Brazilian Grand Prix FIA Friday press conference transcript with Ross Brawn (Ferrari technical director) Sam Michael (Williams technical director) Pat Symonds (Renault executive director of engineering) Geoff Willis (BAR technical director) Q:...
Brazilian Grand Prix FIA Friday press conference transcript with
Ross Brawn (Ferrari technical director)
Sam Michael (Williams technical director)
Pat Symonds (Renault executive director of engineering)
Geoff Willis (BAR technical director)
Q: We have all been impressed with the reliability, but how marginal has it been, particularly Ross and Pat can you tell us about the engines, of course we are not really asking for detail. Has it really been that tough to make these engines to last two races and also to get the cars to the end?
Pat Symonds: It is difficult, but equally it is just an engineering challenge. In Formula One we have not been used to running engines for that long but in many other forms of motorsport they have. Certain things have had to change and I think our guys have adapted very well to it, we have been very pleased with the engine. Are they marginal? Yes they are. When we take them to bits they are quite scary at times, but that's really the way that should be. We don't want it to be pristine at the end of two races, we want it to be on the limit. That is how we want to do it and I think our guys have done it very successfully.
Geoff Willis: I think the level of skill and professionalism in the sport has steadily got better and better and compared to two or three years ago we are now running engines that are significantly lighter, more powerful, running for about five times as long, but then all the rest of the car is also extremely reliable. There is a strong level of competition so you are seeing people having to engineer their designs right close to the edge of their performance. So it is down to their procedures and processes and the very formal ways that people are working on their cars and engines to maintain that level of performance as well as that level of reliability. So yes, it is very tough, reliability has always been part of any sort of motor racing and it is as important now as it always has been.
Ross Brawn: I think fundamentally there is no difference in the engineering challenge between making an engine last 300km or 1,500km, it is the level of performance you try to achieve with that level of reliability. Each time you strip the engine you are looking for areas that are suffering or areas that are stressed and step by step you achieve the reliability you need. I think the thing that is a little frustrating at times is the time available to do the job, because if we were able to start again with a completely new engine this would not be the most efficient way. If you can start with a completely new engine design then you can incorporate the features you want to achieve reliability with best performance and I think we have all been working with compromised designs because these engines weren't designed to last two races, they were designed to do short stints, certainly ours were. I think with the V8 engine that is coming it is the first time we will have a chance to design an engine from the very beginning knowing that it has to do two races and I think therefore the V8s could be even better than the ones we have now. It is a performance-reliability ratio. We could all blow our engines up tomorrow if we wanted to, that is not difficult. It is just the level of performance you can achieve with the reliability. The great thing about the engine is you can take them on a dyno and do a lot of the work at home.
Sam Michael: I think a lot of things have changed in Formula One, not just on engines but hydraulics, gearboxes, suspension, and the default system you have in place now is so rigorous. All the teams have a target of 100 percent reliability and it has been like that for a few years now and once you have so many people and resources dedicated to that you do start to make a breakthrough. I think what Ross said is right as well, the V8 is going to be even more because of the way the regulations are written. It is much easier for the engine manufacturers because of set weights and spacings to make sure engines have got plenty of weight in them and I think it is going to get better and better.
Q: Pat, what is it like to work with Fernando Alonso, what sort of a guy is he from a professional point of view?
Pat Symonds: He really is excellent. That may be a bit of a glib statement, because you do expect me to say that, but I have worked with many champions before and he has many of the same characteristics. I think the thing that is surprising and what is a real compliment to him is that one forgets his age, because the maturity he shows is well beyond his age, even the time he has been in Formula One, which is not long. You just forget about it. It is like you are dealing with a guy who has a destiny, he knows that destiny and he is totally comfortable with it. He is a very intelligent guy, he is particularly good at reading a race, looking after equipment, in the same way that Michael is. He knows when to go fast and when to reel it back a bit. He has a very good understanding of the tactics and what needs to be done in the race. And he enjoys it. And I think that is always refreshing. He really is a good guy to work with and if he achieves the championship as we hope and expect he will I think he will thoroughly deserve to take Michael's crown.
Q: You have worked with both, and you mentioned the analogy with Michael there. What other differences or similarities can you see?
Pat Symonds: When you look at these people, a year in Formula One is a long time and ten years is an eternity. It is sometimes a little bit different to draw comparisons in every area and what we require of a driver technically these days is slightly different to what we wanted ten years ago and very, very different to what we wanted 20 years ago. So, I think you have to look a little bit outside the technical aspect and look at the human aspect of these people. I think champion drivers are just like champions in any sport, they have this incredible self esteem, self confidence and this ability to set themselves targets. They are realistic but difficult to achieve targets but they achieve them time and time again and that is what I see with Fernando and it is equally what I have seen in other Formula One world champions and I am quite sure you see it in all top sportsmen.
Q: Geoff, I thought you were going to be a bit more competitive than you have in the last three or four races, I thought you were going to work up to quite a bit of a climax at the end of the season.
Geoff Willis: We did want to be more competitive towards the end of the season, we are certainly still trying very hard, we have brought new things for the car this weekend and we still have more new things for the last two races. It is tough, we are seeing a hard battle at the front and both of those cars are improving steadily and the whole field now improves their cars throughout the season so simply standing still is not good enough and to stand still relative to the grid you have to make a lot of developments. It has been a tough year for us, we are still understanding and working out where we have not been competitive, we have some very strong parts of the car and engine package and some parts are not so strong and right at the moment the drive for us is as well as to try to improve performance this year is to try to solve our problems so we are in a good position for the start of next year.
Q: You now have your two drivers for next year, what happens to Takuma?
Geoff Willis: The only thing that is fixed is our race driver line-up for next year with Rubens and Jenson. Discussions continue between the team and Honda and Takuma about his opportunities for next year and the rest of our driver line-up for next year, including third driver if third driver is required, and test driver is still ongoing.
Q: Has any decision been made about third drivers?
Geoff Willis: I have heard some discussion about which teams...I really don't know. At the moment we are working on the likelihood it will be the same set of regulations as this year.
Q: Ross, I don't know how much development is going on for 2005, obviously it has taken place on the 2006 already, but how do you know what direction to go given your tyre situation so far this year?
Ross Brawn: Well, I think we have been in a very unique situation being the only top team with Bridgestone tyres, so we have had no reference and when you have no reference it is often difficult to know what areas you should concentrate on, and we are rather welcoming the addition of Williams and Toyota as Bridgestone clients for next season because it will give us a much better measure of where we need to put our efforts, whether collectively those teams put their efforts into tyre development or you need to put the efforts into the car. What we are trying to do is both.
Wherever we find more performance it will improve the situation, more aero performance, more engine power, chassis performance, better tyres, it just means we will go faster. I don't think in any area we are saying 'we have done a good enough job so we can leave it alone for next year'. We are trying to be as self-critical as we can in everything we are doing. It would be delightful if we could find a second out of the car, but that is not very realistic. But together we can try to improve the situation but we are concentrating on next year and we have a reasonably good idea of what our targets should be.
Q: Can you clarify something about Valentino Rossi testing? Apparently you said he would test every month and he said that would not be possible. What is the situation?
Ross Brawn: Obviously he is the final arbitrator of what he does. I don't determine what he does. I probably got ahead of myself because I was asked how do you go about turning Valentino Rossi into a Grand Prix driver, and to me that is how you would do it, that would be the programme to follow if Valentino wants to go Grand Prix racing. But he has indicated he has not made that decision yet, so I think we need to wait and see what he wants to do. But if he does want to do it I think I outlined how would be the best way to approach it in my view. That decision is still to be made. Obviously he is in the middle of a championship and is committed to race next year in MotoGP, so we will wait and see.
Q: Sam, a lot of people are thinking that Nico Rosberg could be in a Williams for the next two Grands Prix. How race ready is he for Formula One?
Sam Michael: Whether he is in for the next two Grands Prix or not is one question. He is obviously a very good young driver, he is definitely on our list for the future, whether he races for the last two Grands Prix is something that Frank Williams can decide race by race. I would say it is unlikely but there is still a possibility there. But more importantly I think he has shown what he can do in GP2, everyone has seen what he has done this year is pretty good, and what he has shown us inside a Formula One car is pretty good as well. The first time we met Nico he was 17 years old, he was clearly too young to be involved in Formula One at that stage, but it was quite a good exercise because that was about two-and-a-half years ago now and it gave him enough of a taste to know he wanted to do it, and we could see straight away he is a very intelligent guy, probably one of the smartest of his age I have come across.
When I say the smartest I mean from an engineering perspective, he had a very good understanding of car dynamics, tyres and things like that, even at that age, and that was pretty impressive. I guess that has come through things handed down by his father (Keke). What happens to him in the future we will just have to wait and see. Frank has got a couple of options for our second race seat and Nico is definitely one of the guys on that list, as are others, so we will have to wait and see.
Q: Next year you are moving to Bridgestones, did you have a choice? What was the situation?
Sam Michael: We definitely had a choice. We took that based on what we could see Bridgestone could technically deliver for us in the future, it is a long-term decision what we have done with Bridgestone. They have been the force in the last five or six years, admittedly Michelin have done a great job this year and will win the drivers and constructors titles but from what we could see of the future Bridgestone was the team to be with. And what you can't over-estimate as well is for every team that swaps over, we are doing the order of 50,000km plus testing this year, so not only do Bridgestone gain 50,000km but Michelin lose it and if Toyota go as well, which we are still waiting for their confirmation, you could have a swing of 200,000km of testing from Michelins to Bridgestones, it is simple numbers.
Q: Ross, coming back about Valentino. Can you clarify if it is true you have a commitment from him if he becomes a Formula One driver he would just drive for Ferrari, and do you already plan some tests with him before the end of the season?
Ross Brawn: I would hope that if Valentino wanted to get into Formula One he would do it with Ferrari, because it is a nice combination. He has done two tests for us now, he got on very well with our people and our guys found it very exciting to have him there, so naturally it is very attractive but I think he will look at all his options and make his decision when he has to make it. As our president said, nobody is holding a gun to his head. He has to make the decisions he feels are right for him. We would certainly be interested in working with him in the future but that is something that will have to wait and see. As regards the rest of the year, I don't think anything is committed, he wants to get his championship out of the way and decide what he is going to do.
Q: And there is no exclusive contract that you are aware of with him?
Ross Brawn: No.
Q: Can I ask each of you if there is any more progress on resolving the FIA's suggestion of a downforce limit in Formula One, and how that may be policed if that does get introduced?
Geoff Willis: The proposal for a downforce limit is addressed in two areas, as I understand. Both are considering a way to have a limit to the performance of the cars and try and have a long-term limit and control of performance, and also is part of an idea to improve the show, making it possible for the cars to race closer to each other and for there to be more overtaking. I am not sure necessarily, it is going to achieve either or both targets. In terms of limiting performance it is important that we try to find a regulation that gives us a stable set of technical regulations that we can explore without having to waste a lot of time and effort re-adjusting the regulations, finding a new solution, finding possibly unexpected consequences of the race-ability of the cars, so I think having the idea of imposing a downforce limit is an interesting concept, quite how we can achieve that is another point but then, as well as the performance, we've got to go back to the racing side and I'm not sure it's been any way proven yet that a downforce limit is what we need to improve the spectacle of overtaking. There are a number of formula out there, GP2 currently, IRL, which are showing that by changing the nature of the downforce generation on the car, to put rather more into the underbody of the car, and rather less onto the wings of the car does seem to be encouraging close racing or certainly the ability to follow closely. I think there are a number of things that we're going to have to look at. We need to do this on a pretty scientific basis to find out that we do come up with a set of regulations that really does achieve these two quite difficult and different challenges of performance limitation and improvement of the show.
Sam Michael: I agree with what Geoff said, particularly about GP2. They use a skirt on the side and they have front wings close to the ground. I think they've just done that by accident but they've obviously stumbled onto something that's pretty good and initially I thought maybe it's because there's a big spread of talent in the field, but in reality there's probably four or five very good drivers in the top five and even those guys are still overtaking each other. And if you look at the following and overtaking they're doing on tracks where we wouldn't get anywhere near ourselves, I think there's definitely something to be learned from that. We've gone in the opposite direction over the last two or three years, particularly if you look at the front wings on a Formula One car. We've lifted and lifted them away from the ground, and for sure that hurts performance and reduces the lap times which was a first target, but it potentially also makes it very difficult to follow other cars. That obviously needs a bit more substantive work to work out the best way to go in Formula One.
Pat Symonds: I agree with what's been said but I think there is on further aspect and that is that the FIA are very keen to limit the costs of being competitive in Formula One, and I think that's a very correct objective to have. And I have a feeling that they believe that if downforce was ultimately limited, in other words, if the magnitude was limited, that it would go some way to reducing costs as well in that I think that they hope that less time would be spent in wind tunnels, etc etc. It's partially true. I think that if the money is available, it will not actually stop you working in your wind tunnels because you might still be limited on the amount of downforce you have, but you will still be trying to produce that downforce with a minimal amount of drag. But the FIA's brief, really, is to try and limit the added performance that you get by spending your next million dollars or whatever it might, and I guess it will do that. You will still spend your time in the wind tunnel, but the gains that you get from it, in terms of pure lap time, will probably be less, so there is another little aspect of it, that I think is quite interesting. I'm not sure how valid it is, but it certainly comes into the equation.
Ross Brawn: I think the reason we need a downforce... or we need to control the downforce is a lot to do with cornering speeds and the fact that we start to get close to the critical speeds that have been identified for safety reasons at a number of circuits. Every few years we change the bodywork and we all predict where we are going to be, and I would think that if not now, certainly next year most of the teams will be back where they were last year, so we've had substantial bodywork changes and we're getting close to back where we were last year. Now if conceptually you could introduce a means of limiting downforce to a certain threshold then it would seem to be simpler to control cornering speeds in that way, and then the teams would be interested in efficiency and the behaviour of the cars and the stability of the cars, more than just the generation of downforce. I think along with that, the aspects of cars being able to follow each other is very important and I agree with what's been said in that we've certainly gone the wrong route.
I've commented on this before but I can remember a race a few races ago where I asked Michael 'how much faster can you go,' because he was part of the Trulli train that was going on at the time and he said 'I'm going as fast as I can. I can't go any faster.' And Jarno pulled into the pits and he went 1.5 seconds faster. He didn't have that performance in the car as far as he was concerned, because the car was behaving so badly behind the other cars. We've got to solve that because it does spoil the race. I don't think we need a dramatic increase in the amount of overtaking that goes on, but we certainly should have close racing where cars can get next to each other and attack each other. A few overtaking manoeuvres in a race would be much better. At the moment you get within 50 or 100 meters of the car in front and that's it, you're finished. You can't get any closer.
Q: To all of you: I would like your thoughts on Toyota's progress this year. They've made a big step, but has that been flattered slightly by the fact that, besides Renault, you have not had the best of seasons, and also, how difficult will it be for Toyota, a relatively new team, to maintain this upwardly momentum in '06?
Ross Brawn: I think Toyota are on an upward slope. It's difficult to know when it will level off. They've certainly made pretty good progress from last year to this year. We don't know where they will be next year. I think one of the things that Toyota have demonstrated is that they are certainly willing to commit to budgets that could exceed those of any other team. I heard them announce a second wind tunnel which is a $50m or $60m project at least, plus all the people you need to run it, plus all the parts you need to put into it, so they are making a tremendous commitment. This is not a criticism of Toyota in any way whatsoever, but we have to be careful in Formula One that we don't end up with the team that spends the most money being the team that wins everything, because then it's just a spending contest and not an engineering and driver contest. I wish them every success but I hope Toyota don't end up as the Chelsea of Formula One.
Sam Michael: I think they've obviously had a good year, regardless of where the other teams have, because even in the early parts of the year they were challenging Renault and McLaren as well. Obviously they don't look as strong towards the latter half, but they've obviously done a good job and well deserve their position in the championship. They've obviously taken three or four years to get there and they are on that road now.
Pat Symonds: I think one of the things that's interesting is that of course we've had some reasonably new rules this year: the aerodynamics were significantly different on the cars and I think Toyota came out of the gate running, they were quick from the start, and that suggests that they tackled that change very well. As the season's gone on, they probably haven't quite kept up the relative pace and maybe there's been a bit of inconsistency but they are a relatively new team and consistency and development is something that is certainly helped by experience. As has been mentioned, they have got a big budget, they will get the job done, it is Toyota's way of doing things but I do think that fundamentally, the step that they made this year was probably down to interpretation of the regulations or certainly getting the best out of the new regulations in the shortest time.
Geoff Willis: I think really I would be repeating much of what has been said so far: they clearly have made a lot better job of the task this year than last year and the challenge is always, as you build up in the level of your competition in the business, knowing why you are quick or why you are better or why you are worse. Any one year is very important for you to be able to continue that from year to year so I'm sure they will continue to be a serious player in the business but like us, they will be needing to work out what they have done well this year and what they have not done well this year in order to do better next year.
Q: Ross, can you please clarify when you are allowed to use the extreme weather tyres during a Grand Prix?
Ross Brawn: There is no control. As long as the track has been declared wet, you can use either of the two tyres. The only requirement the FIA have is that there must be the two tyres and one of them must be a tyre which has certain land-to-sea ratio, has a certain groove pattern or a certain percentage of grooves to ensure that all the teams have a tyre that will work in very wet conditions. But when you use it, once the track has been declared wet, is up to the teams.
Q: Question for Geoff: it's a specific question as to what you are expecting from Rubens on the very first day of your co-operation, I mean in testing in November or December? Are you expecting to make him work on a specific area or to let him give you his general feeling of the package, and are you expecting he will give you new technical direction immediately?
Geoff Willis: First thing I should probably say before Ross jumps on me is that he won't be driving our car until the new year, that's my understanding of our contractual arrangement. Certainly we'll be looking forward to his contributions, his observations on our car. I gather from all the information to hand that he has a good understanding what he likes in a car, he has good technical understanding of a car, and I think we're very much looking forward to working with him, and I think the team's very fired up for next year.
Q: To Ross and Jeff, you've both had quite extensive experience of running a V8 now and I wonder if you've noticed any unusual anomalies or any kind of weird characteristics which you hadn't expected and whether we'll see F1 cars next year perhaps being a little bit different from what they are this year?
Ross Brawn: With Pat, in fact, having probably raced one of the last V8 cars in Formula One, I have fond memories of the vibration issues that you get with the configuration of a V8 and my colleagues and staff at Ferrari haven't had that experience and despite my expectations, it's still been a new experience for them to have bits falling off that never fell off before and were never a problem before. The biggest single change is just the vibration of a V8, certainly in certain planes and certain modes, is very high and you have to rubber-mount everything, you have to give it plenty of clearance. We are having components fail which have done high mileage on a V10. Ferrari made the step from a V12 to a V10 and they thought that was bad. Now they are discovering what a V8's all about. But it's a nice challenge, an interesting engineering challenge for everyone. The engine has less torque and less power but that actually has some benefits in the way that the tyres work and the handling of the car. It is an interesting engineering challenge.
Rather like this year with Toyota, it's wiping the slate clean again, everyone is having to start from a fresh reference and we don't really know where we should be. What level of power, what rpm, what fuel consumption, what is the reference? Because over a period in Formula One you acquire that information, you can observe what other teams are doing, you can see what's achievable and therefore you know what you have to try to achieve yourself. Nobody really knows with a V8; whether 700 horsepower is enough, 750 or 800, who knows? We will find out in the first part of next year. Those that don't have the highest power output will have to catch up very quickly and those that will, can consolidate a bit and work on other aspects. It's a very interesting challenge and one that we have had a reasonable amount of time to organise ourselves so, harping back to my earlier point, it has been less frustrating because we have had the time to work on it properly.
Geoff Willis: Well, I suppose the correct answer is that we are planning not to have any anomalies with a V8. We did run a V8 earlier this season, very much in very early prototype form. Since then, Honda have been working on more stages of prototypes, a lot of dyno running, and we will be back running when testing starts again after the end of the season. Certainly, I personally don't have any experience of running a V8 in Formula One but Honda have a lot of experience running V8s and it's a very big programme for them, and I think we will be well prepared for next year. As Ross says, the exciting bit and the difficult bit about a big change in the rules is you don't really know where the benchmark is and I think that will be quite interesting for the early testing of the V8s when all the teams are trying to work out whether they have got it right and whether they are strong in the right areas.
As well as being reduced capacity in a V8, we also have other changes. There are some material changes in the engine for cost control reasons and also the removal of the moving trumpets. That will have an effect on the torque characteristics of the engine, particularly during the start which is another new challenge and something we won't have a good measure on until we get track testing.
Q: Do you think McLaren may have established a decisive performance advantage this year which would lead to a period of domination in the sport for the next two or three years or do you think too much will change next year for that to take place?
Geoff Willis: I think at the moment McLaren would appear to have the strongest car but appear not to be able to turn it into success with the result that they are clearly not in the strongest position in the Drivers' championship at the moment. I think the last year has probably shown that past performance is not necessarily a good guide to future performance and I hope -- certainly from our position at BAR-Honda, we are very much hoping the performance order for the next few years is not fixed because it's certainly our intention to catch up and take that top of the table. But certainly they've done a very good job this year, but also Pat and his guys have done a very good job and they are winning at the moment.
Pat Symonds: Yeah, McLaren have done an excellent job and they have got a very fast car but we are still pushing, you know, and we have several things here, so I hope we take it right to the end. There is no precedent that says that the domination they have now is going to set the standards for future years. The domination they have had is nowhere near as marked as we've seen from Ferrari in the last few years. We've seen that things do turn around, it always happens in sport. They have a fast car but at the end of the day the championship is decided on points and points come from every aspect of the team, not just the speed of the car, it comes from the reliability, it comes from teamwork, it comes from everything. And one has to say they are not dominating in that area, we are leading the championship. It is something that we certainly are not going to forget and I hope you guys don't.
Sam Michael: I think the same as well. I think the thing that we just talked about, the engines, is definitely going to throw another factor in there. It could re-set everybody and move all the teams around quite a bit, regardless of chassis performance. They definitely have had a stronger car at some places this year. Earlier in the year, obviously you could see Renault dominated for the first three or four races when McLaren struggled. It is nowhere near the type of domination we have seen over the last four or five years with Michael.
Ross Brawn: I think teams do get impetus: there is the inertia that gets going and you get confidence and you are more comfortable with making the decisions you need to make, but I think regulation changes throw in a potentially disturbing factor in there and I think we have not come out of the past regulation changes very well, the last year's regulation changes. I think when there is no regulation changes you have a logical evolution of the cars. Next year there are more regulations changes again which actually are very substantial because they involve not only the engine but the level of drag you can carry on the car, the type of tyres that maybe you want with the power outputs, there are some small aerodynamic changes to the regulations next year, so it's not a very continuous year from this year to next year and that always gives the potential for someone to get it wrong and someone to get it right. But undoubtedly McLaren have a very quick car. They've not been able to capitalise on it as much as they probably would have like to have and they will have that inertia taking them through the winter into next year but regulations changes can definitely throw a double six in there.
Q: There was a meeting this morning to discuss the proposals for qualifying next year. Are you aware of what's going on are you just having to build cars to regulations that you are just imagining at the moment. What is actually happening with qualifying?
Pat Symonds: Perhaps I should answer that as Flavio has been the leader in trying to make some changes. Flavio is of the opinion that the changes that have been proposed for qualifying for next year, which was really not much of a change other than to determine the running order in the qualifying session based on times set in fourth practice rather than in the previous race, he was of the opinion that this really was not enough to enliven qualifying and he has put together a proposal that is based on the knock-out system that has been proposed for 2008, attempting to address some of the issues that had earlier made it a 2008 proposal, in other words to try and keep qualifying with fuel in the cars etc.
There was a meeting this morning where I think this was discussed and it certainly has not been discarded out of hand. So discussion will go on, I think a number of valid points were brought up in that meeting and they will continue to be discussed. I think that what's very relevant is that we are running out of time, and arguably we have run out of time for anything that affects the design of the cars and that makes the compromise quite difficult. Personally, I'm still of the opinion that we need to be very careful with qualifying. Our business is racing on Sunday and qualifying is merely a means to an end and I sometimes think the focus goes a little bit too heavily on qualifying. It's the race on Sunday that's important. If we do anything to improve qualifying at the expense of the excitement of the race then we have made a very big mistake.