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FIA Friday Press Conference - Canada 11 Jun 2004

(L to R): Otmar Szafnauer,  Vice President of Honda Racing Development, Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) Ilmor, Willy Rampf (GER) Sauber and Mario Thiessen (GER) BMW Motorsport Technical Director in the press conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Practice Day, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 11 June 2004

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

Team members: Willy Rampf (Sauber), Otmar Szafnauer (Honda), Mario Thiessen (Williams), and Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren).

Q: Willi, can you tell us about the wind tunnel and how that has helped with developments?
Willi RAMPF:
Basically, the main steps in performance are coming from the wind tunnel and, as planned, the first aerodynamic parts were introduced in Imola and from there on we could increase the car performance overall and our lap times. The plan is for each event now we are bringing in new components, new parts from the wind tunnel and, up to now, we are on target.

Q: So, what programme are they working to in the wind tunnel?
WR:
Well, basically the next steps will be a new front wing and then a new engine cover, so it is not only small parts. We try to have quite bigger steps and also big components.

Q: And what sort of shifts are they working?
WR:
Currently we are on two shifts but that is the limit we can do, so we cannot go flat-out on two shifts. For the next weeks it will go back to a long single shift.

Q: So, what do you think of the fact you now have your own wind tunnel?
WR:
It is great for us because it is a good tool and it is always available for us. The repeatability and the quality of the data is quite good so we are quite impressed but we are still in a learning phase in terms of how to handle the wind tunnel and how to get the best out of it.

Q: The other thing is the engine. Are you getting updates to the engine or not?
WR:
We will get updates during the season and we expect the next update in one of the next races. It is planned for Magny Cours or Silverstone.

Q: Have you already had an update since the beginning of the year?
WR:
No.

Q: So that is going to be pretty important as well.
WR:
Yes.

Q: Otmar, first of all updates. What is the programme for you, because I think it has changed here, hasn’t it?
Otmar SZAFNAUER:
This year our plan was to have fewer updates and more significant ones. Our first one was at Imola, the second one is here and that is still the case. We have brought more power and our engine is a bit more fuel efficient here as well, we have been working on that. The next update was planned for Hockenheim but with our recent performance we are not winning races so we are trying to bring that forward by a race to Silverstone, so you may see the next significant step at Silverstone after this.

Q: I got the impression that this was going to be a performance update here but it has more become a reliability one.
OS:
It was always planned as a performance update and that is what it is. However, after the last Grand Prix we had to re-evaluate reliability and we have made some changes to address our failure in Takuma’s engine. So you could say it is both, but the performance advancements that we had planned all along are in this engine and they were tested at Silverstone and Monza.

Q: What has been the problem? Is it a Takuma problem, because he has had four major failures this year?
OS:
Absolutely not, it’s the luck of the draw really. We have spent a lot of time analysing the data on both drivers and there is nothing to point at one driver versus the other. It’s not driving style, it’s just circumstances of the race and those are different so it is not a Takuma problem, per se.

Q: Can you blame, then, for example, the last two failures have been a lap or two after a pit stop and a re-start.
OS:
The re-start definitely had something to do with it but both engines in Monaco saw the same type of data, so to speak, after the re-start and it was just unfortunate for Takuma that his engine didn’t last. We saw high temperatures on both engines and we had every expectation that both engines were going to finish that race. Unfortunately Takuma didn’t and Jenson finished second. The last failure was completely different, so you can’t really correlate it to those types of things.

Q: Martin, a new job for you. Can you tell us a bit about it? How has it been so far?
Martin WHITMARSH:
It has been interesting so far. Really my job now is to ensure that we pull together the technical teams. As we evolved our team then, obviously, we have the chassis team in Woking but then we have arrived at two teams, one in Stuttgart and one in Brixworth and both have grown very rapidly and I think there is a need to pull them together. My job is to introduce one organisation which spans two locations, brings together the dynos and the research capabilities we have got in Stuttgart and concentrates V10 engine design development and manufacture in Brixworth. Really, they are two organisations with different origins and cultures and there has been a bit of competition between those two organisations and we have really got to make sure we get the best out of them. They have got their own particular strengths – Brixworth has got a strong racing culture and they have got many good engineers and facilities there, the R&D culture and the processes are probably better developed in Stuttgart – and clearly we need to bring those to bear on our programme. The ingredients are very, very good and the opportunity to bring them together is an exciting one, it is something that inevitably, there are people who are happy and comfortable to contribute to that process and others that are less so, so inevitably there is a bit of friction but I think we are going to get through that quite quickly, pulling it together, and have one team developing the chassis and the engine.

Q: So, you are the bloke who cracks the whip over the whole thing?
MW:
I am the bloke whose fault it is if we don’t get our act together and I think that is right. Ultimately somebody has got to feel accountable and be responsible.

Q: What about the problems from the European Grand Prix? What was the final countdown on that?
MW:
It was a piston problem, as I think we said or suspected at the time. Further analysis has demonstrated that all of the pistons that failed came from two batches of material so we think we know why we had the problem. We had a slightly different design of piston at the event so inevitably, when you have piston failures and you have just changed the design then you focus on the design issue but, I think in fairness and in the light of the analysis that we have done, we have now tracked it down to two batches of material. In the meanwhile, of course, we had to build the engines so we have reverted our pistons back in specification for this race because we had to build those engines before we could conclude the material analysis.

Q: Now, what about the MP4-19B? First of all, how did the test go and when are we going to see it?
MW:
Ok, well, you would have seen it if you were in Silverstone, which is where the test was. It was a three-day test and I think from one test you have got to be cautious but Kimi drove it, he was very comfortable with the car, felt we had addressed the issues we hoped to address with that car, so we are pleased that it is a step forward. Whether it is enough remains to be seen, we have got to bring it to the race track as soon as we can. It is very tempting and I suppose encouraging that I have received all sorts of pressure from the drivers and from my chairman, to have it here or in Indianapolis. I think that is a good sign because, obviously, if I wasn’t under that pressure then we would probably all be a bit disappointed. The reality is, in Formula One you have to work in a very careful and consistent manner. We have an important test in Jerez after Indianapolis, where we will have two 19Bs. We have only got two tests before the summer break and we have got to make sure that rather than knee-jerk into bringing a car to the circuit before it is properly developed that we do the right amount of work on the test track. At the moment, we are going to do that and we are hoping that Jerez will be a successful test, which we believe it will be. If it is, we will bring it to the French Grand Prix, but as I say at the moment the reality is we will be driven by the data, we will be driven by the information we get when we perform those tests.

Q: That is quite a turn-around from Jerez to Magny Cours isn’t it?
MW:
Yes, it will be tough but you have got to have a balance and there are always those who will say ‘throw it on a plane, fly it to Canada, fly it to Indianapolis’. I think that would have been the wrong thing to do, but we have got to apply pressure on ourselves. We are not doing a good enough job, we don’t enjoy the level of performance we have at the moment and we are very keen to improve it.

Q: Mario, can you give us some idea of your feelings about the season at the moment? I mean, in the last three races you had a sixth, a fourth and an eighth. It doesn’t really seem to be going the right way.
Mario THEISSEN:
That’s right, we are certainly not satisfied with the season so far. The start was difficult already and progress was not sufficient, not sufficient since then. I think it had a lot to do with the changes we have made meanwhile, the discussions about the changes which had to be made, and certainly you cannot change things overnight, especially you cannot change the performance of the car overnight. There are some steps to come during the season. I am quite confident that the structural change and organisational change which came along with the appointment of Sam Michael at Williams will lead towards the right direction, will improve the performance of the team and the interaction between the people in Munich and the people in Grove. I am really confident about that, but obviously it takes some time, it takes some races, and I hope that we are at the bottom of the curve right now and we will improve in the second half of the season.

Q: How quickly can it be turned around? We have heard about three or four races, that sort of thing?
MT:
Well, obviously one key area is aerodynamics. The new wind tunnel at Williams is on-stream right now and working at double capacity in two tunnels should increase the output. There is something planned for Magny Cours, a major aerodynamic step, and certainly we are aiming at improving aerodynamics race by race. On the engine side, we have something in the pipeline as well. Basically we had three targets for this season. The first was to come up with a reliable 800km engine without losing too much power and without adding too much weight. That was achieved by the first race. The second target was to make top power and engine speed available not just for qualifying but for the entire race, that was achieved by Imola. Now we are working on the third target, which is power improvement throughout the season, step by step.

Q: So, where can you see the developments coming? Can you tell us which races?
MT:
It won’t be major, except what I said already about the engine improvements for Magny Cours. On top of that, I expect continuous improvement as we did in the years before.

Q: Now, it is a bit unfair, perhaps, to ask you, but is the car going to look different from the outside?
MT:
I think so, yes.

Q: So the basic look at the front there, that is going to go is it?
MT:
I don’t know what way it will look different. (Laughter)

Q: What about the driver situation? Do you think that’s affecting the team’s performance?
MT:
Certainly it is an unusual situation for our team, it creates some troubles and sometimes it is not easy to cope with it. On the other hand, if you look at other teams, there are some teams around who never had anything but one-year driver contracts so it is not that unusual in Formula One. I think so far we, and I mean the engineers and the drivers, have coped with the situation quite well. We will see how it works through the second half of the season. I am quite optimistic that, if you watch a driver coming to the track on Thursday of a race weekend, the only thought he has is to earn as many points as possible, to get on the podium or maybe to win the race and nobody cares about next year and their situation. So I think we should be able to cope with it and I am confident that we will.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Alberto Antonini – Autosprint) Martin, in your position with Ilmor Mercedes, can I ask you if and what sort of improvement will be introduced in the new 19B engine-wise. We understand that there is a new engine block in the pipeline so how much difference is it from the previous one, how much does this affect the weight distribution and the centre of gravity of the car and so on?
MW:
OK, with 19B there is a slightly different engine which does give us a small performance improvement and that is independent of the underlying developments we saw throughout the year. Clearly, after last weekend, we’ve had quite a lot of introspection and concentration on the issue of durability and reliability but we intend, in Magny Cours, to have a small incremental improvement in performance and then in Hockenheim we anticipate another step forward in performance, so we have two steps of performance from the engine during the course of the year. There are several changes to the fundamental block of the engine, one of which is reliability-driven and the other is introduced with the 19B and gives us a small performance increment. But in terms of the chassis, they won’t fundamentally change balance.

Q: (Alberto Antonini) Will we not see the new version of the engine until the 19B actually rolls out onto the racing track?
MW:
That’s correct. In fact, we would have had it in the test but we backed off to an older specification of engine in the light of our experience at the Nürburgring.

Q: (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Otmar, in the year and a half you have been working with Takuma Sato, tell us how he has matured and gotten better and faster because he seems to have come a long way here?
OS:
Well, Takuma did a very good job for us testing last year and in that year he got a lot of miles or kilometres under his belt. Even in this season, as we can all tell, he’s improving and his attitude has always been very good. He works very hard and he’s a racing car driver. He wants to win and he and (race engineer) Jock (Clear) are a good pairing and they are doing very well. I think, with time, just like anybody else Takuma will continue to improve.

Q: (Dan Knutson) Martin, I’m sorry I’m going to put you on the spot here. How do we explain to the average fan how a team that almost won the World Championship last year only has five points halfway through the season?
MW:
Because we got it wrong in many ways. You need to finish races to score points and we’ve not done a very good job in that regard. A Formula One car and the performance of a team is extremely complex. You are always striving to improve every aspect of the car. I think we made a number of wrong decisions in our programme and we’re paying the cost of that. Nowadays Formula One cars are ever more complex, aerodynamically and structurally. When you compare it to even ten years ago, when we wanted to make a fundamental change to the structure or the aerodynamics the component to change was often singular and quite rapid. If you wanted to change your suspension you could go down to the fabrication shop and, being a racing team, you would make that change in a few days. Now, if you go and look at any of the cars on the grid and look at the integration of very complex front wing systems, the way in which the front suspension attaches to the car and the same for the rear suspension, the whole package is so complex, the components are so complex that we’re not able to change the package overnight any longer. So we recognised, fairly early on in the year, that we needed to make some fundamental changes to the car, but to execute those has been quite a significant project so, as you may know, the 19B project was in fact initiated before the first race of this year, and we’re now starting to see the fruits of that. So, in some ways, these complex cars are a disadvantage. Obviously every engineer is pursuing every small fraction of percent of performance but if you get it wrong then to recover the situation is a penalty.

Q: (Dom Taylor – F1 Racing) Mario, why are you so confident that Sam Michael’s appointment to technical director will improve the performance of the team and was this Williams restructure something that BMW were keen to make happen?
MT:
The confidence really is not primarily based on the personnel change, on the handover from Patrick to Sam, but on the structural changes which go along with this and we were certainly involved in the original thoughts about that. In fact, early last year, when we started to re-negotiate our contract in order to come to a new partnership for the next five years, most of the time was spent on how to get the two teams together, in fact the two parties of the teams together, how to make best use of the resources available on both sides, and how to improve and increase efficiency, the way we work together and effectiveness of the issues we focus on. And we concluded the new partnership only after we had come to a common view on all this. And that laid the foundation for the reorganisation which was pursued since then at Williams and took effect some weeks ago and that is why I’m confident for the future.

Q: (Jon Noble – Autosport) Martin, David Coulthard in one of these press conferences a few weeks ago said it was a mistake by the team to portray through quick testing times and quote to the public that it was fighting for the World Championship right the way up to Melbourne. Could you just give us an indication a) when the team realised it wasn’t going to be in a position to fight for the championship, because David reckoned he knew at the second test for the 19, and b) whether there are any parallels between your optimism on the 19B and your optimism back then?
MW:
I think we started to understand some of the problems with 19A in Barcelona on about week three. I think at that point, as a racing team, you have to have a degree of optimism and belief that you’re going to power through problems. So in terms of portraying our aspirations, our aspirations never changed, we’re always out there to win races and win World Championships. I think if you’re then going to lead a team of a thousand people who are involved in a programme, and for a team such as our own, saying in week three ‘actually we’ve given up with the championship this year guys, let’s regroup for next year’ is an unacceptable position for us and therefore we’ve had to take a buoyant and aggressive stance with how we plan our season. So I think we knew, and the reality is, as I think you know, before the start of the year, we had announced 19B as a programme. We would have not entertained a 19B programme had we not realised that we needed to make some response, so I think David got there early, so he believes. Perhaps we were maybe in a similar position but I think we wanted to work on 19A and, indeed, I think we have improved 19A during the course of this year. But we also recognise that there are some fundamental issues that we needed to address in 19B. Now, with regard to 19B, then I think we’re being cautiously optimistic on this occasion, but if you’re asked an opinion then you may as well give it. Do I believe 19B is a quicker car than 19A? Yes it is. If I sat here and believed differently then it would be extremely painful, I guess. Only one driver has driven and we’ve only driven on one circuit at the moment – maybe when we get to Jerez we’ll think differently – but based on the exposure we’ve had so far, and we had a relatively detuned engine following the Nürburgring issues, I think we look quite competitive at a circuit like Silverstone. We hope that we can follow that through into some other tracks and that’s why we’re not racing to take the car here. We’re not ready at the moment, after a three day test, one of which was predominantly wet.

Q: (Tony Dodgins – Tony Dodgins Associates) Martin, one or two people have been saying that brakes are at the limit now and with the 28mm disc here, it’s a bit iffy. The FIA might argue you’ve just got to use bigger ducts or get more air to them. What’s the truth?
MW:
No, I think the reality is that we can make discs last that are 28mm thick. The reality is, like all aspects of racing, you’re going to take it to the limit, so inevitably here and Monza, which are very heavy braking circuits, they’re the exception. You’ll develop the fundamental architecture and your materials for most circuits and when you come to a heavy braking circuit you’re always going to be on the limit so if you made the disc 32mm then we’d find ways to have better brakes for all the other circuits and when we got here we’d be in trouble again. So I think the truth is that you can make brakes work which are 28mm and you could probably make them work at 20mm - you’d find a material which had less oxidisation or less wear and would last the race distance.

Q: (Bob Constanduros - Bob Constanduros and Associates) Willi, do you have anything to add to that?
WR:
Yes, I think Martin is absolutely correct, because if we talk about increasing the thickness of the brake disc we would all go for smaller brake ducts, to have an aero dynamic advantage.

Q: (Steve Cooper – Motorsport News) Martin, given your knowledge of the departments at Brixworth and Stuttgart, how many years or how many iterations of engine do you think we’ll see before Mercedes is back with a front-running unit again?
MW:
We’re already designing next year’s engine and I think we’ve learned some lessons and I think that’s a good step forward. Whether it’s enough remains to be seen and I guess with time, experience and hindsight I could answer the question accurately. It’s not just about the individuals, it’s about process, it’s about teamwork and it’s about how we operate and I believe already, and it’s early days yet, but I believe we will have a stronger engine package next year. But these things will evolve and I hope we will take another step, so it’s a question of year on year, taking bigger steps than your competitors. But we are improving this year’s engine package, we’re improving the performance during the course of the year and we’ll make another step forward next year. But the reality is ultimately where we are in relation to the competition that counts. It’s not a question of years. We are already, I believe, making some worthwhile steps of improvement with the engine and will continue to do so throughout this year, next year and the year after that.

Q: (Tony Dodgins) It looks like the qualifying rules are going to change back again for Silverstone and one of the major factors people were talking about was improving the show. What’s your opinions on that?
MW:
My view is that what we have at the moment is not very satisfactory. The qualifying show, however, does throw up some unusual results and it can help the race show. I think we’re concentrating on the qualifying show, I’m not entirely convinced by the aggregate time issue, personally, but I think there will be a lot of cars out there fighting for room on the track, there will be cars tripping over themselves in those two sessions, so I think it will be quite an intensive and exhausting hour for the drivers and the teams. So I think that show will be better. The issue of putting the cars on the grid in their natural performance order and thereafter not having enough overtaking I think is true. It’s a question of whether, when you put one of the top cars towards the back, is it that exciting as they rush through the backmarkers? I’m not sure that it is. I think Formula One needs to have closer racing and the reality is we have to do a better job, be closer to the Ferraris and BARs at the moment and then we’ll get a decent show. What I think detracts from the show is if people know who’s going to win the race before they get here. Then, in fairness to Michael and Ferrari, that’s not their fault, that’s our fault. We have to get our act together. I think last year the races were more interesting because we had a closer championship. We’ve now flicked in and out of a very Ferrari-dominant season, a closer season, and we’re in a Ferrari-dominant season. I think the hour-long qualifying session could be interesting, it will be intensive. I personally don’t like the aggregate decision but nonetheless that’s what’s been decided. As far as the race is concerned, if all the top teams do a good job and we’ve got closely competitive cars, then we’ll have a good season.
MT: Not much to add. I’m of the same view, basically. Any change, looking at the race format, I think any change will be a change for the better. What I personally would like to see that if we go out on one quick lap in qualifying, the spectator should be able to evaluate the performance of the car on one quick lap and not something covered by or overshadowed by race tactics as we have it now.
WR: I would prefer to keep the current procedure, first from a commercial point of view. Two single lap qualifying runs is guaranteed television time for us. If everybody is out in a normal qualifying session I think everybody is concentrating more on the quickest cars and to run second qualifying with fuel for the race, gives us a bit more possibility of qualifying with low fuel, for instance, and starting in front more and playing a bit more with the strategy. I think this has gone if we go back to the format which is planned for Silverstone.
OS: Well, we at Honda have really enjoyed the low fuel all-out performance runs in the past. We look forward to having that back. I’m not sure how the aggregate’s going to work but we shall see.

Q: (Steve Cooper) To everyone, given that McLaren and Toyota are producing a b-spec car this year and Williams are producing an aero upgrade and Honda has brought a big engine improvement here, do you think it is a growing trend that we are seeing teams developing almost two specs of car in a season or do you think it is just a one-off this year because the cars that were brought out were under-performing at the start of the year?
MW:
I hope it is not a trend. We don’t intend to do it again, no!
MT: What we have seen last year already is that some teams make bigger progress during the race season than over the winter with the new car. It only reflects the strong developing base the big teams have. I think what we would not like to do is introduce a new car or new engine halfway down the season but the optimisation steps during a season can be quite significant and will be quite significant in the future.
WR: I can assure you it is not an option for us, to develop a second car during the season, just for manpower and budget reasons.
OS: And with us it is not an all-new engine, it is just a significant step this time and we will continue to make those steps when we have the technology to put in the engine and bring out engines with more power. We aren’t winning and we will continue to push until we realise our want and our wishes and that is to win the world championship.

Q: (Thierry Tassin – RTBF TV) Just a question regarding the safety car procedure. In the Nurburgring we heard at lunchtime there was a new procedure then 40 minutes before the race they said we back off, we go to the previous one. What is happening for this Grand Prix?
MW:
We have no more information.
MT: I can’t (say) either.