Team Representatives - Giorgio Ascanelli (Toro Rosso), Pat Fry (Ferrari), James Key (Sauber), Paddy Lowe (McLaren), Adrian Newey (Red Bull), Naoki Tokunaga (Renault).
Q: Naoki, do you regard this as a home race?
Naoki Tokunaga: Yes of course. Coming back to Suzuka is always quite a good feeling. Not only because the circuit is very challenging both for the driver and the engineer but also it is my home Grand Prix. Also the fans, they are fantastic. They are always respectful with us and very happy and they know how to enjoy their race weekend. This year I came here with a little bit extra emotion obviously after the tragedy, so I am quite happy that the fans and the teams all got together again here in Suzuka for this great sporting event.
Q: When Honda and Toyota were involved there were a lot of Japanese people in Formula One, but not so many these days. What is your background and how did you get into Formula One?
NT: I studied in Japan and since then I have always wanted to work in motorsport and in particular Formula One. My career started in an automotive company in Japan, but I always wanted to seek an opportunity in England to get a job and luckily I think it was in 2000 I got the job as a vehicle dynamics engineer at Enstone. It is how my career started and I enjoy the life there. It looks like it is a bit stuck in England but, nonetheless, it is not at all a bad country and I am quite happy being there.
Q: This weekend so far, are you happy to be back on this circuit rather than the slower corners of Singapore.
NT: Yes, this circuit is quite hard on tyres because the tyre energy as a biproduct of the tyre forces are quite high. Especially the front tyres. It is one of the highest circuits of all grand prix tracks. Coupled with this is the abrasive surface of the tarmac. Those combined can make the tyre degradation quite high so I think it is important you set the car balance right to avoid understeer in the high speed corner. We focussed today on getting a good balance and we worked on ride height and spring rates to get an easy to drive car. In P1 the balance is a little bit loose on the rear and poor traction. The good thing is the front of the car was quite strong in mid-corner so we try to keep it and we worked on the rear to get it a little bit better. Also we try a little bit new differential mapping to help traction so in P2 the drivers were generally much happier so I think it was good sessions.
Q: Giorgio, we heard basically the expansion plans of the team at the Italian Grand Prix. Tell us how those are going and in comparison to the RRA, the Resource Restriction Agreement.
Giorgio Ascanelli: Well, we have developed a plan. We will increase our capacity in aerodynamics, of course, and then in more or less every other part of the company. The accent is on aerodynamics and simulation. As per the RRA they are not a consideration yet. I don’t think we are going to hit the limits anyway. A good selection of people is ongoing and we will have to try to make the best of it.
Q: Looking forward, when it comes to next year the rules are pretty much the same. But with the exhaust, how big a change is that?
GA: It is a very large change. I think this morning our car was quite better than this afternoon just because we had an evolution of the exhaust which unfortunately broke on us. I don’t quite see this happening next year.
Q: Which, you don’t see such breakages happening next year?
GA: I think there is going to be more limited space for development.
Q: So there is more work than perhaps would appear to be apparent?
Q: James, you have brought a lot of stuff this race. It’s an important race for one of your drivers. How has the testing gone during the session?
James Key: It has been okay. We had a lot of new bits. It wasn’t just pure aero parts, there were mechanical parts involved in the bits we brought so we were pretty methodical this morning going through everything to check the affects of what we brought to make sure there were no hidden issues. That seemed to be okay. This afternoon we have been working more with the package that we have. The balance of the car needs improving at the moment, but the numbers we are seeing, the data all stacks up to what we expected, which is the most important thing. So I think so far so good but there is certainly some work to do this evening to get more out of it at the moment.
Q: Was that an effect from Force India pushing you or was it already planned?
JK: It was always planned to have an update for Suzuka. We have pushed it fairly hard recently because of Force India’s good form of late but this time last year we set out when the major packages we wanted to introduce would be targeted for and Suzuka was the last major package of the year so we always had a plan to come here with some new parts.
Q: Paddy, interesting that both your drivers spoke about better straightline speed now and also a better rear wing for qualifying. How has that happened?
Paddy Lowe: Well we have a new rear wing which is better for qualifying! The principal difference between qualifying and the race is the DRS so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that that is the reason. We have a wing and we have made a step on the difference between DRS on and off. That was the wing, actually, that we had in Singapore. Originally intended for this race but we managed to bring it early to Singapore.
Q: In terms of the rules talking about DRS, what changes for 2012? How have you been able to develop for 2012?
PL: This was the first year using it obviously so for all the teams it was a big learning curve. A big area, a big opportunity to make a difference against your competitors. The rules next year are exactly the same with the DRS so we will see the technology will mature more. Probably we will see less differences between the teams in terms of DRS effect. But we will still find more bit by bit.
Q: Just going back to DRS it was slightly more complicated than just opening and closing the flap?
PL: Do you mean in terms of how it works through the race and though the event?
PL: I think it has been a fascinating area for this year not just for the actually race and the entertainment it has given with easier overtaking which I think has transformed the nature of races. Technically it has been fascinating. It has added a whole new dimension to the process of selecting the best wing for an event. It used to be quite a one dimensional task, run a wing, have a little look at what your competitors were doing as well iterate through the weekend to the right wing level. Now you have an extra dimension which is what is your qualifying pace, what’s your race pace with the DRS, without it, and even with the complication that if it is raining in qualifying then you cannot use the DRS. You might have to factor that in if it’s a weekend with potential rain. Lots of complicated sums for the guys to do in the office with the computers to work out what’s the best plan.
Q: Adrian, Kamui Kobayashi said yesterday that one of the great strengths of Sebastian Vettel’s was his ability to communicate to the engineers. Tell us about that and his other strengths.
Adrian Newey: He is a very bright young lad who thinks a lot about what he does. Takes a lot of time to try and understand the car, understand his own performance. Like most good drivers he has a good feeling for the car. He is very strong in some areas. He has a very good feeling for the tyres, what can I say.
Q: Is that communication though something that stands out as you have worked with many drivers over the years?
AN: I think Sebastian is very gifted naturally but he works hard at it and that is always the hallmark of a great driver.
Q: Some of the drivers you’ve worked with, have they worked as hard or can you just see an extra dimension from him?
Q: In terms of today, how are your feelings about today? It is interesting three manufacturers in the first three places.
AN: It’s Friday, what can I say. It’s the usual thing on a Friday. We don’t know exactly what fuel loads people are running and everybody is trying to understand what suits their car on the day. I think Friday, get on and do your own job and then Saturday and Sunday you start to find out where you are.
Q: A lot of teams say this circuit suits their car better. They weren’t so happy with the slower circuits such as the slower corners of Singapore, but your car seems to work everywhere. is that the case?
AN: I will be able to tell you on Sunday evening.
Q: But you’re happy with the performance so far?
AN: So far, yeah.
Q: Pat, the tyres this year were obviously very new. What sort of changes do you see for next year?
Pat Fry: Well the rear construction is changing. Compounds are changing so exactly what that is, I don’t think it is going to be a big step or as big a step in terms of how the degradation of the tyres is affected. I don’t think we will actually know until we actually run them.
Q: That is something you have had a problem with in terms of temperature. Is that something you can see a little bit the goalpost moving and is that going to be a problem aiming at those goalposts next year?
PF: I don’t think so. I think the goalposts are going to be in a similar position. We have just got to move our car so we are working closer to the right area and that’s what we are working on now and over the winter.
Q: At what point is the car at the moment? We have heard talk about how it is going to be a much more aggressive, revolutionary car next year.
PF: Things are progressing as you would expect this time of year really. It’s the same bunch of guys. They are motivated and doing a great job. We will never know if it is good enough really until the first race.
Q: is it more revolutionary?
PF: It’s different. It looks a little bit different but I think there are exhaust rules changing. There are lots of little bits that will end up with the cars looking slightly different but I wouldn’t class it as a revolution as such.
Q: Are there such things as revolutions in Formula One now?
PF: Not really, no. It is just hard work isn’t it?
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Sarah Holt - BBC Sport) Adrian, we’ve seen that you’ve built cars for lots of former champions who have been crowned here in Japan, from Senna to Prost to Hakkinen. How would you rate Vettel amongst those former champions?
AN: Unfortunately I wasn’t involved with Ayrton when he was crowned champion here, so I can’t comment on that one. It’s a bit along the lines of the question earlier. I think Sebastian is obviously supremely talented but I kind of feel it’s unfair to start comparing one driver I’ve worked with against another.
Q: (Sarah Holt - BBC Sport) Do you think he might have the potential to go on and be a multiple World Champion even beyond this season?
AN: I think undoubtedly yes, there’s no doubt Sebastian can do it. It’s up to us to try and deliver the car that allows him to do it.
Q: (Will Buxton - Speed TV) Not a technical question but one for everybody. We move on to Korea next, which was a new track last year, and then on to India, which is a new track for this year. How important do you see the constant expansion of the Formula One calendar, and for you, and your teams, how much are looking forward to India? How much can we learn from India? How much can they learn from Formula One?
AN: I think it’s great to be going to new places. India is obviously a country we’ve never been to before so in that sense it’s very good, we enjoy going to new circuits. The only caveat I would put on that is that it’s important that we don’t forget our long-standing traditional circuits. Coming to Suzuka or Monza, Spa, all the great classic circuits that we have and still do go to - I think it would be an awful shame if they dropped of the calendar because, at the end of the day, it’s those that are there year-in, year-out and if Formula One lost them, it might be difficult to ever get them back again.
PL: It is a World Championship, so I think bringing the race to more parts of the world… India is a very major population centre in the world, so I think it’s great to be going there. We need to go to more places. Going to the States next year is also a really great step.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) It looks as though fighter pilot-like canopies are going to be inevitable in Formula One. What are the technical challenges and do you feel that a closed cockpit runs counter to the spirit of Formula One?
AN: I don’t think they are inevitable, actually.
PL: I don’t think it’s inevitable. It’s something that’s being studied. A lot of discussion has occurred at council meetings in the FIA as to whether such a thing is right for the sport. An essential feature of Formula One is that it’s open-wheeled and open-cockpit. I think the decision, if ever it was taken, to close the cockpit would be very, very fundamental and I think those councillors have already expressed reservations about that, so I think there would have to be a very, very compelling case made that that was an essential feature for safety. Some work is being done to research into it and so far I don’t think that a compelling case is emerging, even though there is a risk… I think the biggest risk still present in Formula One, to a driver, is in that area, as we saw with Felipe the other year, but it’s not necessarily proven that a canopy is the right solution to that.
Q: (Ralf Bach - Sport Bild) Mercedes, next year, has five former technical directors employed, a new Formula One record; how can you survive against them with all this human brain-power?
PL: I hadn’t realised it was five. Yeah, that is a lot. Yeah, all is lost. I think we should just all go home! No, they’re all good guys. We know them all. I think it’s a strong team. We look forward to competing against them.
AN: Similarly, I’m going to worry about what we do in Milton Keynes, not what’s happening in Brackley, to be perfectly honest.
PF: Same. I’m not really thinking about it, to be honest. I’ve got my own issues and things to sort out. It’s a strong team, as Paddy says. Time will tell, won’t it?
NT: Each team has its own approach and I think we have a different approach. To tell the truth, I am concentrating on our team, the structure and strategy, how to distribute our resources. We have a different approach.
GA: Or all six of us could go to Mercedes as well and make it 11! Mercedes could manage enough, they pay well, I’m sure we could agree on something!
JK: It’s always difficult to comment on what other teams are doing, because you never really know how they are structured and how they work. As Paddy said, it’s a pretty strong line-up of people, all with good experience. Personally, I’ve only really worked for relatively small teams and I guess the one thing I could say from a small team’s perspective is that efficiency is certainly better when you’re small and I guess with more people, particularly good experienced people, maybe that takes a bit more managing, to make sure it all fits in together - but it’s not really for me to say.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Adrian, Ferrari is promising a very aggressive new car for next season. McLaren’s drivers, also, were complaining somehow, because the car this year was not as powerful and as competitive and they have put a lot of pressure [on their team]. What is the Red Bull going to be next year? Will it be an evolution of what we have now? Do you think that the advantage that you have is enough or are you going to explore new roads and surprise everybody again?
AN: I think that fundamentally there’s no point in doing something new if it’s not better, so our approach is certainly not complacency, so we’re not thinking: ‘we don’t have to do anything, we’ll still be quick enough next year.’ That would be enormous folly. We’re working away trying to deal with the regulation changes. I think, as mentioned, the restriction on the exhaust exit position is actually a very big change; it goes through the car. Other than that, the regulation changes are significant but not huge. So, in that sense, the car will be an evolution, it will bear a family resemblance to the RB5, RB6, RB7 lineage. It’s just a matter of pushing on, as always. As Pat mentioned earlier, the fact is that you don’t know how much performance your competitors are going to find over the winter, so it’s get your heads down and get on with it, and you find out where you are come the first race.
Q: (Joris Fioriti - Agence France Presse) To Paddy and Adrian, what do Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have that their team-mates don’t have, whether it’s positive or negative? What extra thing do they bring to the team?
AN: One’s English, one’s German, I guess. I don’t know, how you can answer that? I can’t answer for Paddy, obviously, but I think for Sebastian, this year, he’s obviously driving with great confidence on the back of his championship from last year. I think importantly, the change to Pirelli tyres has taken Mark longer than Sebastian to understand; how best to use those tyres. In truth, you can have this perception that the difference is big; it doesn’t take much of a swing for things to change, so while Sebastian has clearly had a much stronger run than Mark this year, quite often the difference in the race has been quite small but the results have been different enough that the points standing is where it is.
PL: Between our two drivers, they are very different personalities, they have different styles in the car, but they are both great champions and both driving very well and at similar pace. I think that’s great for us; they both give good feedback but complimentary, so it works well.
Q: (Joris Fioriti - Agence France Presse) If one is deeper in his analysis of the car, there must be differences in some ways.
PL: I think it’s a bit like you see in races. Lewis has a very aggressive style, he can go straight out there and find the limit immediately. Jenson will work up to that point more subtly to that point but I think that what’s great is that you come to qualifying and both guys will go out and deliver the lap. It’s just a slightly different way that they do their homework.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan - The National) Adrian, in two years of racing in Abu Dhabi, Sebastian is the only person to have won there. What is it about the Yas Marina circuit that suits Red Bull and Sebastian?
AN: Crikey, I don’t know is the honest answer to that. We have had a good run there for the last two years but I’m not sure there’s any particular feature of the circuit that makes it well-suited to Sebastian and the car. Can’t answer that I’m afraid.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) Paddy, following on your DRS comments earlier on, would you like to see DRS use being totally free throughout the weekend, including the race?
PL: I think not, no. The whole point of it was to improve the overtaking in the race. I don’t think we want to make overtaking trivial. It’s a fine balance, I think it’s one that’s set at the moment by the FIA in their selection of the zone length and the number of zones, and I think that works well. They need to keep tuning it but if you just made it completely free in the race, I really think that you would make it far too easy and that would go the other extreme in terms of detracting from the spectacle.