Stefan Johansson’s had a busy couple weeks as the 2016 racing season has commenced.
The F1 and CART veteran, who now serves as sporting director for Scuderia Corsa as well as continuing in his role as driver manager for Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist, has penned his latest blog – an interview with Jan Tegler following the respective season openers at St. Petersburg (IndyCar) and Melbourne (F1).
Scuderia Corsa also secured its first win with the debuting Ferrari 488 GT3, driven by Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Jeff Segal, at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last weekend.
For Johansson, the big issues after the respective St. Petersburg and Melbourne races in both series were that both IndyCar and F1 are looking at the wrong fixes, making unnecessary tweaks rather than full scale changes.
“The problem is larger than F1 really. IndyCar is suffering from the same problems with this aero kit adventure that is now about to get canned. Instead of getting to the root of the problem and looking at racing from a philosophical point of view, they’re flailing around and taking advice from all the wrong places.
“They should be asking, ‘What is it we are trying to fix?'” he writes.
“But they wind up trying to fix problems they’ve themselves created in the first place rather than going to the root of their difficulties. To get things back on track, I think there’s going to have to be a big change at some stage. You’re never going to improve the racing with a bunch of artificial cures. That has been tried time after time in so many championships and it doesn’t work. All these “band aid” fixes is like trying to cure cancer with an aspirin.”
That was the bigger picture story. In F1 specifically, Johansson praised Ferrari’s start at Melbourne, although he noted their botched tire strategy likely cost them the chance at winning.
“If Vettel had been leading, I think his pace was good enough that it would be unlikely that either Mercedes could have gotten by even if they were quicker. Given Ferrari’s pace, the first few races could be more entertaining,” he said.
Johansson also praised the debut effort from Haas F1 Team, although he made a key point that points are often easier to come by in the opening races of the year.
“It was a fantastic result for Haas F1 – very impressive,” he said. “To score at all – let alone score that many points first time out – is incredible. The hard part now is going to be repeating that success. But as I always say, the easy points are scored in the first three races of the season for anyone – no matter what championship you’re in.”
He called the Fernando Alonso-Esteban Gutierrez contact a “classic case of misunderstanding” but was thankful Alonso emerged unharmed.
“I’m glad to see everybody was OK and it’s really a testament on how good the safety is in F1 now to be able to walk away from accident like that without even a scratch,” he said.
The ‘Halo’ device, which merited a lot of traction and discussion in preseason, Johansson says seems inevitable. Drivers didn’t necessarily like the HANS Device at first, either, and it has now become part of the racing fabric.
“I think the halo or some form of cockpit protection is now inevitability in F1 and also in IndyCar. If it can save someone’s life of course it’s worth doing.”
Shifting to IndyCar, Johansson praised the respective Team Penske and Scott Dixon efforts during the race, while also noting that Will Power was likely running on pure adrenaline when he qualified on pole, despite not feeling well.
“It’s amazing though, once the adrenalin kicks in it’s like the best cure for everything,” Johansson explained. “I wish we could tap into on command. I’ve experienced situations where I’ve been so sick I couldn’t even stand up but you get into the racecar and you don’t even think about it. You’re totally focused and you’re feeling completely fine.
“Then when you get out of the car you can barely stand up again. It’s the state of mind you’re in when you race – adrenalin and 100 percent focus. It’s an incredible feeling. I haven’t found anything yet that comes close to it.”
Johansson’s earlier point about the aero kits potentially going away makes more sense when he addresses what’s been the result of their presence with now two very similar looking cars. As ever, the call for more power and less downforce is the resonating message.
“I really wish they would go in the other direction. That would make the cars more interesting to drive and even out the playing field. Just like in F1, after all the money that’s been spent on these aero kits, all the cars now look the same. Unless you get really close up it’s hard to tell the difference between a Honda or Chevy car. At the end of the day, it’s done nothing to add to the show. It certainly hasn’t improved the racing, if anything the other way around as it’s now become even harder to follow the car in front due to all the aero bits that on top of the car,” Johansson wrote.
He also noted Alexander Rossi’s performance was hard to gauge, other than showing it’s difficult for an F1 driver to transition into IndyCar.
Lastly, while also touching on how Rosenqvist could have won both races in Indy Lights, he moved to Sebring and Scuderia Corsa’s win. Even with the win, which he put down to perfect team execution, Johansson asks the question whether it feels great because of BoP (Balance of Performance).
“I wish there was a different way of monitoring or policing performance. Or even, just forget about it and let everyone go at it,” he wrote. “A few manufacturers might drop out but there’s really no good answer right now with the BoP. No one’s ever happy with it unless they’re standing on top of the podium. Everybody else thinks they’re getting screwed.
“The GT cars would be much quicker if you simply unrestricted them. A GTLM Ferrari has almost 200 less horsepower than the road car counterpart you can buy at a dealership. It’s ridiculous. Give the cars that horsepower back and you would be able to run at the speeds the ACO says it wants to restrict prototypes to at Le Mans – these random lap times that they say are “safe”. I don’t understand who decides what lap time is safe and what they base that on but it’s a silly argument in my opinion.
“The cars are so good today, they can go much faster if they unrestrict them. If you’re instead going to restrict the Prototype cars that much (to be in the “safe” laptime zone), why not get rid of them altogether and just run GT cars at those target lap times? Let the GT cars be the main class for manufacturers with a set of rules that were the same for everyone with no BoP or other gimmicks – the quickest car wins, end of story.
“In every category there are these crazy-sophisticated, expensive cars with terrific performance potential and then they slow them down to a point where they become ridiculous to drive. They have monster grip and no power so it’s all about corner speed. You’re literally in the corner by the time you have to brake and none of it makes any sense.”