British GP: Friday press conference (part 2)

Continued from Part 1 Q: With the 2008 proposals, which have already been published, you have had time to digest them, what is feasible and positive, what isn't? Ross Brawn: I think the opportunity is moving away from us. I think 2008 was a ...

Continued from Part 1

Q: With the 2008 proposals, which have already been published, you have had time to digest them, what is feasible and positive, what isn't?

Ross Brawn: I think the opportunity is moving away from us. I think 2008 was a great opportunity for all the teams to sit down and without fear of bias for their own personal situation, think about what regulations would be appropriate, having agreed the objectives. If you're dealing with a problem, you sort out what the objectives are and then you try and find the solutions. I don't think the objectives are agreed amongst all the teams, unfortunately, and even when they are agreed, it's getting difficult to find agreement for the solutions for those objectives. You've just seen a little example where Pat's view is that the qualifying that we have now is quite good whereas other people don't think it's good, so that's the difficult we have. Talking about specifics, there are some things that I think are interesting and some things we don't agree with but we've got to clarify the objectives and what we're trying to achieve. And we want good entertaining racing, we want a viable business model, so that we can encourage teams to come into Formula One and thereby improve the whole show. It's not a very good show with 20 cars. If we had 24 cars or 26 cars it would be a better show. People can't afford to come into Formula One in the format it's in now so I think there's a whole list of objectives which we could sit down and sensibly discuss. We don't have all the right ideas and the FIA don't have all the right ideas but I think the teams as a group maybe, in the right environment, could discuss, in a way could come up with a set of sensible solutions. We're missing that opportunity because of the political situation in Formula One. A solution which is arrived at from just the FIA and Ferrari is not going to be the best solution for sure. It may be the only solution if other people chose not to take part in it, but it's not the best solution because we want a healthy debate with all the other teams to find the best solutions. I think there are some interesting ideas in there and I think there are a few things we don't like but I think 2008's turning into... if we're not careful it will be a lost opportunity, because with that timescale two or three years away, we have a chance to try and discuss things without thinking about our own personal competitive position.

Sam Michael: I think it does need a lot of planning and obviously two or three years in front is enough, but as Ross said, it's running out of time, and hopefully everyone will get together on it to decide. I actually went through all Max's chances, or the 2008 proposal from him, because Charlie's obviously put it into a technical regulation-type format and there are a lot of things to go through in there, but actually if you list twelve to 13 changes, there are actually more things in there that I agree with than I disagree with. There's three or four very good things, I think, such as going back to wider cars, slick tyres, low profile, 50 kilos lower weight limit and there's also three or four things which are debatable. There's also two or three things that I personally am strongly against, such as ten percent of the amount of downforce that we have now and standard gearboxes for everybody. But it really needs everyone, the ten teams in a room with the FIA to solve that in the long run.

Adrian Newey: I think at the moment it's a real problem, the political arena is a problem that needs to be addressed before we can go on to really sort out the technical side. Obviously you've got the WGPC with its teams looking at what's going to happen in 2008 and that's heading in a different direction to that of the FIA and Ferrari. Until everybody can come together, then it's a problem. I hope desperately that something can be thrashed out because I can't imagine who really wants two different series. We've seen in America what's happened there. There used to be a very strong ChampCar series that everybody watched. The two split and now single-seater racing in America is hardly watched. The only real winners out of that scenario have been NASCAR. It would be a tragedy if that happens, but that really has to be addressed, and that's the solution that somehow we have to find. Then from there, hopefully, we can start to really address the technical problems. At the moment, we've got the WGPC teams holding a forum in which they look at regulations, regulation ideas for 2008, and then we've got the FIA looking at their ideas. Some of those are actually, as it happens, fairly similar. Others are very different. We need to do everything we can to improve the show, obviously, but equally, I think the cars have to look spectacular and they have to look difficult to drive and they have to be fast. The effect of a television camera on a circuit is to slow the cars down so if you watched a BTCC car, say, driving round, it looks pretty dull to me. It doesn't look like something that as an armchair expert I couldn't do myself, whereas I think if you watch a Formula One car, if you watch one really being hustled, you think that's impressive. If you watch Moto GP, it's the same thing. I don't think for one second that I could get anywhere close to a Moto GP rider, and that's the sort of thing which to me Formula One has to have. Ten percent downforce, you're not going to get that. You might find yourself in a position where, if you're not careful, there is going to be an awful lot of other series which are actually a lot quicker than Formula One. But as I say, I think the first thing that really needs to be addressed is trying to get on top of the political situation and I don't quite know how we're going to do that and it's obviously outside this meeting or this conference to do that, but I think to me that's the biggest concern.

Mike Gascoyne: Well, as Ross said, first of all you need to agree the objectives and I think for me, the first thing in Formula One, the objective has to be that we're the premier open-wheel racing series with the quickest car and the highest technology car because that's what Formula One is an needs to be in the future. Of course we need to control costs and have a viable business model. In terms of the specific proposals, I don't really want to comment on them because I think at the moment there's far too much discussion in the media and not enough discussion in private between all the parties involved and we do need to get together and everyone be talking together. I think when you look at the proposals from a broad perspective that have come from the FIA and also that the other teams have sat down and looked at, there's a lot in common and a lot of objectives that are very much in common. So there ought to be a basis for a discussion where we could thrash out a formula which would be good for everyone and good for Formula One but that's obviously very difficult to do at the moment because of the political situation and it's very important that it does happen. I think as engineers, the thing that the situation shows is that we are capable and we do need to ensure that we come up with the right set of regulations, but we're only going to do that if we're all talking together, which at the moment isn't possible and that's the shame in Formula One at the moment.

Pat Symonds: Well, I certainly hope that in 2010 we're able to look back at 2008 and say that it was a watershed and not that it was a missed opportunity. But I'm not sure I'm confident that that is going to be that case. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Formula One is in crisis or anything like that but like anything, it can be improved and 2008 is an ideal opportunity to make those improvements. I think it's very very difficult at the moment. There are too many vested interests, there are people finding it difficult to really see the wood for the trees and I think that unless that changes really quite rapidly it means that it is going to be a lost opportunity. I think to talk of specifics is very difficult. We haven't had the proposals with us for long and they require a great deal of thinking about. The devil is always in the detail with things like this, so I really don't want to talk about the specifics but I guess like everyone else, there are things in there which I think are rather good, and things I think could be better. But the prime thing is, let's use the opportunity, let's not waste it.

Q: Ross, can you explain why Ferrari didn't respond to the new regulations as well as some other people? On the face of it, it is difficult to understand. You've had the best car for four years and now you don't, it would appear. Maybe I'm wrong, it's just down to the tyres. What's the answer?

Ross Brawn: Well, we're still analysing that ourselves. We don't have all the answers. We have an approach, we have a philosophy, we have a way of doing things, and obviously that has stood us in good stead for a number of years. I think I have to say that particularly McLaren and Renault made very good progress. If you look at the regulation changes and you look at the time difference which you put into those regulations changes: aerodynamic, engine, tyres, then you come up with a laptime offset and I think that it's fair to say that, certainly by this stage of the season, they've almost negated a lot of that loss of performance that came from the regulations, so they were able to find more in the new regulations than we were, so we're trying to get that back. I know this is a very controversial subject, the whole business of testing and tyres and so on, but there is an element that we are the only prime tyre customer of Bridgestone and as I say, it's a sensible and controversial subject and people will say, perhaps quite rightly, that that's your own fault, but when you have such a substantial change in the tyre regulations, there is a steep learning curve and Bridgestone have one partner contributing to the learning curve and Michelin and their teams have the benefit of a group effort, so when the regulations change so fundamentally then that will be a factor. I think it's levelling off now, let's say the learning curve is levelling and I think there's a better opportunity for us to get back onto competitive terms. But we were wrong-footed a little bit by the regulations and other teams do the better job.

Q: In the FIA poll, 94 percent of the people said they wanted more overtaking, the people have clearly spoken. Let's assume two things: one, no politics, two a clean sheet of paper for 2008. If you could each give me two or three bullet points; how do you achieve that?

Pat Symonds: Well, it's such a difficult question to answer. If we knew the answer, I'm sure we would have applied elements of it already. Aerodynamics obviously have a pretty major effect on it but while there is a huge amount of aerodynamic research goes on within Formula One, it's almost solely aimed at improving the performance of your vehicle, rather than the fundamental work that's needed to look at the effects of following cars. Some teams have done a little bit of this, and indeed the FIA have done some but I don't think any of us fully understand it. And the trouble is, you take out those aspects and you're still dealing with something where you've got a lot of hopefully clever people working to the same end and arriving at pretty much the same answer. Similar performance to the cars it's difficult to understand why they should overtake. I actually think that one of the things that does make a difference and when we see good exciting racing with a lot of overtaking, it's when you get a difference performance profile of the cars at various times during the race. That can be artificial or not. It can be turbo engines with boost buttons you can use a certain number of times, it can be different tyre characteristics, it can even be pit stop strategies and things. But I think these are probably areas that are neglected and that we should look at.

Mike Gascoyne: Again as pat said its very difficult and if we all knew how to do it then certainly we'd be trying to do it. You can do artificial things like reverse the grid but is that what you want to do in Formula One? We're looking at things that may help that and both the FIA proposals and the team proposals are looking at changing the ratio of mechanical grip to aerodynamic grip and reducing the effect of air increasing the aerodynamic grip. Circuit design can play a part. There's circuits where there's overtaking and there's circuits where there's not. You can have exciting racing where there's not overtaking and you don't want artificial overtaking. Some series' have gone down that line and people are overtaking each other 10 times a lap. In the IRL for instance. In the first race everyone thought it was fantastic, but five races later they had to change it because everyone was sitting back trying to be second into the last corner so they could win the race on the line, but that didn't work either. It's a very good question and there's no easy solution.

Adrian Newey: Circuit design is probably the most obvious one because you do get some circuits where there isn't overtaking. At Monaco for example its extremely difficult in that unless as Pat said the guy in front has a performance problem from tyres or whatever it might be. I think the only real way to do it would be for an independent group to be commissioned to look at it in great detail, as it is such a complicated problem. Certainly its not easy because unless you have access to some of the teams' simulation programmes for instance then they're probably not going to get anywhere very quickly. I think also that we have to be careful not to make it too easy. One of the things that makes a race exciting is when you have a fast car stuck behind a slow car and if that faster car slips straight past without too much difficulty then you have a second of excitement whilst it gets past rather than two cars scrapping over the same piece of tarmac so there's also a compromise to be considered there.

Sam Michael: I think the two most important things are the circuit design and the circumstances that come up with certain cars being quicker because they're on different strategies. The best two examples are Barcelona being the worst and probably Hockenheim being the best. If you look at Hockenheim from turn two down to turn three it's a 60-70kph corner followed by over a kilometre long straight and at the end of it is another slow speed corner with a lot of tarmac run-off. Barcelona by contrast is almost the same length straight but you come on to it a 240 and come off it at 130 and you don't see any overtaking at all. At Hockenheim if you come out of two with any kind of trouble then someone will be all over you at three. Certainly by having tarmac run-off, you can argue about the health and safety of the drivers as opposed to having a combination of tarmac and gravel, but you're much more likely to make a move into the corner if you think that if you brake 10 meters too late you can still come back on. There's definitely a lot that can be done with circuit design. Especially if you are designing all these new circuits at the moment, you still have to have special sections like the esses at Suzuka or Eau Rouge at Spa, and almost all the new circuits should have some sort of point with one or two slow corners followed by this longer straight followed by another slow corner. I think that could help significantly.

Ross Brawn: I agree with all of the points that have been said. I think it needs to be moderated in the way too much overtaking means its less of an event and whislt I feel we don't have enough overtaking, you can have too much of a good thing, so I think it needs to be something which people focus on. I think its like the football and basketball situation. I get fed up with the number of points they score in basketball but I quite like a few goals in football. Its that sort of thing. There is something wrong with formula one. Just thinking about some experiences. At Imola we were two seconds faster than Fernando but he was able to drive in a way that didn't allow us to overtake. Slightly unusual circumstances to be two seconds a lap faster and not be able to overtake the guy in front. It shows the format of the cars and the format of the circuits is such that its not a good solution and I think that generally moving towards more mechanical grip and less aerodynamic grip seems to be a logical move because we've been going the other way for the last few years and demonstrated that we don't encourage overtaking. I would be in favour of moving in that direction. What are the correct levels is something to be established. Certainly I think we're going the wrong way in moving towards less mechanical grip. We've had grooved tyres and smaller tyres and we're still increasing the aerodynamic performance of the tyres and I think its probably the wrong route.

Q: Four of you had an interest in going back to the old qualifying. Can you first of all give any suggestions first how to avoid an empty track for the first 20 minutes and secondly how to give equal coverage to the little teams?

Ross Brawn: Equal coverage for the little teams is a difficult thing. I mean, they would get more coverage if they went faster, that is the fact of life. How artificial do we want to make the coverage? That is what we try to do with the current qualifying system, and I think everyone has agreed it is not a great success. In terms of making people run, our suggestion some time ago was that you get a set of tyres for each 15 minutes and if you don't use them, you lose them. It would be an incentive to run each 15 minutes, or each half hour, that was our proposal a while ago.

Sam Michael: I think the same thing as Ross. You could even do it on two sets of tyres. I am not proposing we do that this year because we have to wait for 2006 for other reasons, but you could use two sets of tyres and the first set you lose at 30 minutes past, you can do two runs on them but you have to give them back and that would get people on the track. I think the coverage before was really only the first 20 or 22 minutes. After that everyone would be flat out to get the four runs in, so maybe you should have it to do a run every 15 minutes, 30 minutes might be sufficient, but if that is an issue for television then I think we can easily overcome that.

Adrian Newey: There are various solutions to getting people out. One has been mentioned, tyres, Bernie had another knockout-style solution. The covering the small teams is less easy, I don't know how you do that. The problem before was that often the pole position lap would be missed by the television producer because he was concentrating on another car, and that really is down to either you do time delay, which would be unpopular because everyone wants to watch live television, or you have to have software or producers who can spot the cars better than they could three years ago.

Mike Gascoyne: I don't think it is that difficult to come up with something that is sensible to ensure that you do have cars running all session. In terms of television coverage, it is pretty straightforward that you need directors who plan it and do it better, both in terms of following the quick cars when they are doing their quick laps at the end of the session. At the start of the session, if you have directors who know what they are doing, they can fill their time by giving television coverage to the smaller teams. It is not particularly difficult.

Q: Last winter we had a lot of talk of testing and politics involved in all that. We have got through this season with six months through the year and we find a situation where Ferrari has done a lot more days than everyone else, but Ferrari's mileage is the same as BAR's. Have we learned anything from this?

Ross Brawn: I think we have a political situation with testing. If we talk about efficiency, we own two test tracks, one of which is only licensed to run one car, so if we are looking at the number of days at Fiorano, by definition we can only do half the mileage than any other team can do for their day at another track. We feel that a mileage limit on testing would be more appropriate and other teams to work as efficiently as they can within that mileage limit, because I hear stories that teams go testing with two cars, with a back-up car, and crews who have to work all night to make sure they are ready at nine o'clock the next morning, certainly that is what we did when we were limited to the number of days, so we have to think that a mileage-based system would be easier to run, but people feel we have an advantage because we have our own tracks.

Mike Gascoyne: I was at Renault when we did the Friday testing and limited our testing throughout the season and it did force us to be very efficient with what we did and undoubtedly we got through a lot of work but there were savings involved because we didn't have people in hotels and all that sort of thing, so we were saving money. It is a difficult thing. I think whatever system we use, we need to limit testing because the cheapest way to save money on a Formula One car is not to test it and not to build it! We undoubtedly need to be limiting testing to save costs and limit the playing field in terms of the smaller teams. People will always have money. If they want to spend that on being more efficient in their testing then so be it, but you are getting limited returns for that.

Q: One of your cars lost a lot of time in Magny-Cours with a fuel stop problem, why is it after 20 years that we continue to have fuel stop problems?

Pat Symonds: Well, it wasn't actually a fuel rig problem, it was a fuel stop problem but it was purely human error, nothing else. Our experience of fuel rigs has actually been pretty good over recent years. They take a lot to keep on top of them, they are quite complex, like most of the equipment we use, including the cars, but they are not intrinsically unreliable. It is the first problem we have had for a long while, and it was purely down to human error.

Ross Brawn: One of the side issues of the changes in regulations is that we don't get so many cock-ups in pit stops. It is a shame really. There are no wheel changes to go wrong any more and actually that was a bit of an element just thrown in there that gave a bit of chaos where someone occasionally would make some human error, and that was the great thing about the pit stops, is that it is quite a large group of people who had to be co-ordinated and get everything dead right otherwise the driver lost time. Things can go wrong with the fuel rig but that is now virtually the only thing that can go wrong in the pit lane. I used to sit there praying that someone would screw up on the tyre changes as long as it wasn't us.

Q: Apologies for raising Indianapolis again, but it seems that an important contributory factor to the problems in Indianapolis is the fact that the circuit is totally different from any of the circuits where you go testing in Europe. Doesn't it make sense, from a point of view of safety only, to have gone testing in Indianapolis before the race, even if it was one or two days before the race, after they had converted it from the speedway configuration?

Pat Symonds: I think you could apply that in many places. Yes, there was a problem in Indianapolis and yes that problem was caused by the nature of the circuit being different to the norm, but you could equally apply it to Monza, where we run different wing configurations that we don't run elsewhere. Okay, in Monza we can test, but Monaco is totally different. I think part of our job is to be able to deal with different circumstances and most of us collectively got it wrong in Indianapolis. I think that is the lesson. You are quite right, if we had gone testing there we would have realised, but if we had gone testing a couple of days before I am not sure how we would have reacted to the problem, if we had gone testing a month or two months before it would have been very expensive, so I think we should really be doing our homework a bit better.

Q: Adrian, how confident are you to close the gap with Renault in the championship?

Adrian Newey: I am not sure it is a matter of confidence. Obviously, with the points system, if Renault have good reliability it is going to be difficult to close. All we can do is take each weekend as it comes, put out the most competitive car we can and see where we get to. There is not much else we can do really.

Q: What do you think about the way Fernando Alonso is driving this year, and do you think he can be world champion this year?

Ross Brawn: I think his performances have been extremely impressive. I have always been impressed with him as a driver but I think this year he has taken a step up and that often happens when a driver gets good equipment and gets everything working for him. We have experienced exactly the same situation with Michael and whoever has been driving alongside him, where in Renault's case Fisichella is having a really tough year and Alonso is having a really great year and you cannot define why that is. It is just the driver gets the ball rolling, he gets everything behind him, and it is not the team's intention to do that, but they get this momentum going and all of us has experienced that and when they do they achieve results. He has the momentum at the moment and he is doing a very impressive job. It doesn't stop us trying to beat him! We saw, in very strange circumstances, that he didn't score any points in North America and that could happen here or the next race and the situation could change. But he is doing a very good job and, apart from his faux pas in Canada he has had an exemplary year. I think it is just a shame the points system has changed because that makes him more difficult to beat. I never understood why the points system was changed, and I think it is a points system that is spoiling the championship.

Sam Michael: Yeah, a very good driver, I always thought he was. In the last two or three years he has done a good job and in the run-up to this year, and now he is consolidating on it and he is definitely favourite for the championship. I think the only guy going to give him trouble is Kimi and I think it just depends on what sort of reliability he has, or mistakes during the race, because a DNF penalises you very heavily, especially if your opposite number scores ten points at the same time. But I think he will have to have two or three offs like that for Kimi to catch him at this stage.

Adrian Newey: He is a very impressive driver, he has been driving extremely well this year and Fisichella seems to have had the bad luck compared to Fernando. It is the same in our team. Kimi has done an outstanding job this year, for reasons which were not outside our control, but not our intention, Juan Pablo has had things go wrong for him. I think Kimi has done a very good job and really those two this year have been the ones who have been slogging it out. But at the same time Michael is always present.

Mike Gascoyne: Not much to add. He has done a fantastic job this year. I am sure Pat would agree, when we first saw him at Renault, in testing and then racing, to me his performances this year have come as no surprise. You saw what he was capable of from a very early stage in his career and, Canada apart, he has not put a foot wrong. He has won races where there have been quicker cars on the track, and he is still winning races, and that is what you have to do to win a championship. You have to keep getting it right. It can turn very quickly, but as far as his level of performance it is no surprise to anyone who has worked with him.

Q: Pat made the point that if you start with the quick guys in the front they are going to run in that order in the race, and you made a suggestion about reversing the grid. Presumably, if you did that you would have to give significant points for qualifying as well. Is there any sort of will to do that, or is that something that has gone away?

Ross Brawn: I think this year we would support reversal of the grid!

Mike Gascoyne: It wasn't really a suggestion, it was a statement in reply to the question. I am not so sure that is what Formula One wants to be doing.

Adrian Newey: You have to be careful you don't create a completely manufactured series and I think that would be. We want close racing, but going as far as that, a handicap system, I am not sure Formula One is about a handicap system.

Ross Brawn: Seriously, there are certain principals you have to maintain in Formula One and handicapping is not one of them. If we reverse the grid with a difficulty in overtaking, then why should anyone overtake? I think we can make qualifying interesting, we can make racing interesting, but we shouldn't distort it.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Ross Brawn , Mike Gascoyne , Adrian Newey
Teams Ferrari , McLaren