San Marino GP: Friday press conference

Present: Norbert Haug (Mercedes vice president) Paolo Martinelli (Ferrari head of engine department) Otmar Szafnauer (Honda Racing vice president) Mario Theissen (BMW motorsport director) Rob White (Renault engine technical director) Q: Otmar,...


Norbert Haug (Mercedes vice president)
Paolo Martinelli (Ferrari head of engine department)
Otmar Szafnauer (Honda Racing vice president)
Mario Theissen (BMW motorsport director)
Rob White (Renault engine technical director)

Q: Otmar, what's made the difference so far this year? It's been fantastic...

Otmar Szafnauer: Thanks for recognising the difference. I think we have made a step from last year, significantly and the engine's got more powerful, it's a bit lighter than it was in the past and naturally the new regulations had us focus on reliability. So we're more durable this year, we're a lot lighter and we're a little more powerful. That, in conjunction with the chassis and our new tyre supplier, I think the whole package has taken a step up and it shows on the track.

Q: Has there actually been any differences at Honda itself?

OS: We're always striving to improve at Honda and yeah, we have made some organisational changes that have helped us well as we've found some things and focused on reducing weight and increasing power.

Q: Norbert, a reverse question to that, in some ways: what has gone wrong, how curable, how solvable is it?

Norbert Haug: Well, I think that's quite easy to answer. It was almost everything that went wrong so far. Honestly, we didn't really achieve what we wanted to achieve in the first three races but we are working very hard to come back to where we used to be. Sometimes things like that happen. They should not happen and I think all the team were very motivated, trying to make a big step in the right direction. Maybe the step was a little bit too big, but now we're working very concentrated on really improving our performance in both performance and reliability.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the reorganisation at McLaren Mercedes?

NH: Yeah. Martin Whitmarsh is chief executive officer responsible for both chassis and engine and all the organisation and the display of the Formula One team in practical terms and we want to work as one entity and I think that is a very good step in the right direction.

Q: What about Ulrich Maik?

NH: There's not a lot to say. There was an agreement between both parties and we split and we agreed not to discuss it any further.

Q: Rob, can you tell us about the new development on the engine here?

Rob White: The RS24 was conceived from the beginning to be a robust platform for development. The engine has served us well for the first three races of the season with minor revisions for each race. Here at Imola there is a bigger step. I think it's clear that the objectives for the change were to increase the engine performance and we're pleased to have done that in terms of the peak power, the useable speed range of the engine, the torque curve shape, the driveability, the things that drivers like to see in a racing engine.

Q: And when might we see more modifications, more steps forward?

RW: The strategy is to continue in this vein, that is to evolve the engine bit by bit, event by event, making changes, particularly in the way that the engine is used for each Grand Prix. There are further, bigger steps planned for later in the season, in a similar fashion to the way in which we began the season, with the iteration which has now arrived this weekend.

Q: Paolo, how different is this year's engine to last year's?

Paolo Martinelli: Well, it's an evolution of last year's engine as we have said. Basically we took last year's engine as a proper base, but most of the engine components have been completely redesigned, first of all to extend the reliability of the engine to the target of more than 700, between 700 to 800 kilometres. And the second point is to try to improve performance, so we concentrated in the winter period to define a reliable base to start the season and we are now working continually to improve performance.

Q: Is not the problem with an evolution how much development is left within the engine?

PM: Well, I've just said, having a proper base there is room to improve. That's the reason why we thought that with the change of regulation what was more important was the continuity of the evolution of the engine instead of starting with a completely white sheet of paper.

Q: So you're confident there is more to come...

PM: I think so, I hope so.

Q: Mario, how do you feel about the performance of the BMW engine so far this year?

Mario Theissen: Well, I'm quite satisfied with the performance. We have managed to go up to basically the same engine speed with which we finished the engine of last season. Power is equal as well, and we are now looking at increasing power, already. So this is certainly satisfying. We have taken a bit of a different approach in terms of power development in that we don't only look at the one qualifying lap or peak power for one qualifying lap, but we want to provide this same power and same engine speed throughout the race and even in top gear, we don't want to step back a lot, just enough to allow for a tow, but no more. And we are almost there, so we can run the engine now, throughout the race, at top revs, top power and that is quite a big step which I have to say, one year ago, I didn't expect would be possible.

Q: So have you been a bit cautious up to now?

MT: Well, we were cautious last year during development. In the winter tests, we saw already that it would be possible to regain the same position in terms of power and engine speed and now we are looking forward.

Q: Now, can I ask you all your comments on the FIA proposals regarding engines, particularly their viability, if you feel that they are applicable?

OS: Generally, I think the gist of the proposals was to slow the cars down and we at Honda are in favour of having a very safe formula but at the same time, allowing the design freedom and technical challenges that Formula One poses today. So in general, we would be against any changes that take away the technical challenges from our engineers. I think there are things in there like the rev limiters and things of that nature, and I think those things are an anathema to Formula One in general. But making the formula safer? We're definitely for that. Reducing engine size? I think it said 2.4 litre V8. We're not against that as long as the design freedoms remain open and Formula One remains the pinnacle of motor sport.

NH: I try to explain it like this. I think there are three main criteria that we have to face. I think we should think about creating a better sport for the spectator. That, for me, is the most important point. It is very important to save costs, because otherwise I think we will all be in trouble in a couple of years, even the companies who could basically afford to spend a lot of money, but why spend more money than necessary? I think that has to be the process and the third point is slowing the cars down.

I think they're going quicker and quicker, which is normal in a tough competition, but first of all we all need to realise that this sport is made for spectators, for spectators here at the race track and mainly for spectators watching on television. And we are very open to every discussion in that direction, and we are certainly open to the proposals laid down in what Max Mosley, the FIA President, wrote to the teams and to us, and we certainly will join in the meeting and build a constructive part of it.

My personal view is that a change of rules, in terms of the engine, doesn't help to save money, not at all. It's quite the opposite in that case. And I think we cannot justify saying that a new engine has eight cylinders so we save a lot of parts. I just don't think that's the right process. We should constructively think about what we have and what we can reduce in terms of speed and in terms of costs and that will be a better approach. But as I said, Mercedes Benz and McLaren will be a very constructive part of these discussions.

RW: I think everybody appreciates the magnitude of the subject, everybody appreciates that it's important for the future of the sport and we at Renault certainly support the orientation of the proposals. Clearly, we've all just seen them today and there's little to say about the detail of them but we're pleased that there's something concrete to discuss and we will play an active part in discussing it as the details emerge and the process continues.

PM: We think the aim of the proposals is very positive. We have to consider what we can do for the future of the sport. We have to give priority to safety, to maintain or improve the spectacle and to design a formula that still allows for the peak of technology but at reasonable cost. I think we are pleased at the approach. In my opinion, it's difficult to go into detail on any of the proposals but in general, we favour these proposals and I think that in the medium term, a displacement reduction is the best way to limit the power performance without artificial tools like speed limiters etc. It's the best idea, so we are in favour of considering a formula with a 2.4 V8 in the future, and also to consider how to extend engine life.

MT: If you look at the proposal to me it consists of two parts. The first part is the objectives. We fully support the objectives. There is one thing on the objectives, which is a technical solution already, which I would be careful to keep this really apart. First talk about the objectives and then the solutions. Main objectives are safety and cost reduction and in my view the cost reduction is the most urgent one. If we think we need to do something about it I think we should try and get it done before 2008 and not as late as that.

On the specific engine proposal, as I've said in my view cost reduction is the most urgent thing and this is why we would not propose a different engine format. It is clear to us that if you change from a 3-litre V10 to a 2.4-litre V8 you have to do for at least one year two separate engines in parallel which would be a massive cost increase. We calculated in the past that a 2.4 V8 would be five percent lower than a 3-litre V10, no more than five percent, so in total it would be a real cost reduction. We would be happy and support extending engine life, maybe even beyond two race weekends because that would take power down and at the same time would be a massive cost cut and that is what we need. So I think we should spend some more thoughts on that direction.

Q: Can I come back to the control of the engines? One of the proposals that Mr Mosley has put forward is the introduction of the standard ECU for everybody. He is clearly determined to get rid of electronic controls and I guess the introduction of the ECU is tied in with that. Can I ask each of you if they imposition of an ECU will reduce the interest of your manufacturer in Formula One? Would it be a danger to your participation?

MT: It is too early to talk about this. Obviously engine electronics have played a vital role in our project, it was always clear to us that we would do it in-house. On the other hand we have to carefully evaluate the proposal in order to achieve the objectives. I wouldn't feel anything at the moment, but probably something we would have a careful look at.

PM: I think it is an interesting proposal to examine in detail. I think if one of the targets is cost reduction we have to consider standard hardware for electronics. It is something that is a primary goal of cost reduction. Of course the software must allow a level of freedom to develop according to the need of each engine manufacturer. On production cars, there are a lot of standard issue adapted to a lot of engines so I think it is possible that it can be used in a Formula One engine. But we have got to maintain a discussion.

RW: For sure it is technically feasible. As with anything, the devil is in the detail and there will be technical details, commercial details.

NH: I think in the first place we shouldn't exclude any reasonable suggestions, but I think it is very important we are careful in the evaluation process. I think we have made some mistakes in the past and we should not repeat them. Basically we are open for any reasonable suggestions.

OS: We at Honda have that as an in-house process. We are open to suggestions but at this time we would have to study it further. We saw it as a strategic advantage to keep it in-house and with these proposals we would have to give it some thought before we answer.

Q: The current Concorde Agreement runs out at the end of 2007, which, as far as I understand it anyway, means that you guys don't get a say because Max is saying this is what we are going to have for Formula One and it is not a case of negotiation, do you want to be here or not? Is that how you understand it?

NH: It is hard to see a chassis running without an engine isn't it? You know my favourite solution, I think we need one Formula One and we should not open now what speaks for A and what speaks for B. If we have the right time and the right place we can find a solution and I think that is the favourite solution of all of us.

OS: I've just read them today and I thought they were proposals to be discussed at a meeting coming up in early May. Some of the proposals we agree with and others we don't, but hopefully they are just that and they are a discussion point and we will come to a solution point that is good for everybody.

MT: I'm not sure really how to read this because it says that we are free to put forward any additional ideas.

PM: I must say it is a proposal and at Ferrari we are in Formula One. We have to analyse together as an engine manufacturer and a team if we support this idea and define what is the future of Formula One after 2007.

RW: I've already bought my train ticket to go to Monaco for the meeting.

Q: Mario has already commented on them, but can the other manufacturers comment on whether they would accept proposals before the current Concorde Agreement for a major engine overhaul such as reduction to 2.4-litres?

PM: I think we have to change only once. We cannot think to design something in 2007 and then modify something in 2008. There is also the stability so for sure reviewed for 2008 and in the current agreement we can consider something, but I think it makes no sense to think about two different types of engine or to think about major modification of the engine structure. We have to think of only one modification.

RW: I largely share that view. We would be prepared to consider something and it has already been discussed at the technical forums within the sport and we have already discussed things. But as Paolo has just said it is difficult to conceive of a rational change that would not be continued into 2008.

NH: I can describe my favourite solution, and it should fall in place as soon as possible. I think we could cut 30 or even 50 percent of the technical costs and then with the money we saved we could put into the presentation of Formula One, into the television pictures whatever. I would be very happy if we could achieve a solution for next year but I doubt it.

OS: If we are given ample development time and it items that are good for the Formula and for us then we would be willing to do some of it.

Q: Can you guys clarify your position on supplying affordable customer engines? A year ago some of the smaller teams agreed to maintain traction control into this year in return for a cheaper deal on engines. They are perhaps a little let down that you have not come through with your promises this season.

OS: We're not foreign to racing in many Formulas and having many teams using our engines, and when we came back this time into Formula One we did just that with BAR and Jordan. But we think at this time and looking forward to our future that we would like to stay with one team and focus our resources on one team.

NH: I think it is well known that we made the offer last year and we just couldn't find a solution with a team. That was it basically.

RW: I think I am more technical expertise than commercial expertise, and there are commercial elements, but the direction the sport has to go much address this question, and continue to support the debate to find a solution.

PM: I think on my side we had quite a strong experience with the Sauber Petronas team supplying the engine and I think in the new regulations we have to define a way that major teams can support, on a reasonable commercial base, smaller teams and also with a supply of engines. I think it is difficult to keep the bargain for the major manufacturer to supply a secondary team, but to define a regulation for sure if we are going to achieve a target of the use of an engine to a secondary team.

MT: We have always stated that we are happy to go with just one team, with BMW-Williams team. One reason has always been we don't want to loose focus and the other one limited production capacity. Before being able to take a second look at that, we need to take a look at the new regulations especially about engine life, because engine life affects the number of engine produce per year so that is critical.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Norbert Haug , Mario Theissen , Martin Whitmarsh , Paolo Martinelli
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Jordan