Friday's Press Conference - Belgium
Participating: John Howett (Toyota), Flavio Briatore (Renault), Norbert Haug (Mercedes)
Q. What are your views on the draft proposals for new regulations. John?
John Howett: I think the first point is that if you read the draft regulation the FIA has moved a long way from almost an exclusion of technology to actually meet quite a lot of the suggestions put forward by the manufacturers and teams, so there was a positive sign of movement in that direction. I feel quite a large number of areas, particularly aerodynamics, where both sides agreed the general direction to reduce downforce and increase mechanical grip and improve overtaking, but still I don think either the FIA or the teams have the ideal all-perfect solution. And then finally, on the implementation of technology, which allows manufacturers to demonstrate technology, I think everyone though it was a positive move but the manufacturers asked for more time to study the implications and how, in the end, they can support independent teams with this technology, regardless of the direction.
Q. But generally speaking you feel it is moving in the right direction?
JH: I think there is still a long way to go but from a regulation that was excluding a lot of technology and capability there has been a significant movement from that position towards the position of the nine-plus-five. so the trend is very positive.
Q. Flavio, what are your opinions?
Flavio Briatore: I agree with John. I still believe that whatever the federation wants to do for 2008, reducing costs and increasing spectacle, we agree at Renault, because what we are doing is decreasing our cost and everybody together. The federation is moving in our direction as well and together we make this effort. Regarding aerodynamics, in the last ten years we have tried to make a car for overtaking and have never succeeded in that. This process is not easy, but we need to arrive at this point, between us and the federation, and I believe the final result will be like that. So we are moving the right way.
Norbert Haug: I can support what the colleagues have said, but I think we have to keep in mind where the whole discussion all started. This is not a technical discussion in the first place, it is a discussion what can we do for the spectator, and I think that is a big change in the last couple of years. Formula One is, and was, and still is very much technical but at the end of the day we need to communicate to the customer and for us the most important customer is firstly on the racetrack and then on the television. Of course, they like to see overtaking so we should investigate how we can encourage overtaking. Currently, you saw it at the last race in Monza, it is virtually impossible to get close to the car, even if you have a faster car, you are three seconds quicker, you just will not make it through a fast corner because 10m or 15m behind you get understeer and cannot cope with it. Having said that, it is no criticism. It is not easy to achieve that but we have to find solutions for that and they have to be the right solutions. It was not for a lack of trying in the past. We wanted to achieve that, all of us, but we just couldn't manage it. That is an important issue. Hybrid comes in place, the only reason for that is to save some energy, to store some energy then have the energy in place when it comes to overtaking. We can discuss further issues, like the overtake button, like what we are doing currently with higher revs, this is very similar. You probably already go to 300 or 400 revs higher and if you could find a solution to get 1000 revs higher that probably that might help with overtaking. It is very difficult if you already rev 20,000 with a new V8, to go to 21,000, you can try it but probably only one time and that is why i think we have to bring all these things together. But the positive thing is there is an overwhelming impression in all these discussions that the spectator is in the middle of it and that is fine for us and I think fine for the other manufacturers and that is what we are working on.
Q. One other thing that has come up recently, slightly allied with these new rules, is the prospect of B-teams. What are your feelings about those, one or two of you are slightly involved in one way or another, it is rumoured that McLaren could have a B-team, I don't know what you would say about that, also Toyota already supply engines to another team. What are the feelings about B-teams?
NH: We currently have no decisions, not at all. It is true, there was an idea in place to form a Team Dubai. The team was asked, there were negotiations and there was a proposal in place. Currently we have different discussions but nothing precise, nothing planned for 2007. The story was we would use McLarens or change McLarens or whatever, but to my knowledge we cannot use McLarens, for a B-team, that is not allowed by the rules, and I think everyone should know that we are very much against used Formula One cars. We don't think that is the key to the future, we think it is against the independent teams if you sell used McLarens, Renaults, Ferraris and so on. We don't want to have that and this needs to be properly discussed. So the rumour that used McLarens can to run in 2007 is not possible according to the rules. I don't know where this story comes from. Of course, there are discussions in place, there are contacts with various people, but no decision and I cannot see how that could happen in 2007 really, maybe things are changing but you need your own car, as far as I am concerned. This is how I read the rules.
Q. Even though the 2008 rules would allow you to buy equipment from other teams?
NH: But they do not. That is in discussion. They do not. To my knowledge, we have no second hand cars in 2008. Firstly we do not have the rules in place, secondly there are ideas on the table but this was never confirmed or written into the rules that used Formula One cars should be the future from 2008 onwards. Or I got it wrong, I don't know.
Q. Flavio, your feelings?
FB: I feel a bit different from Norbert. We need to find a way to have a better show in Formula One. Formula One is a television event. Technology is important, everyone has technology. In GP2 we have technology and it is only a question of the way you packaged the technology. For me it is really strange. The GP2 championship costs 0 to 65 percent of what costs the championship of Formula One. I don't know what is the difference. We talk every year about all these technologies and things like that and in the meantime we have the spectators walk away from the television, in that time we have less spectators in the grandstand, and I mean, I see people enthusiastic to see GP2. I don't understand why GP2 cost 2.5 million and our team and other teams cost maybe between three and five hundred million. I do not see what is the difference. Regarding the car, and this is my idea from the beginning, it has not changed, if you have the freedom, why does the Jordan team need 300 people or 250 people. We need to encourage people to come into Formula One so maybe for one or two years you allow them to buy a car. I see nothing wrong. I did that many years ago with Benetton and Ligier. Benetton was always quicker than Ligier because the difference is the organisation, the driver and whatever. I mean, I have nothing against that. What I really want to see is Formula One more human, have a better show for our public and not spend this money we spend. Because for me, you see the race of GP2 and the race of Formula One and maybe next year the difference of GP2 to Formula One is just four or five seconds difference. Really, I don't know what is the magic about our racing. I see a lot of magic in GP2.
Q. John, what are your feelings?
JH: It depends what you mean by a B-team. We agree with Flavio that we need more teams on the grid, we would welcome that and Toyota, as a manufacturer, is prepared to make its commitment to Formula One and supply another team with an engine at what we believe is a competitive price and offering high value. I think then perhaps there should be some benefit between the teams as a consequence of that co-operation, but I don't see it as a B-team.
Q. So your idea is much more as an engine supplier as you are at the moment.
JH: As an engine supplier. Our core business is to win as Panasonic Toyota Racing, no discussion. But at the same time our research shows the consumer is interested in technology but we need to make that technology available to the smaller teams so that they can compete and compete on a fairly equal basis.
Q. John, yesterday I asked Ralf Schumacher if he was disappointed not to have won this year because you have been so competitive. What are the general team feelings?
JH: I mean, obviously we are here to win but I think we acknowledge that there are the two teams beside me that are quicker than us. We are working hard, we have had a good season, we think we are racing well, we are getting the maximum out of the package but we acknowledge that we have still got 20 percent more to push to really attach the top teams and we are focused on it. We are happy both drivers are delivering as a total value to us as a team in the complete array of testing through to racing.
Q. Flavio, Fernando Alonso has done a fantastic job this year. How have you seen him change. He is still very young. How is he withstanding the pressure at the moment?
FB: He is young but he has now had four years in Formula One, he is not a new entry. Fernando is cool. It is a fantastic championship at the moment, we have a bit of an advantage to Kimi. We know McLaren that in the second part of the season McLaren is quicker than us but we know in the first half of the season we were better. Fernando, I believe, is no doubt doing the best for the performance we have at this moment. We need really to be cool, to concentrate, we know McLaren is quicker but what is important is to finish in the race, this is what we say to do. After that I don't see any problem with Fernando. The team is together and really there is no pressure. Sure, you have the pressure because everyone asks you every day where is the party or stupid stuff like that. We don't want to do any party. At the moment Fernando won six races and after Sunday we will see how many points we have. There are four races to go and maybe we will fight to the last race with Kimi but that is good for Formula One as well.
Q. He seems to be very concentrated, very constant. What other qualities do you see in him?
FB: This year, Fernando's one mistake was in Canada. After that, he has been fantastic. In the races he is terrific. Sometimes in the qualifying Kimi is quicker, but this year Kimi is fantastic as well. If you see the difference between Kimi and Montoya, Kimi has an incredible feeling with this car. I mean, sometimes Kimi is really difficult to beat but we know that. It is important to recognise where you are. With the car we have at the moment it is not so bad, we have the possibility to be second and third in the races and that is what we choose to do. Maybe we will have the possibility in Brazil to win the race as well, we have a big step in aerodynamics there, we will see. But I am not complaining.
Q. Norbert, what are your feelings about Kimi and to some extent Fernando as well?
NH: Fernando has had a great season, there's no doubt, not a lot of mistakes. I see things a little bit differently obviously.
Compared to Flavio, I wanted to make one remark: you cannot say GP2 on the one hand and then on the other hand vote for the V8 which is revving to 20,000rpm. To my knowledge that costs a lot of money, so we need to bring things together. And to point it out very clearly we are the ones mentioning saving money at each and every meeting. And I brought up the point in Monaco last year already. There are cheaper ways you all know that than we have right now but let's sit together and let's take the right decision. I think there is no comparison between GP2 and Formula One at all. I think it's a good racing series, no doubt, but we shouldn't compare one with the other. That is the first remark and I think it is very important not to mix these things. Anyway, coming back to your question. Fernando: I have a lot of respect for what Renault have done. They are good, they are reliable, a good team. At the end of the day, they are the old Benetton guys I know a lot of them, they have a lot of experience and that is fine. They do a good job and as Flavio pointed out, at the end what counts is who has got the most points over the course of the season.
Having said that, I think none of you would have thought that we are starting as big favourites in this year's World Championship. We had some difficulties at the beginning of last year but from the middle of last year we were heading in the right direction and we have had some ups and downs, such as happens in motor racing. We have had a race in Turkey and in Monza which were very very stressful for the engine, probably the toughest combination together with Monza and Spa and we survived and we gave the engine a lot of revs. But, of course, we have had to change (engines) three times; we recovered during the races. We have been unlucky here and there but by and large our direction is the right one. Nobody is leaving from the team and I have to support that team. We clear up some of these issues internally. It's fine when we are criticised but I have to see is that the direction is the right one and obviously if Mercedes get things wrong we probably get a little bit more criticism. That is normal, but we won seven out of the last ten races should have been more but it isn't a bad score at the end of the day. I'm a sportsman and I know that things like that happen from time to time. I do not wish it on anybody, but none of us knows what's happening tomorrow. And that's how the sport is. Generally our direction is the right one, I'm 100 percent convinced, and I still think we are not at the top of the mountain, but we are climbing very quickly.
Q. Just going back to that, Montoya has had to have an engine change today, a precautionary engine change; how much of a worry is that for Kimi over the next couple of days?
NH: I don't think he thinks about these issues really. Once you are in a racing car and I think you have to imagine you are in a racing car that needs full concentration, and outside of the car you probably think, well, keep my fingers crossed and hopefully it works according to plan. But in the car, that shouldn't be a problem and you saw that in Monza, Kimi is absolutely amazing. He got criticised as well which probably makes him stronger. The last one was a completely unfair attack and a lie, but at the end of the day, that is how the stories go sometimes. It was not true what was written, but anyway, he's doing a great job. And whoever saw his lap after the engine change, the amount of fuel he has had in Monza I just have to say that I take my hat off to him, and this was fantastic. He drove a great race, got stuck on traffic at the beginning, still recovered, had his engine problem, without that he would have been in a position still to win and that shows his potential and the car's potential. But one thing is for sure, without the technical potential, without the potential of the car, the best guy in the world cannot do that and Kimi and us and Montoya, I have to say, is a good and strong combination. Juan Pablo is getting stronger and stronger. He didn't win by luck, he didn't win by luck at Silverstone and I am deeply convinced that he is absolutely on the right path and that he has driven great races. At least since Canada he was in a position to win four times at least, and he won two of them and so that is a great achievement and a good direction.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Heinz Pruller Austria TV, ORF) Flavio, you could achieve a historic double: the first team boss to win championships with two completely different teams. So far nobody has done that. How do you feel about that, Benetton and then Renault, Benetton with Ford, now Renault? How do you see that and can you compare the way you brought up Michael to the championship and now trying to do the same with Alonso?
FB: For the moment I only won the World Championship with Benetton, this is sure, but as I said before, McLaren have won seven races, we have won seven races. This is the situation this year. The championship is not finished, I don't feel I have the Drivers' champion at the moment. I feel that I am fighting to the end. I don't want to think about that I won the championship. But I am pretty sure I will finish second. This is a good result for Renault anyway. Because for sure, when we started in 2001, it was only four years ago and nobody put a penny in our team. And now we are there with McLaren and I believe we have done a good job. Four years in Formula One, I think this is fantastic. And Benetton was unique. The budget we had there, beating Ferrari and Williams at the time was really magic. Again, it took us four years to win the championship. I hope it's a good season for us, but really, we have a very nice group of people, young and very... I don't know, we still have fun. I'm still around because in the end, we still have fun. Let's see what happens on Sunday.
Q. (Dan Knutson National Speedsport News) Flavio, if anything has gone wrong this year it seems to have happened to Fisichella rather than Alonso. Has this just been a long string of bad luck for Fisichella or what has been going on?
FB: I mean, this is the best season Fisichella has ever had. He won a race, he was on the podium. He has problems sometimes. Honestly, everybody knows that in one team it is impossible to make two cars different. We try doing the best for both cars, but in another way, the team is very young. We started the 100 percent Renault team in 2001. Maybe we don't have enough people or enough efficiency to make sure we have two cars at the same level. Sometimes it was Fisichella's mistake as well. We tried all the best to have two drivers to finish in the race, it is normal. But I tell you, sometimes it happens that somebody is unlucky, sometimes you don't know why it happened but it did and this is the situation you accept. At the last race I believe Fisichella did a fantastic job for the team. I don't think Fisichella's season has been so bad. I think it is just that Fernando's season has been fantastic. This is the difference. Fernando has done an amazing season, no mistakes, never and sometimes he had much more luck than Fisi. This is life.
Q. Flavio, which title is most important for you, Drivers' or Manufacturers'?
FB: When you apply to the championship, it is the FIA Drivers' championship. It isn't the FIA Manufacturers' or Constructors' championship. You remember Schumi won with Ferrari, you never remember this year somebody won the Constructors' championship with another team. The Drivers' championship is the only one.
Q. (Alan Baldwin Reuters) Flavio, when a driver wins the World Championship, his value usually goes up considerably. Are you going to give Fernando a pay rise next year? Can he expect more money?
FB: Sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down. It depends on the contract you have. Fernando is very happy, and I don't think it is a problem with money. It is just a problem to finish in the races. This is the problem you have, not money.
Q. (Dan Knutson National Speedsport News) John, how keen is Toyota to have the Japanese Grand Prix moved to Fuji? And is there maybe a possibility of having two Japanese Grands Prix in the future?
JH: Honestly, I run the racing team and I'm not really involved in Fuji Speedway I think Toyota obviously would love to have a Grand Prix there, that is something they will have to discuss with the commercial rights holder, I presume, with Bernie, and we have to wait to see. I am frankly not involved with that sort of discussion at all. I know they've built it, they've improved it and they are passionate about motor sport and they would like to have a Grand Prix there, but whether it happens or not is beyond my control.
Q. (Tony Dodgins Motorsport News) Flavio, you talk about the numbers involved in current Formula One teams, and if you restrict the engine technology and you cut down on testing, save costs, you reduce employees. What do you see as the ideal size for a Formula One team and what happens to the excess employees?
FB: Sometimes you do something to keep somebody's job. I believe it's the market. I don't think it's a problem for a group like us and Mercedes to re-locate people, especially in the engine situation, because we always need good engineering and the engineering in Formula One is very good. But what I believe is that in the future we need to look at more income, because this is what the teams want and the manufacturers want. For the job we are doing, in more than one way, you need it to be less expensive, because there's big money there. I believe that, as Norbert says, we need to sit together and really have a focus what we want to do. And I believe we are getting there because it is the process between us working with the federation to have this. I don't see any problem with the employees, at this moment. I talk about Renault anyway. I can't talk about another manufacturer, because we need a lot of good people in Renault. But we are talking about sport, we are talking about Formula One. At the moment, we are talking about between 800 and 1000 people and I think it is a little bit too much. I don't want to do any comparison with GP2, I don't want to do any comparison. The difference is so enormous, it's not a comparison, but honestly, I think if we go in the last five our six years there have been an explosion of costs. I believe that, especially in 2008, if it's possible in 2007 already, try to increase the television event for our customer and cut costs.
Q. (Heinz Pruller Austrian TV, ORF) Is there bonus money for team bosses, team managers for World Championships as there is for drivers?
FB: You know, tell me one day if something happens to count how much money I make? It's very complicated. We are in this business for winning a race and maybe for winning a championship and if you are winning a race, this is a miracle, you've done a good job. It's as simple as that, I believe everyone is in Formula One to win a race, and sure you have a base salary - this is for a driver - and if you then want to motivate the driver there is some bonus. But it is something very internal which we discuss.
Q. (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Norbert, you alluded earlier to the Dubai team; that was more than a year ago and we really haven't heard anything about it since. Is it still active or is it now dead in the water?
NH: Let's say there are contacts with McLaren with the people but it is in a static situation.
Q. (Dominic Fugere Le Journal de Montreal) About today's topic. The weather is very changeable. How have things changed, maybe over the last five years, about how the teams predict the weather and get ready for conditions like we've had today. Is it in-house people, services you hire, how is that worked?
FB: Everyone tries to work out the best possible (situation) but you are fighting with nature, it is not easy, especially in Spa. We're doing our best. Everyone has the same information but it is very difficult to predict exactly what will happen? In some areas yes, but Spa is very very difficult.
Q. What do you do? You have an agency?
FB: I believe everyone is organised as best as possible, but today our forecaster got it completely wrong. We know it was going to be showery but the timing was different. It is very difficult to predict exactly the minutes, the seconds. Sometimes it does happen, I think it was in America and it was quite close, but if it is raining, it is the same for everyone.
Q. Ron said they were very pleased with their weather forecasting, he believes it's going to be very accurate, so do you use a different agency? Perhaps you can explain to Dominic what sort of agency and how it's all worked out?
JH: We have a meteo station here on track and they were fairly accurate today so that is why we ran quite a lot in the morning session and we tried to get some evaluation done but the lap times were obviously fairly slow. In this location our weather station will not give an accurate forecast for tomorrow. And really, with all these things, you need to use some physical or mental system and you need to stick your hand out and see is it raining or not and use some physical or mental interpretation of the actual information you've got. It's a fairly low-cost service that we get, but it actually probably occasionally enables us to make better decisions but not every time, I promise you.
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