Friday's Press Conference - China
Participating: Ron Dennis (McLaren-Mercedes), Nick Fry (BAR-Honda), Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing), Jean Todt (Ferrari)
Q. Nick, first of all, the takeover of Honda, how much are things going to change?
Nick Fry: We are told not much. The basic structure of the company will stay the same, the people in the key positions at the moment will remain, I think what it will mean to us is more application of Honda resource and technology. We already have a good linkage with the guys in (unclear) which is where Honda's main research headquarters are, but I think that will just be reinforced so hopefully that will help us improve our performance yet further, so fundamentally more of the same.
Q. What about this supposed second team, how disruptive is that likely to be?
NF: We are absolutely going to minimize. Honda have obviously supplied a second team with an engine in the past and the ability to do that again not only remains but has also improved, so that side we are not too concerned about and the other team, the objective is that they would have the same engines, a V8 rather than a V10, and obviously the other commitment the car manufacturer has made is for a level of technical support and that is necessary these days, it is very difficult to just hand over an engine and we will give that as well but we are very much going to ring fence that, we can't really let it disrupt the efforts of our team so we will decide with the other team what we need, which we haven't done yet, and provide it, but it will be in a very defined fashion.
Q. Are you expecting to have to build new chassis as well?
NF: Yet to be decided.
Q. Christian, again, a second team, how closely linked will you be with the current Minardi team when it becomes Red Bull?
Christian Horner: The two will remain as totally separate entities. Minardi will continue to operate from Italy and both teams have different objectives. Red Bull Racing's objectives are totally clear, going forward, to move further up the field. We have quite a lot of developments coming over the winter that should help us to move forward, whereas the Minardi team, the second team, is very much the final step on the Red Bull ladder for the young driver programme and the perfect shop window for those young drivers.
NF: The factories are quite close to each other and we have worked together in the past. Actually we have been talking about making one big Formula One factory and we will just turn out the cars for all the teams!
Q. So, a Formula One supermarket. Yeah! Christian, you were talking about the team development, what sort of things can we expect in terms of progressing the team during the winter?
CH: We have had a solid first year in Formula One, I think we have strengthened our technical team considerably, we have a new engine coming for next year, which I believe is going okay at the moment, a new electronics package, and I think with stability now in the team we should see a natural progression. There is a reasonable resource, plans are on target for the new car and I am fairly optimistic that it should be a reasonable step forward for us.
Q. What sort of departments will you be strengthening still?
CH: There are areas of the team that have obviously perhaps been slightly neglected over the past few years but there is no one particular area that is weaker than the other.l It is just generally moving the whole thing forward and I think that, as I said, with introducing some new technical staff under the leadership of Mark Smith, I think we should start to see some of the evidence from that.
Q. Just going back to the current Minardi team, any comment on this rumour that Franz Tost will be the team principal?
CH: I am sure in the fullness of time things will be confirmed officially. Obviously there is a great deal of speculation but I am sure, as I said, fairly shortly things will be officially confirmed.
Q. Jean, you mentioned in Japan about next year's car being brought out in January. Can you explain the rationale behind that?
Jean Todt: We start with new rules, new eight cylinders, 2.4, and of course a new chassis, a new layout, and as soon answer can start, even if I mentioned that obviously it will not be with the latest specification, but we will start by the middle of January, about, with this new 2006 package.
Q. Another subject that has come up in your Sunday afternoon press conferences has been possibly joining the testing agreement. Is Ferrari any closer to joining that?
JT: It is under discussion, our team manager is doing that with his colleagues and if we can find a suitable proposal then we may go with the others, otherwise it will be (unclear).
Q. What about today, Ferrari seemed competitive this morning, maybe less so this afternoon.
JT: On Friday I will not take any conclusion. Definitely we have been working very hard with Bridgestone on this new kind of asphalt so we are using tyres that are different from what we had in the past and this kind of asphalt and so far it seems quite promising. We will see over the weekend.
Q. Especially as you won last year here.
JT: Last year the rules were different, the package is different, so you I don't think you can really make a sharp comparison compared to last year.
Q. Ron, obviously a fantastic weekend last weekend, you were glowing on the podium afterwards, what was the feature you really enjoyed most about that race?
Ron Dennis: Well, I think everyone could see the determination and commitment that Kimi had throughout the race but what is never really apparent to most people, those who watch television and even some of the people who come to the event themselves, is the role the strategy plays in the outcome of a Grand Prix. That was a particularly well structured race for us, a race that saw us modifying the strategy several times through the race, I think the last stop was particularly impressive from the team and was another thing that contributed to the outcome. So the overwhelming feeling was one that the team did a great job and Kimi took full advantage of the opportunity we gave him. That was against the psychological blow of losing one of the cars early on I the race, which can be distracting and de-motivating to everyone. I think we put it behind us and concentrated on the job and the outcome was that more satisfying as a result of it being sort of against the odds. Of course, our qualifying was sort of like a qualifying from hell really, when you try to do a good job and you carry your momentum of a one-two from your previous race and you are sat 17th and 18th on the grid, that is pretty hard position to cope with overnight. So, taking everything into account it was an enjoyable race for us.
Q. You have had the fastest car, particularly in the last three quarters of the season really. What contribution has the third driver made, do you expect that rule to continue next year?
RD: We would not be hypocritical and vote against the concept of a third car for the future, we have a neutral position on it and we certainly recognise there has been some benefits this year. I don't think they are as extreme as people would make out because all it does, at the end of the day, it is just determining what tyre to use and having a slightly better handle on how to set the car up for that particular tyre. Not a huge advantage, certainly not a disadvantage but not a huge advantage. So we would be supportive of whatever the majority of teams wish to have in the future. We won't vote for or against, we will go with the majority according to their wishes and if that leads to a third car for those teams that fall out of the top four next year then so be it.
Q. Talking of second teams, what is the situation with the McLaren-supported second team and is it true the deadline is October 22?
RD: McLaren Racing is one company in a group of companies. We have initiated three years ago a strategy that led to the birth of McLaren Applied Technologies, and this is a company that effectively looks at the intellectual property that is emerging out of all the group companies and looks at whether we can turn that intellectual property into a moneymaking business strategy. Of course, with a Grand Prix team, no matter what you invest at the end of the day you only have two Grand Prix cars on the grid, so the business grows because of the R&D and all the investment you put into it but actually the customer, the end user of everything, is focused on two cars. So there is a business argument to say lets try to broaden the customer base, let's try to bring four cars to the grid, at the same time complying to the regulatory constraints that are laid down in the Concorde agreement, and it was really that that gave us some sort of thought to assisting the creation of another team. Our model is very different to other peoples', that doesn't mean to say theirs is right and ours is wrong or vice versa, it is just a different model, and it will only be a model that we will implement if we are convinced that we can a) implement the programme in a manner consistent with the Concorde agreement and b) that it makes economic sense for the people involved, and that we can seriously contribute to the creation of a second team without having any detrimental impact on our own racing efforts.
Q. So does that mean it is still alive?
RD: It means it is constantly under review and we are going through a period at the moment of evaluating another option that was presented to us over the last few months. As regards confirming or denying a date, I don't know where these things manifest themselves from, if it was true or not true I would not confirm it because that is just a business decision, it is just a could or couldn't be a deadline, and to be honest I cant remember what date, if any, attaches to this particular programme.
Questions from the Floor
Q. (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) Could each of you briefly sum up how you feel your team's season has gone?
NF: I will start. Challenging, I think, is probably the best word. For us very much a season of two halves, as it were. The first half of the season was very difficult for a whole variety of issues, as people will be fully aware of. Since the Indianapolis problems, clearly we've scored points, and Jenson has done exceptionally well scoring in every race but clearly not as many as we would have liked, and the competition has been significantly stronger this year than it was last year. Not only Ron with McLaren, but also Renault, and Toyota and Ferrari and Christian's team have done well in various races, so there's been a lot of competition. We would have liked to have done better, but we've just got to continue to work harder. Our team has only been in existence for seven years, and the first few of those were fairly difficult and we're up against people, two of which are sitting in the front row, who have been doing this for a long time with hugely well-established teams. We're getting better, the structure of the company is better, the Honda buy-in is critical to us and we are just going to continue to battle like hell. I think this challenging year for us has probably put us in good stead in lots of ways. I think the team has stuck together, which I'm very proud of. Everyone has pulled together, everyone has kept their chin up and that's absolutely everyone: sponsors, people in the factory, drivers and I think that will stand us in good stead for the future. Challenging but a learning experience that will benefit us.
CH: I am obviously satisfied with what Red Bull Racing has managed to achieve in their debut season. The deal to acquire the Jaguar team came together very late. Expectations were fairly modest at the outset but to be sitting here with 30 points on the board compared to ten scored last year. I think that we have managed to achieve the objectives that were laid down at the beginning of the year, which were to grab opportunities as they presented themselves, to try to punch above our weight. I think that our drivers have performed very well, David has done an excellent job for us this year, he's led the team very well. And the two youngsters, again, we've had a healthy competition within the team. Christian Klien has made a significant step forward and has been complemented well by Vitantonio. We have laid solid foundations for the future now in what we've achieved this year. Expectations inevitably rise and the hard part will be to deliver upon those expectations but I think on occasions this year we have been competitive with rivals that have perhaps been perceived as being too far away from us. We're only seven points behind Nick's team after 18 races, albeit they missed a couple, but we are still there and we will do our best to catch them this weekend, which is an extremely tall order. But I'm satisfied; I think foundations are well laid for the future.
JT: Obviously it is a very disappointing season after a fantastic run of success: six Manufacturers Championships in a row, five Drivers' wins for Michael. We have simply not been competitive enough. We've hardly managed to score 100 points after 18 Grands Prix. Normally we would have scored 100 points halfway through the season. But I would say it will help us to remain humble and to see that things can change. We knew that, and it was demonstrated to us. Now the challenge is to go back to where we used to be, in the last years, knowing that it will be difficult because our competitors are strong. Normally we have been strong and in the last years we have been stronger than them, and this year at least two teams were better than us.
RD: I think history shows that the performance of Grand Prix teams tends to be somewhat bio-rhythmic. The dominant teams over the last 30 years have demonstrated that no matter how good you are, and of course we've experienced, as a team, exactly what Jean is experiencing with Ferrari. We've experienced that. It is a challenge, I am sure. Well, they've certainly challenged in the past and I am sure they will ask Jean the same sorts of questions which is 'how can you be so dominant one year and struggle the next?' And of course, that just demonstrates to everyone how difficult Grand Prix racing is and how easy it is to find yourself in a position, either through regulatory change or other changes which sometimes almost appear to be like a self-inflicted blow that you suddenly experience uncompetitiveness. But there's one thing for sure, that great teams do not suddenly lose either the passion or the desire to succeed. I know, without any doubt, that teams such as Ferrari, not just Ferrari but Williams etc, they come back and they normally come back even stronger than they were. Of course their objective, our objective is to keep that down cycle as short as possible. When we look at the performance of our own team this year, there is some comfort to be gained from the numbers. The last time we scored 10 Grand Prix wins in a season was 1988 and how say, 'how can you possibly be sat with ten Grand Prix wins, still behind, at this moment in time, in the Constructors' and having lost the Drivers' World Championship?' I wouldn't spend the time that's necessary to explain how carefully we analyse all of the things that put us in that position, but clearly it is not our objective to come second in either of those championships and unless you win, you haven't achieved your goal. The comfort, however, that we take is that the momentum we have, as regards to the performance of the team, I think will be undiminished. The momentum comes from a lot of hard work by Martin, Jonathan Neil, Adrian and his team, and the ability to accept change throughout the organisation as we've wrestled with how to be a better Grand Prix team, and to fully incorporate into the way the team works the benefits that have come from our new technical centre. I can't see, unless we really shoot ourselves in the foot, any reason why we cannot maintain this momentum into next season and that's our clear objective. Following the outcomes of the race this weekend that is where we will be really focussing all of our efforts and where most of the efforts are focused right at this time.
So, I suppose the school report would say 'pretty good results but must try harder', and that is just so hard to get your mind around when you have won ten races but that's life and it is the same for everyone, but I'm particularly pleased with the way the team's developed over this year and whilst everybody wants to put the label of failure down to unreliability, it isn't where we failed, it was a reason, part of a reason. The main reason was in the first four races we really didn't extract the maximum out of the team and we were too cautious in our approach in those first four Grands Prix. That's where we lost this Drivers' World Championship. Of course it would have helped if we had had a bit more reliability but the simple fact is that's where we felt we lost this year's World Championship. We won't make the same mistake next year.
Q. To all of you, may I know how are the discussions going on the new qualifying format and other rules?
RD: There is no lack of desire within the teams to make Formula One better. There is a common view, and maybe I'll be challenged on this by my colleagues, but I think there's a common view that we have had some excellent racing this year and that we must be careful that any changes to qualifying doesn't affect the show that we've had this year. And I don't think that's just because of our own competitiveness. I think the racing has been significantly better, and the races have been a lot more interesting throughout the season. So, when looking at change we need to a) be mindful of don't let's change things to try and address the issues of qualifying to the detriment of the races, point one, and I think the other thing is we have to rise above the inherent desire from teams to take advantage from change. Put Formula One first. So as we're looking at changes which are going to be discussed, for sure over the course of this weekend, will be discussed again next week. There will be some outcome coming from the Formula One Commission a week on Monday, whatever those pressures and pulls and lobbying etc, I hope that everyone puts Formula One first and their own team interest second. And that's difficult for everybody to embrace that as a concept because it is inherent in Formula One that team principals and the people that guide them are massively competitive and want to take advantage out of any set of circumstances that are presented to them. It's not always apparent, but there is quite a lot of wisdom that sits within all of the team principals and I just hope that whatever the outcome that it is Formula One benefits, not just the interests of those teams who may or may not get a benefit out of change.
JT: What I may say is that over the last few years a few changes were made: the distribution of the points, because the idea was to make the championship more open for the season and I must say that that is one point that I don't think it achieved what it should have achieved because I think it's unfair that when a driver is winning to make only two points to the one who is second, because you could face a situation where a driver is champion without winning a Grand Prix. Then there was qualifying. I feel qualifying was very good a few years ago when we had 12 laps and a lot was happening. But again, the intention in changing was to make things more unpredictable and I must say it has been more unpredictable, because with the format of qualifying in the past, you would never have had the leader of the Grand Prix starting at the back of the grid in the last Grand Prix, for example. It all depends on what you want to achieve. If you simply want to achieve better qualifying, we definitely have to change something and we will speak about that at the Formula One Commission on October 24th and then we will see what will come out, but you definitely cannot find the optimum. You will always find someone who is in favour or against. It all depends on what you want to achieve. Once you know what you want to achieve, then it is probably easier to make the rules.
CH: I personally think that if McLaren qualifying 17th and 18th creates a race like we had last weekend in Suzuka, it might not be a bad thing for a few other events. Qualifying as a spectacle at the moment isn't perhaps what it was and inevitably there does need to be change and that change needs to be carefully considered taking into account the implications that it may have on other aspects of the weekends such as, obviously, the race, the most critical part of the weekend. So, no doubt it will be discussed in some length over the next week or so.
RD: One thing to add is that history shows any type of change increases costs. I think everybody can speak for themselves, but it is hard to imagine how a set of changes which sees us go back to using multiple sets of tyre, each which requires a completely different tyre to those that have been developed for the season, that will cost money, a significant amount of money and the way that we currently have our contracts, and this maybe doesn't apply to every team, it certainly applies to most of the teams, that development cost, a lot of the cost, is a burden that the teams carry. So one thing, I hope, that is taken into consideration is that any change, whilst it might have some benefit for qualifying, and maybe we can achieve no negative impact on racing, the one thing that is certain is that costs will go up and that, in the current climate, isn't the way we should be effecting change.
Q. (Christopher Bodeen - Associated Press) What about the possibility of 20 races? Would you think that to be too many?
RD: Well, I will keep mine brief so the others can have an opinion. Every time we go to a Grand Prix it costs us money. We don't make money going to Grands Prix at this moment of time, it costs us money. So therefore if there is a motivation to have more races it probably means that someone else is making money, certainly not the teams. But putting aside the fiscal impact of races, it really is changing the character of a Grand Prix team. Everybody, probably the team principals, the guys that you see in front of you now, whilst they definitely have increased their own workloads and it's fatiguing because we have more travel, I would say it is multiples more difficult for the mechanics and engineers etc. And it's not a question that any of them aren't prepared to work hard. Working hard is part of being in Formula One but when it starts to impact on your private life, when you have seen relationships, not always with wives, sometimes girlfriends, put under the strain that they are put under, I think that it is unfair of the team principals, of which I am only one in this, it is unfair of us to quickly endorse a broader calendar. I have a view that if you go, say, Sunday evening to our technical centre, nothing is happening in it. The reason is that there is nobody in it, they are at home. Our company is about people. People are the heart of our companies. It is with them that the passion is, that makes Grand Prix racing work so well and there's a point at which you've just got to take a more moral position and say, 'you are asking too much', and we are very close to that point, if we have not already passed it. So it is not so much the commercial impact, but the human impact that concerns many of the team principals and certainly myself.
NF: I think that this year we have a lot of examples of people starting to say I just don't want to do this any more. It is impossible to compensate them for that many weekends away. Money doesn't do it. The guys get days off during the week, but their mates aren't around during the week, their kids are at school, the wife may be working or doing other things and so it is very difficult for us to say in compensation we will give you something which is as valuable. We simply cannot do that. I do agree with what Ron says, I think it's relatively easy in the scheme of things for the team principals because we are in an enviable position, but a lot of the people are actually away a lot longer than we are. I think 19 has been trying. I don't think you can look at it in terms of the number of races. I think the way that they are arranged does have a bearing on it: a lot of back-to-backs or even potentially triple-headers means people are away for a long period of time, so if we are going to have as many again, then potentially we could try and arrange them in a slightly more family-friendly manner. We are talking about large numbers of people here and we want to keep their motivation up and we want to keep them happy at home as well.
CH: This season has been a gruelling season, there are a few tired looking people in the paddock, not just the teams, the journalists that cover the events: everybody associated with being at every Grand Prix. For a team such as ours, we have quite a large crossover between not only racing but testing as well and when you look at the schedule and the amount of air miles and time away that engineers and various mechanics and staff have encountered this year, it's a considerable amount and it's a matter of trying to find a little bit of balance in that. Perhaps if the calendar was slightly stretched a little later into the year and obviously testing is something that needs to be reviewed over the next couple of years. But certainly this year has been a very tough year, and when you are a smaller team you have less people tying to cover more and it is extremely hard work.
JT: The calendar normally plans to have 17 Grands Prix with a possibility of 18. This year, in order to maintain the British and French Grands Prix we agreed to do 19 Grands Prix but we would ideally not like to go, at least for Ferrari, for 17, 18 Grands Prix. So that's what we feel is the most acceptable number. I will not get very much into the comfort of the people we love and we respect, but I think we are privileged to do this business in Formula One, compared to different other business, so to do 18, 19 or 20 Grands Prix, even for our people, even knowing that it is demanding, I think would still remain acceptable.
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