German GP: Friday press conference

Present: Ove Andersson (Toyota president) Norbert Haug (Mercedes motorsport director) Paul Stoddart (Minardi team principal) Peter Sauber (Sauber team principal) Otmar Szafnauer (Honda Racing vice president) Frank Williams (Williams team ...

Present:
Ove Andersson (Toyota president)
Norbert Haug (Mercedes motorsport director)
Paul Stoddart (Minardi team principal)
Peter Sauber (Sauber team principal)
Otmar Szafnauer (Honda Racing vice president)
Frank Williams (Williams team principal)

Q: Otmar, what sort of satisfaction have you had from your evolution engine during the last few races?

Otmar Szafnauer: That engine was introduced just after Canada and we're continuing to improve that engine. Our biggest step was made in France last weekend. We have more of those engines here this weekend and we'll see how it goes. It was a significant improvement for us and time will tell.

Q: Are you using those engines throughout the weekend?

OS: Yes. This is the first weekend when we will be using it, well, not quite throughout the weekend, you will see it tomorrow and Sunday so today we didn't have that engine.

Q: Now it's generally assumed that you're going to supply one team next year. When is that decision due to be made and what's the reasoning behind it?

OS: That hasn't been 100 per cent decided yet. As you know, we have a three-year contract with British American Racing and a further year to go with Jordan. We're in the midst now of discussing that with Jordan Grand Prix and a joint decision between us and Jordan will be forthcoming in the near future. It's obvious that car designs and engines have to progress so I would hate to put a time frame on it as we don't know and it would be a guess for myself as well, but relatively soon.

Q: Paul, equally, Asiatech's plans. What do you know of them, what are you expecting to hear, what are you hoping to hear?

Paul Stoddart: Pretty much the same. We're going to be announcing something I would think by the end of August. We're not due to make any decisions until after Hungary so pretty much all up in the air. Obviously we're talking to a few other people as well. We'll just have to wait and see.

Q: They've suggested that they would like to come into Formula One themselves. Have they included you in those plans?

PSt: We've talked about it but to be honest, no. We just don't know what their final plans are. At this moment they've done a good job supplying us with the engines this year, reliability has been good and beyond that, it's all still to be discussed.

Q: What about Alex? Has he been a disappointment this year?

PSt: He hasn't had the best of years. In fairness, I think today he's been the closest he's been all year and the biggest problem he seems to have is that he really does struggle to learn a track and he does struggle a bit in qualifying. Today, he's not far off the mark with Mark and when there's a sort of a levelling as there is here with the new track, he seems to do a lot better. He's obviously not had the best of years and we'll just see how he gets on with the remaining races.

Q: Peter, somebody close to the team said that you had confirmed Nick for next year and when we asked him about it, he didn't think that was the case. What's the truth?

Peter Sauber: We will take up the option on Nick, that's all. It does confirm him, for me it's the same.

Q: What about your position in the championship? Everyone was aiming at your fourth place and Renault have now pushed you back a place. What about fifth place?

PSa: We will fight again for the fourth place, but you see that it's very, very difficult. The performance of the car is similar to the Renault car. If you look at the qualifying results from Nick, for example, after eleven races we stay on a similar level, but we haven't scored enough points.

Q: So that's the priority now.

PSa: Yes.

Q: Ove, everyone is talking about who is going to join Toyota, and normally they seem to think it's in place of Allan McNish. What can you tell us about next year's drivers?

Ove Andersson: Well, I can tell you the present situation. We have a contract with Allan until the end of the year, we have an option with Mika for next year. At the moment, we are discussing what we are going to do. Obviously this is in consultation with our top management in Japan and for now we haven't really decided what we want to do. I think it will be the end of August when we know where we will be going.

Q: What about your engine problems in Magny-Cours? Can you tell us what they were about and what was required to solve them for here?

OA: The truth of the matter is that we had connecting rods breaking in both engines, exactly the same failure. It was a little bit difficult to understand because they are the same conrods we've used since the beginning of the season so obviously there's a material problem and everything like that. What we have done is that we have stripped all the engines for this race and we have fitted new parts which also has a slight modification to improve the situation. So I hope we have not had a repeat performance.

Q: So were those engines still at the factory and were rebuilt on Monday morning?

OA: Those engines were at the factory, so we could change the parts in the engines.

Q: Norbert, the yellow flag incident at Magny-Cours. What sort of clarification was the team looking for?

Norbert Haug: First of all we did not make a protest. I think the stewards investigated and they said the move was alright and that's the end of the story.

Q: So did you feel you had your clarification?

NH: We certainly accepted it otherwise we would have protested.

Q: Did you feel there were grounds for protesting up to that moment?

NH: Well, I think it's not worth discussing that issue right now, it's much better to speak about our performance. I think it was OK. We did not look for a protest. I think Kimi was very unlucky, that was a shame. There were no oil flags out and probably we should discuss these issues that marshals are really concentrated and put the oil flags out. These are the issues that are important and not rumours like Ron Dennis posted a protest, which he did not do. But I think it's absolutely normal and maybe you ask my colleagues that you seek for clarification. I think everybody would have done that and certainly Ferrari would have done that and I think Ross Brawn would have been the first guy to have done it.

Q: What has made the difference in terms of competitiveness for the last two or three races?

NH: I think very much the combination of chassis and tyres. We made steps with the engine as well, certainly not dramatic steps but small steps. Everything helps, but in reality if you bring chassis and tyres together and you can use them for the race then you are in good shape and I think that's the key and that's what you do, what you have to solve, this is the main issue and I would say that since Monaco onwards it's going better and better, and I think our best performance was Magny-Cours.

That performance was better than the Monaco one even considering the fact that we won there but we were 2.5 tenths from pole and we were posting fastest race laps so the performance was good. We could use the tyres. I'm sure that Michelin knows the circuit very well so that all helps. Things came together in a positive way. Still I would say Michael could have had the upper hand without his pit lane speeding but we were absolutely on a comparable level for the first time and the first time since Monaco, but it's encouraging. I cannot tell you whether this trend continues, it's very much up to the combination of chassis and tyres.

Q: Frank, I'm sure you've really enjoyed watching Juan Pablo setting those pole position times, but how much is there frustration that they haven't been realised in terms of results at the end of the race?

Frank Williams: Well, the results are frankly disappointing for the last few races. Mercedes and McLaren have been working very well together. I'm sure that Norbert's being extremely modest about his engine's contribution and it's up to us to respond.

Q: Is that response being made in these next three weeks?

FW: I don't think so, no.

Q: Why was Juan Pablo being gained on hugely at the end of the race last weekend?

FW: Both his second and third sets of tyres developed, very soon after they were fitted, a lot of understeer, an unmanageable amount, which is unusual.

Q: What about those qualifying laps from Juan Pablo? What has he got over Ralf?

FW: Definitely he's prepared to find the limit even more closely than Ralf is. He really does go to extremes.

Q: Ove, can you give us your assessment of the season so far?

OA: I suppose this is up to the media to make, but I believe that we have done reasonably well. I think what we set out to do was to try to be in every race, to be respected by the rest of the paddock for the seriousness of our efforts, and I believe we have achieved that. That's how I feel, and from this point of view I am quite happy.

Q: Frank, what do you need to improve to win? Is it mainly the tyres?

FW: I don't think the problem is necessarily in the tyres, although sometimes you don't get the best out of the tyre but that is really because you are not adapting the chassis best. As Norbert was saying, McLaren have done a pretty good job recently, that's pretty obvious to see - and we have not.

Q: A question to everybody. What is your opinion on three car entries, the merits and demerits of it?

FW: Well, if three cars are necessary, the merits and demerits will not be of any interest to Bernie. He'll just say front up, you deal with the problems.

NH: I think it is not quite an easy solution. You have to raise the money, it is not just like putting the T-car in. As soon as you run a car it is a completely different issue, you need more people, more parts, more engines, more refuels...So this step has to be discussed before a decision is taken and I think that everybody is prepared. If the need should be there I think you could be quite sure that a third car would be there, but as I said this is not a decision you are going to take overnight.

OA: I agree with Norbert. This is nothing you can do overnight and we are new in the game as well so it would be a big effort for us if it has to happen. On the other hand if it really comes to this situation we will have to discuss it and find a solution.

PSa: Today there are 11 teams. I think it is absolutely not necessary to speak about two or three cars.

PSt: I think if three cars were an issue it would clearly mean that three teams wouldn't be there and it is no secret that we would be one of the ones that aren't. It would be a sad day for Formula One. None of us know what makes the sport so magical, none of us know why hundreds of millions of people watch it, come out in all weather - rain, hail, sun. I don't think we should mess with the formula. They want the top teams winning, the Ferraris, the Williams, the Mercedes, but they also want the smaller teams so I think it is good to leave the formula just as it is now.

OS: From Honda's perspective, the fact that the resources that we have to put into the engines that we have to supply, we would race in any formula and that is what we are here to do.

Q: To Frank and Norbert, are you satisfied that five rival car manufacturers can together make the necessary collective financial commitment to future motor racing, running into hundreds of millions of dollars?

FW: I think they can afford it, yes. I can't speak for them, but they probably will be able to. If they sign up I think they will pay it.

NH: First of all I think we are not just five manufacturers at the end, this is just the beginning of what the manufacturers want to achieve which, to repeat what the GPWC pointed out, they want to make sure that the there is always a future and I think that is an appropriate approach. It is not about taking money out of the sport it is about keeping the money in the sport and investing in the future and there are certainly some issues that need to be very mindful about, like ticket prices for example, what is the end of the spiral, how far can we go and so on and so on. Plus I think the expression 'Breakaway series'...I think we will not see a breakaway series. I think we will see a common solution, I think there were very encouraging discussions and that is where we are. Certainly Frank and the other guys who are not here know more about it but I think we must agree at the moment that it should not be a discussion taking place in the public. A lot of issues need to be solved, but I think the direction in which the whole issue is developing is a very positive one.

Q: To the representatives of Honda and Toyota, we understand that you have been approached to join the GPWC. Are your companies proposing to join in?

OA: From our side I can only answer that we are presently studying this and there is no decision made. It is very clear. I mean, these decisions are made above my head obviously, but I think that it is in our interests to see a good future for the sport and I think Toyota will contribute to this in every way we can.

OS: Yes, I can say Honda have been approached and now we are in the midst of gathering data to find out what GPWC is about, what the articles are and things like that. We haven't come to a conclusion or made a decision, we are in the data gathering stage just to understand it a bit better.

Q: What in your personal opinion do you think that we will be doing in 2008. Do you think we will be racing under the existing Formula One framework or under a GPWC type framework?

FW: Well, the cheeky answer is I have been trying to avoid your questions as usual. If I am still here in 2008, and I hope I am, I think what Norbert has said is right that we will all be racing in a very well funded and well organised and equitable Formula One.

NH: We certainly will run in Formula One and it will be called Formula One. That is my opinion.

OA: I hope we will also be racing in Formula One.

PSa: What do you think? In the present day we speak, in 2002 about the situation in 2008? We have a Concorde agreement. It is a very complicated one but it is one, and it is not necessary to change anything. Maybe we can change, but it is not necessary.

PSt: I think it will still be Formula One. I don't think the existing Concorde agreement will survive until 2008. I am hoping that the manufacturers and the owners of SLEC get together and we have just one championship because with two of them it is not helping the sport. One or the other.

OS: Like Peter said, it is difficult to predict what will be in 2008. We are here to race, like I have said before, and we will hopefully be racing in Formula One or whatever other Formula it is.

Q: Ove, teams like Jordan and Stewart had a very good first year and then dropped off considerably in the second year. What is Toyota doing to avoid that and what are your goals for the second year in Formula One?

OA: Well, obviously I know that the second year will be more difficult. We can already see it. When you start racing with the pressure from races, you have to develop a new car, it will be very tough. I hope we can improve, of course, this has to be our target, that we can improve but we have to see, and as you say, it's not easy. I think part of this season has been very character-building for us.

Q: Is there any truth in the rumours that Jordan is to use Toyota engines from 2004?

OA: No, there is absolutely no agreement and we have no plans to supply engines to any other team at the moment. We are busy trying to get on top of our own problems and to think about supplying another team with engines at this moment in time is definitely not in our plans.

Q: Has Eddie Jordan approached you?

OA: Yes.

Q: Otmar, what sort of strategy do you have in place for Takuma Sato?

OS: Takuma's contract is held by Eddie and Jordan Grand Prix. We're not privy to that information, but we understand he is under contract with Jordan next year. We would like to see Takuma continue in Formula One and progress next year, but as far as Honda goes, we have no strategy for Takuma.

Q: Ove, sometimes this season you have been quite slow and sometimes blindingly fast. Do you understand what makes the difference from track to track, enough to base next year's car on the strong points?

OA: I think we do understand the problems in the car, yes, and obviously we are working to modify this year's car to improve it. It's too complicated, and what we are doing is concentrating our efforts to make all these improvements for next year.

Q: So, what characteristics does your car like and dislike?

OA: I think our strength, basically, is the engine and therefore fast tracks with not so many curves seems to be more suitable for us.

Q: Now, after the first practice, can you tell us some of your first impressions of the new track here in Hockenheim and the main difficulties for the cars and drivers?

OA: I'm very sorry, we're racing here for the first time in Formula One so I can't really give you a comparison from the old track to the new one.

NH: I have to say I'm positively impressed. I think it's going to be a good race, it's entertaining and I think it's very much for the spectators and that's how the sport should be in my view. Certainly the old characteristics have been different ones on this race track and now we have a lot of corners, hopefully some overtaking possibilities. It looks like we saw a couple of cars spinning today because of the very green track at the beginning but I think it's going to be better once more rubber is on the asphalt and I think it's quite challenging, still 320 kph before the hairpin and very fast right-hander following where you have to be very committed and a very slow left-hander, the combination before the Mercedes grandstand.

I think it's a good spectacle at the end of the day, and I have to say I'm impressed and it looks very safe. When the car spins, you don't get damage and the old stadium is still there and I think people will enjoy it. The best thing for the spectators is that they saw 44 laps in the past and now it's going to be 67 and this is fifty per cent more, so they see the cars much more often and on the new part of the circuit there is a great view. I think it's a good step forward for Hockenheim. I think I can speak for the whole group here, we have to pay a lot of compliments to Hockenheim. They only started in January and are finished right now. I think that's a great achievement to get that job done within six and a half months. That's very impressive.

FW: Yes, I think it is true that Norbert is a shareholder and director of the new Hockenheim. I do agree with him. It's got a lot of Bernie's influence. If you've been to the new Ricard circuit it's very wide and very smooth, and what I like is that you can go off the road quite a lot and do no damage, which will promote a lot of dodgy overtaking at no cost except to a driver's dignity. Like Indianapolis and a few places.

OS: Like what was said before, if it's good for the fans, it's got to be good for all of us. The drivers, I've spoken to two of them after the practice sessions, and they both seem to like the new circuit.

PSt: I think all credit has to go to the organisers. A lot of work has been done in a very short period of time, but I'm afraid both our guys would rather have the old circuit.

PSa: I follow Norbert's opinion. I think it's an advantage, not only for the spectators, I think also for the drivers. I think it's also easier to find the right set-up for this track because the difference between the high speed and the slow parts are not so big as before.

Q: Paul, earlier this year you were lobbying to get the money due to the now defunct Prost Grand Prix. Are you satisfied with the solution to all that?

PSt: It was a long time in coming but it has now been resolved, yes.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Takuma Sato , Allan McNish , Eddie Jordan , Ross Brawn , Norbert Haug , Paul Stoddart , Peter Sauber , Frank Williams
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , British American Racing , Minardi , Jordan