Participating: Nick Fry (Honda), Norbert Haug (McLaren Mercedes), Sam Michael (Williams), Pat Symonds (Renault).
Q. A quick GPMA question, principally to Nick and Norbert and then to Pat afterwards: the fact that the GPMA has entered the 2008 World Championship, does that mean that any thoughts of a rival series are now dead?
Norbert Haug: We have been trying to bring things together for a while, as everybody knows. I think we are in a good way, but that does not necessarily mean that everything is sorted out, but we have a very constructive basis in the meantime and it's progressing in the right direction. But having said that, not everything has been sorted out so far but I think there are really very good prospects of getting it sorted.
Q. So what is the role now of the GPMA, Nick?
Nick Fry: I think it's got an on-going role, regardless of whether everything's sorted out. I think the big car companies are obviously spending large amounts of money on Formula One and I think the dialogue between them has been a) better than it's ever been, and b) allows them, if you like, to get their act together before talking to the FIA or other outside bodies. So I would see an on-going role for that type of group. Whether it would be called GPMA or whatever is neither here nor there, because I think it's a constructive thing to do.
Q. Pat, your feelings?
Pat Symonds: Well, I think we should look at all the positive things that have come out of the GPMA: for example, we know the funded aerodynamic research, the fact that the teams are communicating, talking about common issues; so many positive things about the GPMA.
As you say, the teams are now signing up for 2008 and a lot of good things have come from that. I think we should focus not on 'has the threat of a second series gone away?' or things like that. I think we should focus on the very many positive things that have happened in the last year or two as a result of the formation of the GPMA.
Q. Nick and Norbert again, what do you feel about these engine regulations that have been suggested and the freeze on development?
NH: Well, first of all I have a big problem with the expression freeze. Freeze is something for the fridge but not for Formula One and that's why I don't think we should use a word like freeze. We are very interested in saving costs, as everybody knows. I think the manufacturers again had a very constructive discussion in that direction, together with Renault, Honda, all the guys who are here.
And if you compare that to five years ago, say, I think we are really on a very good path. It's constructive, respectful but it doesn't necessarily mean that all the problems are solved, but at least it is respectful and we listen to each other. I think the combination of the discussion and of the various manufacturers leads us in the right direction. I think that if we could cut the costs in half that would be perfect, as a first step. Maybe that is feasible.
From Mercedes' side we are very open on new regulations that help to make that happen but we absolutely have to make sure that we achieve these goals. It's not a long time ago that we tried to achieve these goals with the V8s and I think it's fair to say that at the beginning we have costs and at the end there might be a possibility to save ten percent or whatever but we need bigger steps, that is for sure.
That's why it needs to be carefully thought through and we are in the process of doing so and I think there are constructive discussions in place.
NF: Much the same as Norbert. I think the saving of money is something we would completely support. The car manufacturers are saving enormous amounts on changing the engines year after year, so to reduce that is clearly something we would want. I think the question is the way that you go about it, and we're not at all convinced that a freeze is a good idea.
As you probably know, that was tried in North America in oval racing and kind of almost directly led to one manufacturer pulling out and then the other one did so shortly or a couple of years later. So I don't think there's any good evidence that that's a good thing for racing. I think that what we've got to do over the next couple of months is sit down as a group and work out the best way to save money.
I think the meeting that took place at Ferrari last week was a first step, but no doubt between now and June there will be more of those meetings.
PS: Well, I think Renault's attitude is that we are very very firmly committed to cost-cutting. If you look at an average budget for a Formula One team in round numbers, 50 percent is going on the engine, 50 percent is going on everything else: the chassis, running the team etc etc.
So, as Norbert said, if we can cut 50 percent out of the engine budget, 25 percent out of the overall budget then yes, that is the sort of thing we should do. The FIA 2008 regulations, as published, are quite draconian on homologation of engines, but of course by entering the 2008 championship, as we all have done now, we inherit the right to discuss these regulations and Max (Mosley, president of the FIA) has been very open about it.
The first of those discussions did take place at Maranello last week, with only a few teams there because it was a very early stage of discussion, but there was a reasonable amount of agreement. I think that far from it being the final solution or anything, I think that the idea of homologation is reasonable, but it should not be... to use the expression that you used, it should not be 'freezing' an engine, that's totally wrong. We would need to allow some scope for development, we would need to bear in mind that Formula One is a spectacle, it's entertainment, it's a sport and an element of it, unlike many other sports, is the technical element.
We need to maintain that technical element and I think engines revving at 19,000 rpm or whatever is part of that spectacle, I think, and it's part of what both the casual and the dedicated spectator likes to see. So we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, we need to think carefully about what we do. We've got to try and get this - round numbers - fifty percent cut in our engine budgets but still provide a good entertainment for all those people who want to come and watch us.
Sam Michael: As Pat said, Cosworth were involved in those discussions as well and we're quite happy that they are representing our interests properly in it. There's going to be discussion, debate and I'm sure they will come up with a good solution. There's no one inside Formula One who doesn't want to do that.
Q. Sam, you must be quite encouraged by your season so far this year in some ways.
SM: We're encouraged that we probably exceeded expectations of our performance for the first couple of races but so far we've obviously had a sixth and seventh place in Bahrain and a double DNF in Malaysia, so if you look at the results card, it's nothing that's going to excite us.
But I think there have been very good signs on both fronts. We obviously had first and fourth fastest lap in Bahrain, we were quite confident of the cars' race pace from practice in Malaysia and the DNFs that we had obviously put a stop to us showing what we could have done on Sunday, but I'm quite sure that we can do a good job here in Melbourne as well.
Q. Have there been reasonably quick fixes to those problems in Malaysia?
SM: There has. Obviously the engine problem that we had on Nico's car, Cosworth already had a fix in place coming for Melbourne, because obviously you couldn't otherwise respond that quickly. We've tested that solution on the dyno so they are happy with that, and the fault that we had on Mark's car was a hydraulic line that failed which was probably worth about a hundred quid, so it was one of those ones that had done 17,000 kilometers of winter testing, but decided to give up the ghost then, so that was quite an easy thing to fix. We tested a solution to that at Valencia last week.
Q. Over the last couple of years, you've started off with a car that hasn't performed that well. Presumably this year's is better.
SM: It is. The thing that's encouraging for us is that we expected it to be difficult to start off with. We've got one new driver who has turned out to be pretty good, we've got a new tyre partner and a new engine partner as well so when you have all those changes, you're bound not to have things optimised to start with and given that the car doesn't look too bad to start with, we're quite encouraged that we can develop it hard. One of the things that we've always managed to do at Williams is develop very strongly throughout the year and we don't see this year as any different.
Q. What's Mark's reaction been to the arrival of Nico within the team?
SM: The effect on Mark has been... I think it's been very positive for both of them. Mark's a very mature guy, very talented and fast and they are using both their experiences together. They get on very well as teammates, considering they've only known each other for a few months and he's good, no problem.
Q. Is the Ferrari wing affair dead and buried now as far as you're concerned?
SM: It wasn't something that we got involved in anyway. These sort of things come up quite regularly. At least two or three times throughout the season something like that happens but we also have complete faith that Charlie (Whiting) will ultimately make the right decision. Every situation is different; that's why you have somebody like Charlie there because you need to have an interpretation of the rules and we're 100 percent happy with whatever interpretation Charlie gives.
Q. Nick, quick question for you about qualifying; do you feel it still needs to be tweaked a little, one or two small modifications?
NF: I think we're quite happy with it as it is at the moment. I think that after just two races where I think that it's shown to be extremely exciting it's a bit too soon to talk about changing it, so I would leave as it is for the moment. I know that some people have suggested that the first part of the third section is a bit dull with just running down fuel but I think there's probably so much excitement in the second part that having ten minutes with maybe slightly less action before building up to a crescendo at the end is quite nice, so I think we should leave it and see, that would be my recommendation.
Q. And do you feel that you've got to the bottom of Rubens's problems in the last couple of races?
NF: There's a couple of things on the car which are very different from the car he drove before. I wouldn't expect it to change overnight. We did some testing at Vallelunga last week, where we made some changes to the traction control system which works in a very different way.
They're not the final solution, as it were. We've made some mods which will help but we've got more work to do and I would expect Rubens's performance to improve race by race as he gets more used to the team, but I think the thing that is a huge benefit is that these are genuine improvements to the car so if it helps Rubens, it will help both Jenson and Anthony as well, so I see it as win-win situation here.
Q. Pat, leading the championship in these early days, but this time last year you had a similar lead - actually one point more - over everybody else. This was when you really built up points; is that happening again this year?
PS: Well, I think that this year is going to be a lot tougher than last year. Last year turned into a fairly straightforward fight between ourselves and McLaren. This year, that fight is still there. Honda have joined in, Ferrari have joined in and Williams have joined in, so it's going to be a hard year. We've had a great start, of course we have and we're massively encouraged by it. We've got a great car, it seems to have all the good attributes of last year's car and more, but I don't think it's going to be easy. I didn't find last year easy. I don't think this year's going to be easy either.
Q. Do you feel qualifying needs to be tweaked at all?
PS: Yeah. I'm not in total agreement with Nick. I actually had the chance to watch the Malaysian qualifying when I went back to the UK after the race and I didn't find it terribly impressive. You know, on the pit wall you really get very little impression, it's a very very busy period for us and you're not able to take an objective view of it.
So it's quite nice to go home and watch it on television with a bit of commentary etc and I did find the first bit of Q3 rather dull: cars that were very obviously not being driven on the limit, and I don't think that it really serves much purpose. I was all in favour of the changes and trying new things, but equally, I think we've got to look at what we've done and just tweak it slightly. It's good but it can be improved.
Q. Norbert, your feelings on qualifying?
NH: Very much the same. I think we need to stick with what we have in terms of refuelling, because otherwise... everybody keeps telling me why are we not running without fuel but if you run without fuel, put it on pole and then you go for a one stop strategy, you will certainly not have an entertaining race, so I think it is vital the refuelling issue stays as it is.
The problem that we currently have is that, here we get 2.9 kilos per lap and you tend to consume 2.2 or whatever because that helps you probably to go the lap longer in the race and I think to convey that to the public is quite a difficult issue. Having said that, if we take some time, I think changing tomorrow would not be the right thing. I'm very convinced that we're going to have great performances in Monaco and so on. Certainly at the first qualifying, everybody was very much in favour of it, but I think that was due to the earlier accident.
I was not pleased with the first qualifying at all, obviously, but that added a certainly thrill, obviously. I think we will see dramas, but as Pat pointed out, the start of Q3 is not really what you're expecting. Having said that, I think you can find at least two or three highlights over the course of the session which is quite good. It probably needs to be slightly modified but I'm afraid we need to stay with the refuelling or with the ban on refuelling, however you call it and that can probably be achieved in a different way, but so far it is certainly - and this is the most important thing - a good step from what we saw last year.
Q. In terms of McLaren Mercedes, you've had fantastic reliability, you're the only team not to have had an engine failure so far this year, but have we seen the true speed of McLaren Mercedes so far this year?
NH: I think we saw good speed in Bahrain really, Kimi coming from 22nd and finishing third. I think that was well-deserved, that was good speed. If you compare us to the fastest race laps, I think that was good. You are certainly slightly handicapped if you are on a one stop compared to the best lap times. Kimi was out on the first lap due to an accident in the second race.
I think he was in a position to go for a podium finish. It certainly would have been very very difficult to beat the Renaults, they have the edge. I think Honda has made a good step (forward) and we are quite close together, but I expected quite a difficult start for us and I have to say that since our first test on January 23rd I think we made good steps and I hope we continue in that direction. And there is more to come, but as Pat pointed out, I think you have named the GPMA teams, Ferrari as the sixth one - not in that order - but Williams are absolutely fully there, as we saw. This is the seventh team.
Speedwise, I saw some very impressive laps from Red Bull already. They probably didn't have the best winter testing but still they finished the first race, I think, and speedwise they were there, so eight teams. When did we ever have a Formula One season where eight teams... Renault has the edge but this hopefully can change, but there is a great potential there of 16 cars at least.
I think that's high class and I think that has a lot to do with all the efforts of the teams, of the manufacturer teams, of the newcomers, of the Red Bulls, but it is a set-up like we have never had before, as long as I remember, which is good for the sport and good for the spectators.
Questions From The Floor
Q. We are hearing a lot of conciliatory noises about how it is all going to be sorted out before June, but if you look at it from a philosophical point of view, you have the FIA who are trying to slash costs and Honda who believe in open development and pushing to the limit of that. Surely we are looking at something that is impossible to please everybody?
NF: As we were named in your question I think ill start. I think there is a reasonable compromise to be found. We do, as you know, believe in a more liberal approach on development because it is very much an engineering project for Honda. Its developing the engineers and the technology that feeds into the road cars and that is important, but at the end of the day we don't want to end up competing with ourselves.
So, I think there is some common ground that can be found and that is all around what I call useable technology that can be used in a road car environment or in other fields. So I think what we've got to do between us is to sort out the wheat from the chaff - for example, some of the material development is very applicable and some of it is less so. And we are quite happy to be part of that process.
SM: I think that there will be a solution, I mean most of the things go to the Technical Working Group which is where a lot these things will go now, we find a solution because we have to -- I think when you get 11 technical people in a room with Charlie you'll come up with a good solution that is sensible for everyone. |It wont be favourable for everyone, but it'll be a good solution.
NH: Yes, we are very much the same. I think it is a step in the right direction that we have a majority rule right now so we can at least get things moved and you know we need to agree on what the majority says at the end of the day. We already did that with the v8 we were very much in favour of a restricted v10 as everybody knows, but three or five manufacturers were very much for the V8 and that is what we have right now.
I think the baseline is good. Not everything is sorted out, but at least the direction is better than we had a couple of years ago and I think due to the efforts of the teams, GPMA, Bernie, the FIA, I have to say that max is sometimes criticised for wanting to put his ideas through, but I honestly believe the background really is cost-saving and making the sport more interesting, but my view is that we should sit together which is what we are doing and, you know, competent opinions brought together in a respectful way normally lead in the right direction and I think that there is a better atmosphere than there has been before which does not necessarily mean that we are under the control of everything, but the basis is a very good one.
PS: Well, we spoke earlier about the new spirit of cooperation amongst the teams and I think that if you couple that with some of the constitutional changes in how voting will take place in 2008, we are effectively removing the single veto on change and I think that there is every likelihood that things will come together and I think that Joe is right that you are not going to please all of the people all of the time.
But I think that in general I think the teams are reasonably alike in where they want to go I think all of us want to save money and even those teams that are better financed don't want to waste money so I think that given the time we have got to develop the regulations for 2008, I think we will come up with some pretty sensible solutions.
Q. Nick, you were talking about things that were applicable to road cars, (but), specifically, are you talking about hybrid systems that use different kinds of energy? Because if you have all the same engines, how are we going to see overtaking, particularly if you have standard tyres and standard aerodynamics and standard this and that?
NF: On hybrid, for example, I think Formula One has to move with the times and it has to be applicable to road cars and I think as road cars move ever more environmentally friendly and efficient I think Formula One needs to move in the same direction and that is something that needs to be done gradually because the cost of that kind of technology is enormous. Honda are quite adept at hybrid technology so we might be at quite an advantageous position, but I don't think we'd advocate doing it quickly because the costs are so enormous, but I can certainly see an environment in five years time where that type of technology is employed on Formula One cars.
PS: Yes, I think I'd go along with that and I think that while we are closing down many areas of research in Formula One I think it is good to have applicable research. Hybrid technology is very, very interesting and since Max first proposed it we have spent a fair bit of time looking closely at it and the more I look at it, the more interested I am in it. If you look at the motor industry 50 years down the line, hybrid technology will probably be reasonably commonplace, but it won't actually be the fundamental energy-saving - there will be lots of other things.
We probably won't be using fossil fuel engines etcetera. But nevertheless hybrid technology will form part of whatever automotive power is used so it is an interesting thing to do. It's quite a fascinating subject when you consider how it might be used strategically in a race and probably answer some of the questions about how we are going to overtake and things like that. It is very interesting and as an engineer I love it, of course. But as trying to look after the business interests, yeah, it is going to be expensive.
But I think that if it were totally uncontrolled, it would be ridiculously expensive and we would be trying to reinvent the wheel, but I think that with a little bit of control on it - Max has, for example, said that maybe they will supply the super capacitor packs and things like that and we will work on developing things like motors, motor generators etcetera, maybe there is some interesting stuff there. But I do think we have to get our house in order first and deal with the fundamentals and we have to walk before we can run.
NH: I think that generally speaking we would support everything that makes the sport more interesting and obviously if you can draw a connection line between serious products and motor racing, if that is possible fine but what we need to be careful of is that if we start to save money on the engine side that we don't spend it or part of it again for the sake of hybrid, but basically I am open and I mean my favourite hybrid would have been to limit a v10 to whatever, say 750 horsepower and give it an overtake button for another 150 horsepower and I think that would have contributed.
This is not just thinking about the past, it might be an idea for the next engine formula but it is a kind of hybrid as well and not at all an expensive one. Basically we are open but first sport, then show and entertainment and then comes whatever helps to make that happen in a better way and I think that is the right order.
SM: I think I have similar thoughts to Pat. It does need a lot of work and is not something that is going to happen immediately for 2008 or 2009 and I think there is still a lot of groundwork to cover and in particular the sort of details on whether you can use a static capacitor or not because you can spend anywhere from say 50 grand to probably five million pounds on a capacitor system and you don't want a race between who can spend the most on capacitors and that is what is happening in the road car industry at the moment.
Max is sensible enough to know that and he knows all those details already and that sort of thing will be sorted out early on and it is not a short-term project.
Q. Most of us have seen the era of the four wheel development Lotus, the six wheel Tyrrell, the Brabham and you all know it better than I know, so I would like to ask each one of you what would be your personal favourite as a racing car - how many litres, how many cylinders, tyres - grooved or slicks?, four-wheel drive or whatever, regardless of Charlie or Bernie and so on.. Just what you personally would like...
PS: My answer is all of the above.
NF: I think that so long as whatever it is brings out the driver's skill and that things sound fast, look fast and there is overtaking and it is entertaining and it is great fun and I don't think it matters on the technical details. I don't think we have to worry too much about the technical details but think about what is entertaining to start with and work backwards from there. I think a surfeit of power over grip tends to help.
SM: As an engineer, I would like to see active suspension come back to Formula One. I think that when it was banned ten years ago things were very much in their infancy whereas now a hydraulic pump on a car with 'move' valves is pretty trivial technology. Everyone is doing it and it is not very expensive.
I think it would also add a lot to the show, more for an engineer than anyone else, and I can remember the cars, 10 or 12 years ago, when you could see the cars going through all the calibration checks by themselves in the garages and it is pretty impressive to people who are watching Formula One to think that a car can do that. And I think the rest of the things are really there for the sport. On the subject of a single tyre supply, I think that it will be good for Formula One.
Some of the best racing we had, in 1999 and 2000, was when there was a single tyre supplier and I don't think it negates on overtaking at all. I don't think it contributes on helping overtaking, but it definitely doesn't make it worse. So I think there are a few things like that that will make it better for 2008.
NH: well I think we are not too far off. I think slicks and some aerodynamic changes are feasible for the future. I think the aerodynamic changes to help with overtaking are in the pipeline as well. I would prefer a bigger engine with more torque and I think that drivers' skills is an issue in that context.
A 2.4 litre is not ideal in that sector so maybe in the future there is a little bit more cubic inches and torque. But I have to say we have fantastic racing cars and you follow Formula One longer than I do but when I look at the sophistication of the cars, how they look, I think it is an ideal formula if you cut off the engine costs it will be a big step. And we are not far off as I pointed out.
NF: Maybe we could all choose a car from the Whacky Races cartoon and so long as we can have Penelope Pitstop then we'll be happy.
Q. To all of you, is there any way we can make this Friday session more attractive, enticing, sexy so we don't fall asleep?
NH: That's the jet lag.
Q. Friday racing, or this press conference?
PS: I think that what is happening now on Fridays is an inevitability of the rules and I agree to you that were it not for the third cars the P1 session would be dire. You asked what can make the Friday session better...
Well, I think we should think a little more laterally than that and ask ourselves if we need a Friday session. I personally am more in favour of having a two-day Grand Prix event and maybe we use Friday for testing. All of these things have been talked about. But I think that while we are limited on tyres and limited on the number of kilometres we want to run our engines then the inevitability is that we cut out the least productive part of running and that is Friday, particularly Friday morning.
It is an inevitability and we need to look at why it occurred and is there a better solution than just trying to fix it. I think that all too often in Formula One there is too much heritage and tradition... You know the idea that we have to have three days of running. You know it took us ages to realise that we didn't need two qualifying sessions - things like this. We should be far more lateral thinking than we are.
NF: It is quite interesting Nicky that you know about a year ago when the GPMA, or whatever its predecessor was called, the teams started to work together, one of the early things we looked at was just doing something different on Friday and it comes to what Pat said that from a racing point of view, Friday is unnecessary and one of the ideas for Friday is to make it more of a promotional, sponsors and fun day and do different things at the circuit.
The teams would be there, but it would something much more outward facing giving members of the public and fans more access to the teams. But not necessarily practicing in the way we do at the moment and that is something we should consider. I think we are all in favour of racing more and testing less and doing things that have got wider appeal than what we do at the moment.
NH: Much the same for me I think Friday could be a test day, not a six-hours test day, but a warm-up day or whatever and a promotion day. In the afternoon, you can give the possibility to young people to enter the race track for low costs, for promotion or whatever, because these are the guys we have got to interest for the future of the sport.
I think there are some good ideas in place. We do not need a three-day event. If we could use a different engine and tyres on Friday, you could certainly learn something for the weekend it could certainly be an entertaining day.
SM: Yes, the key to it is to make it a test day because you wont get the teams to do the mileage on their race cars because they are saving them for qualifying and race. Everyone has a certain amount of mileage they have to stick to so the only way to do it is to say it is a free test day - just two two-hour sessions or something like that - where you can run a test engine and put your race engine back in on Friday night if it is from the race before and combine it with other things as well.