Austrian GP: Friday press conference

Present, Motorsport directors: Norbert Haug (Mercedes) Mario Theissen (BMW) Pierre Dupasquier (Michelin) Hiroshi Yasukawa (Bridgestone) Q: The FIA have asked the tyre companies to bring a wet tyre which they will control. How has that affected...

Present, Motorsport directors:
Norbert Haug (Mercedes)
Mario Theissen (BMW)
Pierre Dupasquier (Michelin)
Hiroshi Yasukawa (Bridgestone)

Q: The FIA have asked the tyre companies to bring a wet tyre which they will control. How has that affected you, what sort of tyre is it, how easy has it been to supply it, is it one that you're developing constantly? Can you give us some information about that?

Pierre Dupasquier: It's a bit of a confusing situation because it has been decided that we were supposed to bring one wet tyre only. Both of us, I guess, had made specific development to try to offer a solution that would cope with the rain pavement we are supposed to face. Which one? How is defined? It's not - understandably - and so they and we came up with some solution that we guessed was capable of coping with the wet conditions of tarmac.

Then the FIA came and said, also understandably, yes, but we want to race anyway, and start the race at 2 o'clock whatever the conditions. So we said, okay, listen, in open-wheeler cars you will not race in any conditions. To do it, we have to prepare a tyre for that. What about that monsoon tyre? We said good, let's do a monsoon tyre which will do five laps in the rain and then it will be destroyed, it will disappear.

So we are in that kind of situation where we understand that the FIA want to start the race at 2 o' clock whatever conditions we have, but technically it's not feasible to have a rain tyre for Formula One that can race with five centimetres of water on the track as could happen. Then in addition you could have some rivers crossing the track like in Brazil, so what can we do with a river? It's not in our capability.

There are conditions where an open-wheeled car cannot race. So what type of rain tyre do we have to prepare to satisfy those conditions? We don't know exactly. I don't know. So we brought four or five different types of rain tyres -- I'm just kidding -- but just to make sure that we can face any conditions.

Hiroshi Yasukawa: We are a bit surprised. Until last year we can use three specifications, but suddenly the FIA said you cannot bring just one spec. But of course you know we have to respect the FIA regulations. Anyhow we brought tyres, but if a storm is coming, like in Brazil, our position is that we think it is very dangerous and I think the FIA's decision was very correct and we are basically respecting their idea. At this time, after the Brazilian Grand Prix, we discussed between ourselves, Michelin and the FIA, and finally we brought extreme weather tyres. This time we are following the guidance of the FIA and we bring an extra spec of extreme weather tyres here.

Q: So what is the ideal solution; what would you like for next year?

HY: I think this time the FIA's idea is very correct. Basically, we brought one spec and in case a storm is coming, we have brought what some people call storm tyres, or extreme weather tyres. I think it is a good idea.

PD: If I make a joke I would like to say that we would like to have total freedom to bring the suitable tyres for the conditions. That's what we would like most. Obviously that's not possible for several reasons - practical, logistic and cost - so if you don't do that, I would go along with Mr Yasukawa in definitely having a decent tyre to race on normal wet conditions and if we definitely want to start the race at 2 o'clock, a kind of monsoon which will prevent anybody from criticising anything because the tyre is available even if it's not practical or it will be a mess. But technically the race may start at 2 o' clock, that's a possibility.

Q: Now in terms of dry tyres, the choice has been widened a great deal this year for the teams that you supply. How has that changed for the tyre manufacturers, including technically speaking?

PD: Well, we may not have exactly the same approach but what we feel is that our job is to prepare a tyre according to the current technical regulations, having two tyres the same because we may have eight degrees on the ground or 45 or 48 degrees on the ground so definitely one tyre would not do it. So the circuit will remain the same, the pavement will remain the same, and the difference between cars are very important if you check the result of the race because we are talking about hundredths of seconds, or tenths of seconds. But technically, if you want to put in the computer the differences between those cars, to define a suitable tyre, you will come with the same tyre.

But racing in Zeltweg is not like racing in Monte Carlo or Barcelona or whatever, so we listen to whatever information we get from our testing with our teams. Whatever they like we will do it, it doesn't matter so much for us because we can do it, but normally they concentrate on two or three different types or tyre which will suit them. Sometimes somebody wants to do something a bit more... construction differences or rubber a little bit softer, so we do it, but normally when we come up with something it is almost the same tyres.

HY: Actually, of course, we are respecting the FIA regulations but I think one side of this regulation is good, one side is not so good. The good thing is that we can make many specifications and also the teams can chose. But the bad thing concerns costs because it is expensive for us and also expensive for the teams. If we produce just two specifications and the team concentrates on these two specifications - but if you can chose tyres, if there's A, B, C, D and if some teams say A is good and B is good, then if one team has the ability and R&D know-how - and also budget-wise in this case - they can follow it up. If we are concerned about small teams, for me, I think it's very difficult.

Q: Norbert, we are looking forward to the new McLaren. Is it going to be a new Mercedes engine as well?

Norbert Haug: It is a new engine, indeed, certainly the baseline is the engine we are using right now but it is completely new in every detail at the end.

Q: So to some extent the track testing must involve Mercedes as well as McLaren...

NH: Yeah, as usual. We did a lot of testing on the dyno already and we will start soon with the new car and then we see where we are.

Q: Now it has recently been announced that the idea of multi-race engines is going to be dropped -- are you happy with the idea of single race engines?

NH: Well I certainly think that was a step in the right direction and I think we can cope with it. It is a much better rule than the one that was suggested like six races with one engine, not that we couldn't do that -- I think all the manufacturers could. In DTM, for example, we had three engines for a two car team for the whole season but obviously that is limited on revs and I think Formula One should be in a position where really the technical side counts at the end of the day so the strongest limit I can imagine is one engine per weekend. We shouldn't go any further.

Q: In terms of customer engines, are you quite happy to supply them?

NH: Yeah, we made the offer and we will see what is going to happen. We need to develop possibilities and are in discussions. Nothing is fixed, everything is open.

Q: Mario, you have said you cannot produce customer engines...

Mario Theissen: We certainly can produce customer engines but we are not in a position that we can say we can do it for next year and we can get the cost to the figure that is on the table because this would be below our own cost and I think we are not prepared to do that. We certainly can produce some 50 engines for that amount of money but it wouldn't help the independent teams because what they need is competitive engines and not some engines and they are certainly more expensive.

Q: So it is a logistical problem to some extent?

MT: As I said we are not prepared to do it in 2004. This is a question of logistics and capacity in our factory, machines as well as people, and on the other hand it is a matter of cost.

Q: A lot has been written recently that BMW wants to stay in Formula One but they haven't signed with Williams. What is actually stopping you signing with Williams?

MT: I wouldn't say there is anything stopping us -- we are still in the process. We have certainly several options but first option and priority would be to extend our partnership with Williams. But, of course, if we do that we want to be successful not just BMW but also Williams and certainly at the moment we are not in the position we want to be in so we are currently talking about how the team has to be structured, has to be organised, what the processes have to be in order to get to the top and this is I think quite a constructive process that is going on and I am quite confident that at the end of this process we will have a satisfying result.

Q: What has to be restructured?

MT: Well, if you look at the operations of the team it is about processes, how people work together, how development processes are organised, and of course the structure related to this - how people are grouped within the company. Then, of course, it is about the competence of the people and about the resources and tools available. That is what we are talking about.

Q: Does that suggest you are not happy with the way it is happening at the moment?

MT: We are not happy and saying we I mean BMW as well as Williams. We are not happy with the position and the competitiveness we have at the moment and we have to talk about how to fix that, and it is about the operation of the team.

Q: So it is for the present as well as the future...

MT: Certainly more about the future than the present - if we went to Williams talking about the future partnership we certainly don't talk about the FW25 because at that time this year's car will be history. We are talking about the key factors of competitiveness of a future team.

Q: Max Mosley said in an interview that he expects two manufacturers to drop out of Formula One. Given that the GPWC depends on manufacturers, will your companies stay in Formula One for the long term?

MT: For BMW I can say we haven't decided in which way to go ahead but there is a decision that BMW will stay in Formula One beyond 2004.

NH: We will stay in Formula One for a very long time I would say. We are committed, we are not starting negotiations with GPWC to stop it tomorrow. We have a long-term commitment and if the FIA president chooses to speculate he had better speak to me before he does that and he didn't. I read the interview as well, I am as surprised as Mario is and I cannot understand these speculations. We are committed for the long term. Mr Hubbert is actually leading the GPWC, it will change next year or towards the end of the year, but I think it is very logical that if we do that we do not plan to stop in the short term.

I do not know where this story comes from - I would say pure speculation. We are happy in Formula One, it gave us back a lot, we promoted our brand in a very good way, we have a great partnership with McLaren, our tyres are getting better and better, our engine is getting stronger and stronger, so we are on the right path and I have a good friend with Mario so we keep on going.

Q: We have seen some kind of a deadline has been issued for whatever is going to happen with Formula One but it seems to me that we all accept that any kind of split in Formula One could be complete madness because we have seen what happened in the United States and other forms of sport. It seems to me that one of the most important factors in this whole thing is the role of the banks that made ludicrously big loans that they are still carrying on their books. Can you let us know if Norbert or Mario can tell us the manufacturers' attitude towards the banks -- are the manufacturers prepared to buy our or pay any money to those banks?

NH: Well, I have to ask your understanding that I cannot go into the detail because it is a GPWC issue, it is behind closed doors, the negotiations are taking place and I think it would not be right to go into detail. For sure, we are informed what is going on and I can tell you that splitting is not what the manufacturers want, it is not what the GPWC wants, we want a constructive way forward, we want to have a Formula One that is absolutely secure in the future and has a solid base and I think it is fair enough for us to try to stabilise Formula One in the middle and the long term, that is what we are working on.

It is not about the manufacturers making rules or steering the sport, that is not the idea behind it, it is stabilising Formula One and it will help the teams. The teams will be better off and it is not about us. I think Mario can confirm that as well -- it is not our job to do rules and to be the governing body and maybe there is a misunderstanding but I think we have very constructive discussions and the plans we have for Formula One are very positive, that is for sure.

MT: Well, same position basically. I agree that a split of the series would certainly be negative and you can be sure that everybody involved is very much aware of this. I can only speak for BMW, not for the banks.

Q: Mario, how good do you think the BMW engine is compared to Mercedes and Ferrari?

MT: That is what I ask myself every day and night.

Q: You must have some technical performance details...

MT: Certainly I don't have any exact data and certainly the engines are not that far apart that you could judge on this just by looking at the engines. What I can say is that so far in this season we are very satisfied with our engine. We haven't had any single reliability problems so far and we have made a step forward in terms of power last year. We are currently using the same engine spec in qualifying and in the race so I am really satisfied with the situation and the position that we are in at the moment.

Q: Do you think the engine is better than where the car is currently performing on the track?

MT: If the engine is better than the car that is a difficult question and you need both certainly to do a lap and there is no point in pointing at weaknesses and strengths. We have to improve every day, we are developing the engine every day no matter where we are and this is the only approach to get to the top.

Q: Gerhard seems to be pointing fingers at the moment...

MT: He has got his hands in his pockets already again.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Norbert Haug , Hiroshi Yasukawa , Mario Theissen
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams