Abiding by the rules

Indycar racing has been making headlines for two very different reasons. There are new rules to consider, and then there’s the punishment handed out to Hélio Castroneves after his tirade against the officials at Edmonton.

You’ll remember that Castroneves was stripped of his victory after being penalised for blocking his Penske team-mate Will Power and for ignoring a black flag. Having crossed the line in first place, he was demoted to 10th, and after the race he lost his temper with the Indycar officials (above) who, rightly in my view, fined him and put him on probation for the rest of the season.

I have spoken of outrageous blocking tactics in this column before. It has become a big problem and I believe the stewards were absolutely correct in handing out the punishment. When I was racing in Indycar this kind of blocking just didn’t exist, it’s just not racing, and trust between the drivers at the speeds they do is vital. I’ve seen too many accidents caused by drivers weaving, blocking and diving up the inside of other cars.

The problem came to Indycar in the mid-90s when the Brazilian drivers started coming over. Unfortunately, it’s a tactic used by the young Brazilians and they’ve got blocking down to a fine art. The stewards, to give them credit, are dealing with it firmly. This is right because, apart from the dangers, what concerns me most is that drivers coming through the junior categories think this is the way to race. You don’t see it so much in the States, but in Europe I see so many drivers – in GP2, GP3 and F3 – spending more time looking in their mirrors than straight ahead. That’s crazy. If you don’t start laying down the law in the junior categories, then it gets out of hand and becomes acceptable in Formula 1 and Indycar.

I know it has become a problem in F1, too. What Schumacher did to Barrichello in Hungary, that’s not racing, and I don’t recall guys like Jimmy Clark making that kind of move. If somebody is passing you, it’s because they’re faster, and you gotta figure out how to be faster than them. Schumacher has always done this kind of thing, and right now his driving doesn’t have the look of a champion. Maybe he’s just frustrated by the car’s lack of pace, but driving someone up to the pitwall just doesn’t make any sense. Again, the [10-place grid] penalty from the stewards was right. They need to put their foot down, and do it consistently.

Now to the new Indycar rules. The V6 turbo is a good way to go because an in-line four-cylinder just doesn’t have the torsional rigidity you need, especially when the engine is a stressed member of the car. A V6 turbo allows latitude for changing boost settings, more boost for road racing and less for the ovals, so oval speeds wouldn’t be too outrageous. The days of multiple manufacturers are gone – it’s just too expensive, the teams can’t afford to buy new cars in January and throw them away in October. In the days when you had Lola, March and Reynard battling one another, and in the high days of CART, racing teams were spending $4-500,000 on each car and that’s not possible any more with two- and three-car teams.

Indycar costs are far more constrained than in F1 so the system now, where you have a basic chassis, is right. The F1 cars all look and sound alike but the differences are surely considerable, and in Indycar we can vary the aero package so there will be outward differences in the cars. I hope there will be an alternative engine manufacturer to compete with Honda, but other manufacturers do fear competing with them and the extent to which they’ll do anything to win. Honda has raised the bar and it seems they would welcome some competition – but I don’t see that happening right now. The costs are simply too high and the future, for Indycar anyway, has to be more affordable and economically viable.

September means I’ll be in the UK, racing at the Goodwood Revival, where I’m sharing Adrian Newey’s E-type Jaguar in the TT Celebration race. I’m looking forward to that.