Spanish GP: Thursday press conference

Present: Ross Brawn (Ferrari technical director) Patrick Head (Williams technical director) Pat Symonds (Renault director of engineering) Geoff Willis (BAR technical director) Q: Geoffrey, considering last year, are you much happier with the ...

Ross Brawn (Ferrari technical director)
Patrick Head (Williams technical director)
Pat Symonds (Renault director of engineering)
Geoff Willis (BAR technical director)

Q: Geoffrey, considering last year, are you much happier with the situation at BAR this year?

Geoff Willis: Yes, a lot happier with the situation at BAR now. We've had a year to rebuild the team, sort out the engineering, sort out the management of the team. There's been quite a big change also with our engine partner in the engineers working on both the engine and some of the chassis projects, and the whole thing seems to be coming together much better, so, there's still a lot of work to do but we've now established a good base point.

Q: Jacques says there's still a certain amount of reliability problems; are you getting on top of that?

GW: We certainly did have a number of problems at the last test although we did cover a huge mileage. Jacques has had, coincidentally, more problems than Jenson has and I'm sure that's something that he's not happy with and I've assured him that it's not focused around his car, his crew or anything like that. It's clearly the case now that all the serious teams are very reliable and that's a competitive advantage and we just have to keep working to make sure we are as a reliable as the top runners.

Q: Is it just attention to detail, working through things, or is there more to it than that?

GW: It's both attention to detail in the operation of the car but it also reflects how the car was designed in the first place, whether enough attention to detail was spent eight, nine months ago. I don't think there are any fundamental reasons why we should regard ourselves as being unreliable. We've had a number of small issues, some operational. It's not something I'm concerned about at the moment.

Q: The last test you were at Mugello, what did you learn there that perhaps you didn't learn elsewhere, say, going to Silverstone?

GW: Well, Mugello is quite a tough circuit on car handling: constant change of direction. We were running a later engine step there, we had some aerodynamic modifications we were trying there. I think at this time of the year it's probably still more secure in the weather at Mugello, although I'm sure Ross will correct me on that. It is a place that we have been to last year and the year before.

Q: Pat, according to the team, this is 'one of our good races.' What exactly does that mean, what are the criteria?

Pat Symonds: Well, I think, when you consider your good races, your bad races, you are looking at what your package is. In our package, I think we have quite a strong chassis, we have quite strong aerodynamics. We are lacking on the engine side. And Barcelona is the sort of circuit where I think the aerodynamic efficiency of the car is probably the prime reason for getting good lap times and therefore I think we can be quite competitive here. We were running well in the winter here in testing so, yeah, we're looking forward to this one.

Q: Is the advantage of Friday testing somewhat negated here because so many people have tested here?

PS: Yeah, for sure it is. I think the advantage at circuits like Malaysia and Melbourne, places like that, are bound to be higher but even at a circuit like this where we, like all other teams, have done more testing mileage than anywhere else, it does change. I think all of us remember back to the days where we used to regularly test a month before each race at the circuit and we'd arrive at the circuit for the Grand Prix weekend and find that the tyre choices we'd made a month ago were not necessarily correct, the circuit had changed a little. So we still feel that there's an advantage with having our Friday session, but as you correctly state, the advantage is nowhere near as great here as on some of the other circuits.

Q: You've also just had your first conventional test at Silverstone, your first two day test. By all accounts it sounded not quite fraught but you had to be very economical with your time.

PS: Yes. I think one of the things about joining the Heathrow agreement is that by having the 20 car days of free testing, it has made us focused a lot. I'm not saying that our testing was not value for money before, but it could have been better, and we certainly have focused our efforts a lot for doing our 20 days. I don't think it was too fraught at Silverstone but of course at Silverstone you have the disadvantage of actually not many hours that you can run the car anyway: it's a six hour day and therefore you always have to be focused at Silverstone.

Q: Ross, what were the criteria for introducing the new car here?

Ross Brawn: Just reliability. As we did last year, we didn't start the design of the new car until we were confident that from a performance point of view it was a step forward which meant that... the schedule meant that we wouldn't have it for the start of the season, so we knew it was going to come a few races in. And then we had a couple of unexpected problems in testing and we still felt the old car was pretty competitive so, I think if there had been a lack of competitiveness with the old car, then of course you would make a different judgment call, but we wanted to be sure of it being reliable.

It had been reliable up until the test prior to Imola and in fact our original schedule was Imola. And then we had a couple of problems there which we then understood and we had a very good test in Mugello last week. We did over 3000 kilometers, including three race simulations with no major problems. Of course, what happens with your old car is that when you're not working on it, you're not developing it, so it's slowly fading away and the new car has got all the new bits all lined up which are being done for it, so it was important that we got running with it as soon as we could.

Q: So what are the expectations of the new car?

RB: Well, it's quicker, so we've still got to learn it. You start to understand the car when you go racing with it much more. However much testing you do, you don't understand it as much as when you go racing, because the track conditions at a race are different to a test and you've got all the cars running around in a race etc. We've got to learn the car in a bit more detail. Our expectations are to be competitive. I had a look at last year's race on the TV during the week and I'm sure we won't have as straightforward a race as we had last year. It's much more competitive this year, even with the new car.

I would be very surprised if we were able to enjoy the sort of race we had last year. It was pretty straightforward last year for Michael, anyway. I don't think that will happen. I think we will be competitive. I think we will see, because of the differing tyre characteristics between Michelin and Bridgestone, we will see different phases of the race which will be interesting. But I think we will be there or thereabouts, but no one knows until Sunday afternoon.

Q: When you talk about learning the car, give us some idea about how the engineers have to learn the car, and the mechanics too?

RB: Yes, both. One of the aspects of racing an old car and developing a new car is often it's different groups of people, because people can't do both. Engineers can cross over but for mechanics it would be too much work these days to do testing and racing, so we've been using different mechanics at tests so that they become familiar with the car, but this is the first time all the mechanics have been working on the car together. But it follows a family line, so the car's not radically different to cars we've been using for the last few years.

It's one of the nice things about stabilizing the organization: the thinking is much the same, so they're not going to meet a different approach to how the car's designed. It is new for the mechanics, but they enjoy that: a new set of bits to play with. Engineers do testing and racing but this car will have subtle differences: the way it uses the tyres, how consistent it is on the tyres, what it's sensitive to. All those things the engineers are becoming more and more familiar with. It responds traditionally to bars and springs and all that sort of stuff: it's nothing unusual but drivers and engineers just need to get used to it.

The old car fitted like a glove, everyone knew that if you made this small change they knew exactly what it would do so between practice sessions you had the confidence. With the new car, you have to learn some of those things again.

Q: Patrick, can I ask about the current car? Juan Pablo said quite a long time ago that it isn't a bad car, it just needs a lot of work to develop it; what stage is that work at?

Patrick Head: Well, long past history now, but we had a bit of a difficult introduction with the car and certainly various actions that we'd taken over the winter and different decisions meant that, in the form that we produced the car first, its aerodynamic performance wasn't that strong. But that's been improved quite a lot and is the subject, as with all teams, of continuous development but we're now on a much stronger development path. We certainly didn't get a particularly strong result at Imola, more because of some errors around pit stops and some inconsistency between sets of tyres in the way they had been prepared. That meant that some behaved quite well on the track and some didn't behave quite well and that didn't necessarily fit in with predictions.

So as Ross says, it's part of understanding exactly the beast you have and the way it uses its tyres on the different circuits and being able to predict that. I think our performance is certainly stronger than was shown by the finishing result at Imola, but still, I'm sure it isn't going to be good enough to deal with Ross's new car. So, as with all teams, were developing hard and bringing improvement to the car. The basic car I'm quite happy with which was not the case last year. I think we concluded pretty early on that the basis of the car was not a sound platform that we could develop through the season. Ferrari had come out with a step that was just too far ahead for us to compete with.

You never give up, you're always pushing as hard as you can, but when you're making realistic judgments, that was the judgment made at Williams. But this car, I think the basis of it is a lot better and it's a good platform to develop through the season.

Q: You mentioned the pit stop at Imola. It seems that every year Williams have been having problems with their pit stops, with the fuel rig. What exactly goes wrong and why can't it be cured?

PH: I don't think that's really the case. Obviously there's been a few pointed fingers going around but there were also some summaries and I think in the last races of last year and the races so far this year, in more than half of the races, the Williams pit stop, taking out the amount of fuel added, which is calculated from the distance run by the car afterwards, has been the fastest single pit stop.

But the difficulty comes when you look at both. We often have one car that gave a problem. We had a number of different problems at Imola. One was Ralf doing the right things going out of the pit stop, Juan came into a pit stop and slid about a meter and a half too far on and obviously that tends to suddenly mean you've guys waiting with the wheel gun and the car's there(indicates) and the refueling guy's here (indicates) and the socket's there and that causes a major upset to begin with.

Obviously they do practise with moving along but if you want a quick pit stop that's the finest way not to start it off. Then we had a misunderstanding amongst our crew which, I certainly won't go into, because when one explains it, it is almost unbelievable to understand it can happen and it's embarrassing to all of us and it was embarrassing to them but quite clearly we've made some changes and the same problem won't occur again.

Q: On another subject, Antonio Pizzonia came very highly recommended by Frank at one of these press conferences last year. I believe he may still be a Williams driver. What do you believe is happening to him at Jaguar, what's the problem there?

PH: Well I can't really make too much comment about him at Jaguar because a) I don't keep a close eye on that and b) I don't really know what's going on. All I know is that he did 14,000 kilometers of testing for us, he was instantly fast when he got in the car the first time - two or three laps and he was down to competitive times. That was the case at every test we went to. It literally only took him a lap or two and he was down to competitive times: all the basic signs of a good racing driver. I think he had one silly accident in the 14,000 kilometers that did very little damage. Otherwise he was immensely consistent and generally, I would have to say, at tests, equally as quick and sometimes a bit quicker than the two drivers that we were racing at the time. So I'm surprised to see the problems he's having.

But that's the problem for a racing driver. A) he's got the additional pressure in racing that isn't there in testing but then Antonio has been very successful on the track and has won many championships racing-wise. He doesn't have a history of buckling under pressure. And B) a driver has to overcome whatever technical problems -- I don't mean necessarily drive around them but if there are technical problems then suddenly he's offered a situation, OK, we've prepared it, we've put this right, we've made the gearbox work or whatever. Right, you've got to go out, you've got five minutes to do a lap time and that's part of the challenge for a driver in Formula One.

But I suspect that anybody who looks at it closely will see that there have been an awful lot of problems surrounding the support of Antonio's car. I don't believe a race driver changes from being fast to being slow suddenly and I don't believe that his confidence would be shaken that readily. I can't really make too much comment about the conditions at Jaguar but I would have thought they would do better to look inwardly and say 'how can we put a bit more effort behind supporting him and providing him with more reliable equipment?' Anyway, it's very early in the season and I very much suspect that he'll pull through this one and he'll have a good career in Formula One. I think he deserves it.

Q: General strategy question, it seems that you can win from maybe mid-pack forward. What do you think will happen when we get to Monaco?

PH: Ross you must know what to do...

RB: I think we've shown that we don't in the first three races...It is an interesting point. But I don't think that we know what we are going to do yet. There is all of the arguments to make sure you are at the front and try to tear off into the distance accepting you have a compromise in pit-stop strategy. I think a lot depends on how your tyres work. We had a frustrating time last year. We had clearly had a stronger tyre in the race, but Michelin had a stronger tyre in qualifying and we sat watching the back of two cars for the rest of the race. I think the new rules allow you to try and deal with that more. There is scope for playing around with fuel levels a bit more, but we need to see what tyre we have got in Monaco and which tyre Michelin have got and make our mind up what we do.

Q: A comment from a Michelin user....

PH: It is pretty much as Ross says, that tyres the companies bring to the track will not necessarily be the same in 2003 as it was in 2002. In fact I can guarantee it won't be and that is one of the interesting strategic things where you have got to look at how you are going to make the best use of the tyres, how you are going to plan your race and that is really one of the interests that has been added to the racing this year -- the level of uncertainty.

But you can't get away from the fact that fundamentally a quick car is the best thing to have. You can agonise about strategy but the faster your car is the more likely you are to be able to qualify on the front row of the grid despite having good levels of fuel inside it. So it doesn't take anything away from the fact that you have got to be working to make your car as fast as possible. The less you have the fastest car, the more you will agonise about strategic possibility, about how you are going to outperform the true capability of your car. But it makes it very interesting.

Q: Pat...

PS: It is a very interesting and quite intelligent question because when the new rules came along the first thing I did was re-looked our strategy programmes, which obviously we had to, and I actually ran every race to have a look at the trends and things. I think in the early races we have probably adapted quite well to the new rules, but it is interesting that have run every race nearly two months ago, Monaco is the one that stands out as a what should we do here.

The mathematics is one thing, but there is more to strategy than pure mathematics and Monaco is a very interesting problem. I believe that the information is there and no more will become available other than has been mentioned with the tyre characteristics. Even with an estimate of what I think those tyre characteristics might be, it is still difficult to choose a strategy and I think for that reason we will see a bit more variation at Monaco than perhaps we have seen, which I think will be interesting.

Q: Geoff...

GW: I think most of the points have been covered. I certainly agree with Patrick's point that strategy is not going to compensate if you haven't got a quick enough car. There are significant changes between last year and this year, before you tended to race the person who was in front or behind you and you used strategy in a short-range. In the first stint you do tend to be thinking about cars that are further away from you, and you have to take into account the penalty of grid position as part of your modelling for your race strategy.

It is probably more interesting and I would agree that Monaco is the one that jumps out at you and the one that you have to be most careful. I suspect the same solution will be found by all of us and it will go back to being the people with the quickest car are the ones who have got the best chance of making more than one strategy work.

Q: I would like to ask you, it looks like being the last Grand Prix in Austria. How do you feel about it disappearing, the circuit, the atmosphere, the friendship? What are your personal opinions?

RB: We raced at Austria in the old days so I was very pleased to see the track come back onto the Grand Prix scene and I've always enjoyed racing there. There is some fantastic races in the early days, I didn't enjoy last year so much for obvious reasons. It is a nice track, a challenging track technically and it is nice for Grand Prix circuits to have some variety. From a technical point of view, from a enthusiasts point of view, we don't want to end up with a series of races on the same type of circuits and Austria certainly was an interesting circuit so I'd be disappointed if it stopped as I was when Spa stopped. I thought that was a great circuit as well, so it would be a shame.

PH: I certainly appreciated the circuit before the most recent version of it, but obviously there were safety implications that could not be ignored. But the original circuit was absolutely stunning, very high speed. I remember the first time going there when Frank (Williams) used to find these places to stay where I'm not sure if he didn't pay the bill or it was very small...The thing about Austria is that it is out in the country, really farming country, and that, as Ross said, I like because tracks in Formula One should be different.

The problem is we are tending, and this is the case with new issue circuits and we've obviously got the one coming in China and the one in Bahrain, they tend to be designed in a formula and the problem that means for the paddock and the layout and the garages and everything and I think that loses a lot of the charm. I used to like Silverstone with the motorhomes up on that grass bit at the top but bringing them into the tarmac jungle is horrible.

Going back to the first time I went to Austria, I remember that Frank and I arrived by car and the little farmhouse was closed and we couldn't get any answer at the door. In the end we threw stones at the window and one of our guys that was staying there -- I think there was probably only four or five rooms -- came to the window and he threw the carpet over the veranda, down onto the top of the car and we climbed up the carpet to get into the house. I went into my room, which was three metres by two or something, and there was the most unbelievable smell in the room, it was absolutely horrific. I could find out where it was coming from but it turned out that it was the room of the son of the house and his working boots were in the cupboard and I must say he must have used them for every day for about ten years because they were unbelievable. He'd obviously been chucked out to make way for this room.

Okay it is a silly story but it is just one of the....we still stay, not at the same place, but at a very simple farmhouse and it is one of the differences and the charms of the different circuits. I don't find the current circuit quite so interesting but it is still in the countryside and is different and if it goes it will be sad.

GW: From a technical point of view I probably agree with Ross and Patrick, but from a personal point of view it will be my first and unfortunately therefore attendance in Austria. It is something for me to see rather than to comment on.

PS: I think memories of the old circuit are fantastic, it really was a wonderful circuit and a circuit where we had both cars on the front row. It was a long time ago, I think 17 years ago or something, but I have a lot of fond memories like that. Equally it is a beautiful area. Part of this job is travelling around and seeing the world and it is a very nice place to go to.

But the modern circuit I am not too keen on. To get your car going well there you need a huge amount of engine torque, you are continually accelerating out of these slow corners along reasonable straights. It is a circuit that, for the last few years, has not suited our team at all, and for that reason I won't be that sorry not to see it again. It is not a circuit were we have been competitive for a while, but a beautiful area and certainly was a wonderful circuit.

Q: Patrick, you spoke earlier about the things that go wrong, the mistakes that are made. Really, wouldn't you agree that it is about time you guys got your act together? Your not rookies, you've been doing this for the best part of a quarter of a decade so those things shouldn't happen should they?

PH: You're absolutely right.

Q: How frustrating for you is it when stuff like that happens?

PH: This business is quite a demanding business if you're in it and the only thing that makes it satisfying is to be successful at it. If you're not successful at it, it is frustrating but there is no point throwing the toys out of the pram, you have to sit down and work out what the problem is. If changes have to be made you have to sit down and make those changes, different mechanisms and structures have to be set in order to overcome the problem and it is an activity that requires understanding and action. As I said we used to have problems with pit-stops and recently our pit-stops have been a lot better and a lot more competitive and reliable. The wonderful thing about Grand Prix racing is that one minute you make a mess of something and two weeks later you've got another opportunity.

But I mean okay McLaren are a fantastic team and they are the team at the moment, but you look at the mess they were in at Silverstone last year making the most extraordinary mistakes with the tyres going in all the wrong directions and drivers screaming and shouting and one wonders whether McLaren made the right decision about which tyres to put there cars on in Melbourne. They were saved by a number of safety cars although Ron Dennis said to me 'we knew the safety cars were going to come out on them laps so we planned that in advance' and I thought 'oh well I'm not going to have that discussion'.

But you know the team that looks the heroes one time can look...I mean Ross has seen it. Most of the time it comes from good decision, good technical, good driver, good car -- most of the time they look fantastic. But even in the last two years there is a couple of times where they have had major problems in pit-stops, but could be picked up and made them to look stupid. But they are not stupid. They sort it out and it doesn't happen again.

RB: I think if we were all doing a pit-stop in 10 seconds then there wouldn't be a problem, but we are trying to push the boundaries. You are trying to do everything as quick as possible and we had a problem with a left front in Imola which possibly cost Rubens a place, we had a problem in Magny-Cours a couple of years ago where we couldn't find a wheel, maybe it was twice at the Nurburgring as well. I had fans phoning me up saying they had found the wheel in there garage did we want it back! You are hero one week and zero the next week.

It is a very difficult activity co-ordinating 20 people including a driver and masses of amount of adrenaline flowing and often in unpredictable circumstances, so it is not surprising you get out of shape sometimes. But as Patrick says you have the next race to look forward to to put it all right, but it will never be a 100 percent processed.

Q: Ross can I ask you also have the effects of the new rules become clear? For example if we see a car you wouldn't normally expect to be competitive up at the front, can we reasonably assume that car is running a light fuel load and/or the softest compound available?

RB: I don't think it is for sure. Obviously (Mark) Webber, in the Jaguar, we assumed for the first few races was running exceptionally light fuel loads. Unfortunately he hasn't had very good races, so it hasn't been totally clear, but I think it has been clear enough that he has been quick and competitive. I think amongst the top teams you can assume that there is a certain parity and therefore unless someone is having an off day and they are further back then they have got more fuel on board. That was expectation at Imola.

McLaren were further back and the only logical explanation was that they put more fuel on and were going for a longer stint. I think having the odd unexpected car or driver further up the grid is the reasons why that rule was brought in and it is certainly succeeding in that respect. Whether it will continue I don't know because those teams who have put there cars at the front of the grid with compromised fuel loads have got to ask themselves if it is worth it if the race results don't come and we won't know that for several races. It will be interesting to see if it continues, certainly at the conventional tracks. Monaco will certainly be interesting.

Q: Ross do you think that it is theoretical to go non-stop in Monaco in rain?

RB: I guess if you have 75 laps of safety car you could do, but not normally no. Not the cars I'm aware of. Maybe McLaren's new car is built in a way that enables them to do it, but certainly last year you became aware of the fuel capacities of the cars because you knew when they were running to the maximum capacity because of their strategy. I don't think there is any cars around at the moment that can do Monaco in the normal sense without a stop.

But I don't know under the current rules how you would make that decision. You wouldn't want to fill the car up to the limit on Saturday hoping it was going to rain and there is safety cars on Sunday. You can no longer make that decision. It is okay making that decision half-an-hour before the race last year because you could change you mind, but you've got to make that decision on a Saturday before two o'clock and I don't know how you would ever reach that decision.

Q: Question for Mr Brawn. Have you changed the design of the new car having seen the form of the competition in the first races of 2003?

RB: No it has not changed. The thing that I think people will be considering for next year is fuel capacity and that will be the factor to take into account for next year's car. But I think this year's cars were all designed in the middle of last summer, so it has not been possible to react a great deal to the new regulations.

Q: Is there something new for traction control for next year? I think there was a meeting...

RB: There was a very positive meeting two days ago but I know that the FIA is issuing a statement tomorrow so I think it is more appropriate we wait to be told of what was discussed and decided at that meeting.

Q: Ross the issues of strategy. Do you think what we saw at Imola with three-stop strategies as a sign of a general trend?

RB: I think some teams could develop a philosophy to go that route, three-stops and soft tyres but you are at more risk of safety car situations. Over a year it maybe is the best philosophy, but McLaren were sat behind us on a two-stop and if certain things had happened it could have won the race for them. That could be said to be a slightly more conservative strategy because it there had been a safety car or certain things happened they could have won the race, but I think you have got to decide what philosophy you are going to follow, stick with it, see if it works and over a period if it doesn't you have got to change it. It is one of the interesting things about the new rules.

Q: Can you tell me the advantage and disadvantage of working with a big manufacturer?

PS: We obviously do work with a big car manufacturer. The advantages are easy to state, there is certainly more money for development and resources and money to go racing working with a manufacturer than the independents teams. There is also a lot of expertise we can call on and we have very good links with the research and development who help us in a number of ways. It is a very positive thing.

Disadvantages are hard to say. Certainly in our casr we have enough autonomy to run our team as a racing team. We don't conform to all of the rules and regulations that Renault have to, we don't run our team like a big industry and I really would say in our case, and we've made the transition recently, that it is a very positive thing.

GW: I think the big advantage is the sheer amount of resource both financially and in expertise. There is a difference in culture between the Formula One teams, the chassis designers and the big car manufacturers just in how they manufacturer, how they run their project, how they plan, how they respond in their timescale and that difference is the probable disadvantage, but I think the advantages outweigh. There is one thing that is overlooked, the technology in Formula One is more aerospace than automotive and sometimes that causes some difficulties with some of the material and techniques we use.

PH: I think it has all be said by Pat and Geoff. In the case of working with BMW they do have very good technical resource. It is not always appropriate to our field but in transmissions, dynamics it is and we work closely with them in our programme.

RB: We work with a large manufacturer as well -- Fiat. Fiat is out parent company and we share the same benefits that Pat described. We have good technical support and resources available to use that helps a lot.


Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Antonio Pizzonia , Ross Brawn , Patrick Head , Geoff Willis
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams