Malaysian GP: Friday press conference, part 2

Continued from Part 1 Q: I would like from all of you to know what is your opinion about the new qualifying format? Mario Theissen: I think it is exciting, I love it, I think the spectators will love it. It is one hour full of action, three ...

Continued from Part 1

Q: I would like from all of you to know what is your opinion about the new qualifying format?

Mario Theissen: I think it is exciting, I love it, I think the spectators will love it. It is one hour full of action, three runs, and I think it is the best way we ever had. You can always talk about refining it, question of going with or without fuel, how to deal with that, but altogether I really like it.

Patrick Head: I think Mario is right. It is certainly exciting and quite tense in the garage and of course with Kimi's accident and the big rush then going out it was certainly quite tricky and I think it particularly did not work out in Ralf's favour. Basically you got one lap and if you happen to have a slow car in front of you when you go out, your are in big trouble. The only bit that is a bit dubious and I think the crowd will find rather difficult to understand is this business of having fuel in for the last practice and then while the cars are going round seemingly not doing quick laps and obviously the influence of the weight of the fuel is huge. When this qualifying format was first proposed it was on the basis of not carrying fuel in any of the three qualifying sessions and that probably would have caused a problem at the time had the tyre situation stayed the same. But with us being able to change tyres at the pit stop as I understand it being proposed at the same time, personally I would be happy to have all three sessions on low fuel, but as Mario says there is room to trim as the basic format is pretty good but I think the FIA are not really willing to trim race to race. If they are going to make a change it will be at least mid season, I think, and obviously after some discussions with the teams.

Geoff Willis: Well I think it was great fun, something we had studied in a lot of details and rehearsed a lot and made the specific preparations for handling the cars, particularly in the last session, trying to get the cars with their tyres changed simultaneously. Having said that, having practiced everything and rehearsed everything, I think the first session showed that you could revert on the edge of getting it wrong badly, so there is a lot of learning during the first weekend. It will be interesting to see what the qualifying brings up this weekend. I am sure everybody will learn again for a couple of more races and it will settle down. But it is very busy and there is no room for error and that certainly is a challenge, a challenge we will enjoy.

John Howett: I think the qualifying we have to look at it from a consumer's point of view, the public. From inside the team it is a pretty exciting format. It is very busy but we have all the times so we can see. I think the key point really is to see what television viewers also think about the format and whether they can really follow it. And I think there seems to be some mixed reactions. So for the end consumer we have perhaps to wait a bit longer but from within the teams and probably for track action it is a very positive move.

Q: Patrick, what did you think when you saw Villeneuve's BMW retire in Bahrain?

Patrick Head: A loaded question. That was quite interesting really, because I was called up on Wednesday to be asked whether I'd come here and I said to Silvia, who rang me up, Mario Theissen: being asked as well? I'm not sure if I got a reply there, but I thought 'this is a set-up'. You're so busy during a race that you're not really looking too often at what's going on on other cars but I don't think tears welled up in my eyes.

Q: After last Bahrain race, what did you think about Scuderia Toro Rosso's V10 engine? Do you think we need more restrictions or to change the rules, or just keep going?

Patrick Head: Mario's really the one to talk about it, but I think from what I've seen of power curves, run at its maximum, it's certainly below the V8 from Cosworth. The thing about it is that it's so under-stressed, in effect, that it can be run at its maximum every lap of the race, every lap of qualifying, every lap of practice. That gives a certain advantage. The other thing is that it would have been a much bigger problem, I think, if one of the manufacturer teams had decided to go that route because the Cosworth V10 engine never had variable trumpets and as I understand it, it has not been optimum-tuned for the lower revs, for the restricted intake, and I'm sure that for any of the manufacturers - because you are allowed to run with those engines in exactly 2005 specification, so with variable trumpets, if you'd re-done the camshafts and the ports and all the rest of it, to optimise it for those rules - I'm sure there would be a few people howling like hell now.

Providing it's only the Cosworth V10 and it doesn't get developed to be optimised for that, then it brings another team out there which wouldn't otherwise be out there but I'm not sure that Colin Kolles from Midland feels the same way, but I don't have a problem with it. But Mario's opinion, I think, is probably more significant.

Mario Theissen: I see three advantages of a restricted V10. One is peak power, even if you apply the restrictions in a very rude way by putting in a plate into the air trumpet, I would expect it to have a higher peak power -- maybe not too much. Second one is higher torque, which should put you in a position at the start to overtake maybe one or two cars, and at the exit of a corner, to accelerate much quicker. That's what we saw in Bahrain. And the third advantage is, as Patrick said, that this engine is good for several thousand kilometres and you can basically go at qualifying pace throughout the race. Those are the major differences from a technical perspective.

John Howett: I think that the only thing you have to recognise is that the FIA have indicated that they will change the restriction or the peak power of the engine if they determine it is necessary, and therefore it would be very difficult for any of the main manufacturer teams or main teams to really consider that, because you don't really know what could happen between one race and the other, and I think that should be considered as another element.

Q: The third car facility has been questioned recently; would you like to see that reviewed?

Patrick Head: I would have to say that we are very happy with the third car facility and I think last year I'm sure Ron Dennis was very happy with the third car facility. It was actually proposed, I think, for some of the teams nearer the back of the grid to be able to have paying drivers on a Friday and it certainly isn't being used in that way. But on the other hand, it is a bit of an advantage to the lower teams and therefore, as a corollary disadvantage for the upper teams. I would have to say that they are probably happy about it this year and I hope to be in a position where we are unhappy about it next year.

Mario Theissen: Similar view. It certainly is an advantage especially now, in the early phase of the season because, as we discussed before, everybody is concerned about reliability and keeps engine or car mileage low. We are happy to benefit from that. Maybe we can change it after every team benefited from it for one year -- don't know if that works out. On the other hand, you have to see what would happen without the third cars on Friday. Certainly the teams who have a third car, their race drivers would maybe do a few laps more but not too many, and now at least, we have some cars going around on a full programme. Robert Kubica did 49 laps today and together with the third drivers that was quite interesting to watch.

John Howett: Clearly it's an advantage, but as we don't have it, it sounds sour grapes to say you can't. I think you just have to live with the rules as they are, but clearly we did gain advantage from it from the last two years with Ricardo driving on the Friday, no question.

Geoff Willis: Yes, I agree with everything that's been said. It's clearly an advantage for us but maybe it's just a way of helping to mix up the grid to try and give a little bit of a penalty to the top four teams and a little bit of a bonus to the following teams to maybe avoid teams just running away. It keeps you having to work hard.

Q: Patrick, how long can an independent team continue to be competitive against a manufacturer in the current era of Formula One?

Patrick Head: I suppose it depends on how good they are at generating their funding and whether they spend their money wisely. I think if you looked at the Renault budget for last year, both engine and car, you'd find it probably only the fourth, fifth or sixth biggest budget out there, so efficiency is a very important part and equally, it's fairly well known, the sort of magnitude of money that we're paying Cosworth for the engine this year, it's certainly very much less than 20 million Euro, and I mean by a long way, and I would have to say that I'm very happy to be running a Cosworth engine. I think it's fully competitive and relative to some, a more than competitive engine and Cosworth are not making a loss on that engine. But as testing gets limited more, which inevitably it will, it will put more emphasis onto the simulation tools, both virtual and physical that you have within your facility, and some of those simulation tools are pretty expensive and I mentioned beforehand -- I'm not complaining about it but we had to de-bug our gearbox out on the track. It would have been much more efficient and much more clinical if we could have de-bugged it on a more sophisticated transmission dyno than we have available to us. These sort of facilities will certainly, in the longer term, be very useful, but to be precise in terms of saying how long, I suppose it depends if Max (Mosley, FIA President) is successful on what he has been talking about which is to try and reduce the slope of spend against performance.

Q: Question for all of you: honest and frank thoughts on a standard ECU, please?

John Howett: It's a difficult one. I think in principal, most of the manufacturers would prefer freedom with the ECU, at least the actual cost of the ECU itself is not of an extreme magnitude. OK, one would probably need to be more draconian in restricting electronic capacity to significantly reduce the cost area. I think there is an issue of actually ensuring that there is no artificial aids which are intended to be eliminated, such as traction control in the future, and therefore by having a standard ECU it may make it very easy to police and avoid any rumours of a certain team having this capability or not and I believe that's one of the reasons that the FIA wishes to integrate the actual standard ECU, but I think as a preference we would prefer to keep freedom.

Geoff Willis: Not really my area to comment that much apart from the fact that in both road car engine design and in race car engine design the engine hardware and the controller is very much thought of as a complete package, so it's a thing where an engine manufacturer, a car manufacturer would always normally want to be developing engine and ECU together so in that sense, it's something we would rather keep and not go to an independent third party. The other issue from the team side is that changing ECUs and changing all the integrated code with it and the software the team uses is a very big challenge and there's not a lot of time between now and the beginning of 2008 and none of us would want to be starting on January 1, 2008 with a new system. We want to be trying to test it earlier so I think there's a pretty tight timescale.

Patrick Head: I'm not convinced that it automatically follows that if you have a standard ECU that there's no more possibility of some sort of power modulation but if we all get put to a standard ECU then those of us, few of us, with devious minds will turn their attention to other means. I did actually...Niki, I lost the 'and' between your first two words. I thought you said 'honest Frank' and I thought, who's this? (Laughter) But you said 'honest and frank.' But it's a change and I can understand that a lot of people like BMW, building their own ECUs, it's an interesting challenge for them which I'm sure has some relevance and some knock-on to their road car development and it must feel very uncomfortable for engineers to be told 'no, you can't do this, no you can't do a job in that area' and be given what will probably be a fairly middle-of-the-road type piece of hardware, it doesn't feel very Formula One-ish but anyway, that's what we're told we're getting and it seems it's still Max and Bernie's game so that's what we've got to play.

Mario Theissen: As we understand, the original aim was to rule out artificial driver aids and we fully support that, even if road cars have it, we want to see the best drivers out here and want them to cope with the car at the limit and that is certainly more exciting without driver aids. We have had talks between the manufacturers and some teams, I think it was a year ago -- at least a year ago -- about how to achieve that, and we came to the conclusion that it should be possible to do that with a controlled section, accessible to the FIA, to make sure that there are not artificial driver aids. We would prefer to go along this route because, as Geoff said, today there is not the mechanical parts, components, development on one hand and the electronics components on the other hand. Virtually everything comes with its electronics and virtually every functionality is controlled electronically. So in order to have the possibility to test new functionalities, we would need to have access to the electronics and then you are immediately down to the question: what is standardised? Is it a certain area of the hardware, is it the basic software as well, even, as the application software? It's quite a difficult and tricky area, so, as I said, we would prefer to have a common standard which ensures that there is no driver aids and it cannot even be perceived to be there but then to do our own stuff in order to use the same stuff for testing and racing.

Q: Mario, can I follow up on that? What is currently the definition of a standard ECU then?

Mario Theissen: There is no precise definition, especially not when it comes to software.

Q: Geoff, in the lead-up to the season, it seemed it was very close between you, Renault, Ferrari and McLaren. With one Grand Prix weekend out of the way, do you see any patterns in the performance which might differentiate?

Geoff Willis: Seing the pattern that the teams which we thought were going to be strong are strong on race pace last weekend, it certainly was very close with ourselves and those three teams. I think it's quite an even field this year. I think there are a lot of teams very close in performance. It will take the new few races, I think, to get a more detailed pattern but for sure, I think we all know which are the strong teams and what you have to do with such a tough grid is you have to be right in every session, in every race and you can't afford any mistakes, whether they are reliability or strategy, you have to get it right and it's the person who is going to be most reliable, most consistent who is going to win this year.

Q: May I ask each of you, from what you know so far, on which circuit do you think your car and your team has the best chance to win a Grand Prix this year?

Mario Theissen: I would prefer to answer the question after Sao Paulo.

Patrick Head: We obviously design a car and intend a car to be quick on all tracks. We were quick in the race at Bahrain but we didn't do a good enough job in practice to be able to make good use of it, but I don't think that we can say there's any characteristic of our car that means it will be better on one type of track or another. We obviously aim to try and make the car to be quick everywhere and anybody's who's hoping to participate in the championship I think.... I rather like the position that everybody's talking about Honda and McLaren and Ferrari and - who's the other one? Oh yes, Renault, they're rather good as well, aren't they? I think if we can keep our heads below the parapet but I think we're players in there as well, but we will see, we've got to go out and do it.

Geoff Willis: I think Patrick's right, you never design a car to be quick on one type of circuit, you want to be quick everywhere and certainly we're looking at this year with strong pre-season testing knowing that there are quite a few teams with very similar performance. We really have to go to every single race and try to do as well as we can at every race, just take them one by one, so we're not developing the car specifically for any one circuit and I don't think any one circuit is more important than another although clearly there are some races you can think of as home races or not and there are some circuit which may have historically proven better but no, I think we're trying to go and be quick everywhere.

John Howett: I think it's the same. We haven't designed the car for one circuit. I guess until we have resolved the problem we've got at the moment, using the tryes, we will have a similar challenge on a number of circuits.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Patrick Head , Robert Kubica , Geoff Willis , Colin Kolles , Mario Theissen
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Toro Rosso