The 2018 Formula 2 car has produced exciting racing this year, but it has also had reliability issues, and has been criticised for its tricky clutch. We posed the questions everyone is asking to the man at the top.
There was a lot of talk about the halo and its introduction. Does Tadasuke Makino’s crash in Barcelona mean you are happy with your decision to implement it?
Absolutely. When we started to design the new car last year and the FIA came up with the halo device, we were quite happy to be the first ones to fit it on our car, and at the beginning, people were talking about if it is efficient and does it look good. At the end of the day, it has been proving it is efficient and Barcelona was a very good example of that and nobody talks about it not looking good anymore. Now everyone has got used to it, it looks good on our car, and the F1 as well, it’s a very good safety device. When there is something new in the look of the car, there are always discussions, saying things like this. Now I think everyone has got used to it rapidly and it’s made its point.
There’s been a lot of talk about the quality of drivers in Formula 2 this year, throughout the field. Some have said it’s the best field F2/GP2 has ever had. What’s your opinion?
Number one, I think we’ve had fantastic racing since the beginning of the year. Every single race was exciting, with a lot of action, which is what we want. The idea always is to have exciting races because we are racing in front of the Formula 1 crowd, and the only way to make sure they are watching us is if we have good racing. Since the beginning of the year it’s been quite amazing, and of course credit to the car, because it’s not easy to do a car that is able to follow very closely the car in front without losing any downforce. Credit to the car, engine, tyre, DRS and of course the drivers who have done a fantastic job since the start of the season. Whether it is the best level of drivers we’ve ever had, also through GP2, is hard to say, but for sure we have some very strong drivers this year and the interesting thing as well is we have some experienced drivers, but also some rookies who are doing a really good job. It’s a discussion for many years where people have said to win in F2 you need a lot of experience. No, if you have the right rookies, you don’t need [experience]. If you look at Charles [Leclerc] last year, Lando [Norris], George [Russell], you see these guys are doing a good job and fighting with Artem [Markelov]. [Alexander] Albon, [Nyck] de Vries are in second seasons, so it will be interesting to see who is going to win but those guys are all doing a great job on the track.
Some of the drivers have spoken about the reliability issues could influence the result of the championship at the end of the year. Do you think that is a big problem?
Number one, it’s a brand new car and a brand new engine. We’ve been testing and developing the car quite a lot. We’ve been doing it with a development car over the winter and in all the official tests. Of course you learn more things when you do testing with 20 cars than you do with only one car. So I would say that it’s quite natural that there are some technical gremlins to fix, little by little, and we’ve been working on it. Whether this can affect the result of the championship, I think this is completely impossible to say. At the end of the day, and there’s been a lot of discussions about everything, for instance discussions, people talking about the reversed-grids. Saying it was not good because it would not show the real capacity of the drivers. Whatever you do, even if there’s issues with the car, the best drivers always win. In all history of GP2, I’ve never seen a driver not winning because of technical issues. At the end of the day, what we have is what we have and we’ve been working on it. I’m absolutely not worried that it can change the final result of the championship. Everybody has the same car, and it’s not easy to drive. It has very limited electronic assistance for cost reasons. Some drivers are taking the best out of it and some are not, but at the end of the day the best driver can win.
Can you give us details of what you are planning to update on the car in the near future?
We had a couple of issues, one pertaining to reliability and one pertaining to the start of the races of course. On both subjects, we have made a massive step. OK, we discovered in Bahrain that we had some issues. The races in Baku and Bahrain were fantastic, I think the best drivers are in front, if you look at Bahrain the fight between Lando and Artem was fantastic and I’m sure that will be something we’ll have [again].
After that we made a massive step in Barcelona. We sorted 80 or 90 percent of the issues, and we have another step coming for Paul Ricard, where everything should be sorted on both of these issues. I can only repeat, it is a car that is not easy to drive and that’s on purpose, we want to make sure the drivers are ready for F1 when they come out of F2, and that we will always be some responsibility on the driver to make sure they are doing a proper job. After that if they come up with a reason, saying ‘we cannot because of this, we cannot because of that’, they need to look at themselves to start with.
Are the updates all likely to be related to software and ECU, or is there plans to change any parts as well?
There are no parts changing because there are no issues with the parts. I can go a little bit more in detail if you speak about the issues at the start, there are ways which we are improving it. One is that we already did and we are making some additional changes to the clutch control. So that’s purely a software development. The other thing is we are already improving the engine management. The engine is very safe, but we still think that we can improve, and that’s our work and the company doing the electronics for us. We all work in the same direction and their improvements have already been done for Barcelona and Monaco and will be finalised for Le Castellet.
The fact that cars have been stationary on the grid at the start of races has lead drivers to become concerned that there is potential for crashes and that it is a safety issue. Has that been a motivating factor for you to fix the problems quickly?
We want to fix problems whether they are safety issues or not. At the end of the day, we don’t want to see cars stopped, that’s not good for anybody. We’re doing that. What is true is that the number of cars that had issues in Bahrain and Baku was too high, for sure. In Barcelona, there was only one car in my mind that stalled over the two races. I’m not saying it is good enough, we should have zero, and in Monaco there was one in race one and one in race two, which is too much I agree. Let’s not always incriminate the clutch control or whatever, at some point the driver also really needs to be extremely skilful, which they were with the old car as well. With the old car, let’s say they got used to it because it was six years old, now the drivers have to get used to it [the new car]. We are doing what we can to improve it also. It’s true in Monaco we don’t want to see cars stalling on the grid, nobody likes that. As I said, In F1 you have anti-stall systems which are very, very developed and to stop things like this happening. This is not our philosophy. We are delivering a car which is costing a very small fraction of the F1 car, but is also advanced technologically. We have to be careful on what we want to put [on the F2 car] or not.
As I said, It’s difficult to take a quote from a driver who has just finished the race and is not happy with the race. Of course, you will get some kind of reaction. I think this kind of thing should not come out, everybody is doing their job and it’s fine. Somebody has to find excuses and it’s better to do things openly. We had some issues which is normal with the new car, we sorted most of them and we’ve done part of our job and it is not over yet. After that, I think sometimes people should think more before going out and saying things they shouldn’t say. That’s life, we know the business as well.
Artem Markelov was a driver who suggested that the car may have been better implemented for 2019 after more testing. Are you happy with your decision to bring the car in this year? Was it the right decision?
Of course, it was the right decision. The other car was six-years-old and the engine was 12-years-old. It was time to go to some kind of new technology. When you are introducing a new car you know you will always meet some small reliability issues at the very beginning. When we introduced the GP2 car in the beginning, you were probably not around, but we had some reliability issues and I can tell you more important than the ones we have now. I discussed this with Artem and I told him I thought he was wrong and he agreed with that. Because drivers, when they get out of the car, it’s never easy to get some clear mind comments from them. That’s why it is important that everyone calms down and sees the big picture.
Do you think the new car has created better racing? Would the racing we’ve seen have been possible with the old car?
It’s difficult, last year we had some great racing as well, to be honest. As I said, it depends quite a lot on the drivers. What is for sure is that the way the car is designed has been a complete success in the way they can follow each other and be in the tow. It’s quite amazing. It’s absolutely key with the kind of battles we want to have on the track. This car is well-born for sure. Of the three generation of car we have had in the past, two were great and one was less good. We noticed that and I’d say this car is really well-born and is really capable of producing some fantastic racing, and the regulation with it also helps to do strong racing. Tyres are a big help, we have two compounds which allows us to have different strategies in race one, and very interesting racing as well. All these things together with the sporting and technical regulations which give this result. Whether it’s better than the other one I don’t know, but at least it is producing fantastic racing and that’s what we want.
There are a lot of drivers who have involvement with F1 teams at the moment. Does that show the championship is the best place for F1 to pick its drivers from?
We are very happy about that because we need to always keep in mind the objective of F2 which is to send drivers to F1. There’s been some years where it has been difficult to do it and there have been years where we have had two, three drivers. It also depends on what seats are available in F1. Having all these drivers being test or reserve drivers for F1 teams, is fantastic for us. It is recognition of the level. The car for us is not only to produce good racing, but it is also a school for drivers going to F1. It’s true that the drivers who have gone to F1 after that are always comfortable. And generally I think it is more difficult to drive in F2 than in F1. We don’t have power steering, electronic assistance. It’s fantastic and they learn to work with the tyres too which is awfully important. It shows the school we are providing works perfectly.
Teams were limited to 10 to start this year. Has there been any more interest in terms of new teams for 2019?
Yes, we have many interest. As you probably noticed we decided to open the championship last year for 12 teams, finally I took only 10. The reason for that is that we need to be careful. Even if we cost a fraction of F1 there is still a cost to F2. We need to make sure the teams can find the right budget to do a good job. I don’t want to have teams that have problems like we have had in the past. We decided to limit the number of teams to 10. We will reassess at the end of the season what the market is and that’s something we always do, and make sure everybody can do a proper job. If you start to have 26 cars but only 22 drivers on the budget, then of course you have an issue and that means some teams are going to suffer massively. If we want our championship to do well we need to make sure our teams are doing well. If I wanted to get three more teams on, I have a lot of teams that want to join to be perfectly honest. We want to make sure everybody is doing fine, we might increase the number of teams, I don’t know yet, but we will be extremely cautious before we do that. There has been some cycles in the business. At the beginning of GP2, we had 26 cars and there was a queue of drivers and teams wanting to join. That was easy. Now it’s been like this for quite long, it’s been more difficult to find money in this business at the moment, we just need to be careful to protect the teams.
Has it been a fundamental part of the update process to test the changes you want to make on the car before a race weekend, rather than making the changes quickly?
Absolutely, it’s completely key. We would not, except for small things, we would not do a real change [on a race weekend], whether its set-up or a part on the car, unless it has been tested, or put on the dyno first. Before Le Castellet, we have another test session and we are going to make sure it works before we implement it on the car. It’s a professional way of doing things.
Is there anything else we haven’t covered?
I think we mentioned almost everything. What I really want is for people to focus on the excitement of this championship and moving forward.
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