Stefan Johansson drops hard truth bomb on F1

The radio ban discussion started with the notion that the drivers were being too coached in their lap-by-lap efforts and so, with nearly everyone agreeing, the FIA banned radio communication that would coach the driver. Now the teams feel this ban has gone too far starting with Lewis Hamilton’s situation in Baku which prompted an immediate and almost sycophantic response from Sky Sports F1 after the race about how ridiculous these radio bans are. Then there was Sergio Perez and most recently, Nico Rosberg who incurred a penalty over the radio ban issue. The teams seized the media’s angst and have lobbied for a reduction in the restriction.

What the teams and media may not have intended in this discussion was the conversation coming full circle to eventually point at the outrageously complicated cars they have designed with Hybrid ERS units, energy harvesting brake-by-wire systems and more. Now all of a sudden, the finger of blame has eventually turned upon itself and they aren’t liking that much.

Former Ferrari driver Stefan Johansson recently weighed in with a scathing commentary:

“F1 creates these monstrously complex vehicles and then gets way down the road before they realise that what they’ve done is causing huge problems.

“The multitude of complex settings and technical adjustments on the current cars’ steering wheels never should have been allowed. With the complexity of these cars, [the] engineers were telling the drivers on every straight what settings to have for the next corner – which is ridiculous, of course.

“So they then ban all kind of communication, which effectively means that currently you can’t even tell a driver what to do even if there’s a technical fault on the car.

“In the case of Perez in Austria, it was outrageous that they couldn’t tell a driver that his brakes were about to fail because of this radio ban. Imagine if that happened at Monaco coming out of the tunnel? There’s no logic to it.”

“If you allow the designers to make cars so complex that you have to tell a driver how to drive them during a race, you’ve got to pull back and get back to basics, fast!

“What we have now is what I keep repeating – engineering porn. That’s all it is.

“The drivers don’t even understand half of it, so how can the public?”

He concluded: “I’m the biggest fan in the world. I love racing and I love F1. It’s my passion and I watch every race live and I just end up being frustrated because of the absurdity of what takes place.

“And if that’s what I’m thinking, I can only imagine what the casual fans think. You have to wonder.”

Motorsport’s Mr. Klein ran that story and a few days later, Editor in Chief, Mr. Bradley, offered an opinion piece in which he explored what’s ailing Formula 1 at the moment—actually that’s putting it lightly, he said that circuit limits and complicated systems are big threats that risk spoiling modern motorsport.

Mr. Bradley offered some thoughts on the complex nature of the cars and accurately concluded that the balance may have swung too far in favor of the engineering and not the driver. Probably no big revelation there for most F1 fans, we’ve been saying that for 3-4 years. That’s not a poke at Mr. Bradley, he’s right, but it’s just an admission that he’s preaching to the choir.

As Bradley and Johansson accurately arrive at is that if it is this complicated for teams and drivers, there is no way in hades that the F1 fans will ever grasp the enormity of what the series is achieving and that’s a shame because they are achieving a lot with this technology.

Regardless, it is the lack of any remote understanding and lack of great racing that is fueling the call to return to wide tires, normally aspirated petrol engines and the golden era. Other fans this this is daft and claim that technology marches on and F1’s entire DNA is all about road-relevant technology innovation. That’s not entirely true. It has been a present factor because the richer teams in the 60’s through 90’s could afford exotic tech and they used whatever made their car go faster around the circuit. The tech we have today dropped the performance level by somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6 seconds in its initial year.

Still, fans of the new formula argue that they have clawed back much of the time they’ve lost and this means that 4-5 years later we are finally approaching or narrowly beating the V8 era cars. Do you think that if they had continued with the V8 or V10’s, they would not be much, much faster by now? You are using frozen times from 4-5 years ago as a benchmark here.

The balance needs to be found and perhaps the 2017 season will find it. It is difficult to know but what we do have a precedent for in F1 is the stabilization of regulations eventually becoming more equal up and down the grid. Time and stability are afforded the patient regulatory body who will see things out. This is what Ross Brawn said in a recent interview with Martin Brundle and while I agree with him, I also agree that something needs to be done. Too many viewers have switched the TV off.

In fairness, this issue did not start with the hybrid and the move to electric cars is not the sole reason for the frustration. This started on the heels of the Ferrari domination that was continued by Red Bull for four years on the trot. Then the hybrids came in and removed the sound, pace and visceral experience of F1 and ushered in a newer, even more dominant team in Mercedes and baked that performance advantage in for much of this specification’s shelf life. The stable regulations are seeing some parity but that is manifest in a slight closing of the performance gap to Mercedes from 1.5s per lap to 1s per lap. Not quite the equity F1 fans were hoping for given you’ve gutted the formula’s sound and racing action on track.

That’s why the changes are being brought in but if I’m honest, I’m not quite sure I understand the tire specification in 2017 that well. If they are the HD tires, then we may still have an issue. If the cars are more aggressive, faster and more competitive, high degradation tires could neuter than impact. If the aero gains are increased, the same is true. If DRS is retained, the same is true. If fuel flow restriction is retained, the same may be true but that’s not a guarantee.

When FOM sold the sport and CVC acquired It and the bi-partite agreements were signed with the teams and the F1 Strategy group was formed, the series lost its ability to make the hard decisions it needs to and the team, like Mercedes, took over. When the FIA mandated an ideology narrative be the backbone of the series to send socially responsible messages via hybrid technology, the sport lost its ability to govern itself realistically for entertainment value and bankrupted three teams in the process. The “show” as they say, must go one but the more F1 talks of “spicing up” the show, the more it tastes like oatmeal.

Hat Tip: Motorsport and Motorsport