Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: COTA reflections, blocking thoughts

Getty Images
1 Comment

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry looks back at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas, where Johansson was in attendance, with a deeper dive look through the field.

He also touches on the final three races ahead as Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton fight for the title, and continued thoughts on blocking, especially in the wake of new rules implemented during the Austin weekend about drivers moving in a brake zone.

It’s the latest conversation with Jan Tegler live on Johansson’s website, and continues with what we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

Johansson notes the title battle is down to one thing for the next few races, with Rosberg needing to lose more than seven points in one of the next three races if he loses the title. He enters this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix up 26 points.

“More than anything else between these two, it really comes down to who gets the start right and at least in Lewis case also some reliability issues. That’s it. That’s all the difference there is between them,” Johansson writes.

On COTA, Johansson laments the track doesn’t lend itself to particularly good racing, and whoever emerges in first place after Turn 1 often is good to go for the rest of the race.

“It’s the nature of the track. It’s another [Hermann] Tilke-designed track basically so it’s built to the same template as most of the rest he’s done,” Johansson explains. “Unfortunately, they don’t produce very good racing in general because they all seem to have one corner followed by a kink or another corner and you can never get a proper run on a guy ahead of you as you’re going through them.

“The corners leading onto the long straights are all sort of aero-dependent which means that if you get somewhat close to the car in front you lose your front end which means you have to lift slightly and then the gap remains too big to have a go when you arrive to the braking zone – often even with DRS engaged. It’s the same problem you have on so many modern circuits.

“Whoever gets through the mess at the first corner in the lead – that’s pretty much where they end up. With the cars at the front so closely matched it’s pretty predictable from there on.”

With Max Verstappen’s driving tactics coming under the microscope once again, with the way he denied Lewis Hamilton in Suzuka and with some of his other moves this year having been scrutinized, F1 moved to rule that drivers could not move in the brake zone.

Johansson talked a bit about Verstappen here, as well as the rule itself and the mentality drivers have these days.

“This moving under braking – even if it’s just a little wiggle – makes it very difficult for the guy behind. Once you hit the brakes you’re more or less committed to one line, so if you’re the car following and you’ve decided to make an attempt to pass where there is a gap by leaving your braking to the very last moment and the driver in front of you suddenly moves across and the gap is no longer there it makes it almost impossible for the guy behind to avoid even hitting him. You either completely blow the corner or you hit the guy you’re trying to pass, which in fact we have seen numerous times lately, where parts of the front wing suddenly go flying because there was contact under braking.

“We’ve talked about this many times but this blocking nonsense in racing goes back quite a few years. There’s a great video of Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve (1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon). If you watch that, it was an intense battle where they traded second place several times and you see how they raced back then. There was no blocking and that’s how everyone raced. Sadly, these dirty tactics slowly crept into the system by a few drivers who then became heroes to the generations that followed and because the FIA didn’t clamp down on it early enough it’s now become the norm and every young driver thinks that’s how you should race.”

Johansson also notes that with a rotation in race stewards, there is often no consistency in terms of penalties applied.

“I think it would have been easy for (Felipe) Massa to stay to the inside of the corner. And when you leave the door wide open a driver like (Fernando) Alonso will always make a move. Knowing how difficult it is to pass around there the only option is really to go for the “surprise” move which is exactly what Alonso did. You have to make a move when the driver ahead least expects it because there’s hardly any other place to pass on that track.

“It’s the same thing Rosberg did to (Kimi) Raikkonen in Malaysia but Nico got a 10-second penalty. Alonso got nothing and it’s the same old story – rulings at random. These were almost identical incidents but the stewards’ rulings were not identical. One time you get a penalty, next time you don’t.  What do you do as a driver?

“I think [Mark] Blundell who was the steward in Austin did the right thing but it shows there’s no consistency whatsoever in the control tower.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.