FIA Friday press conference - Canada 23 Jun 2006
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Team members: Nick Fry (Honda), Norbert Haug (Mercedes), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber), Jean Todt (Ferrari)
Q: A question for all of you; what are your thoughts on the engine homologation? Is it going the way you want it to? What do you personally want out of the engine homologation rules?
Mario Theissen: Well, I think it is a constructive and reasonable discussion which is still going on. So I think it is a positive situation. We are evaluating what is good for the sport, what is good for the teams and everybody involved and yesterday in the Sporting Working Group, Charlie Whiting confirmed that the FIA will support this process so for the time being, I think it is a good situation and a good discussion.
Nick Fry: At the moment, assuming it carries on with good dialogue over the next week or so, I think theres light at the end of the tunnel. In answer to your question what do we want? we want something which is good for the future of Formula One and a good compromise obviously between technology: a level playing field for all the competitors and obviously a level of cost reduction, so it really is a combination of things and ideally we want that from next year, providing we can reach something which meets all those criteria. But time is tight. There were discussions about having this tidied up by the end of June, which means that weve got to move fairly quickly between now and the end of next week.
Q: Do you think thats possible, Norbert? Can that happen?
Norbert Haug: Well, I think it is really. As Mario and Nick pointed out, it was a process of ours, I would say, different to what happened in the past. I think were heading in the right direction the whole process started two years ago when we all met in Monaco in May and I think cost-cutting is important but it is as important to have Formula One as the pinnacle of motor sport and I think both could be combined and everybody needs to compromise. So obviously if you want to have unanimous agreement at the end - and I think thats what we all should strive for, because that would send a great signal from inside Formula One to outside Formula One - I think it is possible. And maybe it is just in time, but if we could achieve that two years after the discussion had started, and if you really have dramatic cost-cuts by then, then I think we all, as teams, as manufacturer teams especially, have done a good job. It is well known that the teams get more money in the future, which is fair; saving money on the one hand, getting more money into the teams on the other hand is a positive movement and I think that is very valuable for the teams and for Formula One.
Jean Todt: We must bear in mind that one of the issues for 2008 rules was how to reduce costs drastically for Formula One. The FIA rules, which are the ones at the moment, which should be applied do answer to this concern. Then, in the meantime, we have had some meetings: one, with an outcome, which was called the Maranello meeting. We are supporting this proposal which will cost more money than the actual (current) one in the FIA rules for 08, and another set of proposals which are the Monte Carlo proposal. We will see, in the coming days, what will be the final solution. We have the Formula One Commission in Paris on the sixth of July and we have one other very important point which is the 2007 rules, because, as Ive said before, it does apply to 08 and it will not be very constructive to develop full speed the engines from now until the end of 07 and to be due to come back to the actual (current) engine specification. So I hope that we manage to find a proper solution which will achieve the initial target.
Q: Mario, here we are in the land of Jacques Villeneuve. Im sure the local media would like him to continue in Formula One. What does he have to do to guarantee his seat for next year?
MT: He should continue as he does. Jacques is doing very well. We are happy with the performance he puts in. He himself is happy and lets just see how the season goes. We have taken the decision for this year very late last year and it proved to be the right decision, so we are not in a hurry at all to take a decision for next year. We will give all the drivers a chance to show what they can put in, what they can achieve and on that basis we will decide.
Q: Nick, a dramatic week for you, can you tell us how its all evolved, how its all happened? Give us the chronology of how it all happened?
NF: The chronology is quite simple. Clearly, this years been disappointing, especially the last few races, especially after such a promising start pre-season and quite good performance in the first few races. The thing were really trying to get is a very high level of integration between the people who work on the car in Japan and those in England. In some areas its very good at the moment; in others less so, and that resulted in the appointment of Nakamoto-san, who I think is fairly well-known in Formula One circles. Hes worked for our team in England for the last six years, obviously got a good knowledge of the English operation and has 17 years working on the racing side in Japan, so hes been nominated as the person to really put all this together and he will report to me.
At the same time, were making various other changes. The operational side was under Geoff (Willis). Were splitting that out. It will report separately to me and there are various changes on the Japanese management side as well. I think people have very much concentrated on Geoff and what will happen to him, but it really is part of a total restructure, a really much more flat structure than weve had up until this point in time, with the aim of involving, as far as practicable, as many people as possible, both here (in England) and in Japan. And so, hopefully, its not a short term plan. Its one that obviously needs time to bed down but its hopefully aimed at improving our performance in the longer run.
The Geoff question, which Ive been asked numerous times: hes on gardening leave at the moment and discussions will continue over the next couple of weeks on what the future holds and that will be a mutual decision between ourselves, specifically myself and Geoff. But, as were here in America at the moment and hes in England, thats something that probably wont be resolved until the week after we get back.
Q: And just going back to the chronology of it, Geoff had decided that he was going to leave before that appointment; is that true?
NF: Before that appointment? No, its all really happened at the same time. Geoffs role with the team has been a discussion between myself and him. We said, a month ago or so, that he would attend fewer races so weve been working on restructuring the whole thing. Obviously, this week we made some firmer decisions.
Q: And his gardening leave is self-imposed? You havent actually got rid of him.
NF: No, no, no. Geoff remains a fully contracted employee of the team and I think its mountain-biking leave actually. Hes riding up and down hills and thinking about what he wants to do and its something that we agreed mutually and the final outcome we will agree between us. So relations are good. Ive worked with Geoffrey for the last four years and hes a personal friend as well as a work colleague and so Im sure we can work something out which will suit him and us.
Q: Norbert and Jean, can I ask you about this race and Indianapolis as well? Norbert, you won this race last year; what are you feelings coming here this year?
NH: I think weve had a productive first day, I have to say, but that doesnt mean too much, as we know. Of course, we were preparing for the race and not doing any qualifying exercises or whatever, thats clear. But I think thats what everybody does who wants to be up front. We are still not quite there. I think we showed improvements in Monaco. It was a shame what happened to Kimi afterwards, and to point it out again: we are a team but in that case it was not an engine issue and ironically, the engine did 50 laps or whatever in Monaco. The same engine was still at Silverstone. There was quite a fire twice the second time in the race much more so than the first time and this is actually the engine that we have sealed right now and submitted to the FIA and this is a two race engine which did a good job. We will make further steps and of course we are not satisfied as long as we are not winning on a regular basis. We did that last year. We want to come back. Having said that, all these guys around me plus Renault and others are really strong and that is good for the spectators, that is good for everybody. Not so good for us, the teams. We have more competition in Formula One than ever and thats how it should be and rather sooner than later, a run from victory to victory will end. Look how strong Ferrari was over the years. Now they are coming back. Last year they struggled a little bit and now we are struggling a little bit, but still, we are amongst the top three teams and we need to do further steps. We are prepared to do those working hard. There is no disharmony within the team - all that stuff about Kimi leaving and so on. We are fully concentrated and doing our job, and obviously we want to do better and we are very focused on doing so.
Q: Jean, just coming up to the halfway stage in the championship and quite a deficit for you to catch up. How are you feeling about these two North American races?
JT: We know its very important for us because since quite a while, we no longer have the joker in the hand, so we need to do well and we will try to do well. Saying that, other than trying very hard as we do, together with Bridgestone, we cannot predict what will happen. Here we have two circuits coming where efficiency is important. Among the qualities of our package this year is efficiency. Bridgestone made a very good step forward since last year so we should be competitive. How competitive? Time will tell over the weekend. Its too early at the moment.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Matt Bishop F1 Racing) Nick, how much of a handicap, if any, will it be for Nakamoto-san in a technical director or engineering director role, to have a background in engines rather than chassis or race engineering?
NF: I think, obviously, Nakamoto-san has got a different skill set from Geoff and I think there are pluses and minuses. I think the major plus is, as I said earlier, his knowledge of the operations in Japan and how to best utilise the huge engineering skill there to the benefit of the team and hes probably better placed than anyone to facilitate that process and I think thats a huge plus. On the other side, clearly his Formula One knowledge is not as strong as Geoffreys was but on the other hand, like most of the teams, its never a one man job. Formula One teams, these days, are fairly broad-based and weve got a good line-up of chief engineers who are not only well-placed but its a big opportunity for them to step up to the mark. Obviously these changes do cause a level of disruption but as I said earlier, we are making this change for the long term good because we intend to be in Formula One for a long time. So as with most things, there are pluses and minuses, but on balance, this was decided to be the best way forward.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speedsport News) Bernie Ecclestone is quoted in The Times as saying F1 doesnt need America. What do you guys all think of having an American Grand Prix?
NF: Id say we think its very important to have a race in America and would like more than one, so I dont think wed agree with that.
MT: It would be very important for the manufacturers. America or the US is basically the only big country in which Formula One does not play the dominant role in motorsport and I think we shouldnt give up on achieving this. The Indianapolis race has in the previous years had the biggest attendance of all the races and I think it would certainly be worth to follow up on this or even to have a second one.
JT: We like racing in the US. Just to recall that Ferrari has its biggest market in the US one third of our cars are sold in this country so for the visibility of Ferrari and of Formula One we think its important to do this race.
NH: We are a German-American company officially and if I could, then I wish we could have at least two races in America. I would love to have an American team lets say if we could encourage a guy like Roger Penske. Of course, it would be fantastic to have a Canadian team, but that has to be the strategic approach. Im sure that Bernie has, I mean, I know Bernie differently and I was surprised and it was probably out of context, but I dont know what the discussion was, but to my knowledge and to our knowledge he was instrumental in getting the US Grand Prix and without him it probably wouldnt have been there and I think that in Indianapolis you look at the first year and how enormous it was in 2000. Of course last year was far from being ideal but we have another chance next week and Im sure we will go for it and have a very good race. There are normally very good races and as short as the circuit is and as special as the circuit is, it always has been entertaining races and it is important for us. It is our second biggest market for Mercedes Benz and is obviously very important for our hosts Chrysler and we are producing a lot of cars over there and of course we want to support America and I think we need to explore America further in Formula One in the future, and my wish in the long term would be to develop an American team with American drivers, even American engine manufacture, even a combination of that. That would be great.
Q: (Daniel Bastien Radio FM 103.3) Next year there will be a single tyre supplier. Are the Michelin teams thinking of requesting a change in the tyre structure just to try to level things out?
MT: As I understand the regulations, it will be the same next year, as far as tyres are concerned so I dont expect a big change. We can certainly not request a change in tyre regulations for next year but Im pretty sure that the tyre manufacturer, who ever it will be for next year, will treat the teams equal because there is no incentive for him to prefer a certain team because he will supply all of them. He will win the race, and it can only damage his reputation if there is rumour that the teams dont get equal material and equal support, so Im not too concerned about that.
NF: I think we share the same view. What we hear is that the current Bridgestone tyres are quite complex to make and so the actual processes may change next year anyway, which would presumably change the design of the tyre and give us a more level playing field. We would agree with Mario. We would clearly anticipate that whichever tyre manufacturer it is, they would treat the teams to the same level. We dont have any particular concerns.
NH: We have no concerns at all, I know Bridgestone have been fair players and as Mario and Nick pointed out, I think there will be a level playing field and of course the guys that run Bridgestones may have an advantage but there is no testing time before this where we can catch up. It is a learning process because we won the first world championship for Bridgestone in 98 and so I know them as good partners and it would be silly to favour one team against another. This business is in the background. They are fair players in that company so its the same for everybody I would say.
Q: (Steve Cooper F1 Racing) Nick, you spoke about this re-structuring about the team having time to bed in. Given that results could get worse, how long will it realistically be before you can start winning races and is there a pressure from Japan to win sooner rather than later?
NF: The pressure is clearly huge, and thats internally driven as well as from Japan. I think were all in the same boat. The plans weve got for this year is like most of the teams, fairly well bedded in now and I think most of the product planning is quite advanced, so I would expect most of what were currently planning to do to move without a hitch, but I think we are prepared for the disruption that these things tend to cause, just in terms of a change of structure and a change of direction. Our aim is to minimise that but, you know, it would be silly not to anticipate that. But the team has risen to the challenge and were all very determined to work hard and carry on under the present structure. When we come into a race then thats a different thing, but weve just got to keep our heads down and work as hard as possible. Well see.
Q: Do Honda in Japan appreciate that this season is now a write-off in terms of development and results?
NF: I dont think any of us consider it a write-off. Weve got a lot of races to go, were not halfway through yet and we have to continue working as hard as we can and well see what that brings, but theres no-one writing off this year. Were gonna have to work jolly hard and see what we can make of it.
Q: (Rodrigo Franca Racing) How does the World Cup affect the routines of your teams. Yesterday we saw Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa try to find a cable TV to try to watch the Brazil match. How does that affect the teams? Is it good or bad?
JT: I would say its okay. You know, France is playing and I am sitting here. It is the same for everybody.
NF: We think its going to be fairly fundamental because were expecting England and Brazil to be in the final, so with an English driver and a Brazilian driver, I think well expect a major fight.
NH: I think Nick has not got the right idea to be honest. Its fantastic I have been to a couple of games in Stuttgart to watch and its positive if the drivers are following it. They should not do it during driving but anyway.
MT: As far as I see it, people are not really excited about the championship and in a good mood back home as well as here at the track. I just left, when I came here, the Swiss game and all the people who can find the time were there. I think its fantastic to have that at the same time here and watch both.
Q: (James Roberts Motorsport News) Nick, can you explain why on Sunday evening at Silverstone, your sporting director Gil de Ferran said there are no plans to make any changes. Was he not telling the truth or does he not know whats going on at the team?
NF: I have no idea whether he said that or not, but if he did then he did. You know, Gil is responsible for the sporting side, that part, and his area is continuing as his. Jacky Eeckelaert is more involved, but that was pre-planned. I dont have any particular reason one way or the other as to why he would say that.
Q: (Niki Takeda Formula PA) Nick, should you and Geoff decide to part company, do you have a contingency lined up? Whos gonna run the wind tunnel?
NF: Wind tunnel? Probably no. We appointed Mariano Alperin to run the wind tunnel. Mariano is someone thats been with us for a long time so that will just continue. Because weve recently finally commissioned a full-size wind tunnel about three weeks ago, Between then and the beginning of the year weve hired in excess of 30 people to run it, including aerodynamicists from other teams. We feel fairly well equipped and I have full faith in Mariano to continue to do that. Its just a continuation of what we were doing.
Q: (Matt Bishop F1 Racing) Nick, you described the season as disappointing so far. Bearing that in mind, how is morale in the team, and by that I mean the race team including drivers and also back at Brackley?
NF: Good actually. People have never let their heads drop. Our team has obviously not been around a lot less time than some of the others around me, and in that time, weve had ups and downs and changes. They could let their heads drop, but one of the things Ive found remarkable is the way they continue to bash on. When I started at the team, four years ago, we made it clear things were going to get harder, not easier. The higher we got up the grid, the tougher it would get, so theres been a realisation right from the start that this was gonna be tough and to beat a team thats been in the sport for 40 years in the case of McLaren or 55 years in the case of Ferrari, was gonna be tough. Were the new boys and were gonna have to work very hard to catch up. Obviously events like the British Grand Prix at the start of this week was a surprise and in some cases a shock, people tend to get down to business after 24 hours. Obviously after the chitchat of the wives and the workforce goes down, I think people are very effective of getting their heads down, not looking back and just getting on with it. Its good and lets hope the same goes for both the drivers.