Following is the transcript of a telephone hook-up between BAR Formula One team chief David Richards and Australian media on February 13, arranged by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation. HOST'S INTRODUCTION: Thanks very much David Richards for...
Following is the transcript of a telephone hook-up between BAR Formula One team chief David Richards and Australian media on February 13, arranged by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.
HOST'S INTRODUCTION: Thanks very much David Richards for joining us on line and good morning to you. And good evening to everyone on line around Australia. David needs little introduction to any of us. He has a great reputation in rallying, he is in his second stint now in Formula One - as the head of the BAR racing team this time, after his earlier stint with the former Benetton team - and, of course, David is now dabbling in Australian V8 Supercars. Perhaps the word "dabbling" understates that entry to Australia's premier domestic motor sport category and I am sure there will be some questions about that activity. But without any further delay, let's go to questions now.
Q: David, there's been some public sniping between your BAR drivers in the lead-up to the Formula One season (starting at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 6-9). Do you think this is problematic or more in the spirit of healthy competition?
David Richards: I think if it's managed properly it can be regarded as healthy competition. I was with Jenson (Button) the last couple of days in Spain, where he has been testing and we discussed it. It's mostly come from Jacques' side, and Jacques is renowned for his forthright views and speaks his mind about things. I asked Jenson how he was getting on, and anything between him and Jacques that I needed to be involved in, and he said: "No, not an issue, really. Jac just doesn't speak to me."
Q: From the other end, with your involvement now in an Australian V8 Supercar team, the Ford Performance Racing, how quickly do you think it will be before you are winning races with that team?
DR: I'm always a little cautious to over-promise on these things. I'm coming out to Melbourne a little bit early to spend some time with the (V8 Supercar) team, meet the drivers. I think it's all sorted for Tuesday night (March 4) to meet the drivers and spend some time having a look around. The process we are going through at the moment, we sent out a couple of engineers to assist and pull it together. Obviously running three cars and building up the team to that level is a challenge in itself in the short-term, so I think we're just facing up to the short-term logistical problems at the moment. As we move on then, to be quite blunt with you, I'm looking at next year before we will see the true performance come out in the team - although I would hope we could influence things by the middle of the season.
Q: Continuing on that theme of the V8 Supercars, what was the lure and what was the process to getting Prodrive involved in the operation out here?
DR: As you all well know, we bought Tickford a couple of years ago. The objective of buying Tickford for Prodrive was to expand our engineering reach and work further in the automotive technology side. The joint venture with Ford Australia has been cited as one of the most successful arrangements they have and we saw it as a platform and a way to promote ourselves in this particular area. We also fundamentally believe that performance enhancements on the road cars really need to go hand in glove with a motor sport program, to get the full benefit from that, to get everything working together, so since those days there's obviously been a year of sorting the company out down there. It's been working very, very well and a great relationship with Ford, but clearly the Tickford brand we needed to look at; hence it's changed to Ford Performance Vehicles this year, the launch of the new cars, etcetera. So that's been the focus in the last 12, 18 months. And now we start to shift too, which is one of our longer term or medium-term ambitions, which is putting a racing team alongside it. And it has taken us six months to pull that together, to be quite honest with you, to try to find the right basis to build it on - and that's where we are today.
Q: Still on the V8 Supercars, the two series that you're already involved in - the World Rally Championship and Formula One - are both global series. What was the attraction of getting involved in a series that has a much smaller scope?
DR: It really is an adjunct to our activities with Ford Performance Vehicles in Australia, as I say, to give that whole business credibility and validity. We felt a race program alongside it, and certainly with the success of the V8 series out there and the dominance of it in the Australian sporting scene, we couldn't just sit to one side and let the teams carry on the way they have been, so we felt we had to take a very proactive approach. And the way to do that, we looked at whether we just put an engineering resource working alongside Ford to support all the teams, or whether the most appropriate route was to actually have our own team in there - and the latter was the conclusion we came to.
Q: What conclusions have you made from the last couple of weeks of testing the new BAR car? You made some pretty big promises with (designer) Geoff Willis, the aerodynamics and things to the car this year?
DR: It's living up to expectations. We're still really going through reliability and tyre testing work at the moment today. Yesterday they did a lot of tyre work. Today is tyre work - they're in Valencia at the moment. We move to Barcelona next week and then finally to Imola before everyone heads off for Australia, so it's really a sort of fairly intense program at the moment. The final edition of the engine will not be available to us until the very last minute, so we are working on an early sort of interim engine, if you like, at the moment, so we are not able to run the car at its full performance potential. But we are overcoming all the usual niggles that one gets with the new chassis, all the complications - hydraulics and bits and pieces. I spoke to Jenson last night and he made some good progress yesterday. Jacques is in the car today and tomorrow, I believe, and then I'm going down to join them again next week in Barcelona. So overall, everything's on target. Like normal, we could always do with an extra week before we come out to Australia and we could do with the engines a little bit earlier than they are going to arrive, but I guess most of the other teams are in the same position as us.
Q: Another Formula One question: if Jenson and Jacques aren't talking, how is that actually helping your chassis development, new-car development, or are they begrudgingly talking to each other through engineers?
DR: No, I don't wish to sort of exaggerate the situation now. I was being slightly flippant (at the start). I think what Jenson meant by that is they are not sort of talking in a social sense and sort of spending their lives in each other's pockets. Certainly when they sit down on the track they talk about the car and the development. It always takes time for these relationships to build up as well and to build respect and to understand how the other person works as well, so I don't think of that as a problem at all. And we have seen teams built around great relationships that sort of work very well, and we have seen other equally successful teams built with a bit of friction, and I have no issue in managing either of those. Certainly one will be easier than the other, but if there is to be a little bit of friction in the team then I will manage that process.
Q: A V8 Supercar question. Do you see this as Prodrive versus TWR (which runs the dominant Holden Racing Team), as it has been in Europe in the past, or is it something deeper than that?
DR: No, this is very much an Australian program. This is Ford Performance Vehicles versus Holden, and all we are doing is bringing in as appropriate some people in the short-term. This is going to be built up as an Australian operation run out, in the short-term, at Glenn's site but in the longer term we will build a proper facility near Campbellfield (in Melbourne), near our factory there, right alongside it, so the plan is to have it as a true Australian organisation, albeit with arm's length support when required back in Europe.
Q: Just on that very subject of resources, what is the extent of the immediate involvement from Europe to Prodrive here? I understand you have already had engines over for evaluation in England?
DR: Yes, we are doing some simulation work in England. We have had an engine over to have a look at, to see what we can do on that side. We have sent a couple of our key engineers over. They started there a few weeks ago. It really is just building up a better picture of things. Like my visit over just before the Grand Prix will be around trying to understand what resources they need, what recruitment program we need to have, and how to best go about the task in the fastest time possible. So there is no way I'm shipping out 20 people and saying that's the team; we will recruit locally and we will just be a couple of key people there - and possibly only for the short-term. But if it's necessary they will stay longer.
Q: No Falcons on seven-post rigs then?
DR: Well, not in the short-term, but I believe fundamentally you need to put the resource where the team is based and you need to resource the thing properly in that location, and we need to build a really great facility down in Melbourne so they can contest the series properly from there, not be reliant on too many outside facilities that we might have. It's all great in the short-term, and certainly we will access those in the short-term, and we will take full advantage of them - but I don't think that is sustainable in the long-term.
Q: David, back to Formula One. BAR entered F1 with a lot of resources and very high expectations that have not been realised over the past few years. What are your expectations for this year with Jenson and Jacques?
DR: The last 12 months has really been putting this team back on track and getting their feet firmly planted on the ground. I think there was a very simplistic view that you just bought your way on to the grid with a lot of money and a lot of people. And it's the same in any organisation: you've got to build a great team and you've got to put a team together, an effective team together, and they have got to be well focussed and well motivated, and they've got to have clear goals and objectives. So our objective in the last 12 months has been to really get that indoctrinated into the organisation. We slimmed down the organisation very significantly, we have a far tighter, better organised team than we had 12 months ago and, as we go into this year, to be quite blunt about it, it's almost like a start all over again. I think that this year, when we look back on the year, I'm pretty convinced we will be able to hold our heads up and say we really came of age and this was the year that BAR challenged the establishment.
Q: With the level of the drivers that you've got in Prodrive or FPR at the moment, all the major V8 Supercar teams are already searching for co-drivers for the Bathurst 1000 later in the year. What's your position on that? You've obviously got Rickard Rydell and Alain Menu, although Rydell is not linked to Prodrive anymore. Is there any possibility that European drivers will come out?
DR: I'm more concerned about the Melbourne race than I am Bathurst at the end of the year for the time being, but you are quite right - we have got access to a number of drivers. The one program that hasn't been mentioned to date is our Ferrari sports car program, where we have got a great line-up of drivers and we will be doing Sebring this year, we're doing Le Mans. The rest of the program has not been finalised yet, which races we are doing, but amongst that group we have got Anthony Davidson (British driver who drove two F1 races for Minardi last year) driving for us, we've got Rydell driving, we've got Menu, as you pointed out. So we have got some great drivers and, some of them not unfamiliar with the mountain (Mt Panorama at Bathurst) either.
Q: The expectation here in Australia last year was that Prodrive would buy Ford's 00 Motorsport team, and a lot of people were surprised when the announcement was made about GSR (Glenn Seton Racing). Was that Plan B? And it appeared that it happened very quickly. Was that really your preferred choice in the end - or the only choice?
DR: No, I would say there were various options open to us throughout, and all of them were pursued in parallel. As it turns out, I think we have actually ended up with the best solution of them all and, when we look back in the next year and we have the operation sort of firmly based in a new facility alongside the factory, I think it will be a very formidable team.
Q: Why do you say it's the best solution? What were the deciding factors?
DR: It would be rather long to go through all the pros and cons of each aspect now, but we do effectively start with a clean sheet of paper under this scenario and it allows us to build up an organisation - and very much in line with our own thinking rather than inheriting something and then having to sort of change it, etcetera.
Q: There was an enormous amount of speed in those last few weeks (in the acquisition of Glenn Seton Racing) and there was a deadline date for when entries had to be in and sign-off on franchises. What's your view on the way that Avesco (V8 Supercar organiser) has set up with 35 starting spots maximum? What's your position on that?
DR: I'm not well enough versed to really comment in any detail on that. I'm not trying to avoid the question, but I'm not up to speed on that.
Q: A bigger picture: Shanghai (where Avesco has done a five-year deal to race). Ford Australia has been fairly negative, in comparison with most people, towards Avesco signing a deal with Shanghai. What's your view as far as FPV racing in China?
DR: Clearly FPV is very much aligned with Ford Motor Company and if (Ford Australia boss) Geoff Polites' view is that that is not in the best interests of Ford, then I daresay it's probably not ideally suited to Ford Performance Vehicles either. But, nonetheless, with that on the cards we have got to make it work for us now, so that the task will be to make sure it adds value to Ford's motor racing activities and Ford's performance products as well, so we will be looking at that and trying to maximise that.
Q: Of your F1 drivers, do you have a favourite? Jacques or Jenson?
DR: No, no.
Q: Who are you rooting for?
DR: No, I want the team to win. I'm very much a team player, and the team has got to be successful. And to achieve that both of them have got to do well, quite frankly, so there will be no preferences given on either side and I believe that's the way that we all operate inside the organisation. We just spent the last couple of days away with all the race team and the Honda race engineers on a whole team-building exercise. We took about 80 people down to Valencia early to the testing and we spent some time just talking with everybody, doing programs with everybody, and building up this whole notion of how the team works and how effectively we can operate as an organisation, especially when you think of the complications of the Honda engineers and the British engineers as well. It's been an interesting exercise and people come away from it believing they had an insular role within the organisation and coming at the end of the day understanding that they have responsibilities to everybody, and equally across the board, so I think we are starting to get that whole notion inside the business as well as the race team. It therefore comes back to the whole notion that you can't have preferences of drivers, you have to treat them equally, albeit there will be occasions when one might do better than the other and you need to support them.
Q: Could you explain perhaps the difference between your management style and Craig Pollock's style and, bluntly, are you a better manager than Craig Pollock?
DR: I don't know anything about the way he managed the company, all I know is what I inherited and I know what I can do and what my track record is in the past. I guess that just speaks for itself.
Q: Did you inherit a mess? Obviously it looks like it.
DR: It was a pretty bad mess but, you know, unfortunately none of the people that were there before had any experience of managing a company, let alone a company of the size we were, or managing successful race programs, so it's not surprising. It was a group of people that had wonderful ambition, a great dream, but no idea how to get there.
Q: How extensive do you expect the cost savings to be from the rule changes that have been introduced recently?
DR: The basic economics of a racing team are that you work out what your income is, you decide what monies you need to retain for future investment or for profit, and that gives you an amount of money that's left to spend. In most cases, in the normal course of business, you can run a competent team on that. So just taking arbitrary numbers: if you have a $100 million budget, you basically say, "Right, we are going to put $10 million in the bank for a rainy day or for the shareholders, and we are going to spend $90 million as effectively as we possibly can." If the rules were to change overnight to Formula 3000 rules, you would basically say, "We have got a $100 million income still, we might choose to increase the margins of retained profits to 15 per cent, and now we have got $85 million to spend on a Formula 3000 car, so how do we best spend that to get the maximum performance? Maybe we buy the best driver instead and don't spend it on the car." So those are the fundamental economics of a race team. The situation we are in today is that the expenditure in many areas for many teams had exceeded the income, fundamentally because of the cost of the engines. For the rest of us, the equation I just gave you before still stands. Our income today, at the start of season, and all our budgeting, exceeds our cost and all we are going to do is redistribute our expenditure in different areas and focus on development into different areas. So the effect will be in the long-term we will just have a slightly different expenditure profile of where we put our money. I personally believe the real benefits that come from what has taken place recently is that we will have dismissed the perception that these cars are driven by robots or by computers and that we get back to the real racing. We get back to basics, back to pure racing, and I think that's the great thing that everyone should take out of this - not that there are vast savings to be made. Yes, there will be in certain areas for the smaller teams, but the real great thing about this is we are going back to the - still keeping the high technology of Formula One, but at the same time really bringing back the real racing, getting the racing drivers doing the job again.
Q: If you say that what will really happen is you will end up with a slightly different expenditure profile, could you just outline how you expect that profile will change? Where will money stop being spent and where would you be able to usefully redirect it? Would you be able to pay the drivers more?
DR: Well, that could be the case. It could be that if the driver becomes the most significant element in performance then that's where the money will be spent. If tyres become the most significant element, we will do more tyre testing. I just give you one example, though, and this is actually rolling out as we speak now. We are examining what the effects of this are going to be in the longer term. But the most significant effect was the electronics group, where we employ about 54 people on electronics, both on hardware and software development, in our team. That is going to be dramatically reduced in the new scenario by the middle of the season and I have had meetings with the group, and of course you actually can imagine they were not very enamoured by the new regulations or the prospects of what was going to happen in the future. What I've committed to them is, and they've actually done the work last week, they have written for me a paper of all the electronic systems and innovations and things that they have developed over the last couple of years, and we are now looking at alternative applications for that in other environments, mostly outside motor sport I should say. I'm in touch with a couple of high-technology companies in Europe and we are just examining what that intellectual property that we have developed could be used for alternatively and I think personally this is a route that I believe is significant for our potential income in the long-term - to look at alternative applications for many of the assets that the team has and to date is not exploited fully.
Q: One of the interesting things that happened (in V8 Supercars) was that you put together the two-car team of Craig Lowndes and Glenn Seton and then came David Besnard. Was that a primary requirement, to have a three-car team?
DR: No, it wasn't. It was based around the overall economics and sponsorship requirements.
Q: Are you concerned or wary of the fact that in a two-car category (Ford and Holden) you might be seen as Ford's white knight - and the pressure that goes with that?
DR: I actually relish that because clearly we are partners of Ford in Ford Performance Vehicles. We see it as a very important activity alongside that and we can't walk away from our responsibilities. I wouldn't put our name to it if I didn't feel that we were going to do the job competently and stand up and be counted at the end of the day.
Q: Last year you laid down some pretty defined goals for BAR over five years. What's a success and failure for FPR this year? And looking to the next five years as well?
DR: I think, really, this year is one that we will have to just sit back and see how it develops because, quite frankly, at this stage in the program you can't do an awful lot to influence it. It's very akin to what we did at BAR last year: you sit there, you grit your teeth and you know that you have inherited what you've inherited, and you can't influence it during the course of the year, or you can by the latter part of the year maybe, Bathurst and things, but you have to really take the long-term view and make sure that everybody around you shares that vision and accepts that it's better to build for the long-term than spend all your time "fire-fighting" in the short-term.
Q: Is this a (V8 Supercar) championship-or-nothing in 2004?
DR: I think it's better we speak again by mid-season and see what progress we have made, but I would be very disappointed if we weren't really challenging strongly next year and we have the tools and equipment to do the job with.
Q: With the changes in Formula One this year, can you give us an idea of what you expect the fans will see? Particularly the new qualifying rules, which a lot of people like the idea of. Are we actually going to see racing this year? Will it be a more competitive feel or will Michael Schumacher still run away?
DR: There has to be still a question mark over the Ferrari element of it and how much they move forward, because clearly they're a formidable team at the moment. There is every reason to think they've made another significant step during the (northern) winter and they have got a great driver line-up (Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello) and the consistency. It's all about this learning on learning, the consistency of that team and the way they build year on year. Of course, that's not going to go on forever, but nonetheless that's what we face this year. As far as the rest of the pack is concerned, I think you are going to be quite surprised by the racing that's going to go on, the unpredictability of it all, given the single-car qualifying both Friday and Saturday. Looking around and looking at the work that has gone on, clearly McLaren have got a lot to prove this year, Williams are under intense pressure from BMW to deliver, Toyota are improving all the time. I believe we have made a very significant step forward. And then you can never dismiss the likes of Sauber, so I think the middle of the field is going to be exceptionally competitive. Whether we are a match on occasion for Ferrari, and I think it will be very much on occasion, we will just have to wait and see.
Q: With the three V8 Supercar drivers, you have got one who is already a triple champion (Craig Lowndes) and potentially another five-time champion, you've got David Besnard, who is a rising star, and you've got Glenn Seton, who is a past champion. What's Glenn's situation? He has obviously been carrying some business baggage that's affected his success over the last couple of years. Is this a chance for him to re-emerge as a front runner?
DR: I think that's a very good observation. When I went over to Oran Park (in Sydney) last year and watched Glenn and the way he was operating, it was very clear that to be a driver-manager, running the business as well, is an extraordinarily difficult task. You have got to be quite a unique person to be able to achieve that, to manage to divorce the different roles and do that effectively, and I'm quite convinced that that has impacted on his performance on the track. Hopefully, relieving him of those responsibilities we will see Glenn come back to his true form.
Q: Just on that point, do you have to be a superman yourself to be involved in rallying through Prodrive and with the television side of it that you have got, as well with your Formula One activity and now with your V8 Supercar activity? And you also mentioned there your Ferrari sports cars. It's a very wide brief, when a Frank Williams or a Ron Dennis has their hands full running a Formula One team alone.
DR: I have a very, very different style of management, a different way of going about things. There is no way in this world I could run a team in the way that Frank does or Ron does, or the way that Bernie (Ecclestone) does Formula One, in the sort of level of detail and the meticulous single focus that they have. I have a very different way of nurturing along other people, motivating people, delegating to a very effective management team that I have working for me. And that's the style that I found works best for me. It's more fun for me, it's more fun for the people at work for me, that I let them get on with it and make their own decisions. We share the strategy, I'm very involved in the early planning and agreeing on a strategy and agreeing on how we are going to deliver against that, and am very rigorous on making sure that people match their commitments to that as well. But I don't, as a result of that, have to get involved in the detailed day-to-day aspects of it, which quite frankly I'm not that good at - so I would rather just play to my strengths. And so, consequently, over the years I have just evolved this style of doing things and it appears to work to date.
Q: That obviously is your style, but in the world of Formula One can you be as successful as a Frank Williams or a Ron Dennis without that absolute single-mindedness and hands-on approach?
DR: I suggest to you that the world of Formula One has changed dramatically over the last few years with the advent of larger teams, with the input of the car manufacturers. These companies are not companies that are run by individuals anymore. Individuals give them leadership, individuals give them direction, and individuals can provide motivation, but the companies have to be run by very competent people, experts in their own disciplines right across the field. The recognition of that, I believe, is the first step in redefining BAR, if you like, and the way we are going about the task for the future. It's very much how we have run Prodrive and all of the larger tasks we have, so I don't think you can look back to the old days and say Colin Chapman (founder and legendary designer of the now-defunct Lotus team) ran his whole Formula One team and knew everything that was going on - and probably signed every cheque as well. Organisation is like a Formula One team, whereby we actually employ 362 people and indirectly another 100, and you look at the likes of Ferrari, which are probably double that size again, and of course we have Honda as a partner. These businesses need really careful, delegated authority and people who actually know what they are doing in their specialist fields.
Q: Are the days of the Ron Dennis and Frank Williams and those people, as great and successful as they've been, are their days perhaps numbered in that sense?
DR: No, I think what it is is it's an evolutionary process. As the organisation has changed, and some of us change more easily than others and adapt to these changing circumstances. I think Ron has adapted extraordinarily well, if you look at his organisation and the breadth and scope that that undertakes You talk about single-minded focus, the reality is he has the road car program, he has various other aspects to the business and it's a wide-ranging group. Frank is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met in my life, when you look at the sort of predicament he is in (as a quadraplegic) and the effort and the enthusiasm and the commitment he has brought to it over the last 15 years, to me beggars belief. So everyone adapts and does things in their own individual way. What I'm saying to you is Formula One has moved on from the days when one individual can do it himself.
Q: In your V8 Supercar team, Craig Lowndes and David Besnard are linked to the manufacturer (Ford) itself. Glenn Seton is not, we believe, on a two-year contract with FPR. So what does he have to prove over the next year to maintain his position within the team?
DR: The team will evolve and each person will evolve in their own roles within the team as things develop and, as I said before, it's early days yet. I will be sitting down with the drivers when I get down to Melbourne and I'm sure these things will sort of come to the fore as everyone starts working together.
HOST CONCLUDES: David, thanks very much for joining us. It's been a fabulous session and we certainly look forward to seeing you here in Melbourne. All the best, not only in Melbourne but for the year - in all your various pursuits. Thanks for a very, very enjoyable session and thanks to everyone else for your participation.
DR: Look forward to seeing you down in Melbourne in a couple of weeks.