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FIA Thursday Press Conference - Part One 01 Apr 2004

(L to R): Ross Brawn (GBR) Ferrari Technical Director and Sam Michael (AUS) Williams Chief Operations Engineer in the press conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 1 April 2004

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

Team personnel: Ross Brawn (Ferrari) and Sam Michael (Williams).

Q: First of all, could I ask both of you to assess your team’s performance so far this season, in the first two races?
Ross BRAWN:
Obviously we’re delighted with two race wins. We made a pretty rocky start last year and you try to learn from it. I don’t think we really grasped the new regulations very well last year and this year I think we’re in a much better position in that respect. We also have had a new car since the beginning of the season. Last year we started with the old car. Rory and his people have done a fantastic job with the car, Paolo has done a great engine so we’re really pleased with the start but we’ve got our feet on the ground. It’s a very fickle thing. It can change, it can change very easily, it can change overnight, so we’re not taking anything for granted, but from our perspective, it’s been a fantastic start.
Sam MICHAEL: From our point of view, we were… obviously Ferrari dominated in Melbourne, not just over Williams but over the whole grid and we put quite a lot of effort into returning to our form in Malaysia, which was obviously a lot stronger than what we saw in Melbourne, and although Ferrari beat us again, at least we were within ten seconds of them at the finish line and not over half a minute down. The start that we’ve had this year has been a lot stronger than last year in terms relative to the front row of the grid, but it’s still not good enough really, and I’m sure that if it goes down to the wire and we lose the championship again at the end of the year then we would look at ourselves very critically from these first couple of races again. But all you can do is push as hard as you can and the team is doing a very good job, there’s no particular vices or characteristics of the car that are wrong, which helps quite a bit, because it means you can focus on improving tyre grip and improving downforce and stability and engine power. It’s the whole package really. There’s nothing particularly wrong and we hope that we can carry that momentum again here in Bahrain.

Q: So let’s change the focus to this race; what are the main challenges that you face coming to a brand new circuit like this?
SM:
Well, you’re basically going into an unknown in terms of what type of set-up that you need. You can do simulations, you can make predictions on things but ultimately, until you run on the circuit and see how the circuit is to tyres and how it changes throughout the race weekend, and you can see even now, with the pace car driving round, there’s a lot of dust coming up from that and it’s got significantly less downforce than a Formula One car, but those sort of things are all new challenges; it’s the same for anybody really so it’s just a matter of us getting on with the race weekend and seeing where we are.
RB: Yeah, I think what Sam said, it’s the same for everybody. It is a difficult challenge, a new circuit, but nobody has any different situations. It’s the same for all of us. I think there’s greater potential for one of the tyre companies to get it right, and one to get it wrong because we have no knowledge of the surface, we have no knowledge of the way the track develops over the weekend, so I think in this particular race there’s a chance we might see one of the tyre companies dominate, because they’re the ones who have done some homework and guessed it right. That tends to happen when you have a new circuit and of course, after the first race we all learn and come back and the gap narrows again. Technically, I think it’s a circuit which is going to be very strong on traction, very strong on braking, doesn’t have very many fast corners, so it doesn’t really favour our package. I think if you look at the sector times from Malaysia where Sam said they were much more competitive, you can see that we were very quick in the middle sector, they were quick in the other sectors, and I think this is going to be quite a close race, because the track doesn’t have many fast corners. Originally it was configured with a fast complex and then, during the period of building the track, they changed it and now it’s got no real fast corners. Difficult to say the overtaking potential of the track until we start driving round. I think some of the Formula One drivers have had a look in road cars, but that doesn’t really tell you a lot and I think it will depend on what lines they can take in and out of the slow corners, but from looking at it from the map, I think it looks as if it has great overtaking potential, and I think there have been some lessons learned from the circuits that have been built recently to give that opportunity.
Sand will be a big factor. Those of us who have been motor racing a long time remember Zandvoort, I’m sure you do, and that used to give us some particular challenges. I think most people here have got much thicker air filters on the engine and are looking at any little orifices where sand can get in. And it’s not the sort of sand that we see on the floor. It’s a very fine powder that lives in the air. That’s the thing that going to hurt us. That’s a new challenge for us, so plenty of new things. But as we say, it’s the same for everyone, so we just need to keep reminding ourselves.

Q: You mentioned the guesswork of tyres, is that really what it is? Guesswork?
RB:
It is a bit at this stage. I think both tyre companies have been here and studied the make-up of the tarmac. You look at the granular composition of the tarmac, you can take little models of castings off the surface and go back and study them, but there are things like the colour; it’s very black so it absorbs a lot of heat. The track temperature will be very high for a relative ambient here and we don’t know how the rubber is going to settle down on the track, so I think it’s an educated guess but there’s a huge potential to get it wrong.

Q: Sam, one thing you’ve talked about is the sand, but it seems that it’s more like dust. What is the greater worry, the sand on the track from a tyre point of view, or is it the dust in the atmosphere?
SM:
It’s both really, because you obviously have the air filter situation that Ross just mentioned, which I’m sure everybody’s doing, coming with different levels of height of the ripples in the air filters so you can decide how deep you need to make it, and the other problem that you’ve got is that the sand will blow onto the track overnight so even though the track will start to rubber in by Friday afternoon, it will probably start green again on the Saturday morning, and potentially green again on Sunday morning. It’s not so much a problem, I don’t think, of the tyres… the level of dust and things could be the same as driving down the pit straight in Hungary; you remember the start last year, it could be like that round every straight throughout the race. I don’t think it’s a problem of it sticking to the tyres or anything, but the problem that you will have on board the car is the mechanical components like the drive-shafts, the steering rack and maybe damper shafts, anywhere like that that can absorb very fine particles of dust, and then that dust goes underneath seals and starts making those seals leak. But it is a very fine, not very coarse dust, so those are the sort of problems you’re going to face.

Q: How much have you been able to prepare for that sort of thing?
SM:
Well, there’s potentially areas on the car where you can run double seal arrangements and also… the main concentration we’ve put into it is when we take gearboxes apart inside the garage, we’ve got a couple of plastic covers that can go on there that seal the front of the gearbox to make sure dust doesn’t go inside; those are the two or three things that we’ve done.

Q: Ross, what about the rest of preparation; how can you simulate a lap of this circuit?
RB:
We had a pretty good map given to us with which we were able to plot the trajectory of the track and we’ve got some quite good people, as all the teams have, who can do these simulations and give us a good idea of the ratios and cornering speeds. It’s a medium hard brake circuit so we’ve been able to do a brake duty cycle and things like that. Downforce is an easier problem these days because we only have one wing. The wing is controlled now and it’s a smaller wing than you would chose to run at most circuits, so the downforce comparisons are not quite so critical on new circuits these days. But the simulations are quite good, so you certainly come to a circuit like this with a lot more information than you would have had a few years ago. That’s why I say it’s an interesting challenge, a new circuit. There will be some things which we hadn’t anticipated but these days you do come quite well prepared.

Q: You say there are one or two things you haven’t anticipated; have there been any surprises so far, perhaps the track temperature and even the ambient today?
RB:
It’s probably a fraction warmer than our forecast predicted. There was a period of mid- to high twenties. It’s getting above that now, but having come from Malaysia I don’t think there’s anything new about that. Both drivers are having a look at the circuit and no doubt they will make some comments. They are really the best judges of what’s going on. We walk round and have a look round and see some interesting points, but when you’ve got drivers of the calibre of Rubens and Michael, they’re the guys who you really expect to give you a first impression and what areas to look at, what areas to concentrate on. You can see from the map it’s braking and traction, a slow corner performance track so no surprises so far, but if I knew what they were, they wouldn’t be a surprise.
SM: No. Same for us really, all of the things that Ross has said of their simulation has come up pretty similarly on our side as well to be honest. It’s fairly basic because it’s just looking at the circuit layout, then fitting a CAD model to it and then running simulations through it. From that you can obviously get cornering speeds and traction and you can also work out what sort of braking severity it is as well. That’s what it’s going to be tough on.

Q: One other subject, a slight change of qualifying schedule, is that going to make any difference to the teams, do you feel?
SM:
I think the ten minute gap in the middle of the earlier times… the only thing that makes it different logistically is that you don’t have to worry about fuelling rigs, if you’re at the end of the first qualifying session. In terms of the actual format and how it lays out the grid, then I don’t think it’s going to be a very significant change, to be honest. The other proposals that they were putting forward were more significant, but this is really just a reorganisation for the TV slots and as I said, to get rid of the refuelling rigs on Saturday, so I don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact.

Q: There is a possibility of further fine tuning, is there Ross?
RB:
I don’t know. I think it’s a very delicate point, the qualifying situation. We all want something that is as entertaining as possible but I know even amongst you journalists you can’t make your minds up what would be the best format, because you’re all saying different things. And we’re the same, we all have different views about what we think would be the ideal format and unfortunately in Formula One we don’t get much opportunity to try things out, to see if they work, change them etc. I think the way it’s been reorganised is a reasonable step. It gives TV that one hour of let’s say proper qualifying, it gives a gap between the two qualifying sessions which should allow you to recover a car, for instance, if you fall off in the first session. Drivers were having to be conservative because if they dropped the car in the first session, they then didn’t take part in the second session, because the car couldn’t come back, so it’s things like that which will help and then we major on the second session as being the prime qualifying event. But it’s difficult to make changes. We’ve all built cars with reduced fuel capacity now, because we don’t make so many one-stop races and we’re all qualifying with fuel, so it’s not easy to go back without penalising some of the cars, some of the teams who’ve perhaps put their minds to taking the best from the current qualifying format. I don’t think you should be chopping and changing the format too often. Obviously if something’s very wrong then it needs to be fixed for the good of Formula One but, as I say, I hope… Two intelligent require contrary opinions from two of your learned colleagues about how Formula One qualifying should be in the future and it just shows how difficult it is to find an ideal solution.
SM: I think a combination of some of what we had in the past with what we had now… as Ross says, it’s the fuel load. You definitely couldn’t change it back this year, because of people changing their fuel tanks, but I also think it’s a good change, even if you were saying for 2005 or 6, I would still maintain a qualifying system that makes you qualify on fuel load because I think that’s been a positive change because it does enable someone to run less fuel and get up the grid and it does mix the grid up a bit, but the real question is the single lap qualifying. Now obviously having a better hour for the TV slot’s going to help and a lot of it also comes from how you package it for the media, because although it can be deemed as boring from the outside, if you look from the inside at a race, even a race like Melbourne, when Ferrari were 30 seconds down the road, it certainly wasn’t boring from the pit wall from where we were standing, because we were busy trying to get our cars back into the points. The person who’s really going to win in this business is the person who can sell that to the media, because even if you’re doing badly and you’re racing for tenth place and trying to get one point for eighth, that’s a very exciting thing inside the team and if you can somehow sell that to people outside then you’re going to gain and I’m sure that’s how some of the single lap qualifying can be presented better.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: Dan Knutson (National Speed Sport News): Before I ask this question, just to be correct, Sam, did the cars and equipment go to all three races and not go home?
SM:
That’s right, yeah.

Q: So the question is how difficult were the logistics to do three flyaways in a row, when basically all the cars and equipment have not been home for six or eight weeks, whatever it’s been now?
SM:
That’s right. It’s obviously been quite a big logistical challenge but it’s something that we’re used to now in doing three flyaways in a row. It’s the same as what we did at the start of the season last year except at this point we were in Brazil instead. Basically all the cars and parts fly air freight and then we also have a lot of hand baggage that goes back between Melbourne and then England and then comes back out to Malaysia, and goes back. So there’s components like gearboxes and uprights and things that need turnaround, do go back to the factory for refurbishment and then come back to be refitted to the cars. Obviously the engines have their own schedule as well as it’s a new engine for every race, so the old engines have to be flown back and new engines flown out, so there’s quite a bit of air freight moving around but it’s all something that Formula One’s very well used to these days.
RB: I think the same. I have to say that we’ve got some people looking after that; for me, it’s pretty transparent, I don’t have to worry about it, because they do a good job and as Sam said, it’s the same as last year with Brazil. The engines and gearboxes get shipped back and forward, the uprights get shipped back and forwards and the guys stay on after each race to strip the cars and make sure there’s no major dramas discovered after the race that we need to react to. And then I think they came out here on Sunday evening, had a day off on Monday and started work on Tuesday. It’s not that difficult. It’s difficult if you want to make any developments to the car, when you have to look upon it generally as a period when you’re going to have a fairly fixed spec on the car, so there’s very little… not a lot of development can go on during this period. Of course we fix problems that we have, because we have to. But I think most people have been testing, been testing for the past few weeks, probably working on packages for Imola for instance, we have certainly, and I think that tends to be the trend, that for the first three flyaways, you have the car that you have. Then, when you get back to Europe, you can start to do more race to race development on the car.

Q: Is that the case with both of you, that you’ve got fairly major packages coming for Imola?
SM:
We did some parts to Malaysia which obviously closed the gap a little bit and we have brought some more parts here. We won’t have anything as such that you could term a major package, like bodywork or anything, but we will have changes for Imola as well.

Q: Heinz Prueller (Kronen Zeitung): You were mentioning your simulations; obviously you will know more tomorrow, but today, it would be very interesting what you’ve found out on lap times, on gear changes and on top speed and maybe the overall race time for this Grand Prix?
RB:
Can I give it to you later. I can’t remember.
SM: We simulate around 33s for qualifying, 1m 33s lap time. Gearchanges I can’t remember and top speed I can’t remember either, but it will be very similar to what Ross was saying before, in terms of grip level, because you can’t really adjust it now.
RB: I’ll tell you tomorrow.
SM: You can easily see a second difference in someone’s simulation because it’s all dependent on what grip factors you use in your simulation and they’re just a complete guess at this place because we haven’t driven round it.
RB: I think that the important thing about a simulation is that for us, anyway, the lap time is a little bit arbitrary. We’re not that interested in the lap time, we’re more interested in the gears we need and perhaps the average speed in the corners, things like that, so that we can start to think about the set-up of the car, so the actual lap time is really only a nominal number and it’s a comparative number to other simulations we have. But the one thing we don’t know is the grip of the surface so you could have a lap time that varies enormously. Our impression is that this will be a very grippy surface but if you change the grip factor in a simulation it changes the lap time by several seconds so we don’t have that data at the moment.

Q: Will Gray (Collings Sports): To both of you, the lap times were dropping fairly significantly and talk of increasing speeds, possibly increasing danger. What’s your view on the current situation in terms of speed and is there something that needs to be done, if so, what is it?
RB:
I think there is a process which myself and I think Sam’s been sometimes, but every team is involved in the Technical Working Group which is chaired by Charlie Whiting and that group, in the background, tries to progress things like an analysis of the current performance of the cars and where we need to be. We try to do that in a structured way, and in 2006 there’s a fairly major changing coming in the design of the cars, to reduce the speeds. Whether the speeds have improved more than we anticipated is difficult to be sure of. I know some drivers have made some comments. When you have a tyre war, it’s a bit unpredictable where you’re going to end up, but certainly, for 2006, l think we’re all working hard to find a new technical package which we can all be happy with to reduce the speeds of the cars but I think that’s a natural process because periodically you just have to change the speed of the cars because you’ve got ten teams with hundreds of engineers constantly working, trying to improve the speed of the cars so every so often you have to peg that back. As I say, I think that’s a natural process and one which we’re all supportive of and we accept because we all work under the same principles, the same rules, it’s the same for everyone so we’re not really interested in the absolute speed of the cars, we’re only interested in beating each other, so the absolute speed is really not what we’re trying to achieve, we’re just trying to do a better technical job than the other teams. That could be with a car which is five seconds slower, it doesn’t make so much difference. I think Formula One needs to be a fast car; I don’t think we can have something which is too slow. So there is a process ongoing to reduce the speed of the cars and that’s where we’re at and I think in 2006 you will see that there will be a step. We know that from 2008 onwards there’s a new engine formula coming and we’re looking at whether that engine formula can be anticipated but unfortunately it all starts to get rolled up in other factors of Formula One in the present day with the Concorde Agreement and things like that which would be nice to get resolved. But I think that in my view, the best package will also resolve around the reasonably substantial drop in the performance of the engines, because everyone is knocking on 900 horsepower now, and when we started this formula we had just over 700, so we need to get that back down to 700 again and start the process of trying to get back to 900.
SM: I think I’ve got similar comments and particularly, as Ross said, with the TWG direction on engines and potentially reducing grip in the chassis. The only other thing is if you look at what we did to tyres in the late nineties by adding grooves to them and then additional grooves again to the front, the tyres look very grooved as they are. That’s obviously made a difference on lap time which you don’t see at the moment. If the tyre companies were allowed to develop slick tyres then I’m quite sure lap times would be one or two seconds quicker again so that was a direction that potentially needs considering as well. Whether it comes from grooves or somehow controlling the compound levels is quite a tricky thing to do, especially in the middle of a tyre war, so it’s very easy when you’ve only got one tyre supplier because they can easily just make hard compounds, but they’re doing the same job as us. That’s all really.

Q: Alberto Antonini (Autosprint): This is for Ross, there were some proposals from you where you expressed some criticism on the way the single engine rules were applied with people being allowed to change an engine because their car ran off the track and not because they had an engine failure. I wonder if there has been any clarification for the teams from the FIA on this matter?
RB:
I think sometimes I’ve got a tendency to probably say a bit too much. It wasn’t really a strong criticism, it was a comment that…my feelings were that the engine change came about because you had a problem with the engine, not as a strategic decision because when the one engine rule was brought in, I remember discussions about strategic engine changes and quite clearly that is not what was intended. You could go to Monza and maybe you’ve got a particular reason for wanting to run two full days of practice with one engine, then change the engine for the race and accept the ten place penalty. We’re not trying to do that, we’re trying to develop engines which can do seven or eight hundred kilometres at a track like Monza, because that’s the direction we all wanted to go in and I think in the future that concept will be expanded, perhaps two or three race engines and if we’re going to do that, we need to understand whether let’s say strategic engine changes are part of the package. I think it’s a shame if they are, because then you end up perhaps developing a 350 kilometre spec engine and a 700 kilometre spec engine and we’re back into escalating costs again and we don’t want to get involved in that. I don’t think anyone wants it, I think there should just be some better guidelines as to when we’re allowed to change an engine. Those cars, as I understood, were in parc ferme and in parc ferme, you need to have a good reason to change a component. It just needs clarification. It’s not a big issue for us, we would just like to have a clearer view.
SM: I think we’ve got the same issue to be honest. Because it’s left at the discretion of the stewards rather than being a hard and fixed rule, so how do you define whether an engine can do the next 300 kilometres. All of our engine programmes are designed around long mileage engines so when you have one, you have no intention of doing anything like that, but we do have the same… particularly Monza, because Monza is the hardest because you spend a lot of time with very high engine loading, so that’s where you were going to… the temptation would be biggest. But it really just needs a clarification as to what constitutes a damaged engine or not and how do they identify that.

Q: Quick final question for Sam: you tested Scott Dixon recently. He’s targeted Formula One for his future, what chances has he got?
SM:
What we did with Scott is that we did a one day down at Paul Ricard Circuit to acclimatise him to Formula One, to get used to the electronics, the tyres and the set-up of the car and just the team in general really. The main test that we wanted to run with him was in Barcelona next week, and there he will drive for three days, but because he came over for a seat fitting and a meeting with Frank and Patrick and myself, we said ‘well let’s take him down to Ricard for a day anyway and give him a run in the car,’ which worked very well. He’s a very sensible guy, very mature head on his shoulders. He’s worked his way up inside the sport by himself and he presented himself very well, so we were quite impressed by his ability in the car and his feedback and general maturity. Although he said a few things afterwards in the press that looked like he was excited, it was just good to show that he was excited about it, he wasn’t like that in the car at all. He was actually very calm and wasn’t overawed by anything and handled the electronics and everything fine. There’s such a big jump now between non-Formula One cars and F1 cars themselves because of the electronics and everything on board, not just learning about brakes and tyres but there’s so many different things that you can tune that the race drivers are flat out keeping up with on a racing weekends, so that when a new guy comes into Formula One, it’s a big jump now.