Friday's Press Conference - Germany
Participating: Flavio Briatore (Renault), Ron Dennis (McLaren-Mercedes), Paul Stoddart (Minardi), Mario Theissen (BMW)
Q. For all of you, what is your reaction to the announcement regarding the guilty verdicts being cancelled for the United States Grand Prix, as came out from the meeting the other day, now confirmed by the FIA?
Flavio Briatore: I think it was great and really the teams did a very good job and now the FIA understands it was a Michelin issue, not at all to the team, and I want to say Ron Dennis did a great job for everyone because he negotiated with Max (Mosley), with the teams and the result was the teams were not guilty. We did not race in Indianapolis and now we know why we did not race, because it was unsafe for the drivers and that was the reason. We were not racing for that reason only. I am very happy about that.
Mario Theissen: I am not representing one of the teams affected by the verdict but it clearly fits with our view of what happened in Indianapolis. We think the teams couldn't do anything different than they did.
Ron Dennis: I think catalyst and ambassador is a new experience for me but I was very happy with the outcome and I think that the interests of Formula One was the outcome and the reason why ultimately the decision was arrived at that the teams were clearly not guilty of the remaining two offences. I think it is better for everybody. Nobody came out of Indianapolis with anything positive and perpetuating the negatives was clearly not constructive to Formula One. I am delighted that the Senate and the World Council have held that way too.
Paul Stoddart: It is good for Formula One. The most important thing out of all of this is that Formula One is a sport and we need to get on with the sport. It was the right decision and I am glad it was made now and not later in September and hopefully we can put that chapter of Formula One behind us and move on.
Q. Again, for all of you, we got the impression we would be hearing from the manufacturers this weekend with a list of announcements about 2008, what is the situation?
FB: It is simple, we need to work together for the future of Formula One and our working group will put some proposal together. We have the proposal and we need to sit together and work together. Every part must be working in the same direction and the manufacturers put a lot of effort in that and it is logical that we have the same view for the future because stability is very important for Formula One. We are business people and we have a lot of money invested in the business and a lot of people working for us. We have a very economical reality and it is a question of the long term and I believe the manufacturers and the teams together can put the best efforts possible for doing what we want to achieve for the future and then see our rulers.
MT: I think the cooperation between the manufacturers and the independent teams on the future of Formula One has been exceptionally good so far, it has exceeded my personal expectations. We are about to put together a very good framework for the sport which can be released soon, we will talk about this over the weekend again and I don't know yet if we will be ready to disclose it right at the end of the weekend but it is coming and I think it will be very positive.
RD: Everybody has a common objective, which is to have a better Formula One. I think that probably the most contentious issue that will emerge will be the economics of Formula One versus the regulatory or sporting aspects, and when you see everything that is currently in the system from whatever source there is a remarkable level of commonality. That remains to be discussed and those subjects that we need to come to a common opinion on are probably less than 25 percent of the whole, as it were. So I am optimistic that we will come to a position where all the stakeholders are looking forward to embracing a 2008 season that will be, to the best of our ability, better than those seasons that we have had or those seasons that remain under the current agreement.
PS: Back in January 25, I think it was, we advised the FIA, we being nine teams and Bernie Ecclestone at that point, that we were going to do a lot of work towards putting together a framework for the future. We have stayed with that but we were then joined on February 16 by the five manufacturers and since then a group of nine plus five has worked and put enormous effort, some teams an unbelievably large amount of effort, to put together something that will put the sport and the fans into the future in a stable and professional way and we are now ready to present that to the FIA and FOM in the coming weeks, and I think that is the beginning of a united Formula One, at least I hope so.
Q. Paul, your new drivers, how do you feel about them, are they going to be stable now for the rest of the season?
PS: Double Dutch! I think it is the first time in modern Formula One that there have been two Dutch drivers in the same team. I was extremely pleased this morning. Robert had never driven the car, he had only sat in it for a seat fitting. He is not new to Minardi, he drove for us last year in testing at the end of the season, but it is always hard to step up from a test driver into a race seat at short notice and I think he did a credible job today. Christijan had a bit of a problem, he came together with Fisichella and lost a bit of time in the second session but he put in a pretty stunning time for a Minardi, so overall I am pretty pleased.
Q. Do you think there is going to be a certain amount of internal rivalry?
PS: I think it will be good. A lot of the Dutch press have been asking that very question but I think the guys will actually feed off each other and I think we will see a slight improvement and we will probably get 110 percent out of each of them at every event, and that is what we want.
Q. Ron, both your drivers are now on the pace, I am sure you are happy about that, but what are your feelings about the championship in that situation?
RD: We are focussed on each and every race, we are not worrying about the championship at the moment, we are just going to every race to try and win it. To win this championship, and of course there is a mathematical possibility of us winning, we have to win (races) and to a certain extent our primary competitors, which is the Renault team, only have to come second so the task for us is to win. We are not getting into any form of mathematics or any consideration about strategy, we just come focussed to win and that is certainly how we are going to finish out the season, irrespective of if and when the championship is decided. We are a Grand Prix team, we exist to win, so that is our approach to every race.
Q. Ideally one-twos, presumably?
RD: That is certainly our objective but I don't think it is any different for any other Grand Prix team. That is what they want to achieve and there is no reason why we can't achieve one-twos, we have a very strong car-engine-tyre package at the moment so it is probably up to us to determine the limits to which we push the equipment and, of course, to win we are going to have to push it to the limit. I think reliability is the challenge for us, whereas maybe with Renault, certainly Alonso, they can play a little bit more of a cautious game to get the finishes they need to win the World Championship. I am sure given a reversal of the situation we would be doing exactly the same. We are under no illusions. While winning is great, they don't have to go 100 percent, they can go a little bit off that and that enhances their reliability. It would be interesting if we could get them under pressure, that would be the best thing for Formula One, not necessarily for Renault but certainly for us, just try to get them under pressure.
Q. Flavio, what is your reply to that?
FB: I think Ron is right and for the moment we have less pressure because we are the team in front and it is a question of the ability of finishing the race and we are very happy already for what we have done. We respect McLaren absolutely because the fight is between us and McLaren for the championship. Every race is different, when it comes to the point at the end of the season, the fact that we have a little bit of an advantage, finishing second is not too bad for us, finishing third is not a drama. We start the race for winning, as McLaren, I am sure, and this is good for Formula One. This is one of the best championships we have had for the last few years, with two young drivers, because Raikkonen and Fernando are the new face of Formula One and, I mean, it is super, everything is fine. We will try our best in strategy in the race, in the start, and I enjoy it very much. I want to put more pressure to go to the limit and this is the game, you know. In the end, Renault and McLaren have had a fantastic season and it is very good for Formula One. We see again the spectators and the television are interested, I think one or two countries it is lower but overall the television is up. I still don't understand why people say the television is down and the MotoGP is beating Formula One. This is only in Italy because of Valentino Rossi. If you take away Valentino Rossi in Italy you are doing 20 percent. Formula One is great, it is a great television event.
Q. Mario, what is your programme with Sauber at the moment?
MT: There is a clear split between all the work devoted to this season and what we do for the future. We are really focussed on the current season with Williams, we want to have some good races in the second half of the season. Certainly, we are not where we wanted to be with our partners at the moment but I hope we can improve and have some good results because we want to finish this six-year partnership on a high, not a low. Apart from that, we are co-operating with Sauber already in two areas, one is how to integrate the team, how to get together the powertrain people in Munich and the car people in Switzerland, we have to ramp up the operations in Switzerland and certainly we have to work on next year's car-engine package already and that is what we do.
Q. Is there a programme of expansion for Sauber?
MT: Yes, we are developing this programme but it is clear we will expand the facilities and increase the workforce and it will take a bit more money as well.
Q. When is that timed for?
MT: It has to start as soon as possible, as soon as we have our programme defined. If you talk about hiring people and forming a team with new people it will certainly take more than a year until it is completed.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Mike Doodson) Mario, assuming that Williams does not continue with the BMW engine next year, would you consider continuing the V10 at Sauber because it's going to be a low-key operation, and giving yourself the opportunity to develop the V8 privately and out of the public eye?
MT: I'm not sure if I got the question right, but concerning V8 and V10, the FIA has always made it clear that the V10 would only be a back-up solution to teams who could not afford a V8. So according to that, the V8 will always be the more competitive engine, and if you want to win races you make a V8. On this basis, we have embarked on a V8 programme and we are clearly pushing hard to get this engine ready to race early next year and going back to a V10 is not an option for us.
Q. (Steve Cooper F1 Racing) All of you, what is the real aim of producing the document with rules for 2008 and beyond? Is it to show that you have a commonality of interest with the FIA, or to get them to bow to your own interests, or just to prove that you are still pushing forward with rules for the future? What is the actual real aim of this document that you are going to produce?
RD: I think that first of all we are not against anyone. But we do feel that we are the people that carry the economic burden of going Formula One and I don't think it's unreasonable that if we are taking the financial consequences of the rules and regulations that we should be part of the process that determines them. There's one thing that says 'well, we've got it wrong and it's cost us money.' That is a completely different thought cycle than 'someone else got it wrong and it cost us money.' And, of course, the vast majority of experience and knowledge and technical understanding sits with the teams so if the teams, in a combined form, and if the manufacturers in a combined form, can arrive at commonality in their views then I think that is a good starting point from the perspective of presenting those wishes to that organisation that regulates the sport, which of course is the FIA. And as I've said earlier in this press conference, the commercial issue is a completely separate matter. At the moment, the primary goal is to have rules and regulations which the teams, if possible unanimously, agree; that is our objective. And I stress, unanimously agree, that is our objective. We have no desire to exclude anyone from the process as long as they have the same objectives and goals as the teams that have been part of that process to date.
MT: I can only support what Ron says. It has been a long-term strength of Formula One to have stable regulations for years, quite opposite to what we see in touring car racing. And it is clear that the difference is in Formula One the regulations are there first and every team builds a car according to the regulations. In touring car racing the cars are there first and then you try to squeeze them into a common set of regulations and you have to deal with it every other month. But in recent years we had some changes in Formula One that were rushed through and proved not to be successful and had to be corrected again. I think it's not only reasonable but necessary in order to avoid additional cost necessary to include all the experience and knowledge and to take the time to properly set up regulations and then keep them for as long as possible.
FB: Basically I agree with Ron and Mario. We need all the teams together as well as Ferrari because all the time we forget Ferrari. Ferrari is very important in our business like any team. We know what is our target. We want to race together, have a better spectacle, because Formula One is a big televisual event, spend less money and have more income. This is basically the target for everybody, and we need to achieve this target, like Ron said, everybody together and everybody together means including Ferrari because we need them together.
PS: I think it has been summed up by everyone. What we are looking for is a technical and sporting stabilised situation and it can't hurt for all of us to put forward a unanimous view, particularly with all the effort that has been put in to arrive at this point. It is a very sensible set of regulations and hopefully it will be received as such. I'm sure there will be some fine tuning and as both Ron and Flavio made the point, we need to have everyone on board with this, that includes Ferrari, the FIA, FOM etc, but in the end Formula One needs to be the winner. Formula One must come out of this...it must be a sport that is in touch with the people that are supporting it, i.e. the hundreds of millions of people who watch us, the sponsors, the manufacturers, the participants at every level and that is what it is all about. It's about the sport coming out of this as a winner and all of us, hopefully, will play some part of making that happen.
Q. (Dieter Rencken) Ron, this season has been epitomised by a flurry of transparency surrounding all the controversial issues, yet concerning this critical decision handed down by the FIA recently regarding Michelin there appears to be very little transparency there. When will this dossier be made available, if at all?
RD: Well, it's certainly not for the teams to make that available to you. If the FIA chooses to make it available that is for them to decide. Why? Well primarily because it was their ruling in the first place. We put forward what we believed to be two strong arguments as to why this judgement should effectively be reversed. The process on the day, of course, was between myself representing five of the teams and Red Bull representing itself and the decision was not taken and it could not be taken by the Senate. This was a decision that had to be taken by the World Council, and therefore there was a follow-on process. Coming out of that meeting, if you had asked me, and nobody had asked me, I feel that in all of these instances we should be looking forward and not going back into the past and I think that's the general mood that is coming from all of us sat here is that we should be looking forward and not going back into the past. If it was my decision, and it's not, I think the best thing is to go forward, but there is nothing untoward or controversial in the material that was presented to the senate. But I don't think it's the team's position to provide that material to you.
Q. New evidence?
RD: Yes, of course. It was a combination of new material but it was also a re-evaluating and focussing on some other specific issues that were part of the documentation. I would say that the teams had done a competent job at presenting their argument that had perhaps under-stressed one particular aspect of the situation and I would rather leave it there. But I for one and I think most of the teams would be more than comfortable and it is for the FIA to decide that, I think it is best to put everything in the past and go forward.
Q. (Dieter Rencken) Flavio, I believe that McLaren will be changing their tobacco livery as from next Sunday which is obviously the day that the tobacco ban comes in, what are Renault's plans regarding tobacco sponsorship?
FB: We honestly have no problem. Japan Tobacco has been with us in the last 13 or 14 years and at the moment tobacco is allowed in Formula One and I'm happy to have them. It is not because of the fans, they are not interested in the colour of the car, they are interested in the performance of the car and seeing the race. I have never seen any e-mail in our office which refers to the tobacco livery we have on the car. The tobacco (companies) have done a lot for the sport, they have invested a lot of money in Formula One over many many years and really I feel nothing, I feel good.
Q. Will you be running tobacco or no tobacco?
FB: We are running tobacco.
Q. On Sunday, in Hungary?
FB: I don't know, whatever is the rule, whatever we decide, whatever together we decide and whatever the Federations tells us, the commercial rights (holder) tells us, so the agreement between the government and Formula One and whatever. Now there is only this race and a lot can change between now and Hungary.
Q. Now the British Government is suppose to be evaluating its position regarding extra-territorial tobacco sponsorship. Has anything been handed down on that?
FB: I don't know, I think so... England, all the teams are in England, we give a lot of employment in England. You have Silverstone, really, we put a lot of effort... I think... really for me it is not right to have this kind of battle in England for the tobacco because Formula One is very healthy in England. We pay tax, we employ a lot of people and like I said before, the tobacco (industry) has always been a good supporter of Formula One if you look back at history, and for me, if someone sees the car with tobacco and starts smoking or stops smoking... I had tobacco on the car, but I stopped smoking. I was smoking 50 cigarettes a day and I stopped myself. I think there are a lot of problems in the world and it looks like tobacco is a big issue at this time. Let's see what happens. For the moment we are racing here with our normal livery, if we are forced not to use the tobacco (livery) we will not use it. It's as simple as that but we will see what happens with the letter we need to receive from the government and then we will see, in a few days, what will happen.
Q. Are you expecting a letter?
FB: I don't know. It looks like everybody is expecting something. For the moment we are allowed to have the tobacco livery here and we will see what happens in the future, in the next few days.
Q. (Dan Knutson National Speedsport News) You talk about unanimous agreements and unity but two of the group of nine have now signed the Concorde Agreement. Would any of you like to comment on that?
RD: I think I made the point that there are several issues that are being discussed and the document that they have signed effectively determines the economic benefit that they are going to receive between now and 2012. It does not determine the regulations under which they are going to race because they are still in discussion and I think it is well known to the teams that this is not a recent action on those teams' part. This was something where they decided their economic path earlier in the season and they've chosen to make that information public in the run-up to this weekend. But I stress and I know it is the feeling of the manufacturers and the teams that that will not preclude them from being part of the process regarding determining sporting and technical regulations, as it wouldn't preclude Ferrari.
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