – The Spanish Grand Prix was the fifth race of 2019 F1 season and, like the four races that preceded it, the outcome was never in doubt. Mercedes finished 1-2 for the fifth time. Lewis Hamilton won taking the championship points lead back from teammate Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen rounded out the podium with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc trailing behind.
The best of the rest finished 20 seconds behind Hamilton. Once more there was little passing on track. Only Mercedes seems to perform consistently. What are your thoughts on the season so far?
SJ – More than anything it seems that whoever can get the tires to work wins. Mercedes was struggling in the beginning. I think Ferrari had perhaps a slight advantage in the first race or two which they didn’t capitalize on. It seems like no one can consistently get the tires to work except for Mercedes – even if they don’t sometimes get it right until race day.
For the rest of the teams it’s totally random. Especially in the mid field the teams get the tires to work at one race but not at the next race or vice versa.
Why are Mercedes getting it right? I think it’s what sums up Formula 1 right now. They simply have more resources and are able to throw everything but the kitchen sink at whatever problem they encounter. This is why I don’t understand why teams like Ferrari seem to be all for the continual pissing contest approach to F1 - just throwing dollars at it. Who’s going to win against Mercedes in a contest like that? as long as they are committed to F1 it will be near impossible to beat them under the current set of rules.
I think we were all hopeful before the season started that this year might be different. The testing looked promising but it hasn’t gone that way, and it’s not that surprising.
JT – That competitive imbalance and the utter predictability of F1 in recent years is literally killing interest in the series. That’s what spurred you to write your 25-page proposal to “Make F1 Awesome Again”. The treatise recently appeared on Motorsport.com , pitpass.com and some other outlets. Reaction to the ideas you offered has been mixed from fans and from people working inside F1.
JT – First, I have to say it’s one thing to make the proposal I’ve made and offer ideas, it’s relatively easy to be a “grand stand expert”, It’s another thing if you’re in charge and guiding F1 and you’re in the line of fire for making those decisions. But the trend we’ve seen in making changes to F1 for quite a while now is either too much too soon or too little too late it seems – either an overreaction to something that happened or not enough for something that needs to happen.
It’s a very comprehensive and detailed document which took the best part of a year to write. A lot of work and research went into it. To make a very quick summary, until F1’s (and racing in general) over-reliance on aerodynamics is addressed I don’t think it’s really going to matter much what else is done because aero dictates everything right now. Yet it is the one factor that negatively affects all four main pillars of the business of F1, them being, COMPETITION, ECONOMICS, ENTERTAINMENT and RELEVANCE.
For anyone who has not read the document, what I am proposing is to set a fixed limit on downforce, in order to eliminate the importance of aerodynamics and instead shift the engineering focus to other areas that will force designers and engineers to become more innovative and find performance from other areas of the car, maybe even things we have not even invented yet.
Really, one of my main proposals is to open F1 up again to meaningful innovation. Some people outside of F1 have questioned how you could bring an F1 car down to a weight of 500 kilograms as I’ve proposed. The whole point is that there should be the engineering freedom to try different ideas. If you want to run a two-stroke engine, run a two-stroke with no radiators or whatever. Get rid of the batteries for the hybrid system and you’ll remove a huge amount of weight right there. You could go in whichever direction you choose governed by a fixed rule on how much energy you are allowed to use. If hypothetically, a two-stroke turns out to be the best option – weight versus power versus energy use – well then use it. Or use another solution, as long as you meet the criteria of a fixed amount of energy consumption for the duration of the race.
One of the reactions I’ve gotten from the various forums on these websites is that limiting downforce or using other technologies would be taking the series backward, they somehow think I am a fan of going back the 70’s with cars that had no downforce and were sliding all over the place. But what I’m trying to say is the exact opposite. If people think the series is at the cutting edge of technology by constantly relying on aerodynamics as the prime source of performance, they’ve got it backwards.
The aerodynamics used in F1 has been the primary source of technology to make the cars go faster since the late 70’s, because it’s by far and away the easiest way to get more performance from a racecar, unfortunately to the detriment of all the other factors that make racing exciting and interesting to watch. There’s so much more technology out there that could be employed or developed for a race car if you significantly diminish the role of aerodynamic downforce. Aero is always the easiest way to get performance, so by limiting the importance of it, teams would be forced to become more innovative and creative in finding new sources of performance provided the rules are open enough for them to explore these areas.
I’m trying to encourage new thinking. Interestingly, I’ve had several people who work in F1 currently, including some of the top technical directors, contact me saying, “Great article, love it. Absolutely the way to go” They even agreed with my comments about keeping the engineers out of the decision making process for the rules, which I thought was more refreshing than anything.
The other area I got a lot comments and some criticism on was about my proposal to use standard components for a lot of the parts on the cars. It’s the same old argument that if you standardize the parts of the cars it will eventually become a one make formula and F1 will lose it’s original DNA. My point is that although the teams currently have to make many of the parts of their cars themselves, the parts they make are all essentially the same. Everybody’s basically doing the same thing but at an astronomical cost, why not instead agree on all the parts that make no difference in the end, and instead shift the focus to areas that are not yet touched on and let there be some creative thinking to find out what they may be and then allow the teams to develop new ideas in these areas. Because the rules are written so tight and restrictive all the cars eventually end up looking identical, because within the current rules there are no options to go out on a limb and create something different. Everybody end up polishing the same concept to the umpteenth degree, at a cost that is astronomical for each team. The fans don’t see or for the most part don’t care about any of this. All the cars have the same concept of wings, brakes, gearbox, electronics etc and there’s no room for anyone to even think of a different concept or layout of a car, they all end up looking the same. The point is to force the teams to refocus on areas which are open and free and develop technology that may not even exist yet. Open it up and really innovate. That’s my point.
JT – Formula 1 must make significant changes very soon if it wants to retain global interest and its status as the top category of motorsport. With every uncompetitive race that passes I hear from more and more fans that they no longer have the desire or time to watch grands prix where the outcome is completely predictable before the race begins. They are tuning out in large numbers. Do you agree?
SJ – I agree, I’ve had a huge amount of emails on that very subject recently. It’s exactly that – people are telling me , “I’m over it.” “I’m tuning out.” Or, “I’ve been a fan for 40 years but I’ve had enough.” Political correctness is not going to keep this thing going, my belief is that it needs to go in the opposite direction, we need to bring the awesome factor back somehow.
JT – The Indianapolis 500 is fast approaching. We had the qualifying last weekend with a lot of excitement, especially at the back end of the grid where the bumping of the last three positions turned out the be full of drama. Fernando Alonso and Mclaren failed to make the race, what are your thoughts on this.
SJ – You’re absolutely correct in that there was a lot of excitement both during the qualifying weekend and the build-up during the week. From a driver and team point of view, there is nothing that comes even close to the pressure of qualifying at Indy, it brings out the best and the worst in everyone it seems. It was a mixed bag this time due to the extreme weather conditions that made it very difficult for all the teams that had a late draw in the line. All the cars running early in the day made it on the grid comfortably, whereas the late draws really had to fight for it. Felix was on the bubble a couple of times and had to go out for a new attempt, I think he was pretty happy when it was all over. Many people were shocked that Mclaren didn’t make the grid, but frankly, the way they went about it certainly made it difficult for them to ever consider winning the race, and when things started to go wrong with the odd delays and the crash in practice, the odds were massively stacked against them to even qualify, which is what happened in the end. Alonso did what he could, he was flat for four laps, but if the car is not underneath you there is nothing you can do to make any difference. I have to make one comment though regarding Alonso, I assume he came back this year with the intent to win the race and not just be there to participate, after missing out on a potential win last year. Between himself and whomever it is managing him or advising him, what on earth where they thinking going with a one car, one off race program trying to beat the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti?
Indy is a brutal place, it’s plays with your mind all the time, you can have a perfect car in the morning and then the wind direction changes or the track temperature goes up and the car becomes undrivable an hour later.
That’s why when the opportunity came up for Scuderia Corsa, which I am the Sporting Director of, to join Ed Carpenter’s team we jumped on it immediately, they have a well run team and arguably the fastest cars every year at Indianapolis. Ed Jones did a great job qualifying the car 4th, and the team is looking very strong with their 3 cars quaiifying 2nd-4th for the race.
Scott had a rough draw too and ended up running in the heat and the wind, he ended up 19th which is not exactly where he wanted to be, but he seems pretty happy with his race set up so hopefully he’ll do his usual magic and work his way to the front.
JT – The World Endurance Championship seems to be in a bit of a mess as its 2018-2019 season winds down. A new formula for its LMP1 class was supposed to be in place by now but the WEC’s proposal to race “hypercars” based on pure race developed cars that would be later homologated for the street and some hypercars currently in production for consumers has failed to win support or commitment from auto manufacturers.
There has been a proposal from some manufacturers which mirrors what you have been suggesting for at least two years already. They call it “GTE-Plus” but it’s basically the same idea you’ve voiced for un-restricting the horsepower of current GTE cars and providing them with a bit more aerodynamic grip and larger tires. It’s not certain that there’s enough support for that idea but it could be WEC’s “plan B”. In the meantime, it looks like the championship’s 2020-2021 season is in jeopardy for the LMP1 class. With no formula in place as of late May, manufacturers will not have enough time to design and field cars by the time that season begins.
SJ – No one seems to be ready to make a decision and it’s not surprising. I don’t know where it’s all going to lead. The thing is, they’ve always been dependent on manufacturers because they pour so much money into the WEC. But only Toyota is left now and it’s not certain what they’re going to do.
My stand has been, for a while now, to just get rid of the prototypes. We don’t really need them anymore. Even If you freed up the current GTE cars they could be about 10 seconds per lap quicker around Le Mans almost immediately. That’s all you need. If you just allowed the current GTE cars to run without restrictors with even the same horsepower as the road cars they’re based on – that would give them 250 to 300 horsepower more than they have now. That’s probably worth about six seconds per lap alone.
Add ten percent more aero and wider tires with better grip and you can get to 10 seconds per lap quicker pretty easily. That’s where the WEC has said they want speeds to be – in the 3 minute, 30s range. And if you can do that, as I’ve said before, pretty much every manufacturer will want to be part of it. It could be huge with some of the best drivers in the world fighting it out for the overall win. Every manufacturer would pour huge money into the activation as well as the competition because they would be able to fight for the overall win. That’s a big difference to just winning your class.
The costs would be much lower, because the development costs could be amortized over a period of years and recouped by selling customer cars to privateer teams that would compete with essentially the same cars as the factory teams. A GTE or Hypercar with those relatively minor modifications wouldn’t ever get anywhere near the cost of a hybrid prototype car. And you would just have to homologate a car that’s within reason. The homologated “Le Mans” version car would almost certainly sell out in advance so it would be a money-making operation for all the manufacturers.
How do you quantify prototypes today anyway? An LMP2 car today is so restricted that it’s a complete joke. You build these amazing cars and then you do everything you can to slow them down. Every car on the grid including the GT cars are currently so restricted that it makes no sense on any level. A GT car today, even a roadcar, is so much more advanced in every area compared to 15-20 years ago. So why go through all the trouble of restricting them when they can go as fast as a prototype did back then if they were unrestricted. This is the reason I am arguing that there is really no need for a prototype class anymore when we have these amazing GT cars on the market from virtually every sportscar manufacturer in the world. Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, Lamborghini, BMW, Corvette etc would all be fielding factory teams and then sell the same car to the privateer teams.
The GT or Hypercar based formula will work great at Le Mans as long as they strictly enforce the rules. What always seems to happen is that there’s a set of rules that start out with good intentions. But then it doesn’t take long for manufacturers to find loopholes but instead of enforcing the rules they have or shutting down the loopholes immediately, the ACO and FIA let it carry on. Then when one manufacturer does something, everybody else has to do the same, and on and on it goes. After 3-4 years you can barely recognize the original car because everyone has been bending the rules and got away with it.
That’s always been the trend and it’s the same in F1. This is one thing I like about American racing, they don’t screw around. If NASCAR or Indycar sees someone pushing the envelope beyond the spirit of the rules, they shut it down immediately.
JT- Finally, we sadly found out today that Niki Lauda left us. I know you raced against him in F1 in your early years and towards the end of his F1 career. Did you get to know him at all during that period.
SJ- Yes, it’s very sad. He was an amazing guy, both as driver and a human being. He was probably the one driver I tried to model my early career around in many ways, because he was such a hard worker and thinker. He always had the ability to look at the bigger picture and figure out what he needed to do get the results in the end. What he did as a racing driver was absolutely amazing, his fightback from the accident, walking away from it all in the middle of a race literally and then come back a few years later and win another world championship is just incredible. And then all the success in his other life with the aviation business, a very special man indeed. His personality was fantastic, always straight to the point and a fantastic sense of humor. A very sad day for all of us in the racing community.