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TEAM REPRESENTATIVES (PART ONE) – Andrew SHOVLIN (Mercedes), Laurent MEKIES (Ferrari), Alan PERMANE (Alpine)
Q: Andrew, let’s start with you. Both of your drivers were very happy yesterday, with George saying it was your best Friday of the season so far. What was so good?
Andrew SHOVLIN: Well, the car’s working quite well here, which is the main thing. So, from a chassis point of view, the balance is alright, and then you’re just trying to read into where everyone else is on pace. That’s a bit easier than normal. Because with the Pirelli programme, you get a prescribed fuel load. So, aside from their feel for the car, it was really just the lap times are looking pretty encouraging. And hopefully we can improve a bit today, but certainly looks like one of the stronger tracks for us.
Q: You came close to winning in Austin, do you feel you’ve got the pace to challenge for the win here?
AS: I think in Austin, we weren’t as close as maybe it looked at times. There was still quite a gap in terms of pace to Max in particular. On the long runs here, it did look a bit better, but we will always take it one step at a time. We’ve got qualifying to get through, conditions look like they could be a bit mixed there. And then the race is always super challenging, with the temperatures. So, we’re still trying to get that that elusive win and working hard, but we’re learning a lot on the way, which is also the one of the key objectives for us.
Q: Now, you’ve just alluded to the Pirelli programme in FP2 yesterday Can you just tell us a little bit more about the programme? What did we learn about their tyres for next year?
AS: Well, that’s sort of working around the medium part of the compound range. It’s a good opportunity for Pirelli. The reason we’re doing this is that with the long-haul races, doing tests with the teams after a race, we used to do that, but it’s incredibly expensive to do it. It’s very difficult from a freight point of view, with the calendar now. And this format was the compromise agreement. So, you’re effectively giving up one of your sessions to help them with that development. But here we were trying out higher blanket temperatures, so up at 70°C, but with a shorter time for heating them. But they all worked quite well. And Lewis in particular, was quite complimentary of the feel for the tyre, the fact you could push it, it wasn’t overheating, and it was consistent. So, it does look to be a step in the right direction.
Q: On the subject of Lewis Hamilton, he said this week that he’d like to stay with Mercedes beyond the end of next year. What have his performances this year, in a difficult car, told you about his motivation?
AS: Lewis is always working hard, super motivated and desperate to try to win. And I think, going from the competitive position that we’ve had in the preceding years, to a really difficult car at the start of the year, was a bit of a shock for him. And also a bit of an adjustment for us to get used to working… effectively racing in the mid-pack for a lot of the early part of the year, having to make a lot of compromises with the car to try to get the best out of it and then learning at the same time. But I think, the same as us as a team, Lewis can also see that we’re definitely going in the right direction. We can see a clear route to getting back to a point where we can challenge for pole positions and wins. And you can see with Lewis’ commitment to the team, that’s increasing, the closer we get, and his commitment to putting in the work on his side to try and help us achieve those goals.
Q: Laurent, if we come to you now, yesterday was the day of… I think we can call it mixed fortunes for the team. The cars were competitive, but then Charles had his off in FP2. First of all, how much damage was there to Charles’ car?
Laurent MEKIES: It was a bit of a tricky Friday for us, especially for Charles. We had a puncture in FP1, we had an unfortunate crash in FP2. It’s never a good time to crash. These sort of things happen. Damage-wise, it was quite extensive. Luckily, it’s a Friday but gearbox was damaged, quite a large part of the bodywork was damaged but it’s part of the game and better on Fridays than at another time of the weekend.
Q: Where has the focus been overnight? As we’ve said, competitive cars but where’s the focus been in terms of improving the performance?
LM: Well, in truth, we didn’t feel that competitive. We know that FP1, it looks bright with P1, P2 on the timesheets, but I think the truth is, what you see on the track, like there, in FP1, is that nobody gets a good lap. It’s still very, very low grip. It’s low grip anyway because of these altitudes, but even more in FP1. And what you see there on the classification is, more or less, us putting things a little bit more together but, on our side, we know there is still quite a lot of work to do. We will certainly have a good go at FP3 to try to do the next steps because it was a bit more of a difficult Friday for us.
Q: Now, tyre deg was again an issue for you guys in Austin last weekend. Charles told us about it after the race. What’s the root cause of the problem? And what can you do to improve the situation here?
LM: It’s no secret that in on the race pace, we are not as good as in quali pace. So, you can look it as a strength on one side and a weakness on the other side. You’re right, sometimes it’s down to somehow higher tyre degradation compared to our competitors. Sometimes it is simply pace. And I think in the example of Austin, Charles has pushed very hard to stay with the quicker cars: to pass, Checo, to fight with Max. And it had a price after, naturally, because I think the truth is we were simply not as fast as them, again, in Austin. So for us, it’s about trying to work on all the small details to gain some race pace. We are where we want to be in terms of qualifying pace, we know on the race trim we still have stuff to unlock. And it’s not something you improve in one day, but that’s certainly something we try to take every opportunity – and this weekend will be no different – to make sure we move in the right direction.
Q: A lot of young drivers have been getting a run-out in recent races. Can we throw it back to Robert Shwartzman, who had his first FP1 with you guys in Austin? How do you reflect on his performance?
LM: I think Austin FP1 was a tough place for young drivers. Very bumpy tracks, massive, massive wind. So I think everybody had a hard time out there. Even Carlos was running at the same time on the other car. And when he came out of the car, he looked at us and he says “that’s the last session you would have liked to give to a young driver.” So, Robert did well, he did the programme. He built up confidence throughout the laps, we tried to give him as much opportunity. We had two sets of tyres there and so forth and so on. But we know that in a one-hour session, you are never going to see somebody matching the lap time of the race drivers and so forth and so on. So, it’s a build-up process. He is going to be back with us in Abu Dhabi. And I’m sure it will be a good step forward again.
Q: Alan, thanks for waiting. On the topic of young drivers. Can we kick off with you talking about Jack Doohan? He had his first run yesterday. Just what impressed you about him?
Alan PERMANE: He did a good job yesterday. He did a great job yesterday. I think when Laurent talks about tricky tracks, I think this is as tricky a track for a rookie, with the altitude, with the lack of downforce they have here. He did a great job. He was taking things very easy, very steady. In the areas where we saw Max spin, we saw Charles crash, I think he was losing half a second to Fernando and he just said ‘look, I don’t want to take any risks, or I don’t want to…’ He was very conscious that he was in someone else’s car. But what impresses me most about Jack, honestly, is out of the car – his preparation, the work he does behind the scenes. He’d never driven here and there hadn’t been a plan for him to drive here. And a few weeks ago, he was in Brisbane doing some F2 sponsor commitments. And we told him he was going to be driving in Mexico, he flew back to the UK, did a day in the sim and then came onwards to Austin and here. So that’s what impresses me most – his preparation. There’s no doubt about his speed. And when he makes it to Formula 1, that’ll be a nice differentiator for him.
Q: Now, you mentioned the word Austin there. I did just want to throw it back to what happened, particularly after the race. Since then, you’ve got the outcome you wanted with regard to Fernando seventh place. If we look forward, what does this mean in terms of procedures with the black and orange flag?
AP: It was great to get that outcome. And I’m really happy and pleased that things worked out between us and the FIA. We had some very positive discussions yesterday with the FIA technical department. And I think they agreed that things have gone a little bit too far. I don’t think anyone – maybe apart from Haas – felt that having a mirror knocked off in an accident that wasn’t your fault, and then that drive Fernando did, he merited… He should have kept that seventh place. So, I think from here onwards, small damages like a mirror, like from-wing endplate, if it’s non-structural, like a brake duct, something like that, will not be considered to be a black and orange flag offence. This is still ongoing, I’m sure at the Technical Advisory Committee and the Sporting Advisory Committee, those levels will discuss it more, but a little bit of line in the sand has been drawn and hopefully there’ll be better racing because of it.
Q: Alan, can we talk about performance now? The car’s being competitive in recent races. Looks like you’ve got the fourth quickest car again here, just where can you still improve ahead of qualifying and the race.
AP: This is a track where the drivers are always lacking grip. And they want grip everywhere. I think our guys yesterday, all three drivers, said that the car was lacking a little bit of rear end in the high speed, a little bit in traction. So, we don’t have any more developments coming this year, so it’ll be down to set-up and that sort of thing. There’s definitely more to come because, of course, for the second session yesterday we can’t work on the car. And we had a young driver in the car in the morning, of course, so we’re a little bit behind on that. No doubt there will have been changes overnight and I’m sure we’ll have a better car this morning.
Q: The gap to McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship is now 11 points. How do you see that battle? Do you think it’s going to go down to the wire?
AP: I hope not! I’m sure it will. We need to be – what – 44 points in front of them in that before we get to Abu Dhabi, so I’m sure it’ll go down to the wire. The aim is, of course, to score as much as we can these next couple of races to make Abu Dhabi as stress free as possible but let’s see. It’s been up and down. We have got the upper hand: we’ve got a quicker car; we’re ahead in the point so we are we’re going to do it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – RacingNews365) Question for you Laurent please. Yesterday, of course, was the budget cap verdict for Red Bull Racing. Back in May in Spain, you were… you spoke about immature regulations, grey areas in them etcetera. And then in Singapore, you were fairly vocal about cheating etcetera. Now the verdict is out, where do you stand on this whole matter? Do you think it was treated fairly from a Ferrari perspective?
LM: At first Dieter, I don’t think we ever mentioned cheating or anything like that. If we are fair with what we say to each other here in this room. In Singapore, I think what we said in Singapore is the impact of the budget gap on the competitiveness of the car is huge. Therefore, we certainly, as Ferrari, were pushing to treat any potential breach as seriously as possible, because it will potentially have a very relevant impact on the races we are watching. That’s what we say. At the time it was an ‘if’ scenario. Now in that context, it is good news that the FIA has reached a clear conclusion and has established a breach. It’s good news for the sport, good news for us. It’s also good news that the breach is admitted by all parties and therefore we are very satisfied that we are reached that. It is pretty much what we are calling for. So, this is what it is. Then after, we have been spending the last few weeks trying to talk together about ‘what would you do with half a million more? What would you do with 1 million more? What would you do with two million more? Three million more?’ Etcetera. So, from our perspective, with our numbers as Ferrari, two millions of Euros of overspend seems like something that would have a significant lap-time influence, would influence races. That’s what I’ve been saying for a few weeks and that’s no different to today. We have to move on, the penalty is what it is. We certainly feel it is low. We don’t see it on the same scale as being able to compensate the overspend that was done, especially combined with the fact that ultimately it is not combined with any budget cap reductions for them. Therefore, you are effectively completely free to spend your money elsewhere. You will spend a little bit less in wind tunnel where you have these 10 per cent restrictions, you will spend it somewhere else. So, we think that, altogether, what will remain of the real impact of that penalty will probably be very small. But, you know we have to move on. It is what it is. Again, the important thing is that we arrive to a clear breach, and to a confirmed breach. We move on, and I think moving forward what we all need is to do everything we can to support the FIA to make sure that we don’t need to wait for October next year to know how 2022 went. And I think it’s something that will be shared by most people in the room, and we’ll certainly do everything we can to support everyone we need to, to reach that target.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) In regards to the Red Bull penalty, the sporting element, Christian Horner would have us believe that the 10 per cent reduction is a devastating blow. I was wondering if an engineer or three could tell us just what that actually would do to a team?
AP: I was just going to say that’s one for Shov!
AS: I mean, the scale of that penalty isn’t much more than what you would lose if you were just one place higher up in the Championship. So, it’s not as big as the penalty if your position is two places higher. So, I think, describing it as draconian is an exaggeration. Reducing the number of runs does limit your freedom when you’re developing a concept, but we’re in reasonably well-explored regulations now. But you definitely have to be more efficient. But if it were half a second, which I’d had mentioned, then a team at the back of the grid would have over three seconds advantage to one at the front, and that that simply isn’t the case. But it depends on how well you make decisions during the year. I’d have thought a tenth, or a bit more than a tenth is probably… maybe two-tenths at the upper end, is realistically what that would cost you.
Q: Andrew, how many runs does that equate to?
AS: I think in a week or so, it would only be about four or five runs different. I don’t know the exact number because I haven’t sat down and worked it out. But as I said, where it would be costly is if you’ve chosen an incorrect concept and you need to backtrack. It’s removing that freedom to explore different avenues.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) For all three of you, we’re coming to the end of another 22-race season, it’s been a pretty brutal couple of years since COVID, lots of races in a very small window but we do have the earliest finish to a season since 2019 this year. For all of your staff, how important is that extra break going to be over this winter, the earlier finish and to recharge, and I guess for the race drivers as well, although, maybe it a little easier on them.
AP: Yeah, it’s very welcome. Last year was really tough, finishing the week before Christmas, or whatever we did, I can’t remember. But it’s welcome. It is it is a tough Championship. I think the way that we are geared up and the way our mechanics operate, and then their working practices, it works well. They’re certainly happy with it. Another two races will stretch that a little bit next year. But our programme will be, we’ll come back from Abu Dhabi, we’ll spend the week after in the factory sorting things out and have a relatively easy week there, and then they will disappear off for three or four weeks and have a good break. So yeah, it’s welcome.
LM: You’re right. It is it is an intense season, it is a long season. Somehow, it is nice to have this season after two COVID seasons, also, for the race team travelling it’s a lot more enjoyable to come to the races in the non-COVID scenario and a lot less stress as well. So, we welcome the early finish. Everybody we need to recharge: the teams; drivers and, as Alan said, getting ready for two more next year. I think, if you look at the calendar, it’s a very well done calendar for next year if you consider that you have to fit these 24 races so if you add that with the enthusiasm that we see out there with the fans and all the energy around the races, it’s… we are all going to go and rest, recharge and come back next year.
AS: Yeah, it works out well with the World Cup as well, doesn’t it? I think last year was particularly difficult with a new car. So, one season just rolled straight into the next and I think on the engineering side, there really wasn’t much of a break. You can’t do that year after year. So it is a good opportunity to take holiday and when you actually look at the calendar and the shutdowns, you describe a lot of the holiday that people can take, so at least now there is a bit of a bit of freedom for people to decide exactly when they have a break.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) A question to all three, but can I start with Alan, please. Just going back to that original Haas protest and when Fernando originally lost the result, in that original steward’s document, Jo Bauer and Nikolas Tombazis were said by the stewards to have deemed that only having one mirror was unsafe. Has that position changed in the discussions you’ve had in the last few days? And do all three of you think that it would be a shame if that was the precedent that had been set? If we have cars retiring, because they lost a single wing mirror?
AP: I don’t want to speak for Jo or Nikolas. But what our discussions yesterday were is that a mirror, and we’ve had some text from them this morning specifically saying that a loss of a mirror wouldn’t be considered a black and orange flag. One of my arguments, which didn’t work at the time, unfortunately, was in the Japanese Grand Prix of 2019, I think it was Charles and Lewis came together on lap seven. They both lost a mirror, and then did the rest of the race, with each only having one mirror and there was no action for that. So I felt there was some precedent in that. I felt in the race in Austin it wasn’t in any way dangerous at all. Fernando was being told… The only one time where he had someone behind him was in the last few laps when Lando was there, his engineer was telling him the gap every sector, so three times a lap he was given the gap to Lando. Fernando was positioning his car, so he could see Lando from his left-hand mirror. But I think we’ve reached… If we adopt these guidelines from Mexico onwards, I think we’ve got to a sensible place.
LM: I think what matters is that we have an understanding of what is OK and what is not OK, you know, and that we move on with that understanding that we can have consistent application of the regulations, and everybody knows what the limit is and so forth and so on. So hopefully it is sort of now a clearer situation that has been defined yesterday, which is good news. And then the overarching element, of course, is for the FIA whenever they will see something unsafe, because you still don’t want to have parts flying off the car and hitting somebody else, we are sure that they will anyway keep their finger on the button in that case to keep us at bay.
AS: Nothing to add really, other than we don’t really want black and orange flags every race because we’ve survived a lot of years where they were used correctly and infrequently. And we do just need to let the drivers get on with driving and not be too afraid of getting near another car.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) A question to you, Andrew. I just want to get Mercedes’ point of view with regards to the budget cap penalty handed out. And if you could explain to numpties like me, what does £435,000 equate to in terms of parts or development? And what significant impact could that have on lap times?
AS: Well, I haven’t read in detail the full report, so there are lots of numbers like the 1.8 million and numbers that you’re quoting. From an engineer’s point of view, day in day out where we’re making decisions of what we don’t do, that are of the orders of £1 to £3,000. That’s a normal part of our jobs, and we’re having to weigh up what we spend versus what performance it’s going to give us and, you know, we simply don’t have enough money. You’ve got to choose where it goes very carefully. So it’s very difficult to put a lap time on it, but the reality is that money buys performance. In terms of the cost of an update kit that could easily be a major update kit. The teams are certainly… We’re getting more efficient at doing update kits for less money. Recycling parts, I’m sure that we’re not alone in that. And it is quite a constraint. So whether the overspend is completely mitigated by the penalty, to be honest it depends how efficiently they develop going forward.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Just a question for Andrew but if the other two have any thoughts about it, feel free to chime in. Lots of the drivers have been quite concerned about the safety implications of lowering the tyre blanket temperatures and even the ban coming in. What difference did you find the team had from the test and do you believe the tyre blanket ban is achievable and worthwhile moving forward?
AS: Well, I mean, in terms of the tyres it’s quite hard to compare because we did a harder tyre in Austin at a lower blanket temperature. What we have now is, you know, what we had this weekend is very similar to what we’ve run before. I think the challenge of taking a car that’s this fast, this powerful, that has this much downforce and making a blanketless tyre is incredibly difficult. And I think it’s very easy to look at the Formula 2 series and say, ‘well, they do it’ but the energies involved are enormously higher – we’re doing around 20 seconds quicker at some circuits. And that challenge for Pirelli is very, very difficult. It requires a lot of steps of technical development. And the sport has to be very careful that the legislation on blankets does not get ahead of the rate at which we can develop the tyres. And Pirelli’s problem is not a static one. These cars have got more downforce in a straight line than the cars we used to have. The high-speed loads are very, very high and the teams are constantly working to add performance. And for Pirelli to just keep up with that constant development is difficult. So you would say ‘yes, of course, you can make a blanketless tyre’, Pirelli probably could give us one straightaway. But that tire would not lead to good racing, it would not allow the drivers to push as hard, you would end up with very high tyre pressures and a significant loss of grip. And it’s a case of balancing the needs of the sport, along with environmental concerns that are all being addressed. But the big concern is making sure that we don’t end up with a worse sport, because we’ve led it with the legislation on what we want to achieve.
LM: I think that was extremely well explained by Andrew. Difficult to add anything. Maybe the only thing being that the target is the right one, you know, for the environment, to remove the blanket. I think we just need to give Pirelli the right time and the right chance, the right opportunities, testing opportunities, to develop the product that will meet everything that Andrew just explained. Once we have that we can then move to the blanketless approach.
AP: Yeah, nothing much to add. Really, the difference from here to Austin was that we ran the tyres at 70 degrees here, but heated we did them for two hours. Normally, our heat time is three hours and Mario from Pirelli tells us that 70 degrees at two hours is the same, or even a little bit less, than 50 degrees at three hours. So it seems like they’ve already found a good compromise from Austin, where our drivers, certainly Fernando, said it’s actually dangerous, he really felt a lack of grip. And I think you can see some power sliding and things like that. And you rarely see any of that sort of thing. So I think that they found a good direction, something that hopefully we can take through to next year. And that buys them a little bit of time for 2024, which at the moment is blanketless, but I agree with Shov and Laurent that that is a very big challenge. Very big.
Q: (Stuart Codling – GP Racing) A thousand apologies, I was just going to ask Andrew a question about tyres, but fortunately it doesn’t massively overlap. And Alan’s response about power sliding just reminded me about seeing Carlos Sainz doing a Ken Block impersonation in the stadium yesterday while doing the Pirelli tyre testing. So my initial question to Andrew is, obviously there’s a hard deadline that we face in terms of getting these tyres right before the blanket ban comes in. Is there enough time to get that done? Because, you know, a year seems a long time away but we’ve got 23 or 24 races that will be gone very quickly. IIs there enough testing time built in? How many practice sessions during Grand Prix weekends will we have to think about devoting to get these tyres to where they need to be? Because if Lewis is saying they’re a step in the right direction now, that’s fine, but as you alluded to there’s a moving target.
AS: Well, as I said, I think that the sport has to be pragmatic. If you think back to the days of the tyre war, every team was doing three days of tyre development testing between, more or less, every race. Pirelli’s opportunities to test are few and far between. And the tyres are always under great scrutiny because the tyres are actually the thing that define the racing that we have and getting that right is vitally important. So I think that they’re doing a good job of keeping up with the fact that the teams keep bringing more and more performance, which makes the job of the tyre manufacturer increasingly hard. But back to the point that I made early on, we just need to be pragmatic with the decision making and not corner ourselves by giving Pirelli an impossible challenge. We’ve already given them an incredibly difficult challenge. But we need to make sure that that doesn’t become impossible and just keep the interest of the sport at the forefront.
Q: (Adam Cooper motorsport.com) A question for Laurent. You said last night and you’re repeated just now that the 10% penalty frees up cash for Red Bull to spend elsewhere. Can you quantify that? Are you literally just talking about the wind tunnel electricity bill and perhaps the other guys can comment on whether or not they think it has an impact?
LM: No, I cannot quantify it is the short answer. But I think, as Andrew explained earlier, it’s not just about the energy of your tunnel, it’s whatever upgrade you would have brought with that extra 10% you are not going to produce it tomorrow. That money, you are free to spend it strategically elsewhere. Let it be weight reduction, let it be suspension upgrades. So altogether, you need to make sure that once you have subtracted that advantage that you are getting back, that you still have a meaningful penalty in hand.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: (L-R) Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director of Mercedes GP, Laurent Mekies, Scuderia Ferrari Sporting Director and Alan Permane, Sporting Director at Alpine F1 attend the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Alan Permane, Sporting Director at Alpine F1 attends the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Scuderia AlphaTauri Team Principal Franz Tost attends the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Alfa Romeo Racing Team Principal Frederic Vasseur attends the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Laurent Mekies, Scuderia Ferrari Sporting Director attends the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director of Mercedes GP attends the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: Mike Krack, Team Principal of the Aston Martin F1 Team attends the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – OCTOBER 29: (L-R) Scuderia AlphaTauri Team Principal Franz Tost, Alfa Romeo Racing Team Principal Frederic Vasseur and Mike Krack, Team Principal of the Aston Martin F1 Team attend the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 29, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES (PART TWO) – Franz TOST (AlphaTauri), Frédéric VASSEUR (Alfa Romeo), Mike KRACK (Aston Martin)
Q: Franz, we’ll kick off with you. Yuki was back in the points in Austin for the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix. How much did he need that result for his confidence?
Franz TOST: A driver always needs a good result of course. I must say that Yuki did really good races in the past. And he was always close to some points, but because of various reasons he couldn’t score them. And fortunately, in Austin, he got everything together with the team that he could score this point. He also did a very good job yesterday in the free practice and I expect good performance from him here in Mexico.
Q: Well, clearly he’s making progress. But can I ask you about a quote from Helmut Marko recently in which he said he expects Nyck de Vries to become the team leader at AlphaTauri next year? What are your thoughts on that?
FT: This we’ll see. Yuki has more Formula 1 experience. Nyck is a little bit older, has more race experience. He won many races and championships. I think the most important part is that we provide the drivers with a competitive car. And then it’s easy for both of them to set up the car and to perform well. Who from these two drivers will be the faster? This we will see? I don’t know yet. I’m looking forward, because both of the drivers have a lot of potential. Both of the drivers are fast. And I think that we should have a successful season.
Q: How much contact have you had with Nyck de Vries so far? Has he been to Faenza?
FT: Yeah, I had a lot of contact with him. He was in Faenza, they made the seat and I also met him yesterday. We always have some chats together. It’s very interesting, very important to know each other. And I want to integrate him into the team as fast as possible. And he will do for us the young driver test in Abu Dhabi, where he can become more familiar with the car, with the team. And then we will see. We have a good programme for him during the winter months to prepare him in the best possible way for 2023.
Q: Franz, final one for me. This is the first time we’ve had you in the press conference since the death of Dietrich Mateschitz. You worked with him for many years. What are your memories of him? What’s his legacy?
FT: You know, Dietrich Mateschitz, was an outstanding person and with his passion and determination he built up the Red Bull empire. And it was a great honour for me to work together for so many years with him and I’m thankful for this, what he did for the team, and especially for me, personally. You know, Mateschitz was a visionary. And I remember when he said to me, Franz, you have to educate the young drivers from the Red Bull driver pool and they have to win races then later and looking back, it worked everything that he said you know. He was a visionary, but his visions were transformed into successful operations and this is the difference to other people. For me, Dietrich Mateschitz was a person who lives only once in the world. There will not be a second one, because he was extraordinary and he was very, very special. I don’t remember any meeting with him where we didn’t have a solution to many, many questions, and when you left the office, you knew exactly what you had to do. And therefore, the shock is still there, and we will miss him.
Q: Thank you, Franz. Fred, coming to you. Big news on Wednesday with confirmation that Audi is to buy a stake in Sauber. What does this mean for the future of the team both in the short term, and from 2026?
Frédéric VASSEUR: On the short-term view first: it won’t have a big impact except that for us that we know that we can go to the next step and it will be a huge opportunity in terms of recruitment and to be more attractive also for the sponsors for the future. But mid-term, for sure it’s a game changer, because we will have this kind of partnership and I think F1 is getting more and more difficult. The F1 did a huge step up the last 10 years and to stay as an independent team today it’s quite impossible from my point of view. It was probably the best option we could add and more than happy to have this kind of deal for the future.
Q: Even with the budget cap, you feel it’s still very difficult to remain an independent team?
FV: Yeah, because first that we are still far away from the budget cap. That means that we are fighting to be at the budget cap and even in this, we are still far away on that. I think we will touch the point later on. But we are still far away from the budget cap. And we are absolutely dependent on the results. If you want to have a long-term view and you have only three or four independent teams it will become more and more difficult.
Q: You say you’re far away from the budget cap, but you’re certainly getting closer in terms of lap time as a result of the upgrades you’ve introduced over the last few races. What can you tell us about the upgrades in terms of how they’re performing, what the drivers are saying about them? Valtteri in particular, I thought look very quick yesterday.
FV: I don’t know what Valtteri said, but no, but I think that we brought two updates, one in Suzuka and one in Austin about the front wing and the floor, it’s not a secret. And we did a step forward in terms of performance and in terms of balance, and I think that for the midfield fight, every single tenth is a mega push, that we are fighting together with the teams around us and for one or two tenths you can move from P8 to P18 and this is changing completely the face of the weekend. In the end, I think that perhaps we were a bit slow, but it’s also a matter of budget to bring updates, but it’s paying off now.
Q: Have you got enough performance now to stay ahead of the man on your left?
FV: Yeah, it’s not just about the performance but in our case that it was probably more operations, start, lap one and incidents, last week we had the contact with Pérez on lap one and we lost three or four positions. It’s not just about performance, but it’s true that one tenth can change completely the set-up of the weekend.
Q: Fred, many thanks. I’m sure there’ll be more questions for you in a minute. And Mike, thank you for waiting. Aston Martin have been found to be in a procedural breach of the 2021 financial regulations. What’s your reaction to the fine you’ve been given and the process you’ve been through with the FIA?
Mike KRACK: Well, my first reaction is that we are happy that we can close this chapter now. I think the 2021 cost cap discussions are hopefully terminated soon. The collaboration with the FIA was very good, very collaborative, very open and transparent. And, yeah, I mean, the regulations are very complex, and there were different interpretations. And this led to what it led to. I think it’s important to highlight that we were always under the cap, which is the most important, and the FIA has determined the fine that we accept as it is and we move on.
Q: Well, let’s talk about performance. The car is improving rapidly at the minute it seems. Where have you found the biggest gains in recent races?
MK: Well, I think they are not so big gains, as it might be perceived. I think there were big points. And I think also what Fred said is completely correct. One tenth can change the whole weekend. And if you are on the wrong side of the midfield, you go with zero points, or you have potential to go with big points. So we must not forget that in Singapore and in Suzuka we had races that were affected by conditions and I think the drivers and the team did a really good job in terms of bringing it home and making the right calls. In. In Texas, it was maybe a bit more the car performance, but also I think not everybody put it together. And then when you start more to the front you run in clean air and everything becomes so much more easy.
Q: You’ve scored 28 points since the Singapore Grand Prix. How do you view that battle with the man on your right for P6?
MK: Well, I think it’s not a home run at all. Just going by statistics, it would be easy, but Alfa Romeo is a team that we highly respect. You have seen at the beginning of the season what they were capable of doing. And I think although the difference in points is small, I think it will be very hard to pass them. Fred said they had upgrades again. And I think it will be a fight until the last lap in Abu Dhabi.
Q: You’ve worked with Sebastian Vettel all season. Okay, he missed the first two races. But are we seeing the best Vettel of the entire year at the moment?
MK: Probably yes. I think he gained from the better performance or the better results. It added a little bit even more to his motivation. And it’s really nice to see him work. I mean, he has three races to go and I think we had to kick him out of the office yesterday night, otherwise he would have still been there, studying data, looking at where you can change things. So he’s not on a farewell, this I can tell you for sure. He really wants to do well. He wants to bring us forward and bring his part to finish the season in the best possible place.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) On the Red Bull punishment for their overspend, do you think that the combination of the fine and the aerodynamic testing restrictions has reinforced the budget cap, because this is obviously the first big test of these new regulations?
MK: This is for the FIA to judge. I think there has been enough polemics around the whole topic about how big the fine has to be. I think we should now look to the front and not back and discuss who had which fine and if it was large enough or not. The FIA is in charge of doing that. We have to trust that they do that correctly and respect that.
FV: I’m not sure but at the end of the day the biggest punishment for a team is to accept that they were overspending, in terms of image, and we don’t have to underestimate this one – for your employees, for your sponsors and so on. I think it’s very good to reach the end of the discussion, to have a clear picture of the FIA, to have a clear decision from the FIA, to have an agreement from the team, also this will help to close the chapter. Then if you speak about technical or sporting decisions or penalties, it’s a bit different for me because I’m not sure we are making half a second with 10 per cent of your allocation, or we are very stupid.
FT: I think we should close this chapter now for 2021 but the FIA has to control the teams from the very beginning onwards, from January onwards, which is what I said already two years ago when we discussed this cost cap story. Why? Because the regulation is very, very complicated and there is room for different interpretations and therefore the teams need some support and the FIA has to send people to the teams to check all this because it’s bad for the image of Formula 1, for the teams, whatever, if one year afterwards we discuss about overspending or whatever. This has to be done and sorted out during the season, that at the end of the season everything is finalised and the technical regulations are also possible; why shouldn’t it be possible in the financial regulations. We have a meeting every Tuesday. I know every Tuesday how much we are below the cost cap and how we have to react and I think this should be the Formula 1 standard, that at the end of the season we know who won the championship and that this team was below the cost cap and everything has been sorted out.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Fred, obviously Audi is very ambitious and wants to be competitive, so we can take that to mean running at the front and winning races. So what will it take for Sauber to become a winning team? Obviously the constant improvement, but in terms of your wish list for improved facilities, personnel recruitment, that kind of thing, what needs to happen over the coming years to get Sauber to the front?
FV: You know that performance is coming from everywhere. It’s never one single topic. It means that we know that we are far too small in terms of headcount. Also, that we are something like 500 people today, when some other teams around me are perhaps 200 more. For sure we have to do a step forward but we have also three years to do it and it will be a challenge but I think the challenge is very positive. You know that when you have the light at the end of the tunnel, and you know that you have to improve and you will have the resources to do it, it’s a good challenge and that will be the best motivation for everybody into the company. But on the other hand, I don’t want to lose the path of the next two years because the best way to prepare the future is also to perform and I want to keep the team motivated and focus on the ’23, ’24 and ’25.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Fred, the strategic partnership announced by Audi. Obviously the strategy means longer-term vision. Now when we look at the OEMs in Formula 1 at the moment they all have different business models. You’ve got Mercedes, which has got different shareholders on the race team side to the engine side. Toto is not a director of the engine side for example. Then you have Ferrari: everything under one roof, one company. You have the Alpine/Renault one, which is same owners but different facilities. Which one is Audi going to take if we look at it in the longer term? Will there be outside shareholders? Will Audi take over fully? Will it be integrated into the company?
FV: Firstly, we will split completely operations. They will be in charge of the engine in Neuburg and the team will take care of the chassis and the operation on track, from Hinwil, that is clear. They will take some shares in the company in the future but we didn’t disclose the details of this and I won’t do it today. So sorry, Dieter. But I think it’s a good way to operate the team that we… we had a look on what was working in the past on the other teams and the most important for me is not just the setup in terms of shares or who is managing who, it’s a matter of mindset, and to be able to build up in terms of strategy to be one single team and not to have teams fighting each other.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Fred, another question on Audi. I know drivers is something that is very far away now. But a lot of drivers are already locked into long term contracts that reach as far as 2026 when Audi will come in. Has there been any indication yet from Audi about the kind of driver they would like? Valtteri has already said he’d like to stick around for the time they come in.
FV: Yeah, but as you said that it’s a bit ambitious to speak about drivers for 2026, that we have the Academy, we are trying to develop young ones and so but it will be in the middle because if you are speaking about young kids often in go-kart today, it will be more for 2030 or 2032. For sure, we have Valtteri on board, we have Zhou on board , we have Théo in the pipeline. But we will have time to discuss about this and I’m not sure that you have so many drivers on the grid with contract after 2026.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Fred, just on Sauber’s identity. We know that the Alfa Romeo deal obviously comes to an end at the end of next year. Before the Audi project starts in ’26 will you race as Sauber again in between and will you be Sauber longer term? Will the name be part of this operation longer term?
FV: You have to disassociate the name of the team, which could be the title sponsor, and the name of the company. The name of the company will stay Sauber. The name of the chassis will stay Sauber, but we could have a title sponsor coming in.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) None of your teams was directly involved in the whole Haas/Alpine protests saga last weekend, although a couple of you briefly gained points. Just wondering what you thought of that whole process and the governance and so on, because there seems to be some very strange things going on in terms of their FIA initially accepting a process of a decision and the race director telling Haas they had an hour when it wasn’t, and so on and so on. What do you think of that whole process and some of the mistakes that seem to be made and secondly, in terms of the bigger picture did Fernando deserve to get his seventh place back after that drive he did?
FT: Of course, these processes were not managed in the best possible way. Coming to your last question, Alonso deserved this seventh place, in my opinion, only for this reason that he had heavy crash and brought the car to the chequered flag. And, of course, the mirror went off, but he didn’t get the black and orange flag and therefore, for me it was justified that he should finish on the seventh and he should have stayed in the classification. Protest is always a complicated issue, when time limits were not respected, it was everything a little bit too chaotic and I hope that we will not face this anymore in the future. And I think that also the FIA has to be a little bit more, let me say, friendly to the teams. If there is a mirror off and the driver can continue the race why not let him do this? It’s a difficult decision. If, for example, a part of the front wing is destroyed because of a collision, to call the car in or to give a black and orange flag because it could damage the tyre of another car. It’s not an easy decision. But I think that also the teams have to work together very closely with the FIA to sort out whether it’s dangerous to drive this car and safety is not any more respected and guaranteed. And then of course, the car has to come in, the part has to be changed or whatever or you have to stop.
FV: I don’t remember all the question and Franz was too long. But first one I think that, yes Alonso did a fantastic job and I think at the end, he deserved the results because after the crash he had, to finish P7 was a mega job. Then, I think regarding Haas it was more about the consistency over the season. They got, I think, two or three times black and orange flags and I think he was a bit upset with the situation. But at the end of the day, and I was not involved, I was not in the meetings and so it was probably more a question that you have to ask to the FIA between them, than to us on that.
MK: Yeah, I completely understand why the protest was filed. It was seeking consistency, which was what Fred was saying, and I fully understand that, that we should see consistency in application of the ‘meatball flag’, how we call it. Having said that, I think after the protest was filed, there was a couple of errors made, procedural. We speak about it often, don’t we? But I think everybody, FIA and the teams, have to learn a lesson from it and I think we need to focus more on sport rather than that the whole the whole sport starts into trying to protest each other for any kind of damage on the car. So if we manage to have a bit more consistency in, maybe a bit more conservative with the flag, I think that will be happy for everybody.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Coming to the end of the season of the first one under the 2022 regulations, the whole goal of it was to bunch everything up but I know you have the leading teams still very far forward. Your three teams in particular have been very, very close in the midfield, do you think the regs have achieved what they set out to do this season?
MK: Yes, if you look at the midfield battle, definitely the goal is achieved. I think we are all within a very few tenths and as Fred said before, a tenth can decide if you are eighth or 18th. Unfortunately, there is three teams that are a bit more ahead, which makes the racing much more predictable. So as such, you could say the rules have not worked. But on the other hand, if you look at the midfield you can say it has because it’s very exciting racing in the midfield so split view from my side.
FV: Nothing to add, at the end, the whole group and the midfield group is a mega fight that every single weekend, you don’t know if you will be P7 on the grid or P19 or 20. And it’s very exciting. At the end of the day, it’s a bit of a shame that you have three teams ahead, so except for them, I’m sure that they are very happy with this. But no, I don’t know if it’s technical regulations also the first consequences of the cost gap regulation, but it’s probably a combination of these two.
FT: Yeah, the new regulation brought the cars closer together, especially in the midfield. And I think that the gap to the three top teams could also be closed in the next years when the cost cap is coming closer, or will help to bring the teams closer together because the top teams can’t spend any more so much money.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Along the same sort of thread, how much longer do you three believe that the top three teams will continue to hold up the advantage through momentum from the past? In other words, when will the cost capital new regulations actually become a real leveller?
FT: I think it will already start in 2023 because this year, they still had the advantage that in 2021 they could keep some of the employees until June, and from next year onwards, and then especially in 2024, I think that the cost cap regulation will be more efficient to bring all the teams closer together, which is the target.
FV: I think the impact for the big team was much bigger than for us and at least for me. But on the other hand they have also the advantage of the technology and the know-how that they invested so much in the past and that it means that they are still a step ahead of us. And I hope that we will able to compensate in the future. And we all we have to consider that the good side of this is that we are playing in our garden in terms of budget, and we are much more used to dealing with this kind of budget than them. And perhaps that in the near future that will compensate part of the gap.
MK: Yeah, I think the combination of cost cap and stable technical regulations will even out the field over the coming years so I think the racing will become better. I think the midfield teams will close the gap, step by step, to the top teams and I think it will be better and better over the years to come.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Fred, obviously, you become the Audi works team in 2026 but you’ve got this long ramp-up period so can you explain how that works? At what point will you start getting Audi personnel involved? What involvement in terms or management of the team?
FV: We won’t have personnel for Audi involved into the team and the chassis operation but we know that we have three years to build up something. We know that we have three years to increase the budget and to be at the cost cap, to work with a lot to improve the facilities and so and I think honestly that three years is not too much. But it’s the perfect trend. And I think it was the good timing also for Audi with the new regulation coming in on the engine side in ‘26 and it was the perfect fit.
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