US GP: Friday press conference

Present: Norbert Haug (Mercedes motorsport director) Ange Pasquali (Toyota team manager) Pat Symonds (Renault executive director of engineering) Otmar Szafnauer (Honda Racing vice president) Mario Theissen (BMW motorsport director) Q: First of...

Norbert Haug (Mercedes motorsport director)
Ange Pasquali (Toyota team manager)
Pat Symonds (Renault executive director of engineering)
Otmar Szafnauer (Honda Racing vice president)
Mario Theissen (BMW motorsport director)

Q: First of all a question to all of you: tell us about your commitment as a whole and how you see the strength of Formula One and it's importance here in the United States?

Mario Theissen: I think the strategy of BMW or our commitment to Formula One has been made very clear earlier this year when we entered into a new partnership with Williams for another five years. So we are committed to be in Formula One until 2009. This goes along with an increase of our effort which we put behind it. We will go beyond the role of an engine supplier supporting Williams and in several other areas, getting much closer together with Williams, which in total tells everybody that BMW is very committed to Formula One. Looking to the American market, it is the most important market for BMW. It passed the German market last year and, of course, we would very much like to see the importance of Formula One in the States growing because we cannot do more than coming to the U.S. doing Formula One racing. So far, of course, our colleagues here in the U.S. are not really happy about the impact of Formula One, and everybody would love to see Formula One gaining importance in North America.

I think we are on a slope, on an upgrade slope and I very much hope we continue on that. And I could even imagine having more than one race here.

Otmar Szafnauer: Two-part question, first our commitment to Formula One. Honda is committed to Formula One. We have had a contract with BAR, a three-year contract which next year will be the last year of that contract. And in due course early next year we will look at the options that we have with BAR. We have a two-year option. We'll start discussing the details of that option at the appropriate time and also looking at extending it. So we're committed to Formula One. We will be here. There are no plans at the moment to pull out.

Regarding the American market, it is the biggest market for Honda and has been. I think we sell about 50 percent of our cars in North America. So, yes, a very important market to us, to Honda. And I think it's a big global economy as well, North America, and it's good that Formula One comes here. And like Mario said, two races here wouldn't go amiss, perhaps one here, perhaps one on the West Coast. It's a big country.

Norbert Haug: We definitely have a long-term commitment to Formula One. We don't have a contract that ends in X or Y, so we are long-term committed. For sure we need the right podium. I think all of us know that as Formula One community we need to do a much better job in the future for the spectators. I think we have a very good season in terms of sport and racetrack that is fantastic. But a lot of things can be improved and I hope there are fruitful discussions in place. But we shouldn't underestimate the fact that we need to raise our game. I have to stress that this needs to be the future, we need to be closer to the customer. We need to do more for the spectators and so on. We all know that but we need to come to conclusions and in a way it's a shame that everything is blocked because you need unanimous decisions, which is not easy to achieve. Look at test bans, look at limited testing, look at rules, look at whatever, and I think people need to sit down and realize that if we are blocking each other, that's certainly not good for the future of the sport. And what the sport can achieve, I think this season showed, presented quite clearly. We need to do a better job in that direction.

The American market is a very important one, the second largest one after Germany. We have record sales here again this year. We have had record sales last year. It is very, very important for us. You can see we are focused to this Grand Prix. We've had track advertising here for a couple years which is not usual to us but we wanted to set a sign as the brand Mercedes Benz and we show our commitment to the U.S. and especially to Indianapolis. We easily could do with a second race here. I think it would be fantastic for Europe particularly. We need to have more prime-time races, no doubt about that. I think in future, it would be fantastic if the season could start with a couple of prime-time races. This is my personal view because if you have a viewer ship, and I just can describe it from Germany, if you broadcast in the morning four o' clock, you probably get three million people. If you broadcast eight o' clock in the evening, you get 13 million people as an average. And to start the season with, I think, it could be a concept for the future. It's not my job, but this is what we at Mercedes Benz certainly would like.

Having said that, I want to add that for the future Formula One, we need to discuss cost reductions, we need to set ourselves limits and this is for me a very important baseline and conclusions are imminent. They have to be taken sooner rather than later.

Ange Pasquali: I think that the commitment of Toyota is definitely a full commitment in Formula One. When we stopped the 24 Hours of Le Mans project and rallying, it was a big decision obviously, and at that time we were around 250 people in the motor sport division in Cologne. Now we have passed over 600 people. So this shows the commitment and Toyota has always said it was a long commitment in Formula One. It was a big decision, of course. And because Formula One is the pinnacle of motor sport, if you enter Formula One, you have to enter properly and give the full commitment.

Concerning the States, it is, of course, a major investment for us and we expect a big return on investment. We can see already after nearly two years a big return, even if so far we can't play the front row roles. In America it's a major market, obviously, and not far away from here, an hour south from here in Kentucky, we have the biggest Toyota plant in the world. So of course this race for us, it's very important. And I have to say that Canada at the moment, of course, for Toyota is a bit of a pity it is not in the calendar because it is also a huge market.

All over the world we're developing quite well, and for us it's very important to be present everywhere. At the moment the calendar of Formula One is serving our interest and our target in terms of sales.

We're the new ones in Formula One and we have to develop. But already when you think about 350 million spectators for every race on TV, of course, this shows how big Formula One is. I think as Norbert Haug said, we have to keep that going and to make sure that the show doesn't decrease but increase to make sure that the response of the public is there. Yesterday it was quite interesting to see that this pit walkabout. To be honest, I don't know if it was free entry or not for the spectators, but the amount of people yesterday was just amazing for a first day when you have no cars running on the track. So we have to work at that for the future and I'm quite confident, especially if you look at the end of the championship this year and the fight which will be till the end, I think it's quite promising for the future.

Pat Symonds: Well, Renault is a full manufacturer. Our Formula One team is a hundred percent Renault. It's not a question of an engine supplier to a chassis manufacturer, it is fully Renault. Now that is a huge commitment and not one that the board of Renault takes lightly. So I think our commitment to Formula One is self-evident, really. It goes to an awful lot of people involved in the project, nearly 700 now. It goes to a lot of investment in the two sites that we have, one in England, one in France, and everything that's in those. So I think that the commitment of Renault to Formula One is self-evident and beyond doubt.

The second part of the question is quite interesting, because here we are racing in North America and it's not a market that Renault is involved in directly. Now, as I'm sure you all know, the alliance between Renault and Nissan is a very strong alliance. And in North America, our products are branded as Nissan, but it's not something that we in the Formula One team actually make much of. But I think that what's important is that Formula One is a global sport. Yes, we're racing in America this weekend, but we are broadcasting that race all over the world, and we go to many countries. For example, we race in Malaysia. Now Malaysia is not a huge market for any of the manufacturers, but we do rely on the fact that people all over the world are watching us, and we're trying to get our name in front of people worldwide.

So personally I'm very pleased to be racing in America. It's a great country and I think, you know, a World Championship is not a World Championship unless it involves North America. But in terms of our local marketing, it's perhaps not as important to us as with our competitors.

Q: Thanks, Pat. If I can stay with you for just an individual question. Interestingly enough today we saw Jarno Trulli fastest again for the second time in three races in this afternoon's qualifying session. Has he really turned the corner, do you feel he's really developed and has he been pushed perhaps by Fernando? Has he changed a little bit?

PS: I think Jarno's speed has never been in doubt. That's why we employed him in the first place. I think what's significant is that he had a very poor run at the beginning of the season, and I don't mean a poor run personally, a lot of luck went against him. Yes, he's pushed by Fernando, and yes, he's pushed by us. You know, that's what it's all about.

I think that the car is coming on in leaps and bounds. It was a good car to start the season and I think our rate of development has been good. Lots of other circumstances come into it. For example, today I think probably most of our competitors who weren't involved in the early morning test session had got what, around 11, 12 laps in the dry before qualifying, whereas we were greatly in front of that. So circumstances helped us a little bit today. But the car is competitive; the whole package is working well. This is the type of circuit that we believe we can be competitive on; and I think this afternoon's qualifying showed that we will be strong all weekend.

Q: Ange, it has been suggested that Toyota might be interested in the Friday testing, is that a possibility for you guys?

AP: Well, it's something to consider, we obviously have discussed it. We have not made our mind up at the moment because still a lot of things are up in the air. And during this weekend the team principals meeting will happen and we hope to make some progress and try to reach an agreement which would be suitable for everybody. It's not excluded for us at the moment but no decision has been made so far.

Q: Norbert, early on this year there was quite a lot of talk about customer engines and that you were offering customer engines. How far has that progressed? Is there interest in your customer engines?

NH: There was one interest but it is kind of a start/stand still situation because things I can't discuss publicly need to be sorted out by the team. And that's it basically. Our offer is there but we need to have the right circumstances.

Q: Otmar, great interest in who will be your second driver next year. What is your situation? A lot of people interested in the career of Jacques Villeneuve and suggested Takuma Sato may be the preferred choice. What is your situation, Honda's situation there?

OS: Well, as many of you know, the driver decision is taken by the team and not the engine manufacturer. However, it is fair to say that the team, BAR, have consulted with us, as we're a major partner, and we have given our opinion and our thoughts on the driver situation there to BAR. But those delicate discussions between us and the team, we'd like to keep those out of the public domain and privately. We're confident that the team will make a good decision on the driver situation next year, and that should be announced shortly after that decision is made.

Q: Mario, similar question to you really about Friday testing. Is it an option, do you feel for Williams?

MT: It could become an option. You cannot decide on something if you don't know exactly how it would work. Norbert said before we have to cut costs and certainly testing drives costs up enormously. Currently we do a ridiculous amount of testing, much more than we do racing. We spend lots of money, we have separate teams; and we would absolutely support an approach to cut that back provided every team joins the queue. And I think turning or cutting testing back and putting in place Friday testing at the racetrack would have several advantages. We wouldn't need a separate team, at least not as big as today. We would do something for the spectators, something for the race organizers; and it would give us valuable input as well, valuable data. If you test at the track which you have to race at two days later, it certainly makes sense. So if the right balance is offered of testing time, let's say on Friday, maybe the complete Friday, and additional days you can choose yourself at different tracks, I think we could be in a position to join it. I would support it.

To me it's really important that we get back to a common testing scheme, all the teams doing the same and not having such a split situation. I think it's hard to understand for spectators why some cars run, others don't, others run between the races and you get not aware of the results. So to me talking about testing on Friday, the first question is can we get back to a unified testing scheme?

Q: Yes, to all of you. What's your opinion about the possibility of having the qualifying session and the Grand Prix on the same day, the Sunday, maybe for next year?

NH: I can start. I think everything that helps to make a weekend or even a race day more attractive needs to be considered. I have to fully support Mario's opinion on these issues. I think it is absolutely vital for the sport. This is our view that, you know, everybody has got the same chances. So you might say, well, Friday you could have chosen it, on the other hand, other people have 90 test days and these guys have only the weekend or whatever. It should be a level playing field. And cutting costs would mean that this is achievable. I know that team principals sometimes see it in a different way, but I think there must be an open discussion. I think manufacturers, we've always have certainly the right and the duty to think about the future of Formula One. And I only can underline what Mario has said. I think this is a very important message to the outside world.

OS: If we make changes to improve the show in Formula One, we're definitely all for it. So if those changes come for next year and we change the format again and it's better for the fans, then we should do it. And as far as -- what was the second part of that question?

But the other important point, I believe, is the level playing field. It should be the same for all of us, that's really important, so some of us don't have an advantage over the others. So if it's a level playing field and we improve the show, then, yeah, we're all for it.

MT: Concerning Sunday qualifying, we could certainly go out on Sunday as we do now on Saturday, no difference to the teams. I personally would prefer to stick to Saturday qualifying because we have to maintain Saturday as well as an interesting day. If we put qualifying to the Sunday morning, I think there is less, even less interest on Saturday. I would certainly prefer to have a two or three-day event rather than a one-day event. In my view, it's good to have qualifying on Saturday because there is lots of speculation, you see something, you know something about competitiveness but not everything. So you can prepare for race day. I think it's right to have it on Saturday. Certainly we should take every chance to improve the spectacle on Saturday and on Sunday, but focusing only on Sunday with the Formula One activities, in my view, would not improve the show.

PS: Well, not unusual for me, I have a contrary view. I think that qualifying on Sunday would be a very good thing. I think at the moment Sunday is a little bit empty for the spectators. And I rather like the idea of it being the sort of final shoot-out just before the race. From a team's point of view, it's very good, too, because we can then operate the parc fermé conditions effectively between Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon, which would make our life a little bit easier. Mario is absolutely right, we can't do that at the expense of Saturday becoming the dull day, but I think there are plenty of proposals on the table at the moment, one of which our team have put forward, that I think can satisfy these requirements.

Slightly different subject, we were talking about leveling the playing field. I think that's a great idea, but I'm not sure that communism in sport really mix. I think sport is about the winner being the best, and I don't see how you will ever totally level the playing field in any professional sport.

AP: Well, I think everything has been said so far. Of course, we have to find the best balance, and I agree that you can't sacrifice one day to promote the other day. But everybody would agree, I think, that Sunday this year would be empty. It's quite difficult to draw spectators to a circuit where they would arrive in the morning and they have to wait until two o' clock in the afternoon to have some action. We used to have the warm-up in the past, which was kind of already excitement because we were trying, of course, all of us in the warm-up some strategy already. I believe personally that qualifying, the qualifying with fuel and the parc fermé conditions on Sunday morning just before the race would be really increasing the excitement. Considering that, the Saturday would be also filled in. And why not if we would have the qualifying on Saturday, what we could call the low-fuel qualifying on Saturday and qualifying for the grid position on Sunday might be a good combination. But, again, it's up in the air, a lot of scenarios have been discussed already among the teams. And I really hope that we will come up with a common decision and agreement as soon as possible. Because, as Mario Theissen said, the spectators, they have to understand as well what's happening and there should just be one unique rule and format for everybody.

Q: Norbert talked about almost any move being blocked, and for testing, for example, let's face it, one team has a lot of money and a test track outside their back door, they're never going to agree to a testing limit. Don't we have to make a fundamental change to Formula One in that you don't need a hundred percent agreement to make major changes, maybe 80 percent or something like that to get something through, otherwise things will just stall and stall and stall?

MT: Just a short answer, I agree.

NH: Me, too. (Laughter)

PS: I think we already have an arrangement rather like this on technical rules. If technical rules would be changed within a year, there has to be a hundred percent agreement, but they can be changed within 18 months or two years with an 80 percent agreement. And I think that has worked very well for the technical rules and technical working groups' recommendations. For that to be applied to sporting rules may well make life easier.

Q: Just go back to qualifying, the one thing you've got to remember from a press point of view, if you qualify on Saturday, you get quite a lot of publicity. For instance, whoever is on the pole tomorrow is going to be in the Indianapolis Star, the Chicago Tribune and whatever, and that's going to give people an added incentive to come on Sunday. How about doing something, God forbid, that's already been tried, where you lock in the front row on Saturday and qualify the rest of the field on the Sunday. That way you get the public to get two bites at the apple, they get the front row locked in on Saturday and you get to run on Sunday, which you obviously need to do at the moment. This parc fermé until the race starts is obviously not good for the spectators.

I do think another point that I hope you guys did take home on Friday is when we had the pit walk, it took people an hour and a half to get in here because the pit walk took up so many people. For the last two decades, Formula One has distanced itself from the people who have paid for it, i.e. the spectators. If you go to Silverstone, I want to be the chain-link fence manufacturer at somewhere like Silverstone or Hockenheim, you've never seen so much chain-link fence in your life. And you guys, you pay the piper, and you should call the tune. You should make your drivers far more available than they are today at the moment. I think Friday was a really good example for you guys.

PS: I'm not sure if it was a question but I will certainly pick up on it. I agree very, very much with the issue of the spectators and what they get for their money. It really was good to see how many people were here yesterday. We used to see a similar thing in Montreal when that was opened to the public on Wednesday or Thursday. I think it's very good for the sport. You know, those are the people who come in, and I know I said earlier that we were a global sport and television is important, but we have to seed that audience with the local people.

We are distancing ourselves far too much, and I think particularly here in America, our local audience must find it very alien because we've all seen champ car racing on TV and how close they get to the spectators. I really think we should be doing something similar in Formula One.

AP: I think the will from everybody to increase the show to get closer to the spectators, again is a question of compromise and it's true that it's difficult to compare racing like NASCAR or other kind of racing to Formula One in terms of spectators because I don't think we have ever had the chance to reach 400,000 spectators or maybe 500,000 for the Indy 500. But all the effort, I believe, are made at the moment to try to increase that; and a similar pit walkabout was organized in Hungary and was a big success as well. I'm sure it will improve it. Concerning the drivers, I can only support your point of view that they have to be more available for the spectators. We work on it and I think all the effort are in the right direction.

Q: Question to Pat Symonds. Can you please talk a little bit about Franck Montagny who will be your official test driver in 2004? Do you think he will be the new generation driver that France is hoping?

PS: Yeah, I certainly do. We ran a number of drivers last winter with a view to taking on our second test driver, because obviously Allan McNish is our primary test driver this year. Franck came out of that very well. He wasn't actually the fastest driver when we did those tests but if we looked at consistency, if we looked at feedback, we give these drivers quite a grilling when we test them. And certainly it's not just about lap time. He came out of it very well, and from that we decided that we would take him on as our second test driver.

Now, the second test driver gets to do some pretty boring things driving up and down in a straight line and taking measurements and stuff like that. But we gave Franck an outing at the French Grand Prix in the Friday test session, and not only did he do very well, but he did very well in some very hard circumstances. He had a problem with his engine and had to change cars. Shortly after that, it started to rain. And I was really impressed with the way he handled it. We took him to Barcelona last week to do some work for us, and it was a full-test program. He was looking at some of our Suzuka tires; he was working on some developments that we were applying to the 2004 car. It was everything we'd expect of any test driver. And once again, he did a very good job. As you know, we've announced he will be our primary test driver next year. His racing in the Nissan series has been really exemplary, and I think he's got a very, very good future in front of him.

Q: All of you talked about the value of racing in America. Are any of you willing to commit to have an American driver and not just as a token but one that is capable of going out there and doing well?

MT: Well, to us it would be very positive to have an American driver. Of course, he needs to be competitive and it's a long way to get competitive. And it's very -- it's maybe more difficult here in the States to develop himself into a competitive Formula One driver than in Europe. That's why we are about to set up a new race series here in the U.S., Formula One BMW, which has become very successful in Germany already. In Asia this year as well. And next year we are going to start two other series, one in the UK and the other one here in the U.S. This series is aimed at 15, 16, 17-year-old kids who come out of karting and get their first formula car, single-seater car. And we are not only providing the car and the series, but we are also providing an educational program, an education to become a racing driver to learn everything it takes to develop in the world of motorsport and to be able to make his or her way in motorsport. It's a very big commitment. You will hear about this in a few days. And I think this is the first step to enable young drivers to become a Formula One driver. Of course, it takes another one, two steps between Formula BMW and Formula One. And probably seen as today, they need to go to Europe in between in order to prepare for Formula One.

NH: Maybe to add something, I think that would be a perfect solution if you start here in this new junior Formula BMW, that's great. I mean lots of good talents are coming out of that formula in Germany and the next step is Formula Three, obviously. These guys learn a lot of in Formula Three. We supply an engine in Formula Three; we are very much focused on helping young guys. But a typical way for a young American driver could be to start in a BMW junior series and then do the next step in Formula Three in Europe. I think you need to come to Europe and you need to learn there, you need to learn the race tracks. It's a completely different form of racing compared to what you have in IRL. It is comparable probably to champ cars but it is not very likely that you start like Indy Lights, go to champ cars, go to Formula One. The obvious way would be starting Formula BMW, go to Formula Three to Europe and then make it to Formula One. This is a program that would take a couple of years. But as soon as talents are there, we would be happy to help them.

PS: Start in Formula Renault. (Laughter)

Q: Otmar, many factors go into deciding on the drivers for next year. You say the team makes the decision but you also consult with the team. Looking at one facet, it seems very strange to get rid of Jacques Villeneuve, who is one of the most recognized names not only in North America but worldwide. You're obviously trying to promote Honda and the team sponsors, and to replace somebody like Villeneuve, who is still a good driver and a world champion, with a young driver who's perhaps only known in his country, seems a bit strange. Maybe you could comment a bit on that.

OS: Like I said, we had those discussions with BAR, and they will be making that decision. The discussions are a bit delicate, and publicly I'd like that you respect the fact that we'd rather not comment, and shortly the decision will be made by BAR. They've got many other people to consider other than what Honda believes and it will be announced shortly thereafter.

Q: To Mario and Norbert. Normally the order of the pits is a function of the ranking of the championship from last year. But this year we see Ferrari, McLaren and then Williams. Is there a special reason for that?

MT: I don't know, I was surprised myself when I saw McLaren on the right side. I expected Ferrari to be on the left side. But there was Renault. So I don't know the reason.

NH: Have already changed it for next year. Mario gets used to it. (Laughter) I think there was a cooperation between the teams really. It didn't happen by coincidence but it's better to speak to Frank and Ron about it.

Q: As we get to the close here of the second season with Toyota and nearing the end of the first season with Cristiano, can you just kind of just general update on how you see the progress of both?

AP: Cristiano has proven already since the first race, I think this year everybody remembers his qualifying on Friday in Australia, which was quite impressive until he had his mistake at the end of the lap, but mid-lap he was running second and he had a fourth time in Barcelona. He did the same in Monza. Cristiano is extremely quick. He has the disadvantage this year of discovering most of the circuits, which is not an easy task because last year we had two hours free practice on Friday and this year he has an hour where he has to make a comparison, learn the track, assimilate lots of things and go straight into qualifying.

Cristiano is coming up very, very well. His technical feedback is very valuable for the team. He has proven to be very quick in race conditions as well. Think what he did in Silverstone, even if it was out obviously by the safety car situation, was quite remarkable because he's been leading for 17 laps and he was not kind of mobile chicane but he was really making his way through. So we very happy and impressed by Cristiano's job so far.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Takuma Sato , Jarno Trulli , Jacques Villeneuve , Allan McNish , Norbert Haug , Mario Theissen
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams