Interview with Gerhard Berger
While some drivers turn their back on Formula One as soon as their racing career is over, Gerhard Berger has kept a very close involvement since he hung up his helmet at the end of 1997. After helping guide BMW's return to Grand Prix racing in 2000, and then staying on board as Motorsport Director alongside Mario Theissen until 2003, Berger has made no secret of his desire to return to the sport if the right opportunity came along
That chance came last week when he finally buckled to pressure from Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz - as well as a financial offer than he simply could not turn down. Now a 50 percent owner of Scuderia Toro Rosso, as well as an advisor to Red Bull's motorsport programme, Berger has wasted little time in getting his feet under the desk by flying to the team's latest test at Jerez in Spain.
After observing the team from the pitwall and garage, autosport.com caught up with Berger to talk about the reasons for his return, his plans for the future and his views on where the sport is heading.
Q: How did the Toro Rosso deal come about?
Gerhard Berger: "In fact, it was my wife who asked me if it was possible to get out of the house, so that she can think! No really, it was very spontaneous. I have a history of 18 years with Didi (Dietrich Mateschitz) of Red Bull and I was the first sports personality who was contracted to Red Bull.
"All these years I have maintained the relationship. I have a very close relationship and special experience with Red Bull, and Red Bull was getting more and more involved in motorsport, so it was obvious that he was going to ask me to get involved.
"The next step for me was clear: I wanted to own my own team. When we spoke there was a possibility of having my own team, but 50 percent of the team with Didi is really a dream situation. I really trust him and I know the potential of Red Bull, so with this combination I think we can do something really good.
"On top of that, I always had a close relationship with Italy. I like the idea of Toro Rosso, the base coming out of Italy and it seems like a good challenge to come out of a team that has 20 years of background to move forward. I know it is a big challenge, but I know it is the right thing to do."
Q: When did you feel that? When did you decide?
Berger: "Last week to be exact. About 10 days ago."
Q: What is your role at Toro Rosso and Red Bull?
Berger: "We are both exchanging experiences. I mean, we have a fantastic team principal in Franz Tost. I have worked with him closely at BMW. I have known him for 25 years, he is also Tyrolean, and we knew each other from Formula Ford times. So we already had a good relationship and I trust him 100 percent. I respect his knowledge and he is a perfect team principal. I do not have to put much detailed input to him. It is a perfect combination: with my experience, Franz's operative skills and Didi's help, the potential should be enormous."
Q: Had it crossed your mind to own your team independently of Mateschitz?
Berger: "I have my own ideas for the future to build up a team. But the circumstances and the cost side, they are very difficult at the moment."
Q: But you are so rich...
Berger: "Not rich enough for F1, though. I am rich enough to buy every day bread and some sausage, but not rich enough to buy an F1 team. Having a manufacturer or a partner like Red Bull is very difficult, although maybe in the future it may be possible. That is what I am hoping. But now I have a possibility with Red Bull and I even prefer it. I think it is a great combination. I like the image of Red Bull, I like the history and the possibilities they have. It is a perfect situation. It cannot be better."
Q: How long are you intending to stay?
Berger: "There is no question: motorsport is my life. This is a good step I have taken."
Q: What do you hope for? Do you have a plan, a target?
Berger: "It is difficult. We can talk about Midland and Super Aguri, but then after that you are already talking about manufacturers. But, let's wait and see."
Q: Toro Rosso is such a small team, though. Is it smart to take this route?
Berger: "I know it is a small team. It is a hell of a challenge."
Q: Realistically, what can you achieve? What do you want to achieve?
Berger: "You have to see the reality. It is not reasonable to say that we can go first and second. We will have to see over the first three years. Within three years we have to establish a good pace, put good people together - but knowing that the resources are limited. Still, I believe with the right people we can do something together and of course we have direct competitors - Midland and Suzuki. That is the first stage of direct competition. Then let's try to see the next step.
Q: You have always been associated with big companies. Why have you opted to be involved with such a small team?
Berger: "Everyone expected me to be with one of the big guys, but I have chosen to go this route. It is a tougher route but it may be more fun."
Q: What is the current V10 situation?
Berger: "We will have to see. We have this package at the moment, then we will have to see what happens in the future."
Q: Will you have the same engine next year?
Berger: "I don't know. I have not studied the situation yet."
Q: Will we see you at every Grand Prix this year?
Berger: "Not necessarily, but I am trying to keep myself informed and get the feeling for everything. I am going to see what is going to help the team, but I can say clearly that Franz is running the team. I really cannot say that I will come to every race, and I have no idea yet.
"I am going to see which area is important for me to put the effort in. First of all, we have to try to get some points for the team and our direct competitors in terms of resources and budget are those two teams (Midland and Aguri Suzuki). All we can achieve is to be better than them."
Q: What have you observed so far of the other teams?
Berger: "I see that Renault are strong, and Honda too, but it is difficult to say if they will stay strong in the summer. In the winters they have always been strong but you have to wait and see if that gets confirmed in the first race. I think Ferrari are strong, but I really do not know how strong. That is a question mark.
"I see quite a good package at both BMW and Williams; both teams seem to be well prepared. McLaren are struggling at the moment, but they have enough resources to solve their problems. I have not seen anything yet of Toyota. Where they are going to be, is a surprise."
Q: Is there any chance for Ferrari engines to be in the back of your car as well as Red Bull Racing?
Berger: "To work with Ferrari will be a great pleasure, but it is not enough to dream. We have to be realistic about the cost. They (engines) do not come cheap and in F1 they do cost money. Ferrari engines are usually top engines and I understand their V8 is again a strong engine, but we will see."
Q: Will you have any involvement in sponsorship co-ordination?
Berger: "If you own the team, you have to make sure that there is money there to run the team. So I have to see if there is the right sponsors and the right amount of money."
Q: Can you explain your advisory role for Red Bull, then?
Berger: "I know Red Bull owns the team so, whenever Didi needs something out of my experience, I am more than happy to give my advice. It is important that my partner has a successful motorsport role. It is good for me and good for all."
Q: Will you be involved in technical issues as well.
Berger: "For Toro Rosso, whatever I have and I can give, I will give. In my racing life I have had different experiences."
Q: Are we completely stupid to think that this new car of yours is a revamped RB1?
Berger: "It is the same colour. When the colours are the same then you think they are the same because they look similar."
Q: What about the car internals?
Berger: "Inside? I have not looked inside. I only saw the car for the first time this morning - and I like the colour."
Q: What is your immediate plan?
Berger: "I think we have to stabilise what we have. We have a good bunch of people and we will build step-by-step to see what can become."
Q: How much help can you get from Red Bull?
Berger: "Red Bull have always had a big infrastructure and I think they can be a big help to have this. Also there is financial support from Red Bull. Didi's group of people have a good knowledge of motorsport. They have a clear mind and a clear direction."
Q: Will there be any exchange of technical people?
Berger: "That I do not know yet. I have no idea how close this relationship will be."
Q: What about the new Concorde Agreement?
Berger: "We are very much in line with the FIA. I am a believer in the FIA, simply because it is important to have independent bodies making decisions without individual interests. It will be strange to get teams involved (in running the sport) as everyone has his own agenda and interest. You have to accept that when the FIA makes decisions it sometimes fits your idea and sometimes it does not. It is important to have an independent body, and I am a supporter of it."
Q: There has been a huge outcry on your V10 situation. What are your thoughts on that?
Berger: "For other teams, you mean basically Midland. I think this is the regulation. I do not see any advantage at the moment and all the laptimes are where they should be. We have a good car but we are not doing the quickest times. You know, okay, we are quicker than Midland but so what?
"I think when they decided on the equivalency there were a lot of thoughts behind it and lots of calculations must have been done. We know we are definitely not having an advantage over the V8 Cosworth engine and, although we may have an advantage over another engine, for me at the moment this figure is a fair solution."
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