Friday's press conference - Korea
TEAM PRINCIPALS: Eric BOULLIER (Renault), Stefano DOMENICALI (Ferrari), Christian HORNER (Red Bull), Martin WHITMARSH (McLaren)
Q. A question to you all. Your impressions of the grand prix so far, Korea, the circuit. What the drivers feel about the circuit. Just a general talk about what you have discovered since you have been here.
Eric BOULLIER: The infrastructure is quite nice and finished and I think everybody agreed to say that the track layout was a good one. We showed during the session that we can have a good race and I think the drivers like it, so very positive.
Q. Just out of interest what does it mean to Renault that we are here in Korea? Is it big for them?
EB: We have Renault-Samsung co-operation here, so we have quite a lot of guests coming this weekend and definitely it is a good step here for us in terms of marketing.
Stefano DOMENICALI: For this level of investment we need to be thankful to the organisers for what they are doing. It is impressive. For me it is the first time that I am in Korea and I was impressed by the level of infrastructure coming from Seoul to here by car. This is a sign of a great interaction between the present and the future. A lot has been invested and the most important thing is the economics. With regards to here I think that they did everything to be ready. For sure we have seen today the condition of the track and we knew it would be like that but with the government and organisers spending this kind of money we need to be thankful as it is something amazing. No doubt about it.
Martin WHITMARSH: Well, not much to add. I think the facilities are very impressive. It is a great commitment and I think everyone is happy to be here. A lot of fear and concern was spread in the months before we arrived here but I think it is generally a pleasant surprise. Inevitably you can go out there and find some things that are not quite finished but I think everyone has been working hard and we have got to thank everyone who has put an amazing amount of effort into having the facilities here. I think Korea is a new adventure for Formula One, not just the circuit but certainly an adventure for some of the boys in their hotels but I think by comparison to how it was described it is clearly an exciting country and a lot of investment. I think we will have a good grand prix. There are a couple of corners where the kerbs are a bit tricky, a bit lower than the track surface itself, obviously turn 16 and turn 10 but those I am sure are just teething problems and people will look at that and see what they can do about it.
Christian HORNER: Firstly, congratulations to everybody involved in building this track. It is a huge commitment from the country to commit to an infrastructure like the first phase of which we see here. It is an impressive circuit. It is a challenging layout. It is one that will appeal to the drivers. It has got a variance of pretty much every type of corner here. It is great for Formula One. As the footprint of Formula One continues to grow globally it is good to be in Korea. We have had a tremendous welcome from the organisers and on the run-down here from Seoul what a picturesque county it is as well. First impressions have been positive. It is just a shame that we don't go round the circuit the other way around as the straight after the start is going to be a bit of an issue. Maybe going the other way around, having it at the end of the lap rather than the beginning of the lap, would be better. I think it will provide a really entertaining race on Sunday.
Q. You could be out-voted on that?
Q. A question again to all of you. What sort of modifications and developments have you brought here as this race is a bit of an unknown as well.
EB: We have been very conservative and we have not brought here so many modifications on the car. Just a couple of adjustments on electronics or software but nothing very much.
SD: Very few details. Not too much to be honest. On the floor of the car and that's it. If you speak to the engineers it is massive. If you speak to me I tell you...
Q. So it is cheap.
SD: No, that's the problem.
CH: It won't be cheap.
SD: Exactly, but nothing major.
MW: We continue development of the rear wing. The rear wing we ran on the Friday morning in Japan and I think as people saw we did quite a lot of (inaudible word) on that during the course of the morning but I think we made some good progress. We have got a new front wing as well and some other bits and pieces. We are still pushing hard. These guys are pretty quick, so if we are going to catch them we have got to improve our car.
CH: For us I think it is more about refinement than big step changes which is what we have tried to introduce pretty much at every grand prix so far this year. Some refinement mainly in aerodynamic areas but no quantum leaps or anything that is obviously visible.
Q. Eric, now you are managing director how much has your job changed?
EB: There is a little bit more of a need, a commitment, for me to be at Enstone and there are more administrative tasks, mainly.
Q. Does that mean you spend more time at Enstone than Viry now?
EB: I am full-time settled in England now. I was anyway spending more time at Enstone but because of the administrative tasks I have now to deal with I need to clearly spend more time in the office.
Q. Stefano, we were asking yesterday that you obviously had some engine problems earlier on this season. How have you managed that whereby hopefully you are not going to run out of engines before Abu Dhabi?
SD: I really hope not. If we do that it will be tremendously difficult to try to fight to the end. What we are able to do is try to manage the mileage with the existing engine and this is our plan and hopefully we will manage up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. If we will have any reliability issues then it will be really traumatic as it would be almost impossible then to recover points we need to recover if we want to fight with Red Bull and McLaren as they are extremely strong. We cannot really have any problems, otherwise it is finished.
Q. Are there any limitations that you can put in place in order to make sure that you go all the way through?
SD: Not really. It is a matter of how much mileage you can do on an engine. This is the only thing. We have extended the use of it as at home we did the test in order to make sure it was not an issue. But we need to be careful not to overheat anything. We need to make sure that in terms of temperature we have to be not aggressive. This is something we need to make sure above all for the hot races that we will have after Korea.
Q. Martin, this week it was announced that Vodafone are staying with the team for another four years.
MW: Including this, yes.
Q. What does that mean for the team and for Formula One?
MW: I think it is good news for Formula One. Vodafone have been involved in Formula One for quite a few years. Of course they were with our friends at Ferrari for a number of years before they joined us. I think they are, frankly, the best title sponsor in Formula One. Their involvement, their commitment with this sport shows a positive sign for the world's leading communications company who want to be involved. I think Formula One is not always good at celebrating good news stories but this is obviously very good news for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. I think it is a great demonstration and I think it will show leadership to other investors in the sport that this is a sport which warrants that high level of commitment and investment, so positive news. It stabilises our team. We have got a great line-up of partners now, but having Vodafone continue as title sponsor was very important to us.
Q. Christian, you have got an interesting situation on your hands with two drivers in the lead of the championship, one on equal points. How easy is it to be fair-handed when you are handling that?
CH: I think we are fortunate that we have got two guys that are pretty rational. From a team point of view we are just doing our best to support the drivers as equally and transparently as we can. Both have got good chances of winning this championship but ultimately they both understand that they rely on the team and rely to an extent on each other as well and it would be foolish to underestimate particularly Fernando (Alonso) in the Ferrari and the McLaren drivers. The opponents are predominantly in other teams, so it is important from a team perspective that we have both our drivers ahead of our immediate peers. The points are sometimes deceptive this year with the bigger numbers involved. The gaps are actually smaller than they look and it is going to be a fascinating final three races.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Marc Surer - Sky TV Germany) Christian, today Mark Webber was doing some laps lifting his front wheels. It looked horrible but it was quite fast. It looked like he was driving without rear anti-roll bar. Was I right with my impression?
CH: You weren't far wrong. Basically there was an issue with Mark's car and it was rectified during the session. But even on three wheels he was posting very competitive lap times. There was nothing major but your assumption is not too far off.
Q. (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Plus) Since the last grand prix we have had the announcement of a race coming in Russia. Can each of you say what this means to you and your sponsors. Let's begin with Eric as obviously he has a bit of a Russian influence in the team.
EB: I think it is good for Formula One clearly. It is another step forward to bring Russia into this business. It was clearly dealt with Bernie (Ecclestone) directly. Let's say there is no direct influence on our sponsors or our driver. It is clearly a step forward, so that should help Formula One and maybe a Russian driver in the future.
SD: I think that we need to understand a bit more about it. We heard it from the television, so it is positive but just as I said it is a good sign to look ahead but the more we get the new organisers and circuits in, the more we need to understand what is happening with the actual one. This is something we need to really understand but it is good to see that new countries are interested in Formula One.
MW: The concept of a Russian Grand Prix is great. Clearly if there are new venues being developed for Formula One and Russia is a very important market then that is fantastic. I think as the people before me have stated we don't know the specifics of this one. As I understand it is located in a town the size of Rochdale, but presumably this is an area they are going to develop. It is an unusual venue by the sounds of things but in truth we don't know anything about it. When we get the real information I am sure it will be very exciting.
CH: Where's Rochdale? Formula One is an international sport. To have a Grand Prix in Russia is going to be very, very positive. It's one of the biggest markets in the world, it's an important market for Red Bull and I think it's going to be interesting. If you look at what Bernie has introduced recently, and the circuits such as this one here, such as Singapore, then there's no reason to doubt that Russia won't also produce a circuit that's befitting of Formula One, so the calendar is certainly not getting any smaller.
Q. (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Plus) On the question of the resources restriction agreement (RRA) I understand there's negotiation going on about increasing the budgets by ten million. Some people would say that this is like the arms race, that if you increase the budgets by ten million, everyone spends millions more and ten million is wasted. How would you all respond to that?
MW: I think that resource restriction has already achieved a lot, saved a lot of money and probably helped save a number of the teams, so it's been a good programme. Inevitably, in a competitive environment like Formula One people seek to negotiate loopholes or try to find some advantage but that's part of the sport and to be expected. Then, in the last few weeks, the good news is that the teams have agreed to extend the duration of the RRA which I think is very important. In doing that, there's been some adjustment, so it's been agreed in principle and everyone has signed up to that. I think it's a document that has caused a range of savings already, in terms of the number of people that are employed, the number of people we bring to the tracks, the amount of wind tunnel time, the amount of cfd, track testing, so it's made some real savings. I think there was a danger that we wouldn't be able to extend it. I think all the teams took a sensible approach to come together and to agree to extend that for a long period of time. I think the good news is that it's worked so far and we have an extension. There have been some adjustments: in some areas it's been tightened, in some areas it's been slackened. There's just some detail points that are being resolved at the moment but the principles are very clear and I think positive for Formula One.
SD: I totally agree with my president (of FOTA) as a vice-president. The most important thing is that there was one situation where you could accept to spend less up to a certain period and then who knows? You know very well the ups and downs in the circles of life. Now I think we have found a good agreement to make sure that we stabilise the level of expenditure of Formula One at a reasonable level, but up to 2017, so it's something that gives a lot of stability to the teams, to all the investors, in something that is really positive for everyone.
CH: I think I would fundamentally agree with both Martin and Stefano's comments. The RRA has been positive. For example, a team such as Red Bull, it's enabled us, as an independent team with a customer engine to compete at the front. A few years ago it would have been inconceivable for an energy drink company to be competing with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren but with the regulations on a more level playing field, it's one of the reasons that have enabled a team such as ours to become more competitive when you do level the playing field in terms of some of the aspects that Martin has mentioned, in terms of reducing some of the testing, some of the overheads. I think it's obviously important that there is a consensus moving forward, because it needs to accommodate teams such as Ferrari and McLaren and also be responsible for some of the smaller teams as well.
EB: I obviously agree with my colleagues. We have all signed this agreement and it's clear that it's a good move forward to bring stability and clearly it makes Formula One a little bit more reasonable.
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Mr Boullier, I know that you may give your gearbox to Lotus, this is the rumour, but is your philosophy to give your engine and gearbox to more teams, to more customers in the future, more than two or three?
EB: It's a bit too early. If we haven't announced anything yet it means we have not signed anything yet, regarding the supply to more teams. I think that maybe in the future, yes, Renault would wish to supply another team.
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) With Russia we will increase the number of grands prix. How many grands prix do you want to have in the calendar in the future, and which grands prix would you lose?
EB: Even if there was an announcement in the press that there is the possibility of a Russian Grand Prix from 2014, we don't know yet how many grands prix or how many races there will be per year at this time, so we can't comment on whether we will have more or less races. Even if we are agreed, it's not entirely up to us. I think we do feel comfortable with twenty GPs. It's more about logistics and about the number of team personnel than if we have to go over this limit. I think we have to re-organise a little bit the way we are working and travelling.
SD: I think that in terms of numbers of grands prix I agree with Eric: twenty is a reasonable number in the way that we are structured at the moment and of course, as you know, if someone wants to add races to the calendar, we need to agree a couple of issues or a couple of points before going ahead. For sure, that's something that has to be considered too. The other thing is that in my view, it is really great to see new places in the world that are interested in Formula One but personally I don't think that we can lose too many European races because this is something that is peculiar to Formula One. It's very important to us and I think that we need to be balanced on that. I see that we are moving ahead to a certain configuration of tracks which are closer to city tracks rather than really different tracks, so I think that on that we also need to be balanced, so there are a lot of things that we need to consider.
MW: I agree with everything that my colleagues have said, but I think there's a balance here. A grand prix is a very significant event and winning a grand prix has always been very significant. I think that if you have a championship with thirty or forty races, then winning an individual race will not have the significance that I feel a Grand Prix should have. I think that aside from the structure of our teams and the nature of our product, I think people want grands prix to remain very significant, and I think if you go beyond twenty, then it's really just the interest in the championship and not in each event in its own right. I think the championship is very important, it's what we're here for and I think the teams here are racing for. But winning a grand prix has always been very significant. If there are too many, then it becomes less significant.
CH: I think the guys have pretty much summarised it very eloquently. I think that with 52 weeks in the year there aren't too many opportunities to slot in too many more races. It's obviously always good to have more options. Who knows what will happen in the future. I think there are always logistical issues and the human toll that it takes on people like the guys, not only in the garage but also back at base within the factories as well - it's a matter of finding that balance, but I'm sure that that can be achieved.
Q. (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Plus) Let's talk about engines; in 2013, we have a new formula. You are gradually working your way to towards some kind of an agreement. How far have you got down that path, and is everyone in agreement with the proposals going forward at the moment?
SD: Very easy. We are still discussing.
Q. (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Plus) Are you happy with the major thrust of discussion?
SD: This is something that doesn't depend on me. I think that in any case, there are discussions between the manufacturers and the FIA to see which is the best compromise in terms of technology, in terms of costs, in terms of the situation that we need to consider, because in terms of 2013 we mustn't underestimate anything. Now we are talking about engines and power trains but there are new technical regulations, so we need to make sure that what we are speaking about as a car is unique, not divided in two pieces. So I think there are a lot of discussions going on now and I really hope that in the next couple of weeks I can be more precise on that.
MW: There's a lot of discussion, as Stefano said. There are a number of issues here. Inevitably Formula One has to be seen to be relevant to society, to the automotive sector etc and I think it's important that we strive for that. But it's also important that whatever we come up with is attractive, not only to the automotive manufacturers that are involved today but hopefully to further automotive manufacturers in the future. Plus I think we've also got to have regulations that are viable for an independent supplier like Cosworth; there's a really fine balance there. As we look at the various options that are available to us, if we arrive at something that either deters current manufacturers, doesn't encourage new manufacturers, or actually isn't viable for an organisation like Cosworth, then we've shot ourselves in the foot. But at the same time, we've got to make sure that we have an engine that's relevant to society and good for the show. So we've got to balance all those things and make sure that we don't get it wrong, and that's why there's a lot of discussion going on, and I think it's right than rather comment or speculate on what the conclusion will be, it's best that we reach that conclusion privately and then announce it thereafter.
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) About the Grand Prix format, is it really possible to consider two day grands prix?
MW: I think there are some discussions on format. I think a lot of people quite like the idea of a two day format. Really we've got to make sure that we're doing a service for promoters. If someone is putting in fantastic facilities like here in Korea, if they need a Friday to create the newspaper coverage which sells tickets for the Saturday and the Sunday, then we should do it. But we've really got to talk to the promoters and balance off what the teams would like to do with what the promoters need.
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Martin, if you had to bet money on the new engine for 2013, would you bet on existing engine regulations or a turbo engine?
MW: You should never bet on Formula One. It's very unpredictable, team orders and those sorts of things, so I wouldn't put my money anywhere.
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