Monaco GP: Thursday press conference

Present: Mike Gascoyne (Toyota technical director) Patrick Head (Williams technical director) Adrian Newey (McLaren technical director) Pat Symonds (Renault executive director of engineering) Q: A question to you all: We go into a period now...


Mike Gascoyne (Toyota technical director)
Patrick Head (Williams technical director)
Adrian Newey (McLaren technical director)
Pat Symonds (Renault executive director of engineering)

Q: A question to you all: We go into a period now of six races in eight weeks, could you give some indication of how well prepared your team is for this intense period?

Pat Symonds: I think we're well prepared. A few little brushes with the barrier on Saturday or Sunday could rapidly change that. But it's not something that creeps up on you. You plan for it as soon as you see the calendar. It's not easy, but with planning, it's not that difficult either.

Mike Gascoyne: I think exactly the same. We've known about it for a long while and you just plan for it and it's reasonably straightforward. For us, some of the races are actually nearer to us than most of them, so it doesn't really present any real difficulty.

Q: You've got a new car coming anyway, haven't you?

MG: Yeah, and that work is going on at the factory. Obviously, there's a lot of work going on in the factory to improve our level of competitiveness. That's all happening. The racing doesn't really interfere with that as, with more races, if we have any accidents it will affect it slightly but I don't think it's anything we wouldn't be able to cope with.

Q: Does development continue on the current car as well as producing the new one?

MG: We're concentrating most of our efforts on the new car - or the updated car. There are some fairly major changes. It has a new monocoque which needs to be homologated plus some aero things which are coming through alongside it, so there's a lot going on and a lot of work but that's been planned out and it's progressing on schedule.

Patrick Head: Pretty much the same for us in terms of hardware and generally being able to support the racing is OK. The question is, obviously, everybody expects to bring development of their car to each race and then you've got to make the car appropriate to suit the demands of each race. We'll be running different levels of downforce at say Montreal and probably Indianapolis than we are here and probably Nuerburgring, so one has to bring the appropriate parts. But, as people have said, we've known what it's been for quite a long time and in advance.

Q: Have you got those development parts coming through, because obviously, like everybody, there's a fairly large gap to the guys doing all the winning?

PH: I can't make any promises about having development parts coming through that are going to overtake the Ferraris. But clearly, just like everybody else, we are and will be bringing development to the car.

Q: Adrian, you're in a bit of a similar situation to Mike and Toyota with a new or revised car coming. What sort of state is the team in at the moment?

Adrian Newey: Well, we've got to get over the initial dash after this race which, as somebody has said already, depends on how we come out of this race. Hopefully, if we come out it without too much damage, it shouldn't be a problem. If we come out with lots of damage then it becomes a bit more frantic. Getting out of here looks as if it's going to take a while for the trucks. It took a long time to get them in, it will probably take a long time to get them out again. After that, then we're running our updated car in the near future, so then we will be splitting our efforts, obviously, between testing that car and trying to get it to race worthiness as soon as possible. But, as everybody has said already, that's fairly well planned out. You adjust for it and get on with it.

Q: Adrian, how new is that new car going to be? What is going to be new? Everything?

AN: No, it's not a new car, it's an updated car so virtually all the mechanical parts are the same but from the bodywork perspective it's heavily updated and that involves some changes to the monocoque shape which, the same as with Mike, means that we have to re-crash test. That's done, signed off, so we're building the car at the moment.

Q: And engine, is that the same?

AN: Still a Mercedes!

Q: What about your performance here, is it better or worse than you expected?

AN: The first day of Monaco is always a bit fickle so I'll reserve judgement until after qualifying or preferably the race.

Q: But were there some hopeful signs today?

AN: The drivers seem reasonably happy with the car, but if they're quick they're happy, if they're not quick they're not happy. There's nothing new there.

Q: Coming to the new rules that have been proposed, what are your feelings about those? How are discussions progressing amongst the technical directors?

AN: You're talking about the 2008 proposals?

Q: Or 2006, or whatever.

AN: Personally I think that allowing teams to sell their designs or even parts to other teams is a very dangerous route because what will happen is that the midfield teams will end up being forced either out of existence or to buy other people's cars or designs and very quickly you'll get into a position where you've got three or four teams able to design their own cars, the rest are buying. There will probably be a shortfall so the grids could go down, and you'll end up with an IndyCar-type scenario which I think would be very sad for Formula One. So I would be very nervous of that one. Having said that, controlling costs is a good thing to do. Basically teams are always going to spend their budgets, so all they can really hope to do is make the extra pound spent by the big teams count for less in terms of performance compared to a lower budget team, and if you can come up with such rules that reduce some of the fixed costs that don't many any performance gap -- tungsten ballast or whatever it might be -- then that, to me, would seem sensible.

Q: Patrick, any feelings on those rules yourself?

PH: In terms of 2008, I fully agree with Adrian that silly expenditure on the ballast and various other things is probably silly expenditure, but we have to do it because the regulations allow us to do it and it brings small levels of competitive advantage. If rules can be changed to inhibit or limit that then we're all in favour of it. I'm not desperately excited about Formula One being taken to what we've got outside with Formula 3000 because that's really what's being talked about. Yes, it should be a drivers' formula but I think at the moment there's quite a lot of interest, certainly by the manufacturers, in the technology side as well, so I hope that some sort of middle line is eventually what comes out of it.

Q: You've got a fairly interesting driver situation in your team turning up at the end of this year. How concerned are you about that at this stage?

PH: Not really. I'm really looking in the short term and trying to make sure that we improve our competitive position this year. I'm pretty confident that we'll have two extremely competent drivers in the car and I think the thing I've got to be concerned about is to try and make sure that our car is at least as good as the drivers. So although every now and then Frank does talk to me about people he's talking to and sometimes we have meetings with people, the main focus that I've got to concentrate on with the other engineers at Williams is to make sure that the car is worthy.

Q: A similar question in a way to you Mike. How much are you pushing for a change of drivers? Certainly your team is being mentioned in connection with several drivers.

MG: My comments on that are pretty much exactly the same as Patrick's. We haven't got a car that's quick enough at the moment, and my whole priority is on ensuring that we will have in the future and that we're doing the right things in the factory to ensure that will be able to have a quick enough car. So for me the issue of drivers, it's simply not an issue for me at the moment.

Q: We mentioned the revised car a moment ago. Is that going to be a revised engine as well?

MG: We've had an update on the engine for here but no, not specifically for that package, but we've had an improvement on the engine here. The engine performance is very good.

Q: Your chassis at Renault was fantastic as we saw last year. Can you reproduce something similar?

MG: Hopefully something similar and something better but that takes time. It took a couple of years to get to that stage. What's important is that we do the right thing to allow the design process that lead to that to happen, and that's what's happening at the moment in the factory. It's frustrating because you don't see the effects of all that hard work until later on, but it's important when you build anything that it has strong foundations. So we're making sure that we're doing the right things, designing in the right way and prioritising the right things. But, as I say, at the moment it's frustrating because those things take time to come through but we have to make sure that we do do that correctly so that we can be in a strong position in years to come.

Q: Pat, you seem to be in the position of being looked at as being the major challenger for Ferrari. Is that quite a responsibility? You've got fantastic reliability so far as well. Is it a possibility?

PS: Well, we're second in the World Championship, so I suppose by definition we are (the major challenger). I don't think we have the second quickest car out there at the moment and that troubles me. It troubles me that we haven't got the quickest out there. But I think that as a team we're a good team and we're getting over some of the shortcomings that we have and that's reflecting in the results. There's a hell of a lot to do to catch Ferrari and even more to overtake them. We never believe it's impossible. We recognise how hard it is, but that's what we're here for.

Q: Looking at this race here, what's the change of pit lane and the speed limit going to do to change tactics and strategy during the race?

PS: Not a great deal, as it turns out. There's a little bit of self-cancelling in there in terms of length -- I think it's about eight meters longer, it starts ten meters earlier. The change in speed limit is worth about four seconds, I think, but Monaco is a very different race for strategy to most races, and I think that the picture that we've seen in the past is not going to change substantially. There are other factors such as tyres which may make as much of a difference as the pit lane.

Q: Mr Newey, there have been some statements in the Finnish media by Kimi which suggest that he's having some motivational problems driving your current car. Can you say anything about that?

AN: Well, firstly I don't really read the press so I don't know what's been written, but talking to Kimi, he's a completely professional driver; he's trying as hard as he can. It happens sometimes that a team goes through a rough patch. Obviously we're all determined to get ourselves out of that, and Kimi is part of our team and equally determined to do so.

Q: Patrick, Ralf was sounding slightly miffed yesterday about some comments that were in the German press suggesting that -- he blamed you for the comments -- he wasn't the same driver since his crash at Monza last year. Could you elaborate on that?

PH: This came out of a private conversation at an Allianz evening at Barcelona and I was talking to four British journalists and it was well understood that it was an off-the-record conversation. The subject was why Ralf was being out-qualified regularly by his team-mate. We've had drivers before who have had big accidents: Nelson Piquet at Imola when he had a tyre explode and Thierry Boutsen as well, and they both said to me afterwards that when they were concussed it took them six to nine months to fully recover. In the private conversation, I speculated that maybe the accident at Monza, which was of our making; we had a bond failure in a suspension, that maybe that had had some influence. But it shows that actually, talking off the record is unwise and probably won't be repeated.

Q: This is for Adrian. These days your teams have become bigger and more anonymous but we know that working under you and with you are a group of engineers who we all know because they've designed their own cars in the past. I'm interested to know what the process of designing a new racing car is at McLaren. Where do the ideas come from, how are they fed into the system and specifically, the twin keel idea which you've been committed to for a couple of years now. Where do all those things fit together?

AN: That's a pretty big question.

PH: How long have you got?

AN: Yes exactly. Basically, we have a fairly flat structure or try to operate a fairly flat structure amongst the senior engineers at McLaren where everybody's able to contribute. Obviously the challenge there is having a flat structure but maintaining discipline within it, but I always would like to operate in a flat way that everybody can contribute and communicate with each other without having to adhere to some rigid organogram or whatever you call it. We periodically have meetings, that's will all the senior engineers. We had one last week, in fact, where everybody sits down and discusses, in this case, ideas for next year's car.

We then break that down into smaller groups and work away in the various departments. Any Formula One team will have four main faculties if you like, which will be car design, aerodynamics, race engineering and simulation. We have that same system and we create tasks and off they go and I should imagine that that is pretty much the same for any Formula One team. To answer your last specific question on the twin keel. On the 2001 car we developed a forward bargeboard, if you like, between the front wheels and ahead of the main bargeboard, which worked quite well. Various teams, Ferrari and Renault, have now adopted something similar. We had that in 2001 and felt, well, once we've got that there, rather than having wishbones crossing it and support struts and so forth, let's make the support struts also part of the suspension mounting so that's what we did for the 2002 car and we've been there since.

Q: Are you still happy with that arrangement?

AN: Well, it's a good question. I am. I came up with the idea in the first place, but having said that we would have to always re-evaluate things. There are pros and cons to the concept. In my opinion, we are still happy with it. The question always comes: Do we get out and re-evaluate, have we gone down a blind alley or do we stick with it, because we've developed on that route? If we simply reverse it now, then we would be behind in development on the former route, so for that reason, I think a lot of teams tend to have a degree of inertia to their ideas, if you like. If you keep chopping and changing then you're likely to end up behind.

Q: Patrick, I understand that you may have some vacancies next year. In view of Anthony Davidson's performance, is he the sort of man you might consider, because I think he was quite astonishing this morning?

PH: There's no doubt about it, he's a very fine driver. Without having seen... to actually have had the opportunity of actually working with him... yes, one can view the lap times and clearly there's no doubt about his speed but equally, our test drivers, Marc Gene and Antonio Pizzonia, when they're testing they produce lap times to the exact same level and sometimes quicker than the two race drivers, so it's actually quite difficult to take somebody out of a testing position and ask 'are they going to perform well in a racing position?' But clearly Anthony Davidson is a very fine driver and deserves strong consideration. Yeah.

Q: To Patrick, in Barcelona your car had radical behaviour on the track, especially on the bumps at the braking point. Was it a general problem of the car or a specific problem of tyre pressure? What was the problem?

PH: Our drivers said the cars were perfect! No, I have to say I didn't see what you are referring to and whether it was significantly different from other cars. I think most of the cars are running fairly soft and allowing the cars to pull down into a position where they are running pretty stiff and at various times you play around with the different rates and you can sometimes go too far. That causes the car to bounce a bit and usually the driver or the data engineers will recognise the situation and take it back a bit and between our two drivers the level of movement or bouncing of the car that each driver is prepared to tolerate is completely different, so what doesn't worry one driver worries the other driver enormously and it is because of their different style.

Q: Adrian, you mentioned the revised car and an imminent testing date. Do you have details of whether it will be one month, two months or how long we can wait until the car is out and also what sort of performance step do you expect from it?

AN: Well, in terms of when it will be out, we expect somewhere between two weeks and four weeks; obviously it is all depending on the race bits, and maybe a 50km shakedown at three weeks if we don't make the two-week schedule. In terms of lap time benefit then simulation says it should be significant but I would rather not go further than that at the moment.

Q: Patrick, is there any chance of seeing Jacques Villeneuve in the car in the near future, testing, because there are all sorts of rumours and speculation that he could be in the car before the end of the season and that kind of thing. Could you give us some information on that?

PH: I wish our engineers were as creative as the press really! I was rung up after Barcelona saying that they understood Jacques Villeneuve was at Ricard and was going to be driving one of our cars there. It was certainly the first I knew about it. I did buzz upstairs and asked Frank whether he had set something up and hadn't told me about it, but he also denied all knowledge.

Q: But for the future, is there a plan for the next couple of months?

PH: All is possible in the future. I can't and won't make any comment on it. They say Nigel Mansell's making a comeback! (Laughter) He has never retired, not officially!

Q: Patrick, can I follow this up -- we did hear that Jacques had spent some time in your company. Do you want to deny that as well and if he was in your company was it at his request or yours?

PH: Erm. We certainly had one discussion with him, yep.

Q: Was it on the premises?

PH: No.

Q: You are all at the top of organisations that are quite big. With these new mooted regulations for Formula One going back to basics, what kind of estimate could you make about the effect that would they have on the size of your teams, the number of people you would lose, and would they be absorbed in other parts of the company?

PS: Well, I think it is quite difficult to answer that at the moment. The main reason is that we don't quite know exactly where these regulations are going to end up. But one thing you have got to remember is yes, we are trying to save money, but it is not quite as simple as that. We were testing at Castellet last week and the weather was quite poor so we didn't quite get to complete our programme. So, we came back from that test and, if we take a simple example, we spent £2,000 (UK pounds) less on brakes than we had intended to, but I didn't go back to Flavio (Briatore) and say 'we have saved £2,000 Flavio so why don't you pay me less?' It is a question of re-investing that money elsewhere and if it is cheaper to do certain things in Formula One but we still have the income then we will just be diverting money to other areas. I am not saying it is not a good thing to save money in Formula One, there are certain aspects that are really quite decadent these days. But at the end of the day it is the income and the budget that you have to work with that makes the difference. And if, for example, there is regulation on testing and, let's say it gets to the point where you don't need a test team, I think what we would do is we would re-deploy those people on test rigs. We would be doing a lot more modelling, okay, they might be slightly different people but overall we will spend whatever money we can get hold of.

MG: I think Pat's exactly right. I don't think it will make any difference to the top teams. The top teams are still large teams and they will be doing all the work necessary to be competitive and as one door closes another one will open, so we will put our investment and our resources into other areas. I think it is important in Formula One that we are all constructors, we are all teams, it has a team identity and it mustn't lose it. Maybe these rules will mean it is easier for smaller teams to be competitive and there may be smaller teams that can survive with a reasonable level of competitiveness. But I think at the top end you will still have the large competitive teams investing the money they have to win in Formula One and the rewards that gives them.

PH: Again, I think quite a lot of meetings and things have got to happen before we really know what 2008 regulations are and it was made plain to us that because there isn't a Concorde Agreement beyond 2007 that the technical regulations can be stipulated by the FIA. That is the case but that would be a very different situation and I suspect there will be some discussion about them and that there may be some pull-back from some of the positions that were stated at that meeting. But one way or the other...(phone rings) I thought it was the wife, it is Sam (Michael)! I would have jumped to attention if it was the wife! Erm. Yeah, Pat and Mike have said, really, you spend up to the limit of the money you can get. If you are inhibited from spending money on the car, although you might not spend it directly on the car you might spend it on simulation rigs and simulation tools, dynamic rigs, people staffing those rigs.

If you can get the money in then your interest is to where you are going to find the tenth of a second that is going to make the difference between you and somebody else. And if that rests on, say, the best driver, and that driver wants $30 million (US Dollars) per year because he brings you that tenth of a second then you will pay him that $30 million. And if it happens to be because of your simulation tools, your multi-multi axis rig or whatever, you will still spend it. The thing is will that ability to spend make the difference between you and the other teams?

AN: I am not sure there is much I can add, except that everyone spends the budget that is available to them. I think if we can reduce some of the things that we all have -- ballast, carbon brakes perhaps, maybe even composite wishbones -- expensive items that because everyone has them are no longer performance differentiators, that would reduce the cost spend on those bits. The big teams would simply spend it elsewhere, but for the small teams that would make more of a difference because it would leave them more money available for research, for wind tunnels, for testing, for whatever it might be. So they would perhaps be able to operate more efficiently and that would reduce the time gap between the front of the grid and the back of the grid, which I think is what the regulations should be trying to achieve, on the one hand. On the sort of more sporting side is how you improve the show.

I think so far this year, because none of us have been able to rival Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, it has been a pretty dull season to date. So, we need to come up with something which closes the grid but to come up with a set of regulations which just dumbs the cars down, I think, would be a big mistake. Formula One is a mixture of driver and machine and that is almost part of the fascination -- if it were all driver then it is like so many other sports, if there is no technical differentiation. And it also means that, if a team has the best driver then, on the face of it, it is always going to dominate. As Patrick says, if you dumb the cars down you spend it on the drivers and get the differentiation that way, so I think we have to be careful on coming up with regulations which, as Patrick pointed out, creates Formula 3000 cars in Formula One. That is not what Formula One is all about. The cars have to be quick and they have to look difficult to drive. As soon as it looks as if me sitting in my armchair would think I could drive that, then we have lost it at that point.

Q: Last year Williams and McLaren took the FIA to the arbitration court over the way the regulations were changed. Is this case still pending?

PH: I think you would have to ask Frank that one. I know it was ongoing and Max was responding on it but I don't know exactly what the situation is on that one, Jabby.

Q: And presumably you don't know either, Adrian?

AN: No.

Q: Patrick, returning to the dreaded Ralf saga, you seem to be suggesting that you see a difference in his confidence before and after the Monza accident. Is that the case? Have you spoken to him about it? And, in the light of that, if it is a mental thing, should he see a sports psychologist?

PH: Ralf is an intelligent guy and he knows himself and his body and his physical condition and he is more than capable of looking after that aspect himself. But, you can imagine, Ralf is not happy with his position relative to his team-mate and we are confident that we can rely on him to put that aspect right. As I said, the subject came up as part of a private conversation and I am not really prepared to expand on it.

Q: There are a lot of young driver programmes, how about the engineers? Do you have any young engineer development programmes in your team and. If yes, please tell me what kind, if no, why not?

PS: We certainly do. Renault in the UK is a company now that is very, very large and to sustain the growth that we have had in the last few years and the albeit slightly smaller growth that we expect in the next few years, it is necessary to have formal training programmes and we have had them for engineers for a number of years, where we will sponsor students through university, one hopes bring them into the company, give them proper professional development, and it is a very necessary thing. We all know engineers are far more important than drivers, don't we!

MG: Yeah, we have similar programmes to ensure that we get young engineers coming through. If nothing else, if you groom your own young engineers they are a lot cheaper than paying experienced ones a lot of money. So, it is a programme that we actively support.

PH: We are the same, and we have got quite a few engineers that we have taken direct out of university and we have worked with and they have impressed us. We have maybe been involved with them during their career either in having some sort of work year during their training or sometimes being involved in their PhD project and if they have impressed us adequately we have taken them on afterwards. We have got a couple of students we support each year at Brookes University and internally, as well, we are always looking for our senior engineers of the future and making sure that those engineers who look as though they can rise to more senior positions are not stuck drawing the left-hand wing mirror year-in year-out.

AN: Very similar really. We sponsor, I think at the moment, three or four PhD students that we sponsor on related subjects. We recruit from universities as appropriate, either post-grads or undergrads from the university milk round and, equally, try to promote people within the company. If you have vacancies wherever it may be it always sends a good message to recruit from within the company and promote from within the company. Now what is happening with motor racing at the moment, both within the drivers side and the teams side, is that because we are tending to lose our production-based racing car facilities in the UK then it does mean that those training grounds -- traditionally March and Lola and Reynard in the past, which have been great training grounds because they gave a very broad base of experience in all sorts of different categories and made sort of jack of all trades -- are unfortunately lost now. So Formula One teams have to adapt to not being able to recruit from those areas and make sure they have their own training programmes.

Q: Mercedes have been making engines for more than 100 years but they seem to be making not terribly good ones at the moment. Do you think there is maybe time for a change at the top? Have they lost the plot? They seemed to make better engines any more under Ilmor than they are doing at the moment and it must be very unpleasant to see pictures of the car on fire.

AN: Well, Mercedes are a very fine company, a very large company, and most importantly they are very committed to motor racing. So, yes, we have had a few engine embarrassments lately but I think most of these things, when you have problems, tend to go back to the structure and management of the company. Equally, that means that when it starts to become recognisable that there is a problem it can take a while to sort out and, of course, the larger a company is, someone like Mercedes, more inertia tends to be associated with that. But the problems have been recognised, there have been some large changes made, and I think they are very good changes. Martin Whitmarsh is now personally heavily involved in the engine programme and he is doing a very good turn-around, and I am very confident for the future. But these things do take time and I would hope we will see steady improvements on the engine side through the balance of this year and with the target of getting up towards the benchmark, I would say, probably not necessarily next year but certainly by the 2006 season when I hope we are right up there with everybody else.

Q: Mr Symonds, Patrick Head was talking a few minutes ago about Anthony Davidson and also about the difficulty to know if a test driver is about to be in a Grand Prix. What is your current feeling about Franck Montagny's ability and, perhaps, about his future?

PS: I think Franck has done a very, very good job for us. I think he first impressed me when he did the 'Heathrow' (Friday) test session at Magny-Cours last year and pretty well everything that could go wrong went wrong. We had an engine problem on his car, we got things sorted out, got him out in the spare car which, of course, we could do in those sessions, it then started to rain and the way he handled it all, I thought, was very mature. Since then he has been doing a lot more testing for us, we find his results are consistent, he is quite innovative, he thinks a lot about what he does, he is an intelligent guy, and as a test driver we are very happy with him. As to his future, I think he thoroughly deserves a place in Formula One and I don't know if that will be with Renault or not. We obviously need to develop several drivers and at the end of the day there are only two that are racing for Renault. But I am very, very sure that Franck deserves a place somewhere on the grid.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Antonio Pizzonia , Michael Schumacher , Jacques Villeneuve , Anthony Davidson , Franck Montagny , Marc Gene , Nigel Mansell , Thierry Boutsen , Nelson Piquet , Patrick Head , Mike Gascoyne , Adrian Newey
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams