Fan Forum, Woking, UK
FOTA FANS FORUM – 30 JUNE 2011 - WOKING, UK
• Martin Whitmarsh: Chairman of FOTA and Team Principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
• Ross Brawn: Team Principal, Mercedes Grand Prix
• Graeme Lowdon: Sporting Director Sporting Director and President, Marussia Virgin Racing
• Bob Fernley: Deputy Team Principal, Force India
Q: Do you think it’s important for F1 to be seen as the technological peak of motorsport?
MW: It’s clear that F1 has to be the pinnacle of motorsport. The technology is the bit that differentiates it from the other branches of motorsport. We used to argue about active ride in technical working groups, as well as other technologies that I was very passionate about, but there’s got to be a balance. We have to have the most advanced vehicles in motorsport; we have to balance and control performance – the circuits that we race on have to be safe – and the technologies that we develop have to be relevant. On too many occasions, and this is something that I’ve definitely been guilty of, we pursued things that we found passionately interesting and exciting. But they really weren’t relevant. Every time the regulations became more restrictive, it was very disappointing news for engineers but my experience over 23 years is that there’s always something new. We had double diffusers, we had F-ducts, we’ve had blown diffusers and as we prohibit some of these areas there will be something new and something fresh. There has to be because if we can’t innovate in F1, it will be very disappointing for all of us.
RB: I agree with everything Martin says. F1 has to be the pinnacle of motorsport technically and commercially. The fascination of F1 for me is that combination of the drivers and the technology, and the fact that championships can be won by a good driver in a great car, sometimes a great driver in a good car, but never a great driver in a poor car. We’ve got to have that technology to add that ingredient to F1; we do need to be mindful of keeping the technology relevant. In the case of Mercedes Benz, KERS is having a direct spin-off on our roadcar side. The great thing about F1 is that it accelerates any developments. This sporting war that we have just accelerates every technology and we find and develop technologies in months that in the outside world might take years because we want to find that competitive edge. Look at the battery technologies that McLaren in fact worked with Mercedes to initiate. Those battery technologies are going down to the roadcars and that makes us much more relevant for the road car manufacturers to get involved. One of the exciting things in the future is the fact that the engine is going to come back into the equation. At the moment they’ve been sterilised in a way. They are all very similar, they’ve all been homologated and no-one really talks about the engines anymore. There is a lot of exciting technology coming through with the new engine in 2014 and I’m really excited that engines are coming back into the equation and they’re not just a space filler between the chassis and the gearbox.
Q: Is a 1.6-litre V6 Turbo the right way for F1 to go in 2014?
BF: This is the right direction. It’s very relevant for the motor manufacturers and, as was mentioned by both Ross and Martin, we have to look at being aligned with our partners in this and being able to get the benefit through to the public as a whole. It’s very important that we do that. F1 is similar to the space race and military development; it’s not entirely geared to achieving something to a budget. Performance is the key and we can do an awful lot to help the motor manufacturers and that’s what we should be focusing on.
Q: As long as there’s a cost cap, why can’t the number of cylinders be left open?
MW: It’s an issue of risk-management. We’re in the situation at the moment where there are three automotive manufacturers in F1, and one independent manufacturer. The automotive manufacturers have been very significant investors in F1 and we need to create an environment where the engine rules are sufficiently defined so that people can come into it knowing that if they do a sound job, they’ll be competitive. I’ve certainly argued for diversity in the past, but the danger is that automotive manufacturers become inhibited about entering the sport if there’s too great a variety. Typically, although the regulations are fixed, they evolve and if you had a range of engines it would become clear after a year that one particular solution was right and the manufacturer that had developed the alternative would have to re-invest all of that money. It’s about reducing the risk so that we can have four or five automotive manufacturers in F1 at any one time. They’re always going to come in and out as it suits them, but we’ve got to create an attractive environment for the companies involved in F1.
RB: One point that Martin touched on there is that we’re not going to get manufacturers to come in with the V8 normally aspirated engine that we have now. No-one’s interested. We’ve got to create fresh opportunities for new manufacturers to come in because who’s going to come in and build a V8 18,000rpm engine? The new engine gives a fresh opportunity and it’s a more relevant specification for manufacturers.
Q: F1 has always built itself around a concept of exclusivity. How do you think that needs to balance out with getting more fans involved?
GL: it has to be a balance at the end of the day. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and it has to have an element of exclusivity. However, there are lots of different ways in which we can open the sport up to a lot more people with new media and different ways of communicating. I hope the teams are doing a lot of things to include the fans more. From our point of view, we’re a new team and one of the things we’ve done is hire Stowe School over the British Grand Prix weekend for the next five years. We’ve created a fan area there and people can come and camp with the mechanics. People can interact and what we want to do is open it up to as many fans as possible. We did it last year as well and we had some fabulous feedback from fans. I could have gone on for hours about resource restrictions. F1 does require an awful lot of money and to generate that revenue you have to have a commercial structure that includes high degrees of exclusivity. That’s a fact, but there’s still a lot that the teams can do to open themselves up.
Q: You guys have so much stuff you could show us, but you keep it hidden at races. Why is that?
BF: Part of the problem is that it’s so expensive to take a stand at a grand prix. As much as we would like to show you more, it’s prohibitively expensive to do so. Maybe we could look at a FOTA event where all the teams contribute to the cost at a race. We will do a great deal in India for the fans and teams based in the UK will no doubt do that at Silverstone next weekend.
MW: It’s clear that F1 hasn’t done enough in recent years to reach out to fans, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re sat here at the Fans Forum today. We have introduced autograph signing sessions at every circuit and we are trying to reach out. We teams aren’t in commercial control and there are restrictions to what we’re allowed to do. Only yesterday we tried to take a car to Silverstone and they wanted to charge us £15,000 for having it there, just to park it there for public interest. There’s a limit to what we can do, but we must do more.
Q: What’s to stop all the team radio feeds being released to the general public?
RB: The driver-pits radio channel is completely open and it’s up to the commercial rights holder to decide what gets broadcast. The teams all agreed to make that available for broadcast and at the circuit. There are a huge number of things that we need to improve on, both in terms of the spectacle at the track and watching a race at home. We’re making some in-roads into the use of Internet technology. My wife now looks at all the split times when she’s sat at home watching the race and that’s something we didn’t have a few years ago. In fact, she gives me a hard time if she spotted something I hadn’t seen! We have to make in-roads into all of those areas. One of the things that we have to overcome is that the exclusivity of F1 has bred a certain attitude among the drivers and among certain team members and we have to break that down. If you’re in Nascar, you know as a driver that you’re expected to devote time to the fans. It’s seen as part of your job. We’ve got to open up in that respect in F1; we need to start drivers on that path so that we don’t have to change them later on.
MW: It wasn’t that many years ago that McLaren and Ferrari were spending hundreds of thousands on digitally encrypted radios so that we couldn’t listen to each other and the thought of releasing that was very foreign. It was a very early decision in FOTA and, in truth, we owned the rights to the radios. We gave it to the commercial rights holder and asked him to exploit it. It was quite a big shift from spending lots of money so that no-one else could hear you to actually offering it for free. We’ve got to work with the commercial rights holder to ensure we’re making full and proper use of it all.
GL: I wish more people could hear the radios. We’re a team that’s not at the front of the grid and yet we have a very, very strong fan base throughout the world. They all want to know what’s going on in our race and I’d love it if you could hear what was going on in the radio. A high point for me was qualifying in Monaco this year. We didn’t qualify anywhere near the front, but if you’d had the benefit of hearing Timo Glock during that session, when hustled our car around the track much quicker than it should have gone, you would have been thoroughly entertained by his comments. I wish everyone could hear it because it really adds to the fabric of the sport.
Q: With the BBC contract coming to an end next year, what can FOTA do to ensure F1 stays on free-to-air television?
MW: All of the FOTA teams believe in free-to-air television. There will be parts of the market where there’s some differentiated service offered, but if you think about the business model of F1 teams, which is all about attracting brands and giving them brand exposure, they require us to have a large audience. Historically, that meant being on free-to-air. Our current contracts require that F1 remain on free-to-air and the teams, through FOTA, are clearly going to safeguard their business interests and the interests of the fans in this regard. But it isn’t as simple as “is it on BBC or ITV”. Fans want a lot more information. We’re in a very data-rich sport: we have a lot of telemetry data and strategic information, and lots of modelling and simulation that every team is doing. We’re an ideal sport to feed the real fans additional information, as well as the traditional TV feed. We’ve got to try and unscramble that, and it isn’t as simple as “we must stay free-to-air”. The media is really multi-faceted and we’ve got to ensure that there’s a mass free entry in which to see grands prix. But there are an awful lot of people who want extra information that you won’t get through a free-to-air route. There’s speculation surrounding Newscorp’s interest in the sport and let’s be clear: the teams are working together and this sport isn’t going anywhere without the teams. If we stay together, we can control the direction of this sport and we’re not trying to do that for any other reason than what’s in the best interests of the sport.
BF: I endorse what Martin’s saying, but we have to be pragmatic going forward. Perhaps the BBC won’t be able to follow the unlocking of the data that Martin’s talking about. I’m a little bit more open and sports are going down the pay-per-view route. Of course it’s in our best interests to get the maximum amount of viewers, we’ve got to look at the quality of what we can do longer term.
RB: The other thing to highlight is that the income from television is only a proportion of our income. The majority of our income comes from our partners and our sponsors and without that we’re not viable. The media model is a vital part of our income, but we also have our partners to consider and if we don’t give them the exposure they need, which comes down to the number of people watching the race, then we’ll be in trouble.
GL: Our business model is very different to the established teams. As a team, we get a very small amount of TV revenue and I’d say 95% of our revenues come from commercial partnerships and sponsorships, all of which rely on mass appeal. If there were a change to that model it would significantly affect a team like ourselves because we get very little of the TV money. It comes from partners and sponsors because we get very little of the TV money. We like to think we have a fairly robust model, but it would certainly have to change if there was pay-per-view and so I wouldn’t be in favour of it.
Q: In what countries would you really like to see an F1 race?
MW: We’re going to the USA, but we’ve really got to go to the USA this time. That’s to say going there, having a race going home isn’t good enough. That’s what we’ve done in the States before and it didn’t work. We’re not really in America. America doesn’t need us, but we need to conquer it. Maybe we need to have two races a year and a proper marketing programme. We’ve got to create the interest. Within Europe people understand F1 and we have a strong fanbase. Also in some parts of Asia and South America, but the worry is that we’re not doing enough in other places and we must try hard in places like Korea and India, when we go there later this year. We can’t just go there, have a race and come home. F1 hasn’t had to sell itself in the past; the fans have come to us. But there’s lots of competition in the entertainment business. We have to conquer America – that’s a five-year programme. We’ve got to be on the east coast and the west coast. It’s a big enough market and an important enough market to have two races and we should be over there. I have nothing against Texas and I hope it’s a very successful race, but the natural hinterland for us is the east coast and the west coast. Long Beach and around New York: those are the places where we’re going to create interest in F1.
RB: I agree totally with what Martin has been saying. That’s the commercial and business side. All of us love to go to countries where the fans are enthusiastic and where you can really taste the passion. One of the countries that I remember being like that was Argentina. It was a fantastic race. The economic climate there isn’t what’s needed to have an F1 race now. Of the races that we go to now, there are several that we all look forward to because the fans are so enthusiastic. It makes a difference to us because we want to be at places where people are really enjoying the racing and you can really hear the roar of the crowd.
GL: Martin made an extremely good case for the commercial side. But if we’re looking at the emotional side, we do go to some places where the fans are a tad indifferent to say the least and we go to some places where they are knowledgeable, fanatical and it would be great to go to some more places like that. I sense it would be a street circuit because that gets everybody as close as possible to the action. I’ve never experienced racing in Argentina and it sounds like a cool place to go. If not, Newcastle would be good!
BF: Unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember racing in Long Beach and I think Martin is absolutely correct. The west coast and the east coast are the natural homes for F1 in America. The only major continent that we’re not working on is Africa and I’d like to see us go back there.
Q: Would you as teams consider subsidising some of the classic races if they were struggling financially?
MW: We’ve got to have a more flexible business model in F1. The model that’s been pursued to date has been very successful at developing the sport, but if we lose some of the classic venues, then we risk the heritage of our sport. If you said to the teams, would you take a reduced fee to race at somewhere like Spa-Francorchamps, then I’m sure we all would. What we’ve got to make sure is that we say the same to the commercial rights holder because he’s got much bigger pockets than any of us up here, or all of the teams put together. In fairness, I think he has been prepared to take a more flexible approach on occasion, but collectively we’ve got to decide where it’s important to be and make sure that we find a commercial solution so that the historic circuits survive.
Q: We never get to see the world champion crowned at the end of the year. Would it be a good idea?
RB: There is an event, but it’s an exclusive event and that’s the problem with F1. It’s difficult to do at the last race because we have a lot of technology in F1 and there’s a period of settling down before the results are made final. We don’t want a situation where we make a premature announcement about the world champion, only to find there’s a widget that’s not quite right. Creating a post-season motorsport event, part of which is the crowning of the world champion, would be a fantastic idea.
GL: Technically, the issue is that F1’s not our championship, it’s the FIA’s championship. There is an awards ceremony at the end of the year and they give out awards for all of the FIA championships. I hadn’t realised how many there were until you go to that event! It’s a full-on marathon and you have to bring your Kit-Kat with you! It would be great to get fans more involved in that.
Q: Should the top three in the championship go on a world tour at the end of the year?
MW: We do things like that. We shut Woking from time to time – not as often as I’d like! – and we run a F1 car through the town to celebrate a world championship. Those events are within out control. The crowning of a world champion would be a fantastic event; at the moment it’s intermingled with dust racing across the Sahara and various other things and I think you could make a great event out of it.
Q: How does F1’s drive to be green balance with the increased use of tyres during the race?
RB: Martin launched a great initiative that looked at the carbon footprint of F1 and ways in which we could reduce it. There’s been a strong drive to cut down on the amount of equipment that we take to each race and there’s now a cap on the number of people we can have at the track. We’ve looked at all of the initiatives we can to reduce the size of our carbon footprint and it’s fair to say the cars are only a tiny part of that impact. The important thing about racing cars is the message they can give out. With the new engine in 2014, it’s not about the new engine being more efficient in itself, it’s the message it gives that it’s cool to have a really efficient engine. One that’s going to race on a lot less fuel because we’re setting dramatic targets for the amount of fuel we race on in the future. Thirty, 40, 50 percent less than we have now, but still with the same amount of power and excitement that we have now. We don’t want to have fuel economy racing, but we want to set targets for the engineers. What I should do is ask Pirelli what they do with the old tyres. Some of it gets left on the track, as you know, and that’s one of the features of this year. I’m sure they do something about recycling the tyres and they’ve done a lot to improve the racing too. All credit to them. We were all a bit anxious about the change, but they’ve done a really good job and opened up the racing enormously and made it more interesting.
BF: Maybe we should compartmentalise things. The job of F1 is to help develop the technologies, as with the V6 programme, so that we can benefit the whole economy through the manufacturers. Through the efforts of FOTA it would inexcusable to waste more than we need in terms of travel, but I think F1 – and maybe I’m a bit of a dinosaur – is a celebration of excess. We have the most powerful engines, we have the best show in motor racing, we have the best parties and the prettiest girls and we should not lose that. We are a show at the end of the day and the show must be maintained. But we can also do more than our fair share on the environmental side too.
Q: Is there any more the sport can do to help students get involved in F1?
RB: I think the sport does quite a lot. We all support various initiatives, starting with „F1 in Schools’, which is this competition for young children to build a little CO2-powered projectile. They learn to design that in school, so we try to sow the seeds of an engineering challenge and a team challenge at a young age. That’s been very successful. Then we move on to „Formula Student’, which is an initiative that a lot of universities are involved in now. A team of students design and build a racing car and they then compete against each other. The big event is at Silverstone, coming up shortly, and I think we have 130 universities competing. I’ve spoken to students, who say they’ve gone to a particular university because it has the „Formula Student’ programme. It’s a fantastic initiative because it involves engineering and they also have to present a commercial model concerning how they have raised the money. There’s team building, there’s driver management – it’s a fantastic initiative that a lot of people support. Our chief engineer on the race team came up through that programme. Every team in F1 takes students on. We have 10-15 graduates in our company. They’re great because they’re cheap and they’re enthusiastic. It invigorates a lot of our staff to have these young people around, all champing at the bit to make an impression in life.
BF: In addition to everything that Ross has said from the point of view of F1 as a whole, Force India actually launched its own academy earlier this year. It’s split into three parts: the first one was the driver launch, where Force India has gone around the whole of India looking for a new Lewis Hamilton. The second part will be the vocational side, where we’re looking at bringing young engineers through to the F1 team, and the third part is the academic side. We will be sponsoring talented young engineers that don’t have the funds to be able to go through. We’re passionate about helping young people and bring them into the sport. Obviously ours is India-centric, but we’re very active in it.
Q: With the introduction of tyre degradation, DRS and KERS in 2011, it would seem that less driver skill is required in order to overtake. How can we get that back?
PL: Overtaking is a very difficult topic and it’s one that’s been constantly debated over the last 10-15 years. People often look back to some rosy picture of the old days, when there were great overtakes and they ask why there aren’t any more. You do need overtaking, you need it at every circuit and not just at some circuits. You need it to be a great moment, it mustn’t be trivial, and I liken that to needing something that you have in football, rather than what you have in basketball. What we’ve done this year, with the combination of the three elements you mention, has dramatically improved overtaking so are there now too many and are they too easy? I don’t think so. Occasionally it’s easier than you might have liked, but it’s still never easy! We still see plenty of places where overtakes have failed and they can be just as interesting as successful overtakes. The balance is better and with the DRS we can tune it to be even better. Bearing in mind DRS was a FOTA initiative, which we designed last year, we were clear that we wanted the FIA to have some knobs they could turn in order to tune the extent to which DRS affected overtaking. Those specific knobs are the length and the position of the straight where you can use it and the other one is the gap – the one second interval that triggers it. We’ve left that for the FIA to select on a race-by-race basis in order to make overtaking balanced. We’re only eight races in and they’re still learning about the system, so it can only improve.
JA: I reject the premise to some extent because I don’t think driver skill is in any way reduced by this year’s rules. There is more overtaking, certainly, and that was the intention of the rules this year. But in no way does that diminish the driver skill, it just means there is more overtaking. There might have been a little bit too much overtaking at the odd track this year, but if you look at the season as a whole, the races we’ve had this year. There have been several absolute crackers, at most tracks the overtaking remains extremely challenging and while there is an element of the DRS in particular that offends the purist, which I completely understand, I think the overall balance is of a sport that’s more thrilling to watch. If I use my wife or my mum as a yardstick, as opposed to someone who’s really into the sport, I’ve seen my wife in particular willing to sit through a whole race. There’s excitement from start-to-finish and I think all of us know that that hasn’t always been the case in the past. Some tracks we went to with a heavy heart because we knew that it was going to be an extraordinarily boring affair from beginning-to-end. We haven’t had that this year and that’s a good thing.
PM: I don’t think we’ve diminished driver skill at all. A lot of the things we’ve spoken about, such as KERS, are complementary to their skills and they choose to exploit them. It’s up to the teams to provide the driver with a car that can exploit all of these things. In establishing DRS, we sought to give a trailing car a small performance advantage; you don’t make the overtaking a formality, you’ve still got to present a reasonable challenge. The drivers who exploit these new rules are still the good ones.
Q: Paddy, how do you set about making a rule change?
PL: We have a number of FOTA groups, who look at the rules. We’re all on the TRWG, the Technical Regulations Working Group, which looks at the technical regs. We will discuss, generally a year or so ahead of time, initiatives that might for instance control costs. If there’s something that we’re all doing and spending a lot of money doing it and it’s all a bit needless, we may agree to constrain it. Or initiatives such as the DRS, where we see an opportunity to make the sport more entertaining and more fulfilling for the spectators. We vote and there is a majority system, and anything we agree will get put to the team principals within FOTA. If they agree to it, it will go to the formal FIA bodies, which are the TWG, the Technical Working Group, and there’s a voting process there. If it’s too near to the coming season, it requires unanimity to change something; if there’s enough of a notice period, which is about six months or more, we can change it with majority. The DRS for instance was all developed in the TRWG in a very friendly manner, I must say. It then went to the TWG for the text to be carefully scrutinised over several months so that we would have exactly what we intended. Then it goes to a number of other bodies, working its way up the chain and ultimately ending at the World Motor Sport Council, who will approve that text. That’s how a technical regulation is made.
Q: What does the panel think of the double DRS zones that we had in Canada and Montreal?
PL: I still don’t fully understand the reason for the second DRS zone and I think the FIA are acknowledging that now. There might tracks where two DRS zones is the right way to go, but in Canada the first zone was very much longer and if you were going to make an overtake stick, generally you were going to do it there. The second zone was just a means of opening a gap for the guy who’d already got past.
JA: The FIA have done a pretty good job at trimming it this year. It’s their first time round with all the circuits this year. By and large they’ve set the distance variable pretty well.
Q: What issues have you had adjusting your cars for the off-throttle diffuser ban at Silverstone?
PM: It affects how we operate the engine. Your first step in addressing this is to ensure your engine complies with the latest interpretation of the rules, which is a reasonable chunk of work in itself. Assuming you accomplish that, you can have a look at the effect on your car and all the cars will be affected differently. The first thing we’ll look at is what’s the loss of downforce and how does that affect the balance of the car around the lap? We can at least tailor our investigations to suit Silverstone. You do your utmost to identify the deficiencies it will give you and concentrate your efforts on how you’re going to get back what you’ve just lost. I’m sure these guys have been as busy as we have and on Sunday afternoon we’ll see who’s been the most successful at achieving it. I don’t think it will particularly change tyre degradation and I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be the magnitude of change that’s being forecast in some areas. As long as we’re still on top, I don’t mind!
JA: We’re all a bit coy with one another about the power of these devices. It will vary from team-to-team. I won’t give you our number, but I’ll give you a sense of it: if you imagine they’re worth 0.8s compared with having no blown diffuser. We’re now going down to about half of the previous authority of it. You’ve still got plenty of blowing going on because you’ve still got an engine running and that exhaust is still going right into your floor. We’re not able to optimise the use of the engine to make it also efficient as a pump when we’re on partial throttle. That’s the new interpretation that’s being applied.
PL: For next year the teams have all agreed to a change in regulation on the geometry of the tailpipes. They will go back towards the high level exits that we had a year or two ago. Generally the teams are finding this change mid-season not the best way of solving the problem. Also, the problem is a little bit difficult to understand because teams have been blowing exhausts through diffusers for 20 years, so the timing of the rule interpretation does seem a bit strange. But we all have to react to it and we’ll see where we turn out at Silverstone.
Q: How fast could an F1 car go and what would it look like if the rules were completely open?
PM: My technical boss, Adrian Newey, designed a car for the Sony Playstation game. There was no rulebook for that; he went and did what he thought was his ultimate car and I’d refer you to that.
JA: I don’t know whether Adrian drew that, or whether it was a stylist’s dream. I think it would be an extraordinarily dull sport if the rules were completely free. You’d have little beetle-like things that would be fully skirted up to the floor with fans sucking all the air out from under them and sealing them to the ground. Drivers would go round every corner with their feet hard on the throttle and I think we need to be thankful that there are a decent set of rules to restrict us.
PL: There’s a fundamental problem with it in that you’d create cars that might be impossible to drive. The driver would be the limiting factor. At the moment the cars generate up to 5G while cornering. That’s where they’ve been for the last 20 years. As we’ve developed even more technology, we’ve changed the rules to bring back performance to a consistent level. If you left no limit, you’d end up with cars that would do such high Gs that the driver would pass out. Apart from anything else, the cars would be so fast that they’d be very dangerous and there would be absolutely no overtaking because the cars would be following such extreme trajectories.
Q: With fuel being finite, are you looking at what to do afterwards, whether that be hydrogen, electric-driven engines and so on…
JA: I think F1 will be one of the smaller problems to cope with when fuel runs out! The 2014 engine is already moving in a direction that recognises the way in which the world is going. Fuel is becoming increasingly expensive, at some point the world will reach peak oil production and then decline from there. The 2014 engine is all about recognising those realities and we will have electric energy in the car in quite large measures. We already have it to a small degree now. When we get to the point that a non-petrol cars are a part of our sport, you’ll really need to look what’s going on in road cars to determine that. I don’t think there are too many analysts who expect hydrogen cars on the road in the near future, although fully electric cars will have an increasing role in city centres. The technology with electric cars isn’t there yet to put the performance that we need on the road, so I don’t think it’s coming in the next five years and I think you need to look to the road cars to see what it will look like when it does come.
Q: Are there any plans to share technical data with fans through the Internet?
PM: We’ve got to be prepared to open up. There are probably some commercial difficulties to overcome, but in terms of making more available, I think it would be good to do so. Having said that, secrecy is a part of the sport. We’re in competition with one another and we build prototype cars. Every time we go to a grand prix, that’s the best statement of our technology and our knowledge at the time. If we see something on James’s car that we like, we’re not too proud to copy it and, equally, there might be features on our car that he might like. I think that aspect of it is something that we want to keep because we are a constructors’ championship and we race one another. I hope as a show it’s entertaining. A little bit of competitiveness and a little bit of secrecy go hand-in-hand with our sport.
PL: It’s very like the discussion we had earlier about radios because the same goes for seeing cars. There are rules that stop us from placing covers around the car and around the garage. A few years ago it had reached a point where the teams were completely shrouding their cars: big screens in front of the garage whenever the car was in there. Bernie [Ecclestone] came out one day and said it’s all stopping and there’s now a rule that prevents that. It’s the same for everybody and the winners are the fans because they get to see the cars which, after all, is what they switched on to see. It’s a great shame if we don’t stand together with openness on that. Although it’s in some ways amusing what Paul’s guys do behind their cars, the reality is that James and I know exactly what’s going on behind that because we have photographs from other occasions – something we all do – and I quite enjoy sending the odd photo to Paul after a race of his floor! What’s fantastic about the fanbase of F1 is that it’s generally a very technical audience. That sets you apart from the football fan let’s say. You understand, and you want to understand, technology and we want to keep feeding that.
JA: There is so much all the teams do that is more or less the same. All of us could talk about the technical detail of the sport without betraying any particular secrets of our particular team because we’d just be revealing things that go on in the sport that are interesting, which we’re all doing.
Q: Why aren’t there more women involved in F1 engineering?
PM: We receive applications and react to the them. There are a number of graduates in our company: we have a number of undergraduates completing their industrial year with us and some of them are seemingly very bright young people, of which some are bright young ladies. One of our best FE (Finite Element) engineers is a lady, I don’t think there’s any prejudice. It’s more a case of if you apply you stand as good a chance as anybody of getting a job. PL: We’re seeing more women coming through. We try and encourage it when we can because it’s something that should be pushed. We are seeing many more successful applications. We have more women in our engineering team than we’ve had in the past.
JA: I certainly feel no duty to employ women over men. I get mildly annoyed by the stereotypes of woman being good multi-tasking decision-makers and men are good at parking, although that bit’s obviously true! We react to the quality of the applicant and what’s fantastic is that as the years have gone on and F1 has become more and more impressive, the quality of applicants – both men and women – is always increasing. Some of the people who apply to us now, the quality of their intellect and what they bring to us is breathtaking. I can echo what Paddy says: we see more and more women applying to us now and more women with real quality and as a consequence we’re seeing more and more women employed in our company at a technical level.
PL: The media is full of the problems of the youth of today and I have to say the youth that we see coming through are much more disciplined and hard working than I seem to remember we were at that stage and I find that immensely encouraging.
Q: What are the main differences between team-mates that you guys see?
PM: There are two aspects to it. First, their confidence levels and, second, how well they handle that last part of qualifying. You can see the confidence levels between team-mates rise and fall during the course of a season. We saw that last year within our team. As for the last part of qualifying, the data might reveal a small mistake by one driver at one corner and he then pays for that down the subsequent straight or series of corners. It might produce a laptime difference of 0.2s, or three places on the grid. They are minute gaps and I wouldn’t suggest that either one of your drivers is underperforming. In our case, I’m sure Mark will sort Sebastian out at some point this year, and he probably can’t wait to do it at Silverstone.
JA: It’s very easy to think a driver is a constant when he’s not. His ability waxes and wanes with his confidence. When he thinks he’s going well, things will go well for him because his confidence is up. One of the things that makes this sport so interesting is the dynamic between the team-mates. It would be a much less interesting sport if every team only entered one driver because that would be one area of wrangling that would be gone. Some of the relationships get quite fraught and some are more friendly, and I find it absolutely fascinating.
PL: Having two drivers in the same team with equal equipment is a very important part for the spectators. It’s said and it’s really quite true that the most important thing for a driver is not to be beaten by your team-mate because he’s in the same equipment. I also hear it asked whether we give the same equipment to both drivers and I’m sure my colleagues would agree that we go to a lot of effort to build the best car we can. It takes an immense amount of work and an immense about of money to do that and the idea that we would hold something back from one of the cars so that it wasn’t as quick as we knew how to make it is really absurd. There are very rare exceptions to that: if you produce a magic widget and you can only make one of them for that weekend, then you’ll only run one, but I’ve only known that to happen once at McLaren in the last five years. The equipment’s the same and I think it’s fascinating that team-mates can compete against each other as well as against the other teams.
Q: Would you like to see refuelling brought back?
JA: Personally, I think it would be the wrong thing to do. Having a race with no refuelling means you tend to do your racing on the track, not via pitstop strategy; the refuelling makes the pitstops slow and much less of a spectacle than the current ones, which are a frantic explosion of activity, and, from a team point of view, it costs quite a lot of money to shunt the refuelling equipment around the world and have the people look after it. Also, it’s stuff that we don’t design, we have to buy it from an outside supplier. When it goes wrong, and no matter how much love and attention you festoon upon it, it goes wrong at some point, it’s an extraordinarily bitter feeling to see your opportunities in the race squandered by something that you don’t have direct control over.
PM: I wouldn’t rush to bring it back. I don’t think the sport has suffered without it. The pitstops are now an amazing spectacle and we’re very privileged to be able to stand so close to them. If you’re on a good pitstop, you hear all four wheel guns go together and you feel them all go again and then the car’s gone. The ban on refuelling has also given the drivers an extra element because they now have to take a car from qualifying, when it has very light fuel, to the race, when it starts with a full fuel load and that’s a transition they have to get on top of.
• Lewis Hamilton: Driver, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
• Kamui Kobayashi: Driver, Sauber F1 Team
Q: Which of the new rules – new tyres, DRS or KERS – has had the biggest impact on performance for the drivers?
LH: I love the new tyres, I think Pirelli have some an amazing job. I wasn’t really sure if they were going to be any good because Bridgestone had been in F1 for so long and had so much experience. But Pirelli have come in and straight away they’ve lived up to people’s expectations, which is pretty impressive. KERS we’ve had before, so the DRS is probably the most unique part of the new rules for this year. It makes it easier to catch people up and then be in a position to overtake.
KK: The DRS is a really good system. At the beginning of the season we were a little bit worried about whether or not it was going to be safe, but after a couple of races we started to understand it. It’s unique and it’s very good. Psychologically it’s very important because we don’t just use it to overtake. Sometimes we use it when we have a backmarker, for example, and I think it’s really cool.
Q: Has the DRS made overtaking too easy?
LH: Before we had the DRS is was very tough to overtake. You could do it, but it depended on the different circuits as to whether or not you’d have the opportunity. What we’re trying to achieve with it is to give the drivers a choice about whether or not to overtake. Of course there are some circumstances where you breeze past someone before you get to the braking zone. I passed Michael [Schumacher] last weekend and was able to move back onto the racing line, so it was far too easy. I watched the replay and Eddie Jordan was talking on the BBC about it being a special manoeuvre! It shows how much he knows! It was good to hear him say something good about me.
Q: You two are the best overtakers on the grid. What allows you to overtake when others can’t?
KK: Last year it was very difficult to overtake because you really had to fight to get close to the car in front. You really had to use the strategy and the tyres and you were on the limit. This year, if you have a good car it’s easy to overtake; it’s less of a job for me to overtake.
LH: It’s too easy for Kamui! I think it comes down to whomever’s willing to take the biggest risk. There’s a fine line between taking the risk and getting past – as I’ve shown in the last couple of races. It comes down to the mentality you have. I was with David Coulthard and Martin Brundle the other day. We were doing a sport together I did the fastest lap and was on the limit because I take everything to the limit. While I came round flat-out, DC was having a lift and Martin Brundle, who was also there and who’s a little bit older, went even slower. What I began to notice is that it might have something to do with age and, as I start to get a little bit older, I might begin to get afraid of going fast through the corners. When you’re attacking someone into a corner, my attitude right now is I’m young, I have nothing to lose.
Q: What does it feel like to actually pull off a fantastic overtaking manoeuvre?
KK: I started in F1 with Toyota at the end of 2009. I did a couple of overtaking manoeuvres at the last race and everyone was surprised. They asked me how I did this overtaking and I replied that it was normal! When your engineer understands that you can overtake, he’ll give you the more aggressive strategy, which is good for me.
LH: It’s exhilarating. It’s probably the most exciting part of the race, when you’re not too fast compared to the guy in front. You’re just creeping up on him and looking to see where he’s weaker so that you can attack next time around. There’s a real science to it; I love it. Every person you catch you want to overtake immediately, but you learn how easy or difficult they are to overtake, so you have loads of things to weigh up. It’s massively, massively rewarding when do eventually get past someone. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard me, but I get really pumped up. I’m immediately on the radio and asking who I can attack next, I want to have that feeling again.
Q: With all the technology that we have at our disposal, how can we find out who the best driver is?
LH: That’s not easy. The simple way of doing that is to have everyone in exactly the same car and to have them go out at pretty much the same time because the conditions are always changing. From the beginning of qualifying to the end of the qualifying the track evolves, and there have been laps compared to Jenson where I’ve had an amazing lap and for some reason I’ll be 5kph slower than him down the straight. It might be that for that one straight I got a headwind. So it would be difficult to have exactly the same conditions for every driver, but putting us in the same car is the only way you’ll truly see who’s the fastest driver.
KK: I have a couple of interesting ideas, although I’m sure no-one will agree! I want to split the cars between the drivers at every race.
LH: I’m sure you do, but I don’t want to drive your car!
KK: One day I’d be driving a Hispania and the next I might be in a McLaren. It would be cool, no?
LH: If you were to do that, conditions would be changing all the time. So how would you actually know from one track to the next who’s better out of you and me? The only time you can compare two drivers is when they’re in the same car in the same conditions. That’s why you’re always trying to be faster than your team-mate because that’s the only evidence you can have about whether or not you’re better.
Q: Is there a way we could get a camera into the cockpit to get the same view as you when you’re driving?
LH: When I’m playing a Playstation game, the view I use is the one on the top of the roll-hoop like on TV because it’s much easier from up there! I was thinking you could might be able to have a camera inside our visors, on the cheek pad, to give you a real driver’s view. It would be interesting for you to see that because it’s a massive difference to the one you get on TV.
KK: I think the same as Lewis. Our view is very different to the one you see on TV. I think it would also be interesting for the people at home to get the information we get, such as information about a part of the track being dirty. This is very important for us. The camera idea is also a very good one.
LH: You couldn’t have just one camera, you’d have to have one on each cheek piece and then pull the images together somehow, just like your eyes.
Q: If you could ask Ayrton Senna one question, what would it be?
LH: How do you start a conversation with someone like that? When you meet someone you’re a huge admirer of, you’re always nervous and when you come away from the conversation you probably ask yourself, “what the hell was I thinking”? I probably wouldn’t ask him anything about racing. Before I got to F1, I always thought I’d never ask a famous person for an autograph because they’re always being asked for autographs. You have a conversation and hopefully they appreciate that more. I’d probably ask Senna about his favourite music. It would be interesting to see what floated his boat.
KK: I don’t know what I’d ask him. Maybe what car do you drive?
LH: I know what I’d also ask him: how did he qualify a second ahead of everyone at Monaco.
Q: Kamui, you also wanted to talk about the Japan Earthquake appeal that you’re involved in…
KK: A few months ago we had a terrible earthquake in Japan. The situation is much better now, but it’s going to take more than 10 years to get things back to normal because so many people lost their houses and their jobs. Already we have had a lot of support from people and we’ve given a lot of wishes to a lot of people. We have organised a lot of events to raise money and, if we can, I’d like to invite people who have been affected to Suzuka for free. It’s not easy to do because tickets in F1 are very expensive, but I want to invite people. I think we can get more people interested in F1 too because F1 is a really great job, especially for young guys like us.