Q & A with BAR's Fry and de Ferran

Nick Fry - BAR CEO: I'm very pleased to have Gil [de Ferran] on board, he will be with us in England from Monday and be with us at the next race. As we have said, we have been having discussions for some time, and he will complement the technical skills of Geoff [Willis] and my business skills very well. I wanted a racing person in charge of the racing

Q & A with BAR's Fry and de Ferran

Gil is joining us at the right time; we have been testing new aero work and modified engine for Imola, and as of a few moments ago we were first and second [in Barcelona testing).

Gil de Ferran - BAR Sporting Director: This is an amazing opportunity to develop my life and my career; this type of role is definitely something I had in mind - and was trying to get into - when I retired from driving. So it has come at the right time. Obviously I leave my friends and colleagues that I made over the last 10 years here, in the USA, with a high degree of sadness, but I will not lose touch with everyone.

It is going to be a huge challenge for me, and onwards and upwards.

Q: Gil, you had a long-term relationship with Penske. Did you go to Roger for advice?

GDF: Roger had not only been my boss in the past, but a friend and also somebody I bounced ideas to and from, and he remains so even after I stopped driving in the end of 2003. So I speak to him regularly and this is one thing that we did talk [about], and he encouraged me to put my teeth ahead, and that is certainly one of them.

Q: Did you see position with Penske?

GDF: No I did not. Penske Racing has...my role there as a driver lasted for four years. I had a great relationship with them, and I did not seek any other position with them, because I had a unique view on how they operated and to me they were in a good shape.

Q: Did you miss trackside activity?

GDF: Absolutely, certainly one of the things I have learned over the last year or so is that I missed the competition side. I am a racer at heart. When I stopped racing I didn't want to leave the sport completely and my juices kept flowing. This role answers all my emotional and intellectual needs.

Q: How much of this appointment stems from wanting to use your engineering background?

GDF: My interest in racing was very broad from the day I started. I love driving, I love competing, but I also love the machines. Even when my interest in driving was winning during the last year and led to my retirement, my interest [in engineering] remained high. I guess over the years I accumulated different experiences and in other parts of motorsport, including the technical part, and hopefully as time goes on I will be able to contribute more and more to the team. But my main role is more sporting related, racing related, and less technical.

Q: How different is it to make the jump from Indy to F1?

GDF: There are many nuances about the F1 world that I do not know about, therein lies some of my challenges that I speak about. But on the other hand I feel like I accumulated all the experience I can. This type of road is definitely something I want to do, I feel ready for it. Time will tell how successful I will be.

Q: Will you relocate from the USA?

GDF: Taking this role entails moving to England. I lived for seven years of my life [there], and I am looking forward to that.

Q: Will this appointment bring the team results?

NF: It is all part of...building a wall, it is bit by bit. We have struggled obviously with some technical issues, but it looks like we are getting to the bottom of it. It is a long-term appointment, Gil has got to get himself up to speed, but we are doing this to get the right blend for people to eventually win the World Championship. I don't think Gil will change things immediately, but he will have impact in the medium to long term.

Q: Do you expect the start of the European season to bring results?

NF: I am still completely confident that we can achieve the aim of winning a race or better this year. The start has been disappointing for various reasons, but we are on top of these issues - we know exactly what we wanted to do, testing some new aero bits - and it has been looking positive. Gil will be with us at Paul Ricard next week, so by the time we get to Imola, we will be in good shape.

Q: Is Jenson Button confident?

NF: Jenson really is part of this team, he is fully aware of everything that goes on; we keep him fully involved in everything. He knows sometimes it gets a bit tough, but we have always said that we will do everything we can.

Q: Are you not worried about losing him at the end of this year?

NF: Obviously race car drivers want to be in the best car, and it is our job to give him the best car. That is our job, and we are clearly focused on him, and our job is to keep him as long as possible.

Q: Is Gil bringing with him the winning aspect?

NF: It is part of this strategy; Gil and I talked before Christmas. I deliberately called myself chief executive; I have got a range of skills, Geoff Willis has got a technical director role and range of skills. And I think we have got now someone sitting on the pitlane who will be a match or better.

Q: So is the puzzle now complete?

NF: We will continue to tweak; this is no holds barred. We will do what it takes to win. Gil is a critical part of that jigsaw puzzle.

Q: Can Fernando Alonso be caught in the World Championship chase?

NF: Everyone, including Renault, knows that the season is very long this year. Don't underestimate anyone. With the amount of testing Ferrari is doing - going against the testing agreement - it's allowing them to catch up quickly, so they will be in on it within two to three races. And McLaren and we will improve, so Alonso is not home and dry.

Q: Gil, does Bobby Rahal's bitter experience in F1 worry you?

GDF: In a way it doesn't. I know Bobby for several years and I think these are different situations and different people. All I can tell you really is that the people that I have dealt with so far - primarily and mostly Nick, and I had a conversation with Geoff Willis - it has been a wonderful courting period and I feel very comfortable.

I clearly understand what I have to do; the role that I am fulfilling is also different from the role that Bobby Rahal was trying to fulfill at Jaguar. But I am also comfortable with the fact the jury is out, it is out for everyone and it always is going to be out and the only way to know that is to do your job well and hopefully deliver the right results.

Q: Was Jackie Stewart involved in this appointment?

GDF: Like Roger Penske and other people, JYS has been somebody I have turned to when I have big decisions to make. Since the early 90s really, the Stewart family have been my friends since I drove for them back then. Certainly I met Nick through Jackie back in the 1990s. When this came about I sought Jackie's advice.

NF: As Gil said, we have known each other on and off for a number of years, and I know JYS very well - he was non-executive of AM when I was managing director - and from our side there were a number of discussion with JYS about Gil and this job. So he can take some credit for this arrangement. He is incredibly supportive of Gil, myself, and the proposal we are going forward with.

Q: What is Gil's first task?

GDF: My first task is a lot of observing and listening. The worst thing I can do is to disrupt a good thing in the short term. BAR-Honda finished second last year with mostly the same people that you find today and I have to, like Nick said, I have to find my feet first and in the short term my plan is to really observe, take information in, and hopefully my contribution will increase. That is really my plan, and my immediate plan is go to England this Sunday and in the middle of the week go to Paul Ricard.

NF: He is going to have two days of indoctrination, Monday/Tuesday, a couple of days off, and more work with the guys and on-stage at Imola.

Q: Gil, did you talk to Bobby Rahal about your appointment?

GDF: I did not talk to Bobby Rahal since this came about. This is a different role from what Bobby was playing at Jaguar; there are different people involved than Bobby. Certainly I understand this will be an enormous challenge for me, but this is something I really want to do. I gained a lot of experience in my racing life. The jury is still out, but it is out for everyone. I look forward to the challenge.

NF: The whole environment is totally different; Gil is a different personality to Bobby; and he is joining a team that finished second in the Championship last year but is 50 percent owned by a company that has one of the best motorsport histories. This is a company that is dedicated to winning the Championship. We are going to go forward with full backing for the Championship.

Q: Gil, F1 is very political. Is it easy for you to turn back on politics?

GDF: I hope so. I think I understand my role very clearly. I think at the end of the day, once the green flag flies that is all that matters. In the past I have done a good job at focusing on the job in hand and not really get too distracted about other things and not be sensitive to things that don't change results, and I hope I will be able to do the same in my new role.

NF: This is where the division of responsibilities comes in. We wanted him to be in charge of racing and the politics are very time consuming. I have just now come out of a meeting looking at future of sport and that is a time-consuming role. I will keep Gil fully informed of what is going on, but we need him to concentrate on winning races, not politics.

Q: Gil, do you have a step-by-step plan to get ready for your role?

GDF: In a way, like I said earlier, my initial task is to land over there [in England] and get a lay of the land and listen and learn, and like Nick mentioned, it will be an accelerated process. But that is my initial plan - to do that and not disrupt the workings of what is essentially a good operation.

Q: Do you know Jenson Button well?

GDF: I met Jenson in the past but mostly socially, I liked him a lot - he seemed like a really nice guy; no airs and graces about him, and a guy who loves racing and just a nice guy. My son liked him a lot, so that must be a nice sign.

Q: Are you looking forward to working with him?

GDF: Absolutely. I see Jenson as certainly one of the best drivers in the world today and somebody that has not only the potential to win races but to win a World Championship. He is a great asset to BAR-Honda and I am very much looking forward to working with him.

Q: What does Jenson Button need to do to win?

GDF: Not much. His performances have been incredible. But for you to win races, a lot of things have to come right, all at the same time, and it is a job for the whole team, including himself.

Q: Will you sit down with him and have a chat about driving?

GDF: My first job is, I guess, to get to know him better and that is primarily why I am going to Paul Ricard - to get to know the team better and know him better. Not only Jenson, but also Takuma [Sato] and other test drivers, and to get to know them better.

Q: Gil, you had F1 ambitions as a driver. Is this a replacement therapy?

GDF: Well, I don't think so. I had a lot of fulfillment in my driving career, especially in my last stint with Team Penske - where I was able to win many races and Championships and certainly the Indy 500. I finished my racing career at the end of 2003 satisfied with what happened and not bitter about anything. I was happy about the way my life had developed.

As far as F1 goes, I have always had a fascination with F1, ever since I saw JYS battling Fittipaldi as a kid. I always loved F1 and I wanted to be an F1 driver. My road took me a different way but just as fulfilling. I think my doing what I am doing really has not much to do with any sort of unfinished business that I had in the past. It is a new avenue and a great opportunity for me.

Q: Did you talk to any of the former F1 guys in the USA?

GDF: I have not spoken to [Cristiano] da Matta but I have spoken to other people that I have known in Europe for many years, and it has been fantastic, very supportive with very intelligent advice in many cases.

Q: What is the feeling inside you - like starting the Indy 500?

GDF: I felt every emotion you can feel over the last few weeks, but I am hugely excited. Of course I am hoping it will be the beginning of my next career.

Q: Will you miss US racing?

GDF: I think yes. Obviously the Indy 500 and open wheel racing in US has been part of my staple diet over the last 10 years so you cannot cut anything off and not have withdrawal symptoms; for sure that will happen at some point in time. On the other hand I am sure I will be busier than I can possibly imagine at this very moment and when you find that you don't have time to reflect on my things.

Q: Will you test an F1 car?

GDF: There are no plans for me to drive the car, or any car for that matter. Since I retired from racing at the end of 2003 I have been fortunate enough to be in a position to have several approaches to drive all sorts of cars and I resisted them in a way, so much easily, I was very sure about that and I had no desire to get back in the racing car since then. And this job, I think, will be so overwhelming in the future.

Q: You have no desire to test an F1 car?!

GDF: As unbelievable as it may seem, I have no desire to drive. Of course my shape is nowhere near as good as when I was driving so I don't think I could do very well anyway!

Q: Nick, how did this appointment come about to begin with?

NF: The idea of a sporting director was something David Richards and I had become acquainted with in rally environment three years ago and that led to the appointment of George Donaldson of SD of Subaru Rally team, and after appointing him they won the Championship. So the concept of having a team manager looking after the organization, and

a chief engineer looking after engineering side, and someone with racing and rallying background [looking after the racing side] - this comes from my rally experience; the idea came from there, and it was pretty high in my mind. That is why I chose title of chief executive to begin with.

It's all very well defined not so fluid at all. Gil will have reporting to him the team management, the operation side of team management, so he will be in charge of all engineers - yes, it will include race strategy and set-up of car, motivation, communication that makes a good team.

Team bosses meetings - that is something I will do. That will be a clear demarcation, what it takes to win races, what it takes to design a car, and overall management of team and company.

Q: F1 is very different. How do you think you will cope?

GDF: I am sure it will be very challenging and a lot of difficulties that I cannot see at this moment. But at the end of the day racing, a lot of its characteristics and ingredients are common worldwide, and I think what I have learned over the years puts me in a good position to assume this role. Like I stated, I feel ready for it and a natural progression, however difficult it may be.

Q: Nick, can you give us an update on the team's new wind tunnel?

NF: The wind tunnel is on target. We see it as key to future investment of the team and we need it up and running by the middle of next year - which will be the shortest build and implementation of any wind tunnel. At the moment, this week all the foundations will be completed and that is a major task, and we have 140 piles that go down 75 feet into the bed rock of the earth below, and to make sure the concrete pouring should be done properly, we adopted the same technique used on the Petronas Towers [in Malaysia] by building a great big tent which covers the area where concrete will be poured to keep out rain and temperatures right. At the moment we are completely on schedule.

Q: What will become of the old facility?

NF: It will keep working. We intend to work both tunnels. The small facility that we run at the moment - which by F1 standards is relatively rudimentary - runs 24/7 bar about 4 hours maintenance on Sunday nights, and we intend to run both tunnels to get to the top.

Q: Do you have plans to rent out the old wind tunnel?

NF: Not at this stage, but it's something we might consider. That decision might be a couple of years away. The old Lola wind tunnel nearby is out to rent, and others around the world are to rent. The aim is to use two tunnels to support our F1 tasks.

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