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British GP: Friday press conference

British GP: Friday press conference
Jul 19, 2003, 12:08 PM

Present: Ross Brawn (Ferrari technical director) Mike Gascoyne (Renault technical director) Patrick Head (Williams technical director) Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren mananging director) Q: A question for all of you: people are talking about an engine ...

Ross Brawn (Ferrari technical director)
Mike Gascoyne (Renault technical director)
Patrick Head (Williams technical director)
Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren mananging director)

Q: A question for all of you: people are talking about an engine capacity cut to slow down the cars. Is that the best way to slow down the cars? Patrick?

Patrick Head:

I know there was a meeting yesterday between the engine suppliers. I think the technical working group thought that continuing to reduce the performance of the cars without paying some attention to the performance of the engine is getting not to the limit but has been rather continuous, so certainly it's been suggested that the power of the engine should be reduced. But in a way, it's best to let it be sorted out between the engine suppliers, what mechanism they use to achieve that.

Q: So should we ask Mike and Ross this question?

PH: Yup. I'm not actually right up to date with what happened at the meeting yesterday. I think it was one of those ping-pong things where they bounced it back to the technical working group I think.

Ross Brawn: I think there is, as Patrick said, a feeling that it would be nice to moderate the engines a bit. When we started with this formula, we probably had around 700/750 horsepower, approaching 900 now. I think stability is there until 2007 and for sure it's going to be 950, maybe even 1000 by then, so with a wish to slow the cars down, it's certainly one of the things that needs to be considered very seriously. Unfortunately, there's... there's my phone. (Laughter). Sorry, I'll turn it off, as I should have done when I came in. For us, the easiest way is to lop two cylinders off the back of the engine, so now there's a formula of three litres, ten cylinders (@!PH: You couldn't do it tomorrow, could you?). With three litres, ten cylinders it would seem to be 2.4 litres, eight cylinders because it would mean that the combustion, the piston, the valves, all those things would stay the same and there is a general agreement that 2.4/2.5 would be an appropriate reduction, but some of the engine suppliers have, let's say, marketing policies which revolve around the V10 so it's difficult to get agreement because for us to do a V10 small capacity would be a pretty expensive exercise. It would be a high revving engine, a higher revving engine that we have now. So it seems difficult to get a solution, but it's certainly something that would, without any doubt, reduce the performance of the cars. It's a fact, whereas a lot of the other proposals we're debating are a little uncertain as to what result they would have.

Q: Mike, won't power come down anyway with these one weekend engines?

Mike Gascoyne: I don't think you'll see power come down greatly. Certainly there may be, for a year, a sort of a bit of a plateau out in terms of development, but I don't think you're going to see large reductions in performance from the one engine per weekend formula. For me, it's exactly the same as Ross and Patrick have said: there's been quite a lot of frustration in the technical working group that measures that are brought in to slow the cars down are always aimed at the chassis and that that should be matched by a sensible change in the engine regulations, but as Ross said, it's very difficult to get full agreement on that. But I think it is the right time to do something along those lines.

Martin Whitmarsh: I think I would agree with everything that's been said. In reality, no one likes change and all of the engineers on the chassis side and on the engine side are striving to find performance, so it's always difficult to accept change, which is designed to control performance. There have been a lot of initiatives over the last ten years to control the performance via aerodynamics and other factors on the car and I think we've got to keep a balance and the engine power progressively increases and that's why the technical working group felt it was sensible now to find ways in which we could control the power. When you set out to do that, you can start to have discussions about air restrictors, fuel economy, rev limiters, but all of those seemed unattractive to the technical working group and that's why that group passed the proposal to the engine manufacturers that they consider a reduction in capacity. But as Ross has said, I think there are a number of organizations who have developed marketing strategies; they feel they've invested in a particular format of racing, they've got a guarantee, under Concorde, of stability and understandably some people are reluctant to accept that change.

Q: Does that include yourselves?

MW: No. Mercedes in fact, have, for some time, been very reluctant to accept that change and that's been an issue because I personally have felt that we should consider it but in fact, in the last discussions, Mercedes Benz have been prepared to discuss a reduction in capacity.

Q: Onto another subject, to all of you, once again: there are proposals to change the format of a race weekend. How would that affect your tasks, particularly the design of a car?

MW: Well obviously I'm not a designer but I think changing the format wouldn't change how we design the car. Obviously we would have to take a view on development of cars because any plans to change the race weekend format are associated with a reduction in testing. I think that's something that all of the teams are conscious, at the moment, of a need to control costs and also improve the show. I'm not sure that having more testing on Friday and moving the qualifying to Saturday and Sunday is necessarily the right thing for the format of Formula One, to create and build the interest. Here we are now, we've had one qualifying session which has created some interest, it's created something to talk about. I think if we were at the end of a test day, I think it would be a much less conclusive set of discussions about the relative performance of teams so I think it would be a shame to lose qualifying on Friday, because that's what feeds the weekend newspapers.

MG: Obviously we as a team are one of the teams that signed up for the Friday testing here and that's had benefits for us and it's got downsides for us. It's been a very interesting exercise with the limited testing, to try and ensure that we don't suffer from that and we've certainly changed the way we test and how intensively we work the cars and drivers and that's actually been quite a beneficial process for us. We've actually done more testing mileage at this stage of the year than we did last year. But there are downsides: we certainly can't match the tyre testing that the other three major teams do because obviously it would use up too much of our available time. But having said that, it's been an interesting exercise. Whether we need to change it again, what we need to do to keep interest up on all three days because I think it is important -- we've made a change and I think there are interesting aspects to it. It's very difficult when you make a change to get it right first time and I don't think anyone would say that we've got it 100 per cent right. But if we want to go further, I think it needs to be very carefully considered and with the full agreement of everyone. If you're going to do a change, it needs to be a beneficial one.

PH: I think the same thing. But one sees these things come up and very often the decisions to make a change seem to come from behind closed doors and you're never quite certain where they come from; presumably either driven by Max or Bernie, one or the other. I've heard Bernie express that he doesn't think that the current qualifying is that exciting. I think it's a little bit of a sacrifice in order to have more uncertainty about what the outcome is going to be on Sunday, and that was the intention of it. I think a little bit more time settling down around what we've got would be a good idea, but equally, if there are proposals for change I would hope that it wouldn't come out of a closed room as a fait accompli. I would hope that we would have some chance to participate in a discussion about it.

RB: I think there's a fairly critical decision on the format of racing which is this concept of keeping the fuel for qualifying and racing because that, by definition, ties you into a one lap qualifying, because you couldn't logically have a series of qualifying laps and have fuel for qualifying and the race. So if you follow a little bit of a logical diagram, I don't think the decision that has to be considered is whether the fuel for qualifying and the race is a good thing, because it ties you into several things. I think the unfortunate thing about it is that it was perceived as a way to give lesser teams a bit of a moment in the spotlight because they could run light to succeed in qualifying etc. I don't see that. I think they're still sensible enough to realize that would be a very short term gain. And I think after a year of racing this year, we will find next year that everyone's following the same pattern of qualifying weight and race weight. I'm not sure that that side of it is working so well because what did happen last year, even though it was an unusual year from our side, you started the race with several cars on different strategies and different types or tyre and so on, you saw a lot of overtaking at the beginning of the race because cars were on different strategies. You don't get that any more. By definition, the race starts with the teams in the order of their relative speeds so the guy at the front, even more so than it used to be, the guy at the front's got a certain level of fuel, a certain speed, and the guy behind him is a little bit slower and so on and so on. You can't apply different strategies. The problem is that affects the design of the car. Your original question was how is the design of the car influenced by the format and that's the main thing, because the fuel capacity is determined by the regulation we have and I think people will be moving towards small capacity cars and then it will be very difficult to reverse their concept and I think that's the first thing: we have to decide if it's working, because once we can decide if that's working, then it either opens up or closes down a number of other possibilities.

I think the jury's out on the one lap qualifying. I have to say I was very keen on it, I thought it would be a good move but I'm not so sure now that it's been, certainly for us, has been so successful as a spectacle. I'm sure the smaller teams get a bit more TV coverage, but in terms of a spectacle, it doesn't seem to be capturing the public's imagination. I think the one lap qualifying needs to be considered -- whether it's been a success or not.

Q: Another question to you all: how do you find Silverstone as a facility to work in?

RB: I think the facilities are very good. The size of the garage and all of that side of things is excellent. I don't know if you experienced it, but it was a bit difficult getting in this morning, on the A43, so not all the problems have been solved, but as a facility for the teams, certainly for us, to work in, it's as good as any other circuit, no doubt.

PH: Yeah, I'd agree with that. We don't see any downside in terms of the facilities and many many other tracks we go to have less room in the garages. I know there has been calls new pits here but, there's probably one or two circuits with slightly bigger garages, but we don't notice a lack of space, or a lack of amenities. It seems very good to us.

MG: Exactly the same. We certainly have more garage space here than we have at a lot of places. We obviously come here a lot as a facility. Yesterday, it was very typical because it was cold, wet and miserable, which Silverstone always is but as a facility for us to operate at, it's very very good.

PH: We race at many circuits which have worse facilities than here. You can always improve them but they are totally satisfactory from a team's point of view. Whether they meet the commercial and the marketing objectives, I don't know, but from a team point of view, it works.

Q: Martin, unfortunately I am asking about the MP4-18. What is the situation? It doesn't seem to have done many laps. Is someone's head on the block?

MW: Thank you! I think I will try to answer that as briefly as I can because obviously it is not a one-line answer. During the course of last year we obviously assessed our performance and contrasted it with that of Ferrari and it was clear to us at that time that we had to make a big performance increment if we were going to get back on pace. And therefore we decided to embark on a strategy, which saw us develop a very advanced car and an advanced engine. When you do that you introduce a degree of technical risk. We realised that there was more potential in the MP4-17 that we were racing last year and I think we have demonstrated our ability to develop that vehicle. In the meanwhile we have developed a car, MP4-18, which we have had a range of troubles during its birth. I think we have demonstrated to ourselves at least, and to others, that it is a relatively quick car and there is no doubt that it will be a quick car. But we have to, particularly with this championship, it is a tight championship, we are eight points behind the championship lead at the moment, it is a formula where the colleagues around me have got outstanding reliability and performance and if we are going to compete for a championship we have got to ensure that we have got a race-worthy and reliable package. Until we have MP4-18 in that condition then we wouldn't be introducing it at a race circuit and the truth is, at the moment, we have a quick car but not one that has sufficient reliability to allow us to have the confidence to bring it to a race meeting and be confident we will score more points than we will do with an MP4-17D that has continued to benefit from the MP4-18 development programme, we have continued to enhance it and it has remained, we think, reasonably competitive this year.

Q: Is it one thing that is going wrong with the car?

MW: No it isn't. MP4-18 is a totally new car. It has got a smaller number of carry-over parts than any of our cars that we have had before and consequently there are a whole range of issues that we have got to develop and enhance and make sure we have them race-worthy. All of them have been relatively minor and niggling but we have had 15 days of testing and together with Mercedes we have taken a decision that until we are confident about its race reliability we wouldn't bring it to a racetrack.

Q: Mike, we have heard rumours that you are being offered an enormous amount of money to go to Toyota. Also, we haven't seen you at quite a few races for a while. Are the two linked? Are you off to Toyota?

MG: Well, I think unlike Martin's question that is one that could easily have a one-line answer. I mean, I haven't been at the last few races quite simply because my son was born three weeks ago, which was a very important event for me. Also, we have a philosophy at Renault that you win races in the wind tunnel, in the design office and in the R&D labs. You can only lose them at the racetrack and what is important is the development of the car and the development of next year's car and that is something I am very much focussed on. This is a pit lane that thrives on rumour and this is a room full of people that thrive on it as well. I think two years ago at this time of year I was being sacked for the performance, now I am being poached for our team's performance. I mean, I have no comment on what I am doing in the future but while I am here, sitting here, my job is to put 100 percent of my effort into my two cars beating the two cars that these three guys put out and that is a difficult enough job as it is without having to worry about rumours in the pit lane. So on those, absolutely no comment.

Q: Patrick, you have been quoted as saying you could have problems with your two drivers thanks to your renewed success. What sort of problems can you envisage having?

PH: I am not sure whether these quotes are true but basically Ralf and Juan both want the same piece of track, which is the bit of track at the front. But there is a certain red car occupying that piece of track quite a lot as well...But they have got to be mature in the way that they handle themselves and I don't think it will be a problem. I think we have got much more problems competing outside the team than inside the team.

Q: Do you think you are going to have to have a word with them at any stage or do you think they are going to be mature about it?

PH: They never take any notice of me anyway, so...

Q: Ross, there is a rumour going round that Bridgestone have sent a letter to Ferrari asking Felipe Massa to be taken off tyre testing. It sounds like you have never heard that one before, but is that the truth?

RB: I don't know who writes your questions for you but you need to get a better scriptwriter because I think that is the least factual question of all the ones you have asked. Felipe is a very good test driver, he gives good information and, in fact, we are lucky in that we have four drivers that give very good information and we have very little preference over who does what. There is often an occasion when we are picking a final tyre for a race and we will ask a race driver, or both race drivers, to make that final decision, and that is what happened last week. But if you will excuse my language, that is complete bullshit.

Q: Ross, Rubens has been struggling a little bit. What has been happening with him?

RB: It has just been a few unfortunate circumstances and there is a very fine line between success and failure in this business as we have seen from last year to this year with our team. There are far more people capable of filling the top six positions in the race so if you make a little mistake or error at the moment then you lose it. Last year, Rubens started this race in last position and came second. You can't do that at the moment and if you have a glitch or a problem then you are out of the running. He has had a few little unfortunate events. What often happens is it seems to fall to one driver in a team and it looks very odd but I think all the things that have happened...his qualifying at the last race, there was an adjustment made between warm-up and the race (means qualifying) that was not correct and that caught him out in qualifying. So then he started a bit further back than he should have been and his race became very difficult. There is a very fine line at the moment and it is a more normal year in that respect. Rubens is a very good driver and he is obviously being compared to Michael, who is exceptional, exceptional for the last several generations, so he has a tough job in that respect but we are happy with Rubens' performance and if we get our package more competitive then Rubens would be doing a similar or better performance than he did last year.

Q: Patrick, back in the eighties you used to design race cars that were well in the excess of 900, not to say 1000 bhp. So given the current situation and the balance between the downforce a car is capable of generating, the road holding you get from the tyres and whatever, do you think there is really an urge for a reduction in the maximum power delivered by the rear tyres or should the question be addressed instead to have a direction just to try to limit the performance without affecting the pounds to sheer horsepower and driveability?

PH: Well, I am not sure I got quite all of that...Yeah, the fact of the matter is, I remember in '98 or so we were told by the FIA that they didn't want to see lap times at any circuit get faster than the lap times that the cars were doing in 1997 and they said that that was all tied up with insurance for the cars and the suitability of the cars for the tracks and the tracks for the cars. Now, I think, at just about every track, and I think Barcelona was about the last one, the lap times, certainly in qualifying conditions if the cars are on low fuel, are faster than they were in 1997, on some tracks quite a lot faster. It doesn't necessarily mean to say that they are unsafe but recently, without any real discussion about the whys and wherefores, we were told that the intention for next year we should go to a set-up whereby we had the downforce of Monza and the drag associated with Brazil. It was sort of presented as a fait accompli and I am not sure quite whether it was driven totally by safety or whether it was driven by a perception that the overtaking would be greater. But it is true to say that the less time the cars spend under braking going through a corner and accelerating out of a corner the less opportunity there is for one car to overtake another and if the cars were slower and had to brake a lot earlier then maybe there would be more opportunity for overtaking. I think in truth it is quite good that the cars should have lots of power but the power, of course, is quite tamed, or held back at the critical moments by the traction control so you don't see some of the effects of the amount of power that we have. But, anyway, it was a proposal from the Technical Working Group in response to the request for those car performance reductions that the suggestion came out to say well, we will look at holding the engines back a bit as well.

Q: Did the original suggestion come from the FIA?

PH: Certainly the statement of the downforce levels and the drag levels came from the FIA.

Q: Martin, at what point does it become unfeasible to run the new car and what are the chances that it will not run until 2004.

MW: I guess it becomes unfeasible when we ship the cars to Japan. When does it become unlikely? I think we will race MP4-18. We are saying now, with the self-imposed testing ban, that it is not appropriate to introduce it before Italy. We have got a test at the end of the ban, in Monza, we will be taking the car there. We are doing a fair amount of work on the car in that intervening period and that has got to be our goal, to be racing it in Italy. But we will decide after that test if we are comfortable with the reliability and performance of the car.

Q: Also for Martin, there was a story from sources about the failure of your car to get through a crash test. How serious was that failure?

MW: We had a failure this week that was a technicality on a side-impact test. We passed all of the structural tests bar the side impact test. In the side impact test you may be familiar that there are four structures on the side of the car and the regulations require that the energy absorbed by each independent structure should be no more than 35 percent and in one of the structures it absorbed 35.1 percent. So it was a very marginal failure. Obviously we were disappointed but I don't think it is one that is going to give us any undue problems. The survival cell itself was completely intact and undamaged so we merely have to tune those structures, replace them on the chassis and re-test.

Q: Mike, if I can just ask about the speculation on your future. Isn't the simplest thing to just give a one-word answer or, as Ross said, it is all bullshit. Or is that not the case?

MG: Well, I think my previous answer summed up all I wanted to say on it.

Q: Okay, a separate question for Patrick. Juan was saying yesterday that he is going to get Frank Dernie working with him for the rest of the season as well as the rest of his engineers. Can you explain the rationale for that and what help Juan needs?

PH: We have got two very good but quite inexperienced in terms of the number of years they have been acting as race engineers. A chap called Gordon Day on Ralf's car, who is in his first year as a race engineer, and Tony Ross on Juan's car, who is in his second year as a race engineer, albeit that he was engineering on the test team before that and before that he was on the Le Mans sportscar projects. So they are not inexperienced in racing terms but in Formula One terms they are relatively inexperienced and earlier in the year we brought Tim Preston in, who is more experienced and runs our test team, and he is having a very busy year because since Malaysia he has been backing up Gordon Day on Ralf's car, and I think Juan felt that Ralf may have had a bit of an advantage having a more experienced guy on Gordon's shoulder so we decided that instead of having Frank as a general engineer in the garage dealing with general matters to, during the practice session itself, to have him more focussed particularly around Juan's car. Some of it is just a matter of confidence of the driver and some of it is certainly, you don't have the number of years of somebody like Frank Dernie or even myself for that matter without, at various points, that being a benefit to a chap that may be much more into the fractions of a millimetre of ride height gaps and tiny details but may not have the experience behind him to make some of the bigger judgements. So it is just a question of trying to make sure we are giving the drivers the best opportunity to get the best out of themselves and the best out of their cars really.

Q: Patrick, Ralf looks very much more easy going than he was last year. How did he improve as a driver or a person in the team?

PH: Obviously he had a difficult time at the beginning of the year, he had difficulty with some of the one-lap qualifying right at the beginning, the first couple of races for him were not that good. He is happier with the car now. It is better aerodynamically, never perfect, better mechanically, again never perfect. I think it is a better car for him to drive and suits his driving style a bit better but I think like most drivers if things are going well then he is happy and if things are not going well he is less happy. It is a fairly normal formula.


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