Malaysian GP: Friday press conference

Present: Ron Dennis (McLaren team principal) Tony Purnell (Ford CEO Premier Performance Division) Jean Todt (Ferrari team principal) Frank Williams (Williams team principal) Q: Can I ask all of you what are your feelings about your team's ...


Ron Dennis (McLaren team principal)
Tony Purnell (Ford CEO Premier Performance Division)
Jean Todt (Ferrari team principal)
Frank Williams (Williams team principal)

Q: Can I ask all of you what are your feelings about your team's performance after Melbourne and what has been done after then for here?

Tony Purnell: We are quite satisfied with the team so far. It is nice to be in the company that Mark is enjoying but I think we are punching above our weight really. The reliability wasn't there in Australia and if you don't finish you don't score points. So we have got work to do but we are quietly satisfied.

Q: Anything since Melbourne?

TP: We have made a few changes to the gearbox system to try and cure the fault that put Mark out but very little in the way of changes.

Q: Ron, it seems somewhat different this afternoon to it did in Melbourne. What has happened?

Ron Dennis: Well, Melbourne was one race; it was obviously a very unsatisfactory one for us. Of course, there is a very considered post-mortem after the race. We think we have a good understanding of where our weaknesses and strengths were and are. We are a team that competes to win. There is nothing lower than winning that is satisfactory to us. Since Australia we tested in Valencia. Our Australian race was, in fact, interrupted by a wet test in Imola where we were not able to verify the performance of some components that whilst we had them in Australia, we were reluctant to put them on the car. They were subsequently tested in Valencia and improved the performance of the car. But it would be accurate to say there were several reasons we weren't very good and the car itself was not the only reason.

Q: When you are talking of components you have had that you verified was that nose section amongst them?

RD: We had a new front wing package that we just didn't have enough mileage on and we were reluctant to race it. It was the right decision but even taking that into account our performance in Australia was not at all representative of what our true ability was there.

Q: Frank, your assessment?

Frank Williams: Well, I might cynically say that Jean Todt is the source of much trouble in Formula One and he was the source of a lot of trouble to us in Australia. We were very impressed by (Ferrari's) pace but it is an 18-race, eight or nine months-championship and I think, for instance, in Australia last year Michael drove away at the start of the race and happily his bodywork failed. So it is truly premature to give it all up.

Q: What about your own team, you were quite happy with their performance?

FW: Not at all, no, we were just not quick enough; another Michelin car finished the race ahead of us. We were pleased by our reliability but I must say that I have always been astonished by the standard of engineering and preparation of current Grand Prix cars. I look at our car, and I am sure it is the same with any other Grand Prix car, and I raise my eyebrows and say 'how do these cars finish races?' because it is so phenomenally complex. That is all I want to say.

Q: Jean, obviously you were pretty happy with the performance in Melbourne.

Jean Todt: We have every reason to be happy but all the reasons to know that we have 17 races in front of us and we are intending to work as much as we have been working with Bridgestone in the past year to remain successful but we know it will be tough and difficult.

Q: To all of you, there have been some proposals made to bring forward the first qualifying by an hour in a new timetable. Do you support the proposal that has been made by the commercial rights holder and do you think it goes far enough?

JT: I mean, again, you know, it is very often an overreaction. It was the first time we had this kind of qualifying with two laps one behind the other and probably it may become a different schedule and I think if it happened it is a reasonable step forward but I don't think we should try to modify everything from one day to another after only one race.

FW: The change that was first mooted - I believe it ended on a fourth team meeting in Indianapolis - was to please the teams who wanted to increase television and we will follow television because that is how we get our money. Whatever works for that, we will try to do that.

RD: The teams were supportive of the changes that were made over the winter but if it is better to change for television then I am sure all the teams would support the change. Perhaps there is some argument that says let's wait two or three races until we know exactly what the reaction is but there appeared to be quite significant (reaction) coming after Australia so maybe it is a case of better sooner rather than later but it is not even the teams that have to agree; it has to be the teams, the FIA and the commercial rights holder, so it is not just in the hands of the teams.

TP: I am a bit more bullish -- I would like to see a change. I didn't find it very entertaining when I watched it on the television when I got home. My own personal opinion was that last year it was more entertaining so I would like to see a change.

Q: The FIA have made it clear that it was the teams' proposal, in fact, that they supported. The teams actually made the decision to change to this current format. What was the thinking behind it?

RD: I don't think the statement you made is accurate but otherwise I cannot comment on it.

FW: I dare not comment on it.

RD: I know that Frank can speak for himself but he is a forthright individual. I think the most constructive thing is not to comment on it. If it was constructive to, I am sure we would. We are not intimidated by the fact we have a commitment to make Formula One as good as it can be. We do not resist change, but what you just said I think is inaccurate.

Q: So, Tony, you talked about the gearbox problem in Melbourne and also I believe you had an engine problem this afternoon as well with Wirdheim.

TP: We know it wasn't an engine problem. We are not quite sure where the problem lies -- we are investigating.

Q: Are you particularly worried about reliability, though, given two mechanical problems in two races so far?

TP: Yeah, of course. It is one of the compromises you have to make when the amount of resource you have is limited. You cannot do everything -- we cannot test like these 'fellas' can. We would have loved to have tested between Australia and here but that is not something we can do so we are concerned, yes.

Q: Ron, you mentioned you didn't feel Australia was representative of your performance. The car has been testing for three months. Was it a surprise it was not so competitive?

RD: Yeah, of course. We went there with the expectation that we would be able to repeat our pre-season testing performance and we didn't. As I pointed out earlier it wasn't just the car; there were other factors that contributed to the performance being as it was but as I said earlier it is one single race and I remember actually watching the Monaco Grand Prix from my hotel room once having not qualified for it once. So, these things happen. It wasn't correct, but it was a good wake-up call for everybody.

Q: Have you initiated further changes since Melbourne?

RD: We have just got more focussed, that is all. We are a strong organisation. Sometimes even good organisations get it wrong and that was just one of those times.

Q: Frank, we were astounded to hear one of your drivers yesterday say that under certain circumstances he would knock the other of your drivers off the circuit if there were similar circumstances to Melbourne. How are you going to control those two?

FW: Words are easy, especially in the heat of the moment. But under racing conditions they are free to race, they are free to compete and they are free to bump wheels if that is the only way of getting by. What they are not allowed to do is push their team-mates off. That is the divide. Words come easily in the heat of the moment, common sense will prevail.

Q: It wasn't particularly hot in here yesterday, not that lively. Are you having a word with them?

FW: It was a metaphorical comment. All team managers will keep an eye on their drivers.

Q: Jean, we were talking at the end of Melbourne about the track temperature on Friday, which was the hottest day there. Can you compare track temperatures with here, when it was 52 or 53 today?

JT: It is nothing to compare. Here it is much higher temperatures; we have completely different tyres from what we had in Melbourne so things are different. We know that when temperatures are so high it is not going in our favour even if we made some good steps forward.

Q: So, you are still worried about the temperature here?

JT: I am more or less worried about everything -- temperature, reliability, everything that can happen. I don't think we should focus on temperature.

Q: Frank, it has been announced that IRL champion Scott Dixon is going to test for you. Can you tell us how it all came about and give us your impressions of Scott Dixon?

FW: I have never met him. He is going to test for us. His record in a short period in IRL, which is very high speed racing, says we should give him a try. There is not a lot of opportunity to test championship-winning people from another formula during the season but at this present time...this is a high speed formula, Juan Pablo came from a formula similar to that and did well, maybe he got lucky, people should try this, I am sure. All team principals, give young drivers a shot to see if they are going to make it or not.

Q: Can you tell us how it came about?

FW: The results told us who to call - it is quite simple. He has got to be pretty good in various categories, he has won a few championships, and he's the number.

Q: To go back to the qualifying thing, it is a bit confusing -- nobody is telling us how that decision was made. It was a wrong decision; everyone seems to agree with that. Can you explain how it came about?

JT: I mean, you know, I don't really think we can answer this question. At the end of every season we have an F1 commission and we have an agenda and simply in the agenda was a review of the qualifying procedure. That was part of the proposals that were done and it was a proposal that was voted for. We just re-scheduled the weekend, we came back to what was in the past with the two-hour free practice on Friday between 11 and 12 and 2 and 3 and as in the past last year we had two laps, one qualifying lap to determine the order of Saturday qualifying and it was decided to put those two laps one behind the other to give the public more to see because we understood (they were) complaining about not having enough to see on Saturday and then it was giving more visibility to teams who need to give more visibility to their sponsors. It seems (that) to have one hour 40m was too long and we may have that split in two parts, one at 1:45 or something like that and then between 2 and 3 the second part of qualifying. I don't think it was a revolution and I don't think we are preparing any kind of revolution.

Q: If you had no political issues involved here, each one of you, what would you have for qualifying? Jean?

JT: Maybe simply it was better as it was in the past, where we had 12 laps, but there they were complaining that for half an hour nothing was happening and now it will make this thing more difficult because we start the race with the fuel during qualifying so it would make the things probably more difficult now, but why we went to this kind of qualifying was because people were complaining about those 12 laps and not enough for the first part of qualifying.

FW: Certainly, privately, I would love to go back to four sets of tyres or three sets of tyres and a shorter period of time than 60 minutes. I prefer 40 minutes with the four sets. But the emphasis or the push came from the need for the smaller teams who are receiving zero share of voice and almost zero share of exposure. They needed something and they were given something that they could sell to their sponsors. At least both cars on the Friday and both cars on the Saturday will have a total of, I think, 12 laps of exposure -- an important concession for them, very important.

JT: And may I add something. It was acting after the 2002 season, where everybody was complaining about the domination of Ferrari. Everyone thought by having one single lap would make this thing more unpredictable and it is more unpredictable. But now it is more unpredictable and people are not happy -- so let's make it more predictable.

RD: Well, it wasn't just the last change, the changes to qualifying span several years now and woven into the schedule and the mechanism by which we qualify is the issue of one engine per weekend, which has a significant impact on how you can go to qualifying. And prior to that, also, (we had) what was called the Heathrow testing agreement. And because of those two points there was a view that things needed to change. Obviously each team argues for not only what is in the best interests of the sport but also what is in the best interest of their teams. Therefore, the discussion lasted several hours and, of course, there were some people who just said 'change, we have to change' so when you are in a position where some people are pushing hard to change you tend to go into damage limitation. There were some pretty radical ideas -- qualifying on a Sunday morning, for example -- which really I don't think any team supported. So where we arrived had a degree of compromise about it but ultimately was something that all the teams and the FIA and the commercial rights holder voted for. If you make a mistake in life you have to stand up and say we have made a mistake and change it. But as I said earlier, perhaps it is prudent to wait two races, maybe three, so that when we change again people understand what we are changing and the reason we are changing it.

Q: And what would you actually like to see?

RD: I think the practical answer to the question is to follow the current view that we just separate the two qualifying single laps, but if I had my way I would revert all the way back, put two engines into the race weekend with one engine going in for the Sunday and go right back to the 12 laps and a combination of practice as it was. It did mean the fastest people were at the front of the grid but I am a purist when it comes to Formula One and I would prefer to revert to that. But I am only one opinion and I can sympathise with those teams that didn't get as much publicity as some of the larger teams and it is that sympathy that saw several of the larger teams be supportive of these changes because it is wrong to just say no to everything. You have to experiment but if you experiment and get it wrong then reverse out again.

Q: Tony, you are a purist. What do you think?

TP: To be honest, I liked the qualifying last year, I didn't see a chorus of disapproval in the press or the media, the way it worked out I thought it had a nice focus on the Friday and some intrigue with the fuel on the Saturday. I didn't see a need to change and I would go back to last year, with the Heathrow agreement, the whole lot, because that was a rare case of a rule that favoured the weaker teams just a tiny little bit. Reason for the change from the purist days is that Formula One has become something that was predictable. At the end of 2002 people were complaining it was predictable, all the stakeholders saw a need to jumble it up in some way, perhaps artificially, for a purist, and that is how it all came about and that is the way it is.

Q: One of the problems with split qualifying unlike last year is that the drivers only don't take a risk in the first session. Now one of the ways to get around that would be to aggregate the two sessions, but a team principal said to me this morning that that was dismissed because the engine manufacturers on a one engine per weekend situation didn't want to be faced with having to run higher revving one lap engines. Is that valid?

TP: I think that's dismissed because the aggregate system is going to put more variability in it. That doesn't favour the strong teams so they're going to reject it, which is in their interest to do.

Q: Ron, do you disagree with that?

RD: I do, but I wasn't shaking my head because of that. I was shaking my head with the view that reverting to Heathrow testing would be a logical way forward because, as I pointed out several times to Tony in the meetings, everybody would do it. If you had a choice to make, Heathrow or the other, you would go Heathrow. Everyone would then run three cars; you would test at a circuit prior to the event, by way of the Heathrow agreement, which would be a massive cost increase. There is a view that if it stayed as it was, the big teams would just carry on with their testing arrangements, which just wouldn't have been the case. It's somewhat selective when Tony goes for this slightly pure 'let's leave it alone' route because it would have never happened that way and we would have all spent a fortune because it would have allowed us to run, you know, we could have the third car is not engine-restricted during the course of today (Friday) there wouldn't have been any restrictions on the Heathrow testing agreement so everyone would have done it and then we would have all been sat in the pit lane with fresh engines having optimised the Friday free sessions. It wouldn't have worked, in my opinion.

Q: Would any of you favour the aggregate system, because purists have said Ayrton's 65 poles no longer means too much of a record if anybody beats it or doesn't beat it? Would that not have been a good solution; maybe you could even have given a point for the quickest guy in the one lap session on Friday?

RD: I think I can speak for all teams. There is no team that rejects a better way of having practice, but I don't think this is the forum for trying to choose what is the best way forward. We want it to be the best possible show. If anyone wants to sit and write down what they think is a good idea for practice, pass it to me, I'll put it into the system. We are not close minded to making Formula One better.

Q: If I could just revisit Ralf's comments yesterday, you have one driver who's leaving at the end of the season, another driver who may or may not be leaving. How much control can you actually exercise over them?

FW: Well, a naïve man might say, it's difficult and it will be difficult but I do think Juan Pablo proved that and so did Ralf, by their conduct in Melbourne, they did real overtaking, and (Ralf) moved up quite a few places during the race from where he started. There was little to criticise about their dedication which is what they're paid for, to win. Off the track, there'll be trouble, but it's the team manager's job to try and handle it and keep it away from the racing. I would just say, if drivers didn't race each other and team-mates -- I know Jean has a different arrangement and I'm not trying to get near that matter whatsoever. But you can't win sometimes. If you control your drivers, you get a lashing in the press sometimes. If you let them race and bang wheels and take a risk, you get criticism. Difficult to please, chaps.

Q: The three top team bosses up there -- sorry Tony, nothing personal -- would you guys be willing to accept less testing if you got more running at Grand Prix weekends. Rather than going to shorter Grands Prix, having more running on Fridays, would you accept less testing away from the races?

RD: We wouldn't because effectively it would increase our costs and the reason it increases costs is that when you go testing, you make one of something. If you test prior to a Grand Prix and you truly believe that you have an even chance of the development working on the car, you would manufacture in sufficient quantities to be able to immediately introduce it to that race. So it would increase costs if you had free testing at the event in my opinion. The whole ambiance of a test is different. The periods during which you're on the circuit are following by as much time as necessary to think about the result, so you are not limited. The time you take to think is where it's all at, and you have to be in a completely different mindset when you go testing to when you go racing. It's not just about doing laps, it's a different mindset, a different process. Occasionally you run the car illegally in testing, because that gives you the ability to understand. You might run your car underweight and then chose to put weight in different places etc. But if you make testing part of the event, the car would have to comply. It's far more complex that you would first think.

JT: You know, as long as there will be more than one tyre company, it's very difficult to limit testing the way it is at the moment. If you take Ferrari, we are the only top team with Bridgestone, which puts us in a situation to do a lot of tyre testing, probably much more than the other competitors. So I think that as long as Formula One is the way it is with tyre companies and all that, it's very difficult to change things.

FW: Williams would support a sensible further reduction in summer testing by a modest amount, because drivers, car building and car operation are by far the biggest drivers of cost and every year Formula One costs more and the revenues do not increase unless you're lucky in finding an extraordinarily supportive sponsor - and that's like having Christmas every month, it doesn't happen. There's serious competition for dollars for advertising, so certainly privately held teams have to be mindful of their costs. I repeat: We would support a modest and sensible... I recognise Jean's position fully. If we had a test track outside our back door I would fight through every court to save it. Forget the single tyre problem, or the twin tyres, that's another matter, which is also a second problem.

Q: Tony, why don't you answer it too?

TP: Sorry, I was dreaming of having that problem.

Q: Tony, while Mark did retire in Melbourne, up to that point, he and the car were looking very impressive as they are today. What have Ford's Richard Parry-Jones and the other Ford executives been telling you or saying to you about the team's performance?

TP: When I took over, I made a point of trying to be realistic with what we promised the board of directors at Ford, to try and build a bit of confidence, and I have to say they are very warm to me personally and very aware of the progress the team is making. We're making a bit of progress in restoring some confidence that the company can succeed in this very, very difficult game.

Q: Ron, if the car was not only thing that you were unhappy with in Melbourne, what were the human elements that concerned you and what have you been able to do to put those things right in order to gain the improvements you appear to have made already?

RD: Uuum. Hhhhm. There were a couple of oversights within the team that required the team to work very late on the preceding evenings to the event, so the team was very tired. There was definitely a higher level of degradation on the tyres for anyone that had a two-stop strategy. We were trapped behind some slower cars, so our pace was much slower than it should have been. We of course had a failure with one of Kimi's radiators which was very frustrating, because all the post-race analysis shows that it shouldn't have failed, so it was obviously a rogue radiator. And we really just didn't have our act together. Some of the best football teams in the world have bad matches and they sit down and scratch their heads afterwards and say why? I don't think we performed well as a team. You always want more horsepower, you always want better aerodynamics, you always want everything to work smoothly, to be on the best tyres, but occasionally several things click in the negative and you're faced with a poor performance. No one behaved as if they were headless chickens after the event and we've got the depth to work our way out of it. And whilst it's an encouraging day today, there's the same calm, focused approach which will prevail tomorrow and through the rest of this weekend, and hopefully we'll get the job done. Inevitably, we are in a sport where not only are you judged by your last race, but it's also a sport of what I call 'hero to zero', full of armchair experts, full of people who want to put you on a pedestal and then pull you off it. But it is the kitchen temperature and if you can't stand the temperature, get out of the kitchen. That's the bottom line. I'm not making any excuses - our performance was poor to say the least. But no one needs to spur me into action. We know what it takes to win and we're just getting on with it.

Q: Ron, Frank had one of his cars running around the Bahrain track this week as you had a 50-year old car going round. Would you have liked to have had one of your recent cars going around that track to get some extra information?

RD: Well, we were offered the opportunity and I think several teams were offered that opportunity and it was just logistically challenging. We had already committed to running a car in China between these two races. That didn't happen for a variety of reasons but the car was at the airport with the parts. So we opted to go to Shanghai and ultimately didn't go, or not on this occasion. I think that the most important thing any team can do is that you're not going to know an awful lot off the circuit, a little bit towards tyres, but of course Williams and ourselves are on the same tyres, but probably the most frustrating thing is that we like to survey the circuits with GPS and I think that gives you the ability to very accurately put those parameters into your simulation tools. So I think Williams have a small advantage there and we were a bit disappointed to be denied the opportunity to actually go and do that. You don't actually need a car, but it does require some time. In fact we actually do it indirectly with Ford, so I think we're both a bit miffed that we haven't been able to go there and measure the circuit as we would like.

FW: May I say that when I discussed this matter with Bernie, he said his plan was to offer to another senior team Shanghai, and then every time there was a new circuit, it would be offered to a team, whether senior or junior or whoever, it was for him to decide, and we too, Ron, were refused to our own proper equipment to survey the circuit. You were not alone.

Q: Budget-capping, everyone's favourite subject at the moment. Jean, how do you feel about having a budget cap?

JT: Having what?

Q: Having somebody saying how much you are allowed to spend? A budget cap.

JT: Since I've been in motor racing we have always had a budget and a budget to respect.

Q: Perhaps you don't know about it but there was a suggestion from Richard Parry-Jones of Ford that in order to cut costs in Formula One, you would have teams having budgets limited by strange men with suits and clipboards. What do you think of that idea?

JT: Let me not comment on it. It's not realistic.

FW: My answer is that we have a certain amount of money we spend it to win. What we will never do is spend money we haven't got. That's our budget cap, and it's competition, to get the best deals and we fight each other fairly, in the commercial world, like all companies do, whether it's ICI, Shell or BP or whatever, but we would wrong not to try and do the best for our company.

RD: Impossible to police.

TP: I certainly don't think it's impossible to police. Needless to say, I like the idea because it makes the thing... the cleverest, most efficient company wins, rather than just money muscle. It would make it a very interesting business and technical exercise to try and do the best job on a fixed budget. It would certainly revolutionise the sport. So yes, I like it.

Q: How would you police it?

TP: In the same way that the accountants come in to police any company, certainly in the western world, to audit your accounts. You certainly couldn't have technical partners, because you would have to close backdoors to it, but I don't see it to be as difficult to police as people imagine. If you're a company director and you falsify the results, I believe you can go to prison. That's the law of the land. If the FIA made such a rule, they would be almost in sync with the law of the land, that you couldn't falsify your accounts.

FW: There's only one jurisdiction in England.

TP: There are complications.

Q: Ron, how would you get round that?

RD: Frank's just said it. We race in different jurisdictions all over the world. We already have endless problems if we approach litigation on any subject. Law is complex. It's massively expensive to use the law. There's nothing inexpensive about law and there's certainly nothing common about it, I can assure you. Every bit of law I've ever gone near has cost me a fortune and you rarely win. I respect Tony's opinion but I just totally and utterly disagree with it. It's an absolutely unpoliceable proposal. And not only that, it puts more and more control in somebody's hands which isn't what Formula One's about. That's Formula Ford... that was almost funny!

Q: There's been much speculation about your involvement in Formula One. Can you say what your intentions are? Are you going to sell up, step out, go on holiday?

RD: Well, we all have choice. I don't think it's a particularly appropriate forum in which to share one's own plans, but I'm more than comfortable to say that I've recently signed a new contract with the company. All executives like to have the protection of a contract of employment, you have to have one in reality, and I've recently signed a new one. I'm passionate about the McLaren brand. I've spent a lot of time trying to put the company in a position to power through the inevitable ups and downs of Grand Prix racing and as it comes closer to fruition, I have no intention of walking away from it.

What I am trying to do is not just delegate but actually give people the authority when you delegate. That's important. You might not always like the result but you have to build a team. You never know... in this day and age you can fall dramatically ill, you can go under a bus or you can chose to retire. All of these things should be preceded by having a plan and an infrastructure and a depth of management and that's really (how) my comments that were made about trying to generate depth of management were interpreted as me having a clear intention to retire, which I certainly don't. I do have an intention, because I have no desire to work for the rest of my life, but I have no immediate plans. And I certainly won't retire losing.

Q: Jean, most of the team improved their time during their second free practice today. It wasn't the case of Ferrari. Is there a reason for this?

JT: We just had different programmes from the morning and the afternoon.

Q: Ron, taking you back to the issue that Bob just raised, as a leader in the position that you're in, delegating is one thing but when things don't go as planned when you delegate, you perhaps have to get more hands-on. Has that been the case? Have you had to rally the troops in this past fortnight?

RD: Well of course I've contributed to trying to sort the issues out, but I stress 'contributed to', not laid the law down. We are a team and the strength of a team is the sum of the total part. It's not any one individual. If I hadn't participated, then it would have been inappropriate, so of course I was involved. I spent several hours discussing the issue on Monday afternoon back in England with key management of the group and we obviously made a plan. I think it was reasonably, so far, well executed on how we would use the time between Australia and this Grand Prix and what our expectations should be, how quick we could recover the situation, and so far so good. But it could be a long haul. We'll have to wait and see how this weekend goes. But whatever it is, we exist to win. If we're not winning, we're not doing our job.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Scott Dixon , Frank Williams , Richard Parry-Jones , Jean Todt
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams