Brawn and Bridgestone face the press 23 Apr 2005
The Ferrari-Bridgestone partnership has been the subject of close scrutiny over recent weeks, following three difficult races for the world champions. However, both parties go into this weekends race confident of significant improvement at Imola.
Following Friday practice Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn and Bridgestone technical manager Hisao Suganuma spoke about their season so far, plus the controversial subjects of testing and their relationship with rival teams.
Q: Ross and Hisao, what have you learned about one anothers products, or your own products, in the first three races of the year?
Hisao Suganuma: We did a lot of testing in the winter time. Then in the first round the tyre performance wasnt too bad, because Rubens started in 11th place, and finished second. So it was not too bad. Suddenly in Malaysia and Bahrain, the tyre didnt perform well. We understand that we have room to improve, so we are doing our best efforts to cover that area.
Ross Brawn: I think the rule change has not been in our favour. I dont think they ever are in our favour, despite what people think. But anyway in this particular case weve had some difficulty with the one race tyre. Lets say our concept of car and concept of tyre had not been correct for the one-race tyre, and weve been caught out, and in Malaysia and Bahrain we suffered. Were beginning to change the concept of the car, the concept of the tyre, to move much more to what we now understand we need as a one-race tyre. And that will take a little time. I think you have to have the stomach for a tyre war. Its a tough battle. Sometimes you look like heroes, and sometimes you dont. And thats the way it is, you have to live with that. Were not looking like heroes at the moment, but well come out of it. Ive got every faith in our partners at Bridgestone and theyve got faith in us. Its just a tough time at the moment. Its very interesting for Formula One.
Q: What can you do to help the one-race tyre? Obviously Ferrari can do a certain amount and Bridgestone can change certain things. Give us an idea of what you can change.
RB: The way you use the tyre, its unrealistic to expect Bridgestone to turn a magic switch and solve the problem. Weve got to find solutions for the car as well. For sure if we have more power and more downforce the car handles better and it uses the tyres better. As I say its unrealistic to expect these guys [Bridgestone] to turn the switch, and the problems solved. Weve got to have a better car. Weve got to improve the handling, weve got to have more power, weve got to have more downforce. All the things that make a good racing car, the more we can go in that direction, the less well test the tyre. And also the drivers can then manage the situation, because they have some, lets say, spare capacity to handle the situation. Thats what we need to create. At the same time Hisao and his colleagues need to make the same progress with the tyres. But it wont be an overnight change, itll be step-by-step, and itll be a hard slog.
Q: Hisao, what can Bridgestone do?
HS: Of course the first thing we have to learn from the previous two races is what was wrong with the tyres. And from this make some points to improve, and then try to concentrate to improve that area. Actually the thing is there are two aspects to improve those points, lets say less tyre wear and keep the performance, or even wear and keep the performance. Those are the two approaches. Then we think about which is best. I cant tell really, well adapt to each way and do our best. I think this weekend youll see some answers.
Q: This weekend youve got a new rear construction, havent you?
HS: Yes, I hope that works well.
Q: Is that part of the plan?
HS: Yes, we learned from the previous races, and this weeks tyre is one of the answers from us.
Q: How has it gone so far?
HS: If I look at the lap time that Michael did at the end of the second session, it was quite encouraging, he could make a good pace and a quite competitive lap time. And he could continue with the same level of lap time. So I feel quite good.
Q: Do you feel the same way, Ross?
RB: I think the consistency was very good today. As weve seen in the past the track can change over the days, and how you look on Friday does not always translate to what you find on Sunday in the race. I think today was very encouraging. Naturally we have two compounds of tyre, and one of them is quicker on the first lap and a little less consistent. The other one is the opposite. Tonight weve got to have a look at all the wear figures in detail and make a decision on what sort of tyres to take through to Sunday. It looked OK today. Obviously what we want is the consistency of the hard tyre and the one lap of the soft tyre, and life would look much better! Which of course is what were trying to achieve with Bridgestone, were trying to achieve the optimum of both. In this case for qualifying you need a tyre which is able to put in one lap, and when its done that it then has to remain consistent and perform for the race. Its finding that balance between the two. I dont think were very far off. In this business its all about tiny percentages. It looks OK, and if it translates into Sunday, were in good shape.
Q: Ross, can you explain how it works on a Friday - can you give us some idea of how you set-up the two sessions, and how you approach them?
RB: Weve been a little bit constrained and this is again why the solution is not a Bridgestone problem and the solution is not a Ferrari problem weve been a little bit constrained on mileage for the engines so far this year, and were just about to make a good step forward on that, and so in the forthcoming Grands Prix well have more capacity. What youll see here in fact is because we didnt use the engines in Bahrain we have unlimited mileage today [Friday] and tomorrow. So weve been able to run the car as we chose, and thats meant we had a much more comprehensive programme today. What you predominantly do is do a performance comparison to get an idea of the lap time, and then you tend to stay on the soft tyre to get as many laps on that tyre as you can, to measure it in the evening to see whether its got a chance of making the race. We generally dont do exactly the same on both tyres, we try and get a feel for the performance of the two tyres, and then if its clear that the soft tyre is quick, then we try and get as many laps on that tyre as we can, so by the end of Friday weve got a reasonable picture of whether that tyre will last the race.
Q: Hisao, you didnt get to the end of the race in Bahrain without your tyres deteriorating somewhat. Would it have been possible to have anticipated that if youd done more winter testing, if youd had more teams to help you with the testing, or was it just a function of the very high temperatures in Bahrain?
HS: Yes, the high temperature is as you said one of the functions of the problem. In those conditions the tyres didnt last, and we understand that is a point to improve. The other question is if we had more teams, could we solve the problem or not? That to be honest is difficult to say. We may adapt to the same result or we can make some different results. I think the point of the question is we only have Ferrari to do our main test programme, and is that enough or not? I must say of course we have less teams compared to our rival, and we may have less amount of data. But Ferrari provides as much data as they can, and so we are happy with our test programme. Of course with more teams we may have better data, but I believe that so far we did the best that we could do in the winter time.
Q: Ross, Ferrari is standing outside the testing restrictions agreement. This week you are pushing the envelope by running at Monza in a proper test while we are here racing this weekend at Imola. Is there any part of you that feels uncomfortable about the fact that you are doing that, given that theres such a long history of Formula One teams not running in the week of a Grand Prix?
RB: Not particularly, no. Ive got no qualms about that. I think we face a particular situation, lets say politically, and from a technical point of view we are alone in developing a Bridgestone tyre, and we have to do that the best we can. It is a difficult topic, an emotive topic, and obviously I would prefer it if there wasnt the friction between the teams on this particular aspect. But we tried to find a solution at the end of the year, and they stopped inviting us to their meetings, because they didnt like our solution. So really it collapsed from there. It would be good to find a solution in the future. We dont like the conflict, we dont like the animosity thats surrounding it. We were happy to stay with the agreement that existed last year, and I think that would have been a far better solution to the one that we have today. But that was unacceptable to the other teams. But I think theyre finding it difficult to restrain themselves to the 30 days testing that theyve nominally agreed to. I understand that theres a dispute between them as to whether a V8 test is actually in that 30 days or not. Several of them say its not. Some of them say it is. So I think theyll find it very difficult to respect it anyway regardless - and theyll accuse us of being the reason why they cant respect it. As I say I understand that some teams feel that the V8 is not part of that programme, because thats for next year, so therefore they can test the V8 whenever they want. The original 45 days or whatever it was we were happy to stay with, but that wasnt acceptable to them, and therefore the whole situation collapsed. With the predicament we face ourselves we will do whatever we can to be competitive as quickly as we can.
Q: Ross, I thought you were limiting yourself to 15,000kms to testing during the season. Are you keeping to that?
RB: The proposal we made was 15,000kms per team and 15,000 per tyre manufacturer. Now undoubtedly we would have done the majority of tyre testing, which would therefore be around 30,000km. We will do more than that this year, for sure. But I think then our competitors will, because they are averaging about 1,000kms a day. They are having such intense programmes that I think both Renault and BAR for instance have averaged about 1,000kms a day in the eight days of testing theyve done, the last time I looked. Its done by having a very intense group of people, night shifts, spare parts prepared exactly like a race. We would have preferred to see a mileage limit, because then you can organise yourself in the most efficient way. But there's pros and cons. Really now we see there are no constraints, and we'll test as necessary.
Q: Ross, do you guys at Ferrari feel victimised?
RB: Well, this is a competition. And to win a competition you have to do a good job yourself and weaken your opposition. That's how you win competitions. It's quite valid for our competitors to try and weaken Ferrari's position. I'm a Ferrari person; I'm going to come at this argument from a Ferrari direction. They have their own corner to fight, and they'll do whatever they can. We have two test tracks, and that's where Ferrari has chosen to invest in the past. We don't have two wind tunnels, we don't have a £280m technical facility, so that's entirely up to those teams to spend their money how they wish. We've chosen to spend our money on test tracks and things which we feel directly benefit the team, and we don't see why we should have rules imposed which specifically damage the facilities that Ferrari have invested in over the last few years.
Q: Rival teams have said in the past that you spend more money than almost any other team, with the exception perhaps of Toyota. Is that wrong?
RB: I think it's very difficult to compare budgets. I've experienced budgets in other teams. It's difficult to compare for instance how much McLaren and Mercedes spend together, how much BMW and Williams spend together. It's quite difficult to total those amounts. I think we have a good budget. I don't think it's in excess of several teams. We're certainly not the top, and I think we're probably upper levels, but probably not exceptional. We're fortunate in a way to have very good partners. We have partners like Bridgestone, we have partners like Shell, very good technical partners who have made the commitment as well. The budget of an F1 team is not just the money that comes in from let's say, commercial partners, but comes in from their technical partners, comes in from their engine suppliers, comes in from all sorts of areas. I'm happy with the budget we're provided with. It's not a reason why we're doing poorly at the beginning of the season, it's an adequate budget. People are entitled to go out there and find whatever money they can. It's a big competition. If McLaren or Williams can find more money than Ferrari and do a better job, good luck to them. That's all part of the battle we fight.
Q: Back to this Grand Prix, how is it between a two-stop and three-stop strategy?
RB: It's quite close here, because it's a very short pit lane. It could perhaps be the closest it's been this year in choosing between a two and a three. The difficulty is overtaking. It's almost impossible now, and if you're on a three, and you get stuck in the wrong place, you've got problems. I think you might see a few threes come in this race. Certainly in the numbers it's the first race where a three is a possibility.
Q: Ross, there are pro and con feelings towards a single tyre manufacturer as the future of Formula One. What is the current feeling among the technical directors? And Hisao, if there was a single tyre, would Bridgestone want to tender for it and be enthusiastic about being part of it?
RB: I think from my side it's interesting that we're not in the strongest position, and we're happy with the tyre war. It's quite surprising how our competitors, who let's say are in a stronger position, want a single tyre. The tyre companies have just as much commitment to Formula One as the engine companies, and we don't say let's have a single engine. In fact Bridgestone and Michelin probably put as much money into F1 as Mercedes or BMW do. We have to treat them with respect. They are very committed partners to Formula 1. We can't just change our opinions about whether they should or shouldn't be in Formula 1. It does create technical demands on the teams, but are they any different to any other technical demands? I'm not sure. It gives a fascinating aspect to the performance. If you have one strong, dominant team and a control tyre, then there will be less opportunity for the others to catch up. I quite like it. As I say you've got to have the stomach for it.
HS: From our point of view, I like competition very much. What I understand is that Bridgestone also likes a competitive situation. If we have a rival, of course we need to have some tough times like now, but if we can achieve success, it's more enjoyable. Also it's clear that with our tyre technology, we can show it worldwide. That is our aim. Even with the single tyres we want to continue to be involved in Formula One, and we want to do our best job.
RB: I think there's this old maxim about competition improves the breed. And it's absolutely true. The things which we're learning and the things which Bridgestone are learning to get ourselves out of the situation we have now, it's enormously valuable to those guys to study their approach, study their technology, and look at where they're weak and where they're strong. It's only really when you're failing that you look at those things intensely, and try and improve them. Companies like Bridgestone, Shell, any of those companies, the competition and rate of change in Formula One is so intense that you learn far more in a very short space of time than you ever would in a normal industry. And you can take those lessons back into industry and then apply them. These guys are working at a rate that you wouldn't believe, which they don't necessarily do in a normal industry, but they'll take that experience back into industry with them. Their [Bridgestone's] president is not happy about the situation, but he's delighted that they're having to fight to recover the situation, because he knows that they'll come out the other side a lot more experienced, a lot more competent.
Q: Michael has won this race five times in the last six years, and three of those from pole. What are the chances of that being repeated on Sunday?
RB: We're obviously coming from a less favourable position to achieve that, but I was quite pleased with the performance today. It's a slightly measured judgement, because we don't know how the thing is going to develop tomorrow, or Sunday morning. It's slightly qualified. But I think we'll be competitive. I'm let's say, quietly confident. But anything can happen between now and Sunday. Qualifying will be very important, because as I say, it's difficult to overtake, and there may be the option of a two or three stop. But you can only do a three stop if you're near the front. But it will be very welcome, I can tell you that.
HS: Today we saw quite good performance with Michael's lap time, and also with Rubens. Today's results I'm quite happy with, and I can feel that we will be competitive this weekend.