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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: F1’s power struggle, Haas’ rise

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It’s apparent that Formula 1’s qualifying format – and the debate about what it is, what it should be and what it’s changing too now – isn’t about qualifying at all.

It’s about power and control.

It was something NBCSN F1 insider and pit reporter Will Buxton noted in his latest blog and it’s a point agreed upon by one of the most salient voices in racing, in Stefan Johansson.

Johansson has filed his latest blog post in an interview with Jan Tegler, following the second rounds of the respective F1 and IndyCar seasons at Bahrain and Phoenix, respectively.

Following a look at several teams’ races – Mercedes, Ferrari, Haas (and we’ll get to them separately in a moment), Williams and Force India of note – Johansson dovetailed into F1’s qualifying mess and how it’s really about the political squabbling at the moment.

“To me it’s clear that all this has nothing to do with qualifying,” Johansson writes. “I don’t recall a single person complaining about qualifying previously. Everyone was quite happy with it, and this is pure politics, unless everyone has completely lost the plot, which I really don’t think is the case.”

Johansson, whose best years in F1 came with Ferrari and McLaren from 1985 through 1987, noted that although that era’s format of qualifying had a slow start to sessions, inevitably, the last 10 to 15 minutes was fascinating.

“I don’t see what was wrong with the qualifying format that we used for years. You had an hour to qualify and three sets of tires. You just went out to qualify whenever you wanted to, using whatever combination you liked. At every single race, the last ten minutes were electrifying.

“Senna or Prost would go out with two minutes to go with a new set and it was always a game of chess at the end of qualifying. Maybe the weather conditions were changing. What were the competitors doing? I think that was way more exciting than even the format they want to go back to now.

“Or, if you were allowed to turn the power units up to their highest output – it would be awesome to see them with 1200 horsepower just for qualifying.”

Here’s the political struggle and problem: when you’ve got 11 different teams in the room, all of whom have competing goals and ideas, you’re rarely going to reach consensus.

“My theory is that this is a political move from whatever the source is to destabilize the F1 Strategy Group (F1’s rule-making body which includes the FIA, FOM and six teams),” Johansson writes. “I think the ultimate goal is to get rid of it or break it up somehow. Since the group was formed, nothing has happened. It’s been a disaster from day one.

“To repeat what I’ve been saying forever, if you have the teams involved in the decision making nothing will ever get done. They can’t even agree on when to have a meeting let alone what they should talk about. They’re so suspicious and paranoid about each other.

“If the goal of all this is to eliminate the Strategy Group, it’s a good idea in my opinion. Doing it all publicly shows that nothing can get done as long as this group exists. It’s the old trusted “divide and conquer” idea. The fact that you have this committee that has to approve any changes instead of simply saying – “That didn’t work, let’s go back to what we had before” – shows how broken it is.

“This is a move to shake things up and force changes. When things don’t make any sense – which this one clearly doesn’t – you know something is up.”

One team that has undoubtedly shaken things up in the first two Grands Prix of the year is Haas F1 Team, who have banked sixth and fifth place finishes in the opening two races as Romain Grosjean is off to the best start of his six-year career.

While the Frenchman has delivered the results, he and the team have also acutely utilized the rules to their benefit. Between using as much Ferrari content as they are for the VF-16 chassis, then Grosjean being happy to qualify ninth to ensure he had the best tire strategy for Bahrain, Haas has gone about things much smarter than you’d expect for a first-year entrant.

“They’re very impressive. They’ve shown everyone that Australia wasn’t a fluke. As in Australia, they had real speed in Bahrain and executed their strategy and pit stops pretty well,” Johansson writes.

“It begs the question, why aren’t more people in F1 doing the same thing? Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money to build every single part on a car, why not do a deal for a good portion of the package or as much as the rules will allow you with one of the major teams that have all the resources for R&D? Instead, focus on doing the best job you can with the race team and then have the potential to finish in the top 10 consistently.

“If you look at Sauber, Force India, Manor and the rest who sit at the back of grid and rise or fall a little bit every year and wind up being similar at the end of day, you have to ask why? What Haas F1 has done seems to me to be the obvious way to go.”

The way Haas has gone about its business is also something that stands out.

“Everyone in the paddock is well aware that the model is unsustainable, yet everyone seems shocked at what Haas has done.

“Haas has been very smart and done their homework well – shame on everyone else for not adopting the same idea.”

Further insight on the Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate battle, IndyCar’s downforce dilemma and Scott Dixon’s latest triumph at Phoenix, and how rookies Stoffel Vandoorne (first ever Grand Prix), Max Chilton (first IndyCar oval race) and Felix Rosenqvist (first ever oval race) all got on in their respective first races are all included in the remainder of Johansson’s blog.

For a look back at Johansson’s post-St. Petersburg, Melbourne and Sebring blog, click here.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).