Friday's press conference - Belgium
Participating: Ross BRAWN (Honda), Stefano DOMENICALI (Ferrari), John HOWETT (Toyota), Martin WHITMARSH (McLaren Mercedes)
Q. A question for all of you. How far advanced are you with the 2009 regulations and do you think they will provide better racing?
John HOWETT: We think we are doing a good job but until we get to Melbourne and see the relative performance I guess we don't know. That's our sincere position. Racing, I think it should make it perhaps easier to overtake but still there is a degree of scepticism and we have to evaluate it but I don't know. We believe in the work of the overtaking working group but until it is actually proven there is still a question mark. Ross BRAWN: Pretty much what John said.
We are happy with the way things are progressing but until we hit the track we don't know where the reference points are. But we have put everything we can into next year's car and I don't think there is much else we could have done. In terms of racing I do think the overtaking working group did a good job, it is really a question of whether the cars we end up with are the ones they envisaged we'd end up with. If they don't, then maybe we will have to look at some tuning of the regulations in the future.
Martin WHITMARSH: We are never happy where we are of course. I think probably like Stefano alongside we are working still a little bit on this year's car. We'd like to be further advanced with next year's car but that doesn't mean we are in a bad shape. I think as Ross and John have said until you are out there with the others you can't really know. You have got new benchmarks that are going to be set. Ordinarily you know how much progress you have made against your existing car. At the moment none of us know that.
The fear is where the cars are so radically different that you miss something. I imagine that when the cars are launched there will be greater variety than there normally is and then there will be, I suspect, very quick action on the part of some teams to make their cars conform to those they perceive to be quicker. But in regards to the overtaking working group I think it was a very positive initiative. I think a number of the teams working very openly together was the first appliance of science in the generation of regulations and it remains to be seen how successful that has been but we should applaud the process. At the moment it is the best shot we have had at it and it was the first time that we have really seriously approached the subject.
Stefano DOMENICALI: The only thing I can add on that is really that we need to see from the overtaking point of view group, that was the principal of having better racing, how our engineers are working. Normally the experience is that the development of the car during the year is very, very fast, so we will see. For sure what was done was done in the right direction. We need to see how good our engineers will be able to catch the performance of the car within this new framework.
As Martin said, we are still very focussed on this year as the championship is very open and we are trying to dedicate the relevant job that is needed as the project is completely new. If you miss the first race with a good car, then it will be tough to have another one in the short term. That will be the focus for the second half of the season.
Q. Another question to you all. I understand there is still a search for cost cutting measures amongst the teams. Where would you like to see cost cutting taking place?
JH: I think honestly the daily job is cost cutting. It is part of what we do. I have to say that although a lot of the changes that have been introduced have been done sincerely with the effect of reducing costs, the effect normally drives costs upwards. One of the first things we need to establish is a fairly stable regulation with sensible evolution.
The biggest issue we face at the moment is really securing the future, and a sustainable future, for the smaller teams. We have to compromise from a pure engineering point of view to find how we can form a competitive platform on the cars which enables these smaller teams to survive. I think that is one of the purposes of FOTA, to meet and discuss how to respond to Max Mosley's proposal with that sole objective.
RB: I think all the teams work in an efficient way. I don't think the teams waste money but some of the activities we pursue are very expensive. We have to see if there are areas of the car where we are pursuing competitive advantage which is particularly expensive. At the moment aerodynamics are still the cheapest form of performance but we have to pursue all the other areas because we are all doing it. If you take transmissions, for example, at the moment we have all got quick shift transmissions. They are all fairly expensive pieces of kit and they are not really a strong performance differentiator, so there are areas where we could either standardise or commonize the technology and remove them from the equation.
I think teams are looking seriously at those sorts of initiatives. As John mentioned we are all concerned about the survival of the independent teams. If we lose the two or three independent teams involved in Formula One, we are going to look quite sad. I think we have to, for the good of the sport and for the good of Formula One and for us to be involved in Formula One and it has to be a healthy formula, then we need to see if we can introduce initiatives which help the independent teams.
MW: I think as Ross and John said, we can commoditise areas of the car where there is not a significant performance differentiation. I think that would be a sensible thing to do. We have got to be mindful of the small teams. I think what we have to make sure is that we put in place a disciplined process. I think too often in Formula One we tackle theses issues of cost saving in a very shoot from the hip style and often we get it wrong.
I think because of that we are learning now that you have got to spend some time and patience on getting the process right and making sure all the teams understand what the collective goal is and what the process is by which we are likely to achieve it. I think that is something FOTA will be putting a lot of effort into, making sure that we can perhaps have a more cohesive group of teams that we probably have ever had before.
SD: I totally agree with what has been said. For sure the main objective is to make sure that what we do for the future is something that will not have any effects which we did not consider. This is exactly the biggest problem we have faced in Formula One in the last couple of years and I totally agree with what has been said.
Q. John, your thoughts on Timo Glock's future with Toyota.
JH: We have a multi-year contract with him and we are very happy. He is progressing well, he is quick and getting more and more consistent. There is absolutely no hesitation that he will be with us next year and hopefully he will progress further and stay with us for more years. At the moment he has a very secure and bright future with us.
Q. Ross, the Alonso situation with Honda?
RB: Nothing to report.
Q. No further progress?
Q. When would you expect progress?
RB: I think when Fernando decides where he wants to go.
Q. So it is down to him now?
Q. Martin, there was quite a lot of work taking place on Lewis's car this afternoon. Can you tell us what was going on?
MW: Yes, over the break we had changed the brake materials and evidently we had gone the wrong way. Given the fact that the circuit was slippery at that time we felt we had time to change the brake materials at the front which is what we did.
Q. Stefano, two issues from the last race - the engine and pit stops procedure. Can you tell us what was the problem with the engine, we understand it was the same as Felipe's from the last race?
SD: It was the same problem, it was the same con rod I would say because it was the same batch with the sequence of the serial number. Hopefully we have isolated this problem. For sure it has cost a lot of points on our side. Apart from that the problem shows how important the quality control process is, not only inside the company but also with the supplier and the sub-supplier. This is really a key area of joint work and we cannot underestimate the importance of it, so we need to be stronger and stronger in that area. With regards to your second question about the pit stop, was this in respect to Kimi's situation with the mechanic?
Q. In some ways that, though that was Kimi's problem. But also the release of Felipe. Is there anything you are going to change?
SD: I don't think so. To be honest, as I said after the race, in our view we respect the FIA decision but it was not an unsafe release of the car because there was plenty of space. It was a very small entry. You can see in the past much, much worse situations but this is part of the racing. With regards to Kimi's situation, unfortunately these things happen and this is a key point. Any time there is a pit stop it shows how easy both mechanics and drivers can make mistakes because the tension is very high and you are fighting. This is really a very tense moment for everyone.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Thomas Richtr - TV Nova) Stefano, it seems that Felipe and Kimi are fighting each other. Is this no longer good for Ferrari's prospects to challenge Lewis Hamilton at the front. Would you agree?
SD: No, of course not. I think it is better to have two strong cars rather than one. For sure we will have maybe to take a decision as we did for example last year at a certain moment of the season in order to make sure that what you said is not happening. But at the moment I don't think so. If you look at all the races that we have done there was no situation where one of our drivers took points off the other, not at all.
Q. (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Stefano, there have been stories that the Kimi Räikkönen we have seen in the last few months is not the Kimi that we know. He is maybe a little bit asleep and lacks a little bit of motivation. I am sure that is not true but could you comment on Kimi's motivation and speed?
SD: I think that Kimi's motivation is very high because for sure he is the one that doesn't like it at this moment. In terms of motivation I am pretty sure he has a lot inside and what we are doing as a team is to support him and trying to work very hard with him. I am looking forward to seeing once again what all of us are expecting.
Q. (Spyros Pettas - Auto Motor und Sport Greece) Stefano, now we have entered the crucial phase of the championship and expect wet races. Do you plan testing with the track artificially wet like you used to do in the past?
SD: No, we haven't. As you know with the new situation of testing, we go in the same place for testing, so at the moment, it is not a plan to do that.
Q. (Mike Doodson) To all four. We have had a number of incidents with pit stops. Given that pit stops tend to distort the results somewhat, do you think the time has come to discontinue pit stops so we can concentrate on the racing?
SD: For sure it is a sensitive point but as I said before on the technical matter we don't have to overreact after a certain number of situations. At the moment I think the pit stop situation, with fuel and tyres, is really part of racing and it is difficult to think in this condition that we have to take it out. In a way it is more team work because strategy, the work of the mechanics and engineers is part of our job in that respect. If you take that away, maybe you are going back to a situation where really in a way that effect is not part of the race anymore.
I understand that you can have different opinions on that as this is part of the normal discussion but I would say at this stage it would for sure be a point of discussion for the future but I don't think it is right to take it out. Up to the moment we are definitely sure there will be better racing on the track. It is better to keep a moment where really you see from the audience that it is a key moment of the race.
MW: I agree with Stefano there. I think we should wait until we see what happens next year. Obviously we have refuelling and stopping next year because cars are already being designed around the regulations. We should see how successful the OWG regulations are. I guess there is a point that if it was very easy to overtake during the race you would quickly put the cars in order, with the quickest at the front, and then they would just spread out over the track. If it was very easy to overtake there is actually an argument to have a pit stop and the strategy and how that would influence perhaps slightly more exciting races.
I think in reality we should see what happens next year. We are going into quite a new world of regulations and if at some point we can see there will be a better show, clearly or arguably a safer show, because if you go out with a full car you have got a very heavy car. On the other hand I accept that pit stops themselves can be inherently dangerous for the points we have just been discussing. We will have them as part of the show next year and we should then decide during the course of the year whether we can change the regulations in the future.
RB: I think it's a pretty exciting part of the event for the spectators, for viewers and for the team. It's a part of the race that all the team get involved in, most of the team. None of our team... they're all volunteers effectively, what they do, it's exciting for them, they enjoy it. There is a small risk involved but I don't think that the injuries that have occurred so far are terribly serious. I just think a race could easily be very boring without the pit stops.
The scenarios that evolve around safety cars, because of the pit stops; the scenarios that evolve around qualifying - what weight do you qualify with? All those sort of things, if they disappeared, I think there is a strong chance that we would find the racing even more tedious than some of the races we have now. Valencia was a pretty boring race, but some of the events that happened which we have spoken about today wouldn't have occurred without pit stops. I think it's quite an entertaining part of the sport and before we take it away we shouldn't be looking back with rose-tinted spectacles, thinking it was all so wonderful a few years ago because it wasn't.
JH: I think it's all been said. My own personal preference would be to keep them. I think it's a team sport, it's good to involve and motivate our people. It's good for Bridgestone because we have to change the tyres, it gives a spectacle for them to discuss the different compounds and a platform for them to re-imburse them for their revenue and we can't change for next year because the tank size is fixed and probably the tyres won't do the distance, they haven't been designed for it. So it's something if we have a challenge to improve the spectacle next year to seriously consider but my own personal preference would be let's keep it, it's great.
Q. (James Allen - ITV) Obviously, when you look at the share prices of the big car companies that are involved in Formula One at the moment and the state of the market, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the main boards must be very keen to reduce costs as much as you within the sport and the political figures within the sport want to reduce them as well. But what's the reality? Have the main boards of the car companies that you're involved in, have they made any requests to you to put some real pressure on you to get costs down?
MW: Well, I'm sure it's different for every team but it is clearly a reality that in this current economic climate everyone's got to be mindful of costs. I think there are clear requests and pressures to see how we can reduce the costs but at the same time I think that most of the automotive manufacturers in Formula One today are very committed to winning, so there are those natural tensions that exist.
Fortunately - and I think it's good for the sport at the moment - there is a group of very committed automotive companies that have a range of global issues but I think all of them, from what I can see, have absolute commitment to being successful in Formula One and to some extent it is that that of course has created the evolutionary spiral within our sport. Now we've got to try and manage it. As we said earlier, I think we've covered it... Ross is particularly involved in the process with the technical regulation working group and I think the teams are capable of working together and finding some solutions which frankly help the small teams and will be beneficial for the health and well-being of our sport.
RB: I think all the automotive manufacturers are in it to win and so that's the main reason for being involved. I think all of them would like to win for the minimum cost, so they are keen on any initiatives which can reduce the cost base but they are here to try and win, so that's the priority. But we're all subject to the commercial pressures of the world. It's a tough time out there at the moment. I think all the companies involved in Formula One are being asked to be particularly prudent at this stage. I think if we can introduce initiatives, where we can remove some of the technology which is not differentiating the teams, then Honda would be supportive of that.
JH: Toyota is a very lean company, so I would say every year we get pressure because it's the culture of our organisation that fundamentally we have to take cost out and I wouldn't say that we have unnecessarily more pressure now. But clearly I think that if you look at industry generally, the product that you hold in your hands, you have twice the power at the same price or less price. So we shouldn't be frightened about it, we can use it as an opportunity to really improve our organisations and I think improve our competitiveness. Yes, we've got pressure, I don't think unduly more than normal and we're making good progress.
SD: It's the same also in our situation. For sure, if you're expecting that in 2009 you are saving fifty percent of the budget, no way that you can achieve it. There are two points of consideration, I think. First of all you need to be sensible in the target that you want to achieve because for sure, considering manufacturing-dependent teams, a small team, that is really the most difficult thing to do.
And the second point is really to be sensible in the time frame that you want to achieve this cost-saving because you really cannot do it, pragmatically, in a very, very short term because this is not possible. In terms of our organisation, for sure, if you want to go in that direction, we need to consider the fact that we have a big group of people that are working, so this is a cost, it's not only a cost, it's really the know-how of our company, so before we throw that away, we need to make sure that the future of Formula One is taking care of all these elements together, otherwise we will miss the major point, at least for Ferrari, to stay in Formula One.
Q. (Francesc Roses - TV Cataluna) Stefano, Ferrari has said several times that you have a contract with Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa for next season but in the case that one of these drivers decides at the last moment that he will leave Formula One, will you be interested in taking a driver like Fernando Alonso?
SD: For sure, but this is something that with an if you cannot build the world, the other thing that I can say is that Ferrari has always respected contracts and we are very happy with the couple of drivers that we have, so that's the real situation as I have always said.
Q. (Thomas Richtr - TV Nova) Martin, we already have two drivers who have publically admitted that they don't enjoy Formula One except for pure driving. One wonders if it wouldn't be better for them to go and race somewhere out of public sight?
MW: I don't know why I've got this question but the reality is that most drivers are in Formula One because they love driving racing cars and I think if you ask any of the drivers in Formula One what they would rather do - go out on a race track in a racing car or attend a sponsors event - I would hope they would say they would rather go out on a race track. So I think that's true for all of our drivers. Inevitably they are a whole range of different personalities: some are more gregarious than others, some perhaps enjoy some of the more social and promotional side of the business than others but I think all of the drivers would prefer being on a race track than attending sponsor events.
Q. (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) This is for all four of you: are you completely confident that one or more of your competitors is not in any way gaining engine horsepower by bending the engine freeze rules?
SD: The only thing I can say is that we trust the fact that the FIA, as you know, has a sample of the engine that they can check every time they want, so in that respect there is this kind of comparison that you can do every time. That's the situation. Even if the nature of this sport is to try to work on the area that you can work on and implement, that's part of the things that everyone is doing, but that's part of what we can do. More than that, honestly, I don't think so because it would be very detrimental for the team if they are doing something or cheating in this area because it would be a disaster for anyone who did that. So I'm positive on that.
MW: The engines are homologated as you know. There is some scope where there are reliability and costs factors but that's in a very public way. I don't sense within the sport at the moment a lot of concern about this issue. Inevitably, when you have some stability in this area, there is speculation as to who has got the best engine and who's got the worst engine and therefore some people can grow concerned about that. I think there was a period in which the engine manufacturers were allowed to tune their engines legitimately and I think some of the manufacturers applied more effort in that final very legitimate development phase than others, but that's just speculation. I'm sure there is a spread across the engines.
I don't think that it's huge and significant but as to the process, then I believe at the moment, by comparison to the various suspicions and concerns that we've had in the sport in the past, I think we're in a fairly healthy situation, and those areas where the engine manufacturer has, legitimately, within the homologated engine phase, asked for a cost-down or reliability reasons, then the FIA has circulated that to the other manufacturers. If they were not comfortable, they were at liberty to challenge it at that time.
Q. And there haven't been challenges?
MW: I don't think there has. I think everyone appreciates that increasingly there is pressure and it's in the interests of our sport potentially to consider more than two race engines, and therefore if the engine manufacturers can look at where they have cracks and failures now and perhaps engineer those out, making the engines more robust, then it will potentially ease the way. If the sport chooses to go to more than two races with each engine, then that would be a healthy thing.
RB: I think the process which is in place is pretty robust. I don't suspect there has been too much going on. There is still an open point on 'do you want to fix a reliability problem because you've changed something else?' Let's say you run a different fuel and you start to have piston problems, do you apply for a piston modification? What's the situation? That's a little bit grey but I think the FIA are aware of that and the teams are aware of that and they try to seek further clarification if they feel a modification might be linked to a performance gain from another area. Whilst we froze the engines, we didn't freeze the oil, we didn't freeze the fuel, we didn't freeze a lot of the other peripherals around the engine.
But I think the process is pretty robust, I don't think there's any bending going on. I think it's a competitive environment and we're in it because we're competitive individuals. The only thing that's a little bit difficult - as Martin touched on, a lot of it may be speculation - is that we freeze a design or we homologate a design or we standardise a design, it's because we see perhaps there's very little performance differential between the teams and we can afford to freeze it. It would be unfair to freeze something where you then build in a performance advantage for the teams that may have an advantage for the period that it's frozen and I think that's where this speculation has started from because some teams perceive that other teams have more power and there's nothing that we can do about it.
And of course it's all speculation, but that's the nature of what we're involved in. It could be good for there to be considered a way of confirming the situation, so that we can put that all to one side and get on with the rest of the things but I think that when the engines were frozen, at that stage there was a perception that everyone was at a pretty similar level. I didn't hear any disquiet when that process was suggested. There is some disquiet now, as you know, so either things changed between when it was decided to freeze them and they were actually frozen, or people are just uncomfortable now because they are not competitive enough.
I think it's always delicate if you freeze something where there's a potential to be performance differences between the teams. And we've really moved the engine out of the equation now, there's no development going on with the engine. It's a bracket between the chassis and the gearbox now. We can't do anything with it. But of course if one team does have an advantage there's nothing you can do about it.
It's possibly just a concern for further technical restrictions in the future because the more we restrict the chassis, those teams that feel that they may be disadvantaged in the engine department will be more reluctant to make changes to other areas of the car, which would then give them less scope to redress the balance. If we had completely standard cars, different engines, then the engine would be the only variable. So we've got to make sure we leave enough left in the car that we don't just form up a grid based on the engine performance.
JH: I will try to be quick: in fairness I would say we have raised some concerns, I wouldn't say we've challenged it and we feel they have been handled very professionally by the FIA, so we don't have concern. And two other aspects is most of the engine power evolution that's been coming over the last five or six years is by extending engine rpm, so from a mechanical perspective, now with frozen rpm, it's extremely hard to believe the figures that one hears quoted for the evolution, purely from mechanical changes with a frozen engine rpm.
And secondly, I think one has to respect the fact that an engine is a total package, so yes, if you get more power, you have more heat rejection, you probably need more fuel to drag around, so the engine now is somewhere an integral part of many other factors. So I believe within the frozen environment, even if people are changing in a minor way, I don't honestly believe the figures and the impact that's been quoted are in fact correct.
Friday's press conference - Belgium
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