Stefan Johansson, 2008

Stefan Johansson, 2008

Very few F1 drivers get the opportunity to race for either Ferrari or McLaren, and Stefan Nils Edwin Johansson is one of the lucky few to have had the opportunity to do both. But in spite of this, Stefan never achieved a race victory in his lengthy F1 career that promised so much. It was very much a case of right team, wrong time.

The son of a successful touring car racer, he started in karts in 1968 and won the Swedish national title in 1973. After purchasing an old Formula Ford in 1975, he won the Swedish title in 1977 and moved to the UK to contest the British F3 championship in 1979. A win at Silverstone saw him offered a race seat in the Shadow F1 team, but it was in hindsight too quick a jump for him, and he failed to qualify the car at both attempts.

He moved back to F3 to try and rebuild his career, and responded brilliantly by winning the 1980 title on the back of six wins. He moved to Formula 2 in 1981 with Toleman, picking up wins at Hockenheim and Mantorp, which was enough to get him signed to the fledgling Spirit Honda operation, which was making its first F1 foray in 1983.

He made his debut at the British Grand Prix, and finished seventh at Zandvoort on his fourth outing, tantalisingly out of the points. But then came the bad news, with Honda deciding to plump for an engine supply deal with Williams rather than continuing with Spirit, and poor Stefan was once again on the sidelines…

Martin Brundle’s mid-season accident at the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix opened up a vacancy at Tyrrell, and Stefan slotted right in and instantly impressed by out-qualifying and out-racing team-mate Stefan Bellof (who was a hugely-rated driver in his own right) at every outing.

But if it couldn’t get any worse, it did… Tyrrell was thrown out of the championship by the sport’s governing body in the wake of a longstanding battle with the powers that be during the height of the turbo era, and it seemed Stefan would again be consigned to the sidelines.

However, Toleman came knocking with a race seat at the Italian Grand Prix, and Stefan grabbed the opportunity with both hands, finishing a hugely impressive fourth after a tigering drive through the field. He was now finally a man in demand.

Johansson made his Ferrari debut in 1985 (image via F1 Facts) Back at Tyrrell (now allowed back in the championship) for the start of 1985, he switched to Ferrari before the second round at Portugal after the team fired Rene Arnoux, and at just his second race he was in contention for victory. Another charging drive through the field on Ferrari’s home turf at Imola saw Stefan take the lead from Alain Prost with just two laps to go … only for him to splutter to a halt, out of fuel…

Nonetheless, he backed up his promise with back-to-back podiums in North America while team-mate Michele Alboreto was a championship contender, losing out to Alain Prost. The 1986 season was to prove a struggle, with the Ferraris a distant fourth-best outfit was the Williams-McLaren-Lotus battle waged up front in a titanic championship year, but he still picked up four third-placed finishes and a career-best fifth in the championship.

Johansson achieved five podium finishes during his single season with McLaren, including a three-wheeled effort at Germany! (Image via The Cahier Archive) So Stefan moved to McLaren for 1987 alongside the double-World Champion Alain Prost. It was the team’s final season with the (now ageing) TAG Porsche engine, and it was a stop-gap year for Stefan and the team while they awaited the arrival of Honda engines and Ayrton Senna. In spite of five more podium finishes, Stefan was very much in Prost’s shadow and his services were dispensed with at the end of the season.

Stefan moved to Ligier for 1988, but the Judd-powered JS31 was a dog of a car and he failed to qualify six times.

So it was off to the new Onyx outfit for 1989, with the team hiring Stefan to help it develop the Alan Jenkins designed ORE-1. Getting out of pre-qualifying was the first challenge, but Stefan committed doggedly to the project, making the grid for the first time at Mexico and finishing a plucky fifth at Paul Ricard. But better was to come, with Stefan delivering another sensational performance at Estoril to finish an incredible third, in what proved to be his final podium appearance.

He last just two races under the team’s new ownership in 1990, and contested a handful of outings in 1991 with AGS and Footwork, but grew sick of making up the numbers and pulled the pin on his F1 career.

Stefan moved to the CART series in the US, achieving several podium finishes in the series’ fiercely competitive period in the mid 1990s where the likes of Andretti, Fittipaldi, and Mansell were all big gun drivers.

At the Molson Indy Toronto race in 1996, he was inadvertently involved in an accident that claimed the life of fellow driver Jeff Krosnoff and a track marshal, and he quit the championship at the end of the series.

He moved into the Le Mans Series competition, and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside Michele Alboreto and Tom Kristensen in 1997.

Stefan continued in motorsport in a host of categories, and also founded an Indy Lights team that ran (among others) the likes of Scott Dixon and Ben Collins, the man who would become Top Gear’s tame racing driver,The Stig’.

He graduated to running a ChampCar outfit, American Spirit Racing which, despite its lack of funding, managed several podium finishes and a surprise win with Ryan Hunter-Reay at the wheel.

Outside the cockpit, he has a number of business ventures (including the management of several drivers, most notably Scott Dixon) and is particularly well known for his watch designs, having set up the successful Växjö watch company.

Richard’s F1 is extremely grateful to Stefan for his time and support in compiling this interview, where he proves as frank and honest as ever about the highlights of his motorsport career.


Born: 8 September 1956, Växjö (SWE)
1980 Shadow Ford Cosworth DN11, 2 entries, 2 DNQ, not classified
1983 Spirit Honda 201C, 6 entries, 0 points
1984 Tyrrell Ford Cosworth & Toleman Hart TG184, 7 entries, 1 DNQ, 3 points, 17th overall
1985 Tyrrell Ford Cosworth 012 & Ferrari 156/85, 16 entried, 2 podiums, 26 points, 7th overall
1986 Ferrari F1/86, 16 entries, 4 podiums, 23 points, 5th overall
1987 McLaren TAG MP4-3, 16 entries, 5 podiums, 30 points, 6th overall
1988 Ligier Judd JS31, 16 entries, 6 DNQ, 0 points
1989 Onyx Ford Cosworth ORE-1, 16 entries, 8 DNPQ, 1 podium, 6 points, 12th overall
1990 Onyx Ford ORE-1, 2 entries, 2 DNQ, not classified
1991 AGS Ford Cosworth & Foorwork Porsche/Pord FA12/FA12C, 6 entries, 5 DNQ, 0 points
Overall 103 entries, 79 starts, 0 wins, 12 podiums, 88 points
1992 Bettenhausen Racing Penske Chevrolet, 9 entries, 2 podiums, 47 points, 14th overall
1993 Bettenhausen Racing Penske Chevrolet, 16 entries, 1 podium, 43 points, 13th overall
1994 Bettenhausen Motorsports Penske Ilmor, 16 entries, 57 points, 11th overall
1995 Bettenhausen Motorsports Penske Mercedes, 17 entries, 1 podium, 60 points, 13th overall
1996 Bettenhausen Motorsports Reynard Mercedes, 16 entries, 43 points, 15th overall
1993 Bettenhausen Penske Chevrolet, qualified 6th, finished 11th overall
1994 Bettenhausen Penske Ilmor, qualified 27th, finished 15th overall
1995 Bettenhausen Reynard Ford Cosworth, qualified 31st, finished 16th overall
1980 British Formula 3, 1st overall
1997 Le Mans 24 Hours, Joest Racing Porsche WSC-95, 1st overall with Michele Alboreto & Tom Kristensen
  12 Hours of Sebring, Scandia Ferrari 333SP, 1st overall with Evans, Vélez & Dalmas


Your father was a successful touring car driver; how much of an influence was he for you during your early forays into motorsport?

Absolutely, he was the driving force for many years as I was also into football and ice hockey and actually played in the second division in Sweden until I was nineteen and left for England to try make it as a racing driver.

How did you come to be involved in motorsport? Did you always harbour ambitions of making it to Formula 1?

Once I decided to try to make a career from racing the ambition was always to be in Formula One, but in the early karting years I was as much into all the other sports.

The likes of Jo Bonnier, Ronnie Peterson and Gunnar Nilsson all achieved success as Swedish drivers on the Formula 1 stage – were they idols of yours, or did you have other motorsport heroes?

Ronnie was definitely an early idol, also Jim Clark was probably the first driver I was really admiring.

Johansson, 1980 Argentine GP
Johansson’s debut came with Shadow in 1980, which he admits “did more harm than good”. Johansson failed to qualify on both outings and returned to the British F3. [Original image via F1-Facts] 

A win at Silverstone in the British F3 championship saw you propelled into a race seat with Shadow for the start of the 1980 season, how did this opportunity come about?

An odd set of circumstances brought me in contact with Bert Baldwin who ran the Shadow team at the time, and it all happened very fast, I arrived in Buenos Aires without any testing so the first official practice session for the GP was my first taste of an F1 car…

After two DNQs in the opening rounds, you returned to F3 and took the British title in 1980. What did this success mean to you?

It was important to win, because the Shadow experience probably did more harm than good and it was crucial to get back to winning races and championships again. As it turned out, it took me another three years to make it to F1 properly..

Johansson, 1983 Austrian GP Johansson, 1983 Dutch GP
It took over three years before Stefan returned to F1, joining the small Spirit team as it charted Honda’s return to F1 as an engine supplier. Johansson described the car as “a handful” to drive. [Images via The Cahier Archive]

Your links with the Spirit squad – for whom you raced in Formula 2 – saw you move with them as they graduated to Formula 1 in 1983. How did it feel to be back on the grid?

It was fantastic, although it was very new for all of us, me, the team and Honda I think we did a pretty good job in the circumstances.

You qualified for every race with Spirit, which led Honda’s return to Formula 1 as an engine supplier. What was the car like to drive?

It was a handful to say the least, it was basically the F2 car they shoehorned a 1000hp engine in the back of. The engine had an enormous amount of turbo lag so you really had to adjust your driving style to make sure there was enough room from the apex to the exit of the corner. When the engine came alive it was like an explosion!

There was no race drive for you at the start of the 1984 season, but you joined Tyrrell mid-season after Martin Brundle was injured and contested in four outings for the team, only to have your results stripped when the team was excluded from the championship. What was the political environment like for Tyrrell, and was the team – as virtually the only non-turbo runner in the championship – being unfairly targeted by FISA, as Brundle would later suggest?

Johansson, 1984 German GP
Johansson returned to F1 again in 1984, this time replacing the injured Martin Brundle at Tyrrell for four races before being snatched up by Toleman to complete the season. Impressive performances at saw Stefan out-qualify Tyrrell team-mate Stefan Bellof in every appearance together, although his (and Tyrrell’s) results from the season would later be stripped by FISA. [Original image via F1-Facts] 

It was a great experience for me, I didn’t care about the politics, it was an opportunity for me to get back in F1 again, and I just did the best I could to show what I was able to do. I did out-qualify Stefan Bellof in all the races I did for them, and out-raced him so from that point of view I was very happy.

Bellof was a great team-mate and I already knew him quite well from the sports car scene which we were both doing at the time also. And Ken [Tyrrell] was a fantastic team boss, he taught me so many valuable things..

You joined Toleman for the Italian Grand Prix, and you achieved an excellent result with fourth place in the race. How was the race from your perspective, and what did the result mean to you?

Again, it was really a continuation of the Tyrrell situation, I was on a mission to make it back and I had a huge amount of confidence that I would eventually make it, so again this was a perfect opportunity.. The race started terribly when I couldn’t get off the line and ended up dead last in the first corner, the race then went well as it progressed and I passed all the guys in front to finish fourth eventually.

The team wanted to keep you on board for the following year, but couldn’t secure a tyre contract, so you instead went to Tyrrell. But Rene Arnoux’s sacking from Ferrari in 1985 saw you appointed to the team as Michele Alboreto’s team-mate. How did the opportunity come about, and what was your first meeting like with Commendatore Enzo Ferrari?

It was amazing, he was the master of the mystique and theatre! It all happened within a week, although we had talked on a few occasions over the winter about possibly doing some testing when the Toleman team couldn’t get their tyre contract sorted.

Johansson was part of the Ferrari family for two seasons (Image via The Cahier Archive) [Ferrari Team Manager] Marco Piccini then contacted me shortly after the Brazilian GP and asked if we could meet in London, where I lived at the time. We met on the Monday prior to the Portuguese GP and the next day I flew to Bologna where I was picked up and then brought to the old factory in Modena, which was not being used but the old man still had an office there.

I was brought into the building, no lights were on, it was late afternoon so the sun kept it slightly lit, and then into Mr. Ferrari’s office where he was waiting together with his son Piero and Marco Piccinini. All I could see of the old man in the back of the room was his silhouette – it was as though it was straight out of a Felini movie!

After Piero and Marco had done most of the talking, he asked me one question, “Are you hungry?”

The next day I was testing around Fiorano before flying to Portugal the following day…

It was a two-year stint that saw you drive alongside Michele Alboreto. What was the atmosphere in the team like and what was your relationship like with Michele?

It was quite political at that time, and the joke at the time was always that for every friend you made, you would make two enemies, which may be a slightly exaggerated but there was definitely a sense of having to tread very carefully at times…

It was the best and the worst experience a driver could have in many ways, Mr Ferrari was great and we used to enjoy him holding court when we had lunch at Fiorano every time we were testing there, which was sometimes every day during the summer months!

As is normal in F1, there was a fierce rivalry between Michele and I, but at the same time a kind of mutual respect and overall I would say we got on quite well.

You would later partner him en route to winning the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans race with Audi. What did that win mean to you?

We came across each other as team mates several times after the Ferrari F1 days and in the end we were very close friends. It was devastating when he had his accident in the Sportscar [Alboreto crashed fatally while testing for Audi at the Lausitzring in 2001].

One of your first races with Ferrari at Imola became a turning point in your career, with a hard-charging drive where you took the lead only to run out of fuel in the closing stages. Can you tell us about that race?

After having been fastest in the free practice on Saturday I had a very bad qualifying which we later located to a broken connector for the underbody, which made the car lose a lot of downforce and made it handle very inconsistently. Once we found the problem we were pretty confident we had a good race car again.

Highlights from the incredible 1985 San Marino Grand Prix, Johansson’s second race for Ferrari. Starting 15th after a difficult qualifying session, he monstered his way up the order and took the lead from Alain Prost with an incredible passing move with two laps to go, only to splutter to a halt, out of fuel, half a lap later. Prost would stagger over the line – almost out of fuel himself – to win, but he would be disqualified and the win handed to Elio de Angelis. It was the closest Johansson would ever come to an F1 win.

In this period it was critical to know your fuel consumption all the time and we worked out a plan that we knew would get us to the end of the race, I knew I had to race as hard as I could without going past the calculated consumption in order to make it to the end.

The car was really fast from the very beginning and I was able to pick one opponent off after the other without going past my fuel window, in fact I was quite comfortably inside it, which made the team hang out the boost sign with about 8-10 laps to go.

I knew I was catching both Senna and Prost with enough margin to pass them before the end of the race without the extra boost so I just stuck to my original plan, and it worked perfectly, with two laps to go I passed Prost and was cruising home for my first win, in my second race with Ferrari, only to run out of fuel myself on the last lap….

What had happened we discovered later, there was a crack in the air inlet manifold which caused a lot of air to be pushed in through this crack, which in turn caused the engine to push more fuel through to compensate for the mixture setting that was set up by the electronics.

So what was in fact a perfect race ended up in bitter disappointment, and who knows it may have changed the entire dynamics of the championship and everything that goes with that.

You achieved your first podium finish at the 1985 Canadian Grand Prix, but I would imagine one of the more thrilling results (of your 12 podiums in F1) was your third place at Monza in 1986. Can you describe being a Ferrari driver racing in Italy?

It was pretty amazing, but kind of crazy at the same time. For the most part it was a fantastic experience, the Ferrari fans are totally unique and to be part of that dynamic is really something special, even to this day it’s the same. I love the passion the Italians have to life in general..

En route to a podium at the 1986 Italian GP
Despite the disappointment of his lost win at Imola, Stefan’s first podium finish came shortly after at the 1985 Canadian GP, and he would finish on the rostrum a further eleven times. Here he heads to another podium, with this being the 1986 Italian GP, where he finished third in front of the passionate ‘tifosi’.
[Original image via F1-Facts]

You joined McLaren in 1987 as partner to defending champion Alain Prost, but it was a less successful year for the team, with the package not proving competitive enough against Williams. How did McLaren compare with Ferrari?

It was run in a completely different way, and of course eventually Ferrari ended up being run in pretty much the same way once they hired the likes of John Barnard, Jean Todt and so on.

At the time, McLaren was pretty much moving the goal post for all the F1 teams; it was incredibly disciplined and organised in every area, and through the years Ron Dennis pretty much rewrote the book on how a racing team should be run.

It was a great feeling to be in this environment because they eliminated all the excuses and allowed you to stay completely focused on getting the job done.

Your season is noted for several bizarre incidents, one of which was managing to finish the German Grand Prix in second place with just three wheels!

Yes, there were several strange incidents , it was pretty wild, but I wasn’t about to stop with a second place in sight. I was suffering a terrible vibration – to the point that I was struggling to hold onto the steering wheel – before the tyre blew. Once the tyre had shredded all the rubber and the car was running on the rim only it was actually a lot better to drive!

Johansson about to collect the deer at the 1987 Austrian GP Johansson's wrecked McLaren after striking the deer
One of the most terrifying accidents Johansson had was when he struck a deer that ran onto the Osterreichring circuit during practice for the 1987 Austrian GP. The impact destroyed his McLaren and broke two of Stefan’s ribs, while poor Bambi was even worse for wear… [Original images via Atlas F1 and F1-Facts]

Your season was also scarred by hitting a deer in practice for the Austrian Grand Prix. Was that perhaps the most frightening accident you had in your motorsport career?

Certainly one of them, as you know Austria at the time was an incredibly fast track and the point where I hit the deer you come over a brow and pick top gear almost at the same time, I didn’t even have time to hit the brake pedal before I hit it, thankfully it hit on the left side of the car, had it hit another foot to the right it would have been all over without a doubt. It took the front suspension clean out of the tub, there were just four gaping holes where the pick up points were, and then it cleaned up the whole left side of the car, including the rear suspension too, so I had no brakes or steering and and a long run off in the wet grass before I hit anything so there was plenty of time to think that “This is going to be a monumental accident”, which is never good. I was lucky [not to be killed] and ended up breaking a couple of ribs and a having very sore back, but I did the race the following day although in great pain.

McLaren signed Ayrton Senna for 1988, and you went to Ligier, which proved to be a difficult season all round. You failed to qualify for six races – what were some of the problems with the team, in comparison to McLaren or Ferrari?

Johansson struggling with the Ligier, 1988 (Image via The main problem was that the car was completely uncompetitive, there were no real problems with the team as such..

[My team-mate] Rene Arnoux and I used to joke that the car was designed by Galileo Galilei, the man who came up with the concept of gravity, as it was only gravity that kept it on the ground! The car had no downforce and was just very slow overall.

You joined the Moneytron Onyx squad for 1989, which was no doubt a tough challenge at the beginning as you faced prequalificiation in a new car driving for a new team. But your season gradually began to improve, and you picked up a points’ finish in France and an incredible podium at Portugal. Can you talk more about the Portuguese Grand Prix in particular?

It was a big challenge for sure, but I knew the people in the team very well going into it and what we accomplished in the circumstances has not really been equalled by almost anyone in their first year of F1.

Portugal was a good race, we qualified reasonably well and I knew we had a good, well-balanced car for the race. My strategy was to stay out the whole race and not stop for tyres like everyone else did, we had a good idea from the data we gathered in practice that it was doable, so I started the race with this in mind and made sure I really looked after the tyres all the way. It worked out great although the tyres were literally on the canvas when the race was over…

Johansson, 1989 Portuguese GP Stefan celebrates the most unexpected podium of his career
Johansson’s final podium was certainly the most unexpected, with the Swede finishing a shock third in the little-fancied Onyx, charting its debut season (of a short-lived stint) in F1. Less than a year later, the outfit would collapse under a mountain of debts, ruined by incompetent management. [Images via The Cahier Archive]

The Moneytron Onyx team is perhaps better known for having rather crazy management – at least in terms of the stories that have been published! You worked for the likes of Jean-Pierre van Rossem and Peter Monteverdi during this time; what were these men like to work for?

Van Rossem was definitely unorthodox in his approach to business and life in general, but having said that, he always came through and he paid every penny he promised to pay and a lot more to keep the team going through the season. The stories that were published are most likely exaggerated as these things normally tend to get. In the end, he was a good person and stuck to his word, which is a lot more than can be said for a lot of other people in this business…

I only had one 15-second conversation with Monteverdi, who called me up [in 1990] and said he had bought the team and would not pay me any money if I wanted to continue driving for them. So I replied, “But hang on, we have a contract”, to which he replied, “OK, you are fired!”

That was it, I never spoke to him before or after that conversation. Needless to say there was a legal battle going on for a while after that, but he had no money to start with and managed to run the team into the ground in less than half a season…

Johansson_1991_Phoenix ( the end of his F1 career, Stefan likened himself to “one of the clowns” in the circus as he often struggled to qualify. Here he racks up another DNQ in the AGS at the 1991 USA GP. [Image via Zone F1]

Your final F1 season saw you struggle for results with AGS and then as a stand-in with Footwork and its much-maligned Porsche engine. How difficult a period was this for you?

Very difficult, I felt burnt out of F1 at this time, you knew before going to a race there was no way in a million years you were going to have even a good result, let alone win so you kind of feel like one of the clowns that make up the show.

Your transition from European circuit-racing to American oval-racing appeared to be quite smooth as on top of a podium on debut in Detroit, you won the “Rookie of the Year” Award in your first IndyCar season. Was it easier than perhaps expected to adapt to this?

I wouldn’t say easier, every car and category of racing requires you to become and expert on that particular car, but it was a very refreshing way to go racing and I really enjoyed the atmosphere in IndyCars, as well as the cars that were a lot of fun to drive.

Johansson never achieved the success in ChampCars that his talent deserved, although he regularly mixed it with the frontrunners Despite being a-year-old at the time, was the Penske PC-22 you raced for Bettenhausen in 1994 the best car you drove in your time in IndyCars?

The best car was the Penske we used that was the same vintage as the Penske works team used, in which we often ran as quick as (or quicker than) the works cars did. Unfortunately the team at the time was quite small and brought in weekend guys to help with pit stops and such, so we almost always got caught out in the pits or other small drop-offs that stopped us from having better results.

Had you made your decision to retire from CART at the end of 1996 prior to the events at the end of the Toronto race that year?

No, and the [Jeff Krosnoff] accident didn’t really have anything to do with it either, I just felt it was time to move on, the team wasn’t going anywhere, there was some inside politics going on with some of the people representing the main sponsor and I was not ready to put up with all that stuff again so I decided it was best to move on and put my focus on something else.

As Scott Dixon’s manager, what were your first impressions of him when you first saw him in action on the track? Did you want to sign him to your Indy Lights team instantly?

Yes, which is exactly what we did, you could tell right away he was one of those that come around about every ten years or so, he had a great attitude and and an amazing speed and natural ability for someone so young.

Johansson is also the manager to IndyCar driver Scott Dixon
Johansson is the manager to Ganassi IndyCar frontrunner Scott Dixon, who he describes as having “amazing speed and natural ability”.  [LAT image]

Team ownership is a rite of passage for many well known racers once they hang up the helmet themselves, however when you decided to start American Spirit Racing in 2002, what was your motivation to joining Champ Car as opposed to the IRL?

Quite frankly, I had no plans or desire to do ChampCar, but I got talked into it by some external investors and ChampCar who was desperate to have more high profile teams in the series.

So I basically got handed a full two-car budget to set up a new team, which we did, unfortunately we went the Reynard route on the chassis after having been promised a performance break by ChampCar that then never materialized. Nevertheless, we still won a race [Ryan Hunter-Reay took a surprise win in the wet at the Indy 300 round in Australia] and had some podiums in our first year so overall we did a very good job in the circumstances.

Johansson_2005_GPMasters (LAT) Johansson, Highcroft Acura; Lonestar Grand Prix, Houston, Texas; April 20-21, 2007
Life after F1 and ChampCars: Following his foray in team management, Johansson continued to dabble in racing late into the 2000s in GrandAm and Le Mans Series racing (pictured above right). He joined the ill-fated Grand Prix Master series (above left) during its short history in 2005-6, achieving a best finish of eighth at the Qatar round. [Original images via AUTOSPORT and LAT]

Have you kept tabs on the IndyCar Series following the merger with Champ Car? With the new regulations coming into effect in 2012 drastically reducing the costs to compete, are there any interests in re-entering the series in a team ownership role?

First of all, I am not convinced the new rules will make a huge impact on the budgets, if you want to win there are very few shortcuts and a cheaper car will not make a lot of difference in the budgets. The high cost items are the R&D and the people you employ. The big teams will find a way to get the most of out of the rules and this will never change.

If you used lawnmowers for the World Championship I can guarantee you the cost would not change much because the engineers would soon find way to figure out what to do to get an edge on their competitors, and the cost is totally relative to how competitive the series is. You can be mediocre and be 5% off, but to win there is almost no limit to what you can spend.

I have no plans on starting a new team again, I am very focused on my watch business now and between that and the management business I have no time left to get into team ownership, it is far too time consuming.

You are widely regarded as a painter and designer, and now run your own business designing watches. How did this business venture come about and can you tell us more about it?

I started quite in the mid to late 80’s already when I was asked to endorse a watch for a Swiss company. I didn’t like the models they had and felt I would be uncomfortable wearing them so I suggested we collaborate on a new design as I always had an interest in design and art in general and had always been drawing and sketching things since quite early on.

An example of a Stefan Johansson Vaxjo watch It didn’t work out with this particular manufacturer but it taught me enough about the process and sparked the interest to carry on so I decided to do it on my own. It’s only the last couple of years I have started to treat it like a proper business whereas before I was just doing some very limited editions every year that I sold to friends and a few collectors.

I am now fully involved and are developing two new models that will come out next year, in addition to the existing line which have about fifteen different versions.

I have also invented a completely new movement, which I am in the process of patenting at the moment. Motorsports fans will love this one as it very related to racing but at the same time incredibly complicated and visually very cool. I am quite excited about this one as it will also put me in the same league as the real manufacturers with my own in house movement.

Who was your favourite team-mate in Formula 1?

Probably Alain Prost for the simple reason I learnt more from him than anything else I had learnt until then, he was simply amazing the way he worked with the car and the team.

What would you say were your best moments of your motorsport career?

Johansson_1987_Detroit (mwphoto.smugmug)
Although he spent much of the 1987 season in Alain Prost’s shadow at McLaren, Johansson rates the four-time World Champion as the best team-mate he’s ever had
[Original image via MW Photo]

There were so many that it’s hard to single out one from the other.

For me it’s always been about being in the moment, so whatever car or track I race on, it’s state of mind I am in while racing that makes it so special, the complete solitude and total focus where absolutely nothing else exist in your mind except how can I find an extra tenth here, feeling the car like it’s an extension of yourself and you are in complete control, the man to man battle with your opponent and how to figure out where he’s strong or weak and then work out the strategy how to beat him. There are so many aspects of racing that makes it such an incredible sport…

So to answer your question, the best moment may not necessarily be a win or whatever, but merely being in the zone and knowing you are doing the absolute best you can with the equipment at your disposal.

What is your favourite racing circuit in the world and why?

Suzuka, it has everything a great race track should have, very technical and it requires a lot of rhythm, if you can string together a perfect lap there it’s a great feeling.

One assumes you still follow Formula 1 today. What is your opinion on the current state of Formula 1?

I follow it very closely, I go to about 4-5 races each year and watch most of them on TV.

I think the current crop of drivers is the best there’s been in a very long time, I would say since the mid 1980’s when we had a very strong group of drivers also.

All the teams are very good these days, and the engineering is simply unbelievable today, it’s very rare for a car to retire today, whereas back in the turbo days it wasn’t unusual for only 6-8 cars finishing a GP.

The racing is very close and the championship this year is maybe the closest we’ve ever seen, so overall I would say F1 is only getter better each year…

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.