Chinese Grand Prix FIA Friday press conference transcript with
Flavio Briatore (Renault managing director)
Nick Fry (Honda CEO)
Colin Kolles (Spyker MF1 managing director)
Mario Theissen (BMW motorsport director)
Q: Colin, what has been the effect of the Spyker take-over, has it already made a difference?
Colin Kolles: Well, obviously everybody is very motivated. I think there is a very clear direction. We are associated with a car manufacturer, it's not the largest car manufacturer in this world but it's still a much better position for us than before.
Q: We've seen that already, they've changed the livery for instance, and are advertising for many more people, is there going to be much more investment in terms of recruitment?
Colin Kolles: No, we were actually recruiting people all the time but obviously, now, we will run the wind tunnel 24 hours a day and we will have certain requirements and therefore we placed this advertisement.
Q: What other financial effect has it had in terms of development?
Colin Kolles: Well, we always put, as efficiently as possible, all the money into development. Obviously we don't have the same funds as the big manufacturers but we try to do the best and work in an efficient way and we will see what we will achieve.
Q: Do you think there will be a 'Gascoyne effect' when Mike joins; will he ask for more people?
Colin Kolles: No, we are very clear with Mike in this direction. I think it's not the quantity, it's the quality of the people.
Q: And how close are you to deciding on your engine for next year?
Colin Kolles: Very close. Maybe we can announce it this weekend.
Q: Nick, talking of engines, we are quite used to getting a Suzuka-spec engine from Honda, are we going to get that?
Nick Fry: No, it's not here. We are using the same engine that we used at the last race. The ones that we had some problems with on Friday in Monza, a version of that engine will be the one we run at Suzuka and subsequently in Brazil. In fact the problems we found at Monza were more related to manufacturing and build issues; it wasn't anything to do with the so-called Stage Four developments that we had in place, so the so-called Stage Four engines ran reliably at Jerez in the couple of tests we've done since then, did more than the 1500 kilometres that we usually require so we will be going forward in Japan with that specification and that's the engine that will start the freeze process for the next couple of years.
Q: What is the challenge of these two back-to-back races, particularly with Suzuka coming up?
Nick Fry: I think from a logistics point of view we are well-versed in back-to-back races. I think for us, it's more dealing with the number of guests we have. Obviously here, with 555 sponsorship on the car, we've got a substantial number of guests with us. In Japan, clearly with the Honda and other Japanese sponsors that we've got, there's a lot of people there, and in Brazil it will be British American Tobacco's or Lucky Strike's last race so it's the end of an era, so we have a large number of people there, so our concerns are more handling that side of it rather than the logistics of running the car.
Q: It's been a season of ups and downs for you. Looking back, early on, a bit disappointing then latterly, of course, more competitive. What have you learned from this year?
Nick Fry: I think this year, in fact, has been the best year that our team has had. Clearly 2004 was better from a results' point of view but I think that was probably as much to do with other people not having a good season rather than particular brilliance on our part, when we look back. I think this year we have understood a lot more about how the car works, delivering the full size wind tunnel ahead of time and in fact getting it calibrated and working in a very satisfactory way and in a very short period of time has been a huge achievement and our improvement over the last few races is really down to using that piece of equipment effectively, so I think we now know a lot more technically that we did before. Winning the race in Hungary was an obvious bonus but based on the knowledge that we've now got we can continue to progress.
Q: Mario, we've seen you use young drivers this year to remarkable effect: obviously Robert Kubica but also latterly Sebastian Vettel as well. What is BMW's policy regarding young drivers? You have a staircase of talent with Formula BMW, tell us your policy.
Mario Theissen: Well, the general policy with our entire Formula One project is to groom the team in-house rather than take on people from the outside. Obviously, if you want to ramp up (your personnel) by 150 people in one and a half years you have to take on people from the outside, but wherever possible, we take young people on the engineering side as well as on the driving side and develop them on our own. On the drivers' side, there is a particular resource with Formula BMW. Guys go there at the age of 15 or 16 so we have quite a close relationship, get a very good idea of what they are capable of, and then we have them on our screen as they go up through the other formulae, so I think it's quite a successful approach to watch young drivers and to evaluate them. That led us to taking on Sebastian Vettel which certainly is extraordinary for a 19-year old guy. Generally, I'm not proposing to take on younger and younger drivers into Formula One but in the case of Sebastian, we thought he's there, he's ready to take the job and apparently he's proved that. If you are successful doing so, I think it's the best approach you can take. You have to be careful to pick the right guys.
Q: We saw you have a good podium with Robert Kubica in Monza. Was that a one-off, was it unexpected?
Mario Theissen: Well, it was actually the second podium, already, and that was quite satisfying because we only expected podiums next year. Our podium in Budapest was certainly because we were lucky, it was dependant on the circumstances. In Monza, it was a podium on our own strength. In a way, it was a one-off, in the way that you use a specific aero package in Monza which is not used at any time either before or after that race. Apparently our aerodynamicists hit the point exactly so the car was really perfectly set up for Monza, but apart from that, we can see an upgrade slope, which is very good. It indicates what goes on behind the scenes which obviously is much more than what you see on stage at the race weekend and it precedes the results at the race weekend by nine to twelve months. And this is the first year in the existence of the original Sauber team that competitiveness didn't decrease over the season but increased and that is a really strong indication that we are on track.
Q: It's a young team in its new form, so we see it as a team still in development. Can you give us an update on recent developments in terms of personnel and facilities?
Mario Theissen: We basically established our plan in the middle of last year, immediately after our decision to take over Sauber by the end of last year, so there were some actions taken before. As I said before, we have a personnel plan which ramps up the team on the Swiss side from 275 to 430 people. Currently we are at 370 so more than halfway down the road. We have decided to expand the factory in order to house the people but also to expand the laboratories and workshops. Currently there is a big hole close to the existing building and everything will be in place by the end of next season, so basically it's a two year ramp-up plan and we are almost halfway down the road.
Q: Flavio, we see the championship battle getting closer and closer; what is your view of it as we come to these last three races.
Flavio Briatore: It is very interesting, because we have three races to fight with Ferrari and we try our best, what can I say?
Q: Will it be down to tyres, different types of circuit, engines and development?
Flavio Briatore: There's a lot of stuff that has made the championship more interesting, it's everything: not only tyres and engine, there's a lot of stuff going on but we believe we have a good possibility to win the championship, we believe we have as strong a team as Ferrari and we believe we can do it.
Q: We saw the developments this time last year where you kept pushing, kept pushing. Do we presume the same thing is happening this year?
Flavio Briatore: In Budapest I think it was our mistake, but we were in front in a big way in comparison to Ferrari. In Monza, as well. We are pushing the engine very hard, maybe too hard for the position we have, but if normally we start fifth as we qualified, our prediction is that it was quite easy to win the race. Every race is different and let's see what happens in China. The weather conditions today were not great for anybody but Michelin people are quite happy about the tyres. We didn't have any problems with the engine so let's see what happens tomorrow, but tomorrow qualifying is fundamental because this is another circuit where it's very very difficult to overtake. We are always talking about overtaking but I believe that we need to ensure that it's easier to overtake on new circuits. But this is like Budapest, it's very very difficult to overtake here.
Q: Going back to the engine problems that you had at Monza and also testing; was that the same problem all the way through and easily solved?
Flavio Briatore: Easily solved? No, because nothing magic happens in the engine. Sure, we know what the problem is and this is the first step, but the problem is that it's always the same problem. We have a different spec here in China and we are confident. We are fighting for the championship so we push very hard to the limit, this is really what we need to do in our situation and we were on the limit, so it's possible these things happen but here we go back to the normal engine and we have very very little possibility to have any problem but because this happens at Monza... in testing, it's normal, this is the reason why you test.
Q: Flavio, you understand the mind of a driver, you've run Michael Schumacher. How do think the fact that he's made his retirement announcement is going to affect him?
Flavio Briatore: I don't know. I don't think it will affect him, but for sure, Fernando is very strong. It's amazing to see somebody so young, so determined, so strong. I don't know what affects Michael, honestly, but Michael has been in Formula One a long time, and I'm sure he's managing the pressure, but let's see the team, because Ferrari has everything to lose now. If they don't win this year, it will be difficult in the future as well. Ferrari really needs to win this championship and we need to win it as well.
Q: Colin, today you confirmed Christijan Albers. As far as your second driver goes, how is that developing and how good a chance does Tiago have of staying with you?
Colin Kolles: Tiago is one of the many options that we have.
Q: You have run a lot of drivers... How many?
Colin Kolles: I don't know. I don't count them, but there are quite a few and they have proved themselves in other formulas. We will make a decision. Tiago has been doing a good job since two years and we will see.
Q: For Mario, the young drivers have had all the attention this year, but what is your impression of how Heidfeld has been doing?
Mario Theissen: I think he is doing quite well. He has always been a strong development driver with good input for the engineers and he did the main part of the development work in the first half of the season and he is still doing that and on top of that I think when we put Robert in the car I think it helped the entire team, including Nick, to improve so I saw two very strong qualifying sessions from Nick at the last two races and I think he is exploiting his potential again.
Q: Mario, on Robert Kubica, I wondered why you have been waiting if you are going to confirm him -- is he looking elsewhere? Are you looking somewhere else?
Mario Theissen: Unfortunately I said at the start of the season that I would confirm our driver line-up at the end of the season so I have to stick to that. There is no other reason behind it.
Q: Could I ask all of you what you think of the 30,000 kilometres testing limit?
Nick Fry: I think we need to have an agreement on testing and we were successful in agreeing something between all the teams last year and I am sure we can do the same this year. I along with everyone else agreed to 30,000 kilometres and I take it that if that is what we agreed to in concept then that is what we are going to stick to and now we only have to fill out the details and that needs more dialogue with Bridgestone because there is obviously a large logistical task to support a number of teams. The bottom line is that we support an agreement and I am sure we can hammer something out that suits everybody.
Colin Kolles: We are supporting it too, but it is in the hands of Bridgestone at the end of the day.
Flavio Briatore: Same thing. We always were tracking costs and already for everybody Friday twice 90 minutes is plenty of time to testing and so I am quite happy with 30,000 and if someone proposed me 25,000 I would be quite happy as well. I mean the only problem we always had was Ferrari who were always wanting to go testing at Fiorano and now this is decided, because if you don't have tyres you don't go testing. I hope it is the same for everybody because that is what is most important of all for Formula One -- to have Bridgestone with Ferrari, with Renault, with BMW, with everybody competing in Formula One. This is what we believe in for next year.
Mario Theissen: I always said it makes no sense to test four times the mileage that we race because the test kilometre is just as expensive as the race kilometre and it is spending the money without spectators, nothing else. What we have achieved, with everybody agreeing to 30,000 k, I certainly support that, and now we have to take the next step on this basis and develop a test schedule. It is not just about the mileage it is also about where we go, when we go there and what we need now is a schedule that tells at what circuit we will be and at what times and how we can distribute the 30,000 ks over the year without spending unnecessary money again.
Q: Will it be over a calendar year?
Mario Theissen: To my understanding it is 2007 so the winter tests in November and December are not affected.
Q: According to an FIA opinion poll published this week, McLaren are a far more popular team than Renault and Michael Schumacher is four times more popular than Fernando Alonso. Is that a fair reflection of reality?
Flavio Briatore: I think Schumacher is 20 years in Formula One or ten, 15 years or I don't know, but this I can't remember, 16 years, Michael in Formula One and Fernando, basically, has won one championship and Michael has won seven -- and Ferrari has been in Formula One forever and Renault, we started our project five years ago and this is the reason why, for sure, and I am not complaining about it... But popularity, you know, I never see so many flags for McLaren anyway, maybe it is a very special -- but you go to every circuit and you see Ferrari flags and you see our flag, but you never see Ferrari (meaning McLaren) flag. This way you see the popularity with the flags with the spectators. I have never seen, honestly, one Ferrari, I mean McLaren flag. This is what I see...
Q: How much will Formula One change without Schumacher and who will be the dominant driver for the next 10 or 12 years? And what will change for the public image of Formula One with regard to who wins the championship this year?
Flavio Briatore: You know, Formula One, I believe the sport is so strong. Whatever actors you have in this movie, sooner or later the actors stop and the movie is going on. We remember Senna and he is the classic example. We talk about Mansell, about Senna and we talk about Prost. Unfortunately, after what happened to Senna, I remember every magazine and newspaper said Formula One is finished. It was the headline in every newspaper. And there was no Michael there. But nothing changes. I don't think anything changes, honestly. We remember Michael, we remember Prost and we remember other one driver because the number of Michael is very impressive number because he won seven championships... I don't know who is the next dominant, but what is important in Formula One now is that the young drivers arrive. BMW have done that and other teams hope to do it. We always need new stock. It is fundamental to Formula One. We have a lot of champions now, a lot of good drivers, quick drivers and really we need another star in Formula One in the driver's side and this is something we are missing and I hope that in this group of young drivers coming into Formula One that we can find a star for the future.
Mario Theissen: People might reflect now on before and with Michael and without Michael, but the show goes on and new guys are there the new guys are performing and attracting the fans and it will help the initial for more than a few months.
Q: And a new star?
Mario Theissen: There are several young guys in the pipeline. I heard complaints earlier this year that we do not honour the experience of the experienced drivers anymore and I think it is a very healthy development to take new guys into Formula One and from what I have seen this year it is quite fun with Nico earlier in the season and now we have got Robert Kubica and I think with these young guys maybe they will mix up the grid. That is good for Formula One.
Nick Fry: Formula One, as Flavio said, is big enough and strong enough not to depend on any one person whether it be us, or any one driver. I think it relies on the strength of the show and now that we have some of the technical things agreed I think the major task for the next 12 months is to continue to improve it and there were some good signs from the FIA survey that things like the change to qualifying had improved the situation and now we have to build on that. I think that all the drivers can be the 'star'. I think there are enough coming up through the system from enough different nationalities that what we need to do is make each of them a star by improving accessibility to them. I think we have got to do a lot more to improve the show. From our side, I think we should think about making some things more compulsory; for example, in other formulas I have worked in, drivers and team members have been required to be in the pit during pit lane walkabout -- and some of the promoters now are putting on very good events during the evenings and maybe it should be mandatory to attend those. (Also) interviews on the grid and dedicated media time, like they have in rallying, I think that if we can put in place some of those things we can work with all of the drivers to make them all big stars around the world as a whole and I think that is what we need to work on.
Colin Kolles: My opinion is that the show will go on and we are practicing to bring young drivers more than anybody else so I think there won't be a problem. New star? My opinion, except for Alonso and Räikkönen, well I think Sebastian Vettel is a very good driver. He had the first drive in a Formula Three car in my car and I have known him for years and I have known Robert Kubica for years since he was a Mercedes driver and we were a Mercedes team in Formula Three and all of these guys are very strong drivers, all coming out of Formula Three, Mercedes juniors, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes junior, and this is the future.
Q: Nick, do you have a starting date for Ross Brawn at Honda?
Nick Fry: I am intrigued by that one! Apart from chatting socially with Ross we have had no contact on a professional basis so you can put that one firmly to bed.