Q & A with Gerhard Berger

The paddock in Fuji has been awash with talk about the need to cut costs in Formula One, as the reality of the world's economic crisis hits home. FIA president Max Mosley is due to meet with teams after the Chinese Grand Prix about ways to make urgent changes to the sport - as the consensus grows that something has to be done

Q & A with Gerhard Berger

While the manufacturers ponder how attractive new regulations like more standard parts will be for their parent boards, independent teams like Williams, Force India and Scuderia Toro Rosso are urging cost cuts simply to stay alive.

Autosport.com sat down with an animated Toro Rosso co-owner Gerhard Berger in Fuji to discuss the sport's financial situation, and hear why he believes action must be taken immediately. Here is what he had to say.

Q. How bad do you believe the current financial situation is in Formula One?

Gerhard Berger: I am very surprised. I rate the people in Formula One as very switched on guys, but on the financial side I feel like everyone is powerless.

At any company, if you invest some money and have to change the direction because of some outside influence then it will hurt. But at any company - if the situation changes dramatically - then they have to change to survive. If not, you will get hurt in a big way.

I still see Frank (Williams) talking sometimes about how the old concepts (all teams being constructors) should still be in place, and I think it is completely, completely wrong. I think our job is to make a fair sport with a great show, and it is completely rubbish to think that millions and millions of pounds being invested in technical development is what our sport is going to put forward.

The general (worldwide financial) crisis now is going to force the last ones who have not understood to understand. It will make them also agree that things have to be changed in a big way.

Q. Does it surprise you how much money is spent on items that don't give anyone a relative advantage over the opposition?

GB: Absolutely. If you look at GP2, and don't get me wrong - I never want to compare GP2 to F1, and I never like F1 too close to any other series because it has to be different - but it cannot be that F1 costs one hundred times what GP2 costs. And on Sunday, when you watch the races, you sometimes see a better show in GP2.

I think it is already ten minutes after midnight for us to make big dramatic changes. We have to put a business model onto it where we make a fantastic show for the people and also survive and earn some money. In every other business you are able to earn some money.

Q. Do you sense the change of attitude that has appeared in the Fuji paddock this weekend?

GB: No, and I am not expecting to see a change of attitude here. Where I have seen already a change of attitude is in the first FOTA (Formula One Teams' Association) meetings. There I can see the people stick together, and that it is maybe better we save our ground to make it work.

Q. Whose responsibility do you believe it should be to bring costs down? Should it be the teams, Bernie Ecclestone or the FIA?

GB: Well, ideally all three. At the end of the day all three have to be convinced on a direction. It is always bad if one says go this way, another says go another way and the other says he doesn't want either. A lot of the stuff has to be done by regulations. So that is Max. A lot of the stuff can be done by Bernie, because he has great influence. And I think a lot of stuff on proposals has to come from the teams, because they know where they spend the money.

Q. What are your ideas for the quickest way to cut costs in Formula One?

GB: Well, I think to spend for drive trains the money we are spending at the moment is nonsense. Total nonsense. And I remember when Max brought in the one-race engine and then the two-race engine, people were complaining about it. Today everybody in the paddock, and I mean everybody, supports it. There is not even one single technician who thinks it was a stupid decision. And today, I have to say what is wrong to run an engine for five races, or ten races, or a whole season? It is also a technical challenge - but a different one.

I find it completely wrong all the areas where we employ between 140 and 150 people to run three shifts in a wind tunnel, just to make every week new parts for a front wing. I think it is complete nonsense and doesn't do anything for the show.

To have thousands of pieces of data from telemetry is nonsense. I think in earlier days where we did not have it, it did not change anything with the show. It would make it even better, because then it would be the driver who has to set up the car with his engineers - and not the data technicians. You should be looking for racing guys and not just good studiers of data. I think there are a lot of things to do and can be done. But it would be nice that everyone would be agreed to it.

Q. Even some manufacturers now appear ready to accept that some standard parts should be used in Formula One, like standard brake ducts...

GB: Yes. Look at brake ducts. If you see the amount we spend on brake ducts, it is the biggest nonsense. What is wrong to have standard brake ducts? The only change you can make would be to have a bit more or a bit less tape (covering it). Would that change anything in the show? No.

Q. But how far can that go before it is no longer Formula One?

GB: I think you can go at it in a big way. It will feel strange in the beginning but at the end of the day, I am really sometimes surprised that people think there are fans in the grandstand who are interested in how the gearbox shifts. Or if it is aluminium or composite. Nobody gives a damn about it. Nobody! We have to bring a good show on Sunday afternoon, that is what we have to do.

Q. Are you still trying to revive customer cars in F1?

GB: It is the same thing. If there is one company like Red Bull who are able to support F1 with two teams financially, in a situation like this, and then you force them to build two times up the wind tunnel - it is complete nonsense.

I understand that Force India have done a deal with McLaren for a customer car next year, and I am totally happy with that. We want a competitive Force India - not someone who is going to die some day because no one is interested as they are not doing well. I think it will (the new deal) be fantastic, great.

Q. Are you optimistic that the meeting between FOTA and Mosley after China will produce some positive results?

GB: Who still thinks that F1 only needs a 10 percent price reduction? That is completely wrong. I think even 50 percent is not enough.

Q. Does it have to happen for next year?

GB: It is completely crazy not to do it straight away. There are a couple of things you can do straight away. We take much too long. Any normal company that went around in circles for such a long time to try and find a way forward to help would be bankrupt.

Q. But having FOTA as a body now must be a step in the right direction?

GB: I just wish FOTA, FIA and FOM come to the same conclusion. That is the best scenario.

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