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Exclusive Interview with Stefan Johansson 🏎️🏁
Jun 15, 2022, 7:10:00 AM

Exclusive Interview with Stefan Johansson 🏎️🏁

What are your thoughts on the track?

 "I love that track, it's actually one of my favourites on the calendar.

I think a lot of drivers would agree because it's a track with a mix of different types of corners and variables to deal with.

It's almost like a street circuit, but a lot faster than a regular street circuit, so it's always good racing and a great atmosphere at the Canadian Grand Prix.

The race has almost always developed into interesting and unexpected scenarios with many surprising results over the years.

The strategy is also important in this race, and it is definitely one of my favourites."

What are your memories of the Canadian Grand Prix? 

"I have very good memories of this track because my first time there was one of my earliest races for Ferrari.

I almost won the race, but I was asked to slow down by team orders to stay behind my teammate Michele Alboreto who had already been with the team for a number of years and already established within the Championship race when I came in late in the season.

But there's always been good memories there, the Canadian fans are very knowledgeable and passionate about Formula One and it’s been great to see their enthusiasm and support. 

It's a challenge unlocking the little secrets of the track, obviously every track has one, but this one is peculiar in many ways."

Looking ahead to the Grand Prix this weekend, what are your predictions?

"You have to assume it'll be a battle between Ferrari and Red Bull.

But Montreal has sprung some surprises in the past, so you never know.

But I suspect it'll be those four cars duking it out for pole position and the race win."

Home GP for Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi - Recent rumours that Latifi will be replaced by Oscar Piastri in 2023, is this a good move? 

"There's a lot of rumours flying around at this time of the year which always happens, but I don't exactly know what Latifi's position is in the Williams team in terms of how his contract is structured. 

It's hard to say really, but I think there's obviously a lot of drivers out there and there's only 20 seats available.

Piastri is certainly one of the candidates for one of those seats and in terms of the newer drivers, he's probably on the top of the list for many teams, but he’s also contracted to Alpine so I’m not sure if he’s even a viable option for that reason. But he definitely deserves a seat in Formula 1 eventually."

Lance Stroll hasn't really impressed so far this season, often falling short behind his team mate–Is this a Stroll problem or a car problem? 

"The reason he’s lagging behind Sebastian Vettel more this year than before is most likely more to do with the car and how it’s designed. 

Certain cars just suit certain drivers better than others, so when Vettel had that period of total domination with the Red Bull, that car was ideally suited for his driving style.

He was pretty much the only one who could drive that car, all of his teammates would struggle with the car.

It's a little similar to Latifi and Sainz at the moment, it's just that last little bit of confidence relying on the car to turn into the corners which may not suit Lance compared to Vettel at the moment.

Any of those small things make a huge difference, Lance is no worse driver this year than he was last year, so these issues come down to the car and to get it into that sweet spot that gives you the comfort and confidence to attack the corners the way you want to.

They need to find those one or two things that might unlock that comfort level that you need as a driver to drive on a limit the whole time.

Lance is by no means a bad driver, I'm a big fan of his and I think he's done a great job since he came into F1

He's paid his dues in the Junior Championships where he won multiple Championships including the European Formula 3 Championship.

He's a very strong and talented driver, he's done a terrific job and he's had great results with Williams.

Given the right opportunity, I'm pretty certain he will get the job done as well as anyone else out there."

Is there an opportunity for Lance to silence a few doubters in his home GP?

"I don't think a home Grand Prix makes a difference; it really just comes down to how you get the car working.

That's always the key, you can bring a little bit more out of yourself in the right circumstances, but you've got to have the car underneath you.

It's virtually impossible if the car isn't agreeing with you which can happen sometimes."

Lance’s father Lawrence is often linked with new moves, especially with the potential of Audi joining the grid in the future. Is this sort of speculation good for the sport? 

"Yeah absolutely, I think it's good for most sports in general but for Formula 1 especially at the moment, the sport is on a tremendous trajectory.

Everything is booming in F1 at the moment, it's a positive atmosphere around the sport and I don't think it's ever been stronger overall.

The financial situation is looking good, and the team valuations are now pretty significant.

I don't know if these rumours will come to fruition or not, but there is a lot of manufacturers looking at it very seriously.

We know if those manufacturers commit then they do it very seriously, so there's a good chance and why not in my eyes.

Lawrence has done a great job as well and has been extremely successful in everything he has done in his life.

I'm sure there could be something good going forward."

A lot of pundits have been questioning if Lewis Hamilton is still motivated following his close defeat in the Championship last year- do you have an opinion on this at all? Will Mercedes still come good?

"I think they will come good eventually.

When you come out with a concept which is as radical as this car then obviously you can reach a point at a certain stage that you unlock whatever you need to unlock in the car or you just abandon it, regroup and come back with a different package.

But as far as Lewis' motivation, I don't think there's any concern quite frankly.

For him, whether he qualifies 6th or 8th will not make a difference to him, when he can smell a win then the gloves are off and he will be as good as he's ever been.

But I think right now, the impression I get is he's willing to sacrifice a position or two by experimenting with the car and trying new things.

Trying different setups and different concepts on the car to really try and find the direction more than anything.

It's more of a question of where can we go in terms of taking it to the next level.

So, I think a lot of it is that, but if Lewis thinks he can get a pole or a win, then I don't think there is any doubt about his motivation."

Daniel Riccardo is being linked with a move away from McLaren after some substandard performances compared to teammate Lando Norris - do you think that Ricciardo fans should be worried about his future going forward? 

"I think realistically you're going to have to be worried for him because he's obviously struggling somehow with this modern car.

It's never really gelled with him, and it comes back to the point I've made previously, certain cars just suit certain drivers.

That's maybe part of Daniel's problem, he's obviously not a bad driver or ever was a bad driver because he's phenomenal.

Being outrun by your teammate every single race obviously doesn't help you with your position going forward."

If Ricciardo does leave, who would you like to see replace him at McLaren? 

"It's tough to answer but I would imagine they might take a punt on someone younger and someone they can build a future with.

There are so many good young drivers in the pipeline, in Indycar we've got Pato O'Ward who I think is in the right age bracket.

There's a few to choose from, but you don't know what some of the contractual situations are for some of these guys coming out of the junior categories.

It's not like there's a shortage of talent to choose from, but who am I to say who should come in.

I mean if I could choose then it would obviously be someone I managed, but I don't think that's realistic in the circumstance."

Norris continues to impress for McLaren- could he be a replacement for someone like Lewis Hamilton or Sergio Perez one day at one of the two big teams (Mercedes/Red Bull)

"I think Lando Norris is one of the outstanding talents in Formula 1 at the moment, but this whole crop of the new generation that came in a couple of years ago are all very good.

I include Max Verstappen in that group as well because they really came out of the same generation.

The likes of Max, Leclerc, Norris, Russell and Albon who I think is very talented too.

There's just a whole gaggle of really talented guys in the mix.

That will be the future of Formula 1 across the next 10 years, but with Lando I'm led to believe that he's signed a long-term deal with McLaren so I'm not sure how that would work out.

But he would definitely be an option to replace one of those guys as a long-term replacement in the top two or three teams."

There is currently a strong crop of young talented drivers in the middle teams such as Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher- who do you think could be the next of these to make the jump to a really big team? 

"I think the obvious one would be Pierre Gasly out of those three, I think he's shown he's punched above his weight quite consistently, so I think he would be an obvious choice if there was an opening in one of the teams.

There's not necessarily anyone in those top teams who Gasly is better than or being looked at to be replaced.

But obviously, if things change for different reasons, then he would be one of the standout choices."  

Will the championship battle be just Verstappen and Leclerc, or can Perez fall into the mix? Should Red Bull let him?

"That's the crucial point with Perez, but my answer to that is no because he's never really going to get to that point unless Max has some really bad results for whatever reason.

For that reason, I don’t think the situation will ever become that Perez will challenge for the Championship realistically.

Leclerc is strong but unfortunately for Ferrari, they've run into a few issues, but hopefully they'll be able to fix that because I think there's still time for it to be a terrific battle throughout the year.

It seems like Ferrari still might have an advantage on Red Bull on a lot of the different tracks.

Both Leclerc and Verstappen are currently at the top of their game, so it could be great to watch for the rest of the year."

Who will win the drivers’ title, and why?

"I think Max will win in the end because of the issues I've just mentioned with Ferrari and the fact he's on a roll.

I predicted this two years ago, Verstappen with Red Bull with the Honda engine, which is essentially still the same just with a different name.

I said they'd dominate the next 10 years and I still believe that will be the case."

There has been talk about introducing a salary cap for Formula 1 drivers in recent weeks- as a former driver yourself, do you think this would be a bad move for the sport?

"I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea, but it depends on how you formulate it, what the salary cap is and the other issues that may crop up.

You're always going to have one or two guys who truly make the difference and they're worth whatever they're asking for because they are able to elevate the team to a position of winning races and championships.

Max Verstappen is that guy now and Lewis Hamilton was that guy for years and arguably still is if they can get the car right.

So, you can't really argue with that side of it, but it is always hard to define these things.

I'm always for a free market and as such, it really comes down to what the teams are prepared to pay. 

They have a budget cap now which doesn't include drivers, so whether it would be possible to adhere to or not I don't know.

What puzzles me however is the money some of the guys in the mid-pack is making in comparison to other categories of racing, guys that are good but by no means exceptional and could be replaced tomorrow by a gaggle of equally good drivers and the results would be exactly the same.

I also don’t know how you would police it to be 100% accurate, but the bottom line is the same with the cost of anything in life. A nice collector car for example is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it and I guess the driver's salary is no different."

A lot of young drivers and previous F1 drivers have moved to IndyCar due to lack of opportunities in F1, should IndyCar be the place to aspire to or will F1 still be seen as the pinnacle? 

"Of course, Formula 1 is still the pinnacle and will always be, there's no doubt about that, but I am a huge fan of Indycar.

I manage Scott Nixon and Felix Rosenqvist in Indycar at the moment and I spent a huge part of my life in Indycar since I moved over from Formula 1.

I love the series; the competition is incredible and it's the most competitive series out there by a long margin.

But Formula 1 is the pinnacle and again it's not even up for debate.

The engineering and the global reach, everything about it is at a whole different level.

The only thing that is problematic for the drivers in F1 is that you have to be in the right car if you want to win. If you compared Hamilton and Alonso or any of the top guys, Lewis had the foresight to leave McLaren and go to Mercedes when no one believed they were going to do anything.

It's as important to pick the right team at the right moment as it is to be a good driver, but Alonso on the other hand unfortunately always had this ability to pick the wrong team at the right time.

A lot of that plays into it because if you're not in the right car, then you're never going to win.

There's never been a World Champion who didn't have the best car.

The key is to find your way into the best team at the best time when they're on a roll."

Another US race was announced earlier this year, this time in Las Vegas down the famous strip. Do you think the US has too many races now, and do you prefer these new styles of tracks or the older, more traditional circuits? 

"Formula 1 is definitely on a roll at the moment, especially in the US where it's on fire.

There's been such a change in the past 20 years, and I can see the difference daily.

Some people in the US wouldn't know the difference between a Formula 1 driver and a bar of soap two years ago.

Now, all of a sudden they're experts after watching a TV show.

It's great to see that it's an attraction in America as well, so I don't think there are too many races over there.

We'll soon find out if I might be wrong, but Miami sold out and Vegas has basically sold out, so I think it'll definitely grow more in the US.

Vegas will probably be bigger than Miami was, and I think it's only good for the sport.

The tracks are something else, the streets are beautiful so the city tracks or whatever you want to call them are always better because you bring the race to the people.

When you have to travel for an hour, sit in traffic for parking and have trouble leaving the track, then you get issues.

You'll always get the diehard fans, but you're not going to get people who just want to come to the event and have a good time.

We have the long beach in Indycar for example, it's in the city and it's been a terrific event for 20 years now and it's been packed every single year.

I'm actually a big fan of those types of tracks."

Do you think that ‘Drive to Survive’ as a concept is good for the sport? Have you watched much of it yourself?

"To be perfectly honest, I watched 15 minutes of one of the first episodes before having to turn it off, but that doesn't mean it's not good.

I think if you're in the sport and know the sport then you pick it apart pretty quickly, but I think it's great entertainment and clearly good for the sport because it's brought a massive amount of new fans in.

I think it would be marginal on where reality comes in, but that's reality TV today, unfortunately."

Shared teams and cars with some amazing drivers such as Alain Prost (Formula 1) and Tom Kristensen (Le Mans). What was it like to be around such talented drivers in that era and do you have any interesting stories?

"Every teammate you have you share a lot of experiences, and you spend a lot of time together in the trailers and engineering rooms.

You talk about the car but also about life in general and anything else going on.

If I take Alain Prost for example, he was just amazing as a driver but also as a friend as well and a person.

I probably learnt more from him in one year than I did in my whole career because he was just so brilliant in how he managed everything.

The car, the weekend, the racing and how he fitted in the team, it was a real eye-opener for me.

Everybody was different and made you learn something different and hopefully, people learnt some things from me.

You just shared information and different thoughts on things, and I feel very blessed that I was able to share this time with some of those guys and battle it out on the track with them."

Finally, how do you think you would have fared as a driver in today’s era?

"I would imagine it would be equal to how it was in my career.

At the end of the day, whatever category you're in, you have to become a specialist in that category of racing.

You see Formula 1 guys come into Indycar and it isn't as easy as they thought it would be and the same thing going into different cars.

Every car has its secrets which I've talked about a lot, but it's the case, you've got to find that sweet spot.

How to get the best out of the car is ultimately the end goal and how it suits your style of driving which you have to adapt at times to compromise here and there.

But the racing is kind of the same, I do miss the challenge of the old tracks because they can be a little bit sanitised nowadays which can make it easier to find the limit in many ways.

There are certain tracks where you know you can't go over the limit because you would just end up hitting the wall, but now any car you're flat out in the second lap basically.

If you go too fast you just go out the run and carry on, so all of these things made it more challenging back in the day, but at the end of the day to win races it's still the same."