FIA Friday press conference - Hungary 04 Aug 2006
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Technical directors: Ross Brawn (Ferrari), Sam Michael (Williams), Pat Symonds (Renault), Pascal Vasselon (Toyota).
Q: A question to you all - can you talk us through the mass damper situation as you understand it from your point of view?
Pascal Vasselon: Yes, Formula One control presents a very specific issue, because we are running very hard suspension on top of very soft tyres and its very tricky to control the body movements. From our point of view, we have been working on this, of course, but we went in the direction of classical suspension elements, which are not mass dampers, so at the moment its not an issue.
Sam Michael: I would say that weve experimented with that type of damper and we definitely found gains with it on the track. Were obviously not running it at the moment, like most people. It will obviously be up to the FIA on the 22nd of August to decide whats what and to decide on the future direction for it. Theres no doubt that you gain through less load oscillation on the tyres, particularly in the end of straight condition; thats the place where you find the main advantage, but its all out there at the moment. Well wait and see.
Ross Brawn: Weve had a system fitted on occasions this year, not every race. Some tracks it seems to suit more than others and obviously we dont have the system fitted now.
Q: And the appeal by the FIA against their own stewards decision?
RB: I can understand how the situations evolved but I think its a little difficult, because we tend to use the FIA technical department as the reference and obviously if they make a dramatic mistake, then that needs correcting but weve had lots of occasions when we perhaps havent agreed with their assessment of the situation. Weve lobbied them and still not succeeded and weve abided by their decisions, which is the simplest way for everybody to work. Having said that, I can understand the frustrations that Renault have probably felt. But if we do get to the situation where we regularly challenge technical directors through the stewards, its going to get very messy, so I hope we dont degenerate into that situation.
Pat Symonds: The devices have been in use at Renault since the last quarter of 2005 and we have raced with them at every race up to Germany. I think the events of Germany are pretty well documented, theres no point in discussing those. The stewards did challenge what we did and that now therefore has to go to the Court of Appeal as the FIA have appealed against the stewards. Its actually nothing to do with Renault, its between the FIA and the stewards. As thats a process thats on-going, I dont think its correct for me to comment on the technicalities of it, although we have our defence, if you like, of our position. We have every faith in the International Court of Appeal. We believe it is an unbiased final judgement and we shall wait and see what the outcome is.
Q: Pascal, you became technical director just a few months ago, a fairly major job for you. How are you getting on with it, has it been a steep learning curve?
PV: Im trying hard, Im obviously working hard, but for a definitive answer you had better ask my boss. Of course I have a lot of new things to learn about, but when you are not technical director in my case but general manager chassis, first of all you have to understand where there is a problem in the car and the dominant performance factors, and in this area I had some experience before coming to Toyota.
Q: The cars have been going much better since North America but little things have been going wrong; how easy or difficult has it been to get on top of those problems?
PV: In view of performance, its obviously getting better and better but we still have too many reliability issues. We are working hard on that and it probably doesnt indicate that we took more risk in all areas, packaging, cooling, but we are working on it and we fix problems one after the other.
Q: Sam, new driver pairing announced, in particular Alexander Wurz. Tell us about him as a test driver, as a third driver and interesting to elevate him as a race driver, given that hes only done one race in the last three or four years.
SM: I think ever since Alex came to Williams, hes made a massive contribution to our programme on Fridays, obviously, with his selection of tyres and working on set-up. Both Nico and Mark had confidence in him almost immediately and the decisions that he took, which was really good because if he tests different things on Friday they just carry it straightaway, knowing through all the tests that theyve done that its valid for making the car go faster. I think the other thing is that hes someone whos got a lot of experience, hes a very intelligent guy, really does understand cars from an engineering perspective as well, and he brought a lot to the team in terms of moving us forward on suspension set-up, electronics, engine driveability, there were lots of genuine things. Theres a difference between talking a good show and actually doing it and Alex very much delivered to the team throughout the winter and helped us improve a lot of areas. In the racing that he has done, hes obviously always performed and were happy to have him on board. Hes a fantastic character outside of the car as well. Hes got a very good sense of humour and character and hes also a big contributor so Im quite happy to have him in the team.
Q: Now Mark has raced very well over the last few races but something always seems to go wrong for him. What have been the main problems, have you been getting on top of them?
SM: I think that weve had a lot of reliability issues on Marks car this year. Hes delivered probably over thirty points that havent resulted in points because of car failures and unfortunately, this year, weve probably had three or four very annoying small problems which are quite straightforward to fix, which should have come up in testing but didnt and it means that instead of being fifth or so in the Constructors were eighth. Thats obviously pretty hard for Mark to take because he has delivered on at least three or four occasions where he would have been on the podium and had done the job properly but we obviously let him down. Its a matter of us continually looking at our own systems and making sure we improve those and get on top of them.
Q: Ross, rumours of your sabbatical. Whats your line?
RB: Im afraid it will be a very short discussion if we want to have a discussion on it. Weve said that well make the plans of the team, specifically the team, known at the end of the season and thats when we will make it clear what our plans are for the future and we certainly wont make any comment before then and will concentrate on trying to win this championship.
Q: But I know one of your tasks, almost since you first went to Ferrari, is building for the future. To what extent have you been building up the personnel to perhaps take over for when you go or anyone else leaving?
RB: I think when you first go to a team and Ive been there ten years now - Ive been there ten years, this is the tenth year and its a team I love the team, Ferraris a fantastic team, weve had a fantastic group of people - and when you first go to a team, your first job is just to sort out the dramas. When I went to Ferrari there was a lot of day-to-day things which needed to be put right. And when we got over those initial hurdles then we had to start thinking about building for the future because none of us are going to be there for ever. I think youve seen with Rory, whos been a great servant of Ferrari for the past few years, that weve successfully brought on his successor in Aldo Costa and this car that were racing this year, the one that we had last year, is primarily Aldos car, with Rory giving what support he can, so weve had a very good evolution there. And theres evolutions going on throughout the whole organisation. Formula One teams change shape and the shape of a team in the future may be different. We have our plans and people seem to be a little bit anxious about them, but I think theyre pretty positive, what well be talking about at the end of the season.
Q: Pat, its a mark of the performance of the team over the past two years, if not longer, that the fact that youve been overtaken by Ferrari over the last few races
PS: We havent actually been overtaken yet
Q: but in terms of hierarchy, that Ferrari are now ahead. Is it that Ferrari have got better, or have Renault had problems?
PS: Well, competitiveness is a relative thing and I think all we can discuss is the relative competitiveness of Renault and Ferrari at the moment. Over the last three races, Ferrari have certainly had the upper hand. Four races before that, Renault had the upper hand. Its swings and roundabouts. Im sure that Ross probably felt quite despondent when we got four wins in a row. I feel quite despondent that hes beaten us three times in a row. But the seasons not over. Were fighting hard, we had a dreadful race in Germany for lots of reasons, but I hope that were a very honest team, honest with ourselves and recognise our problems and act on them as quickly as we possibly can. The fights not over. We had a good day today. The car looks good here. Weve got plenty coming for it, were working very, very hard on it, and were going to take the fight to the end - and I think it will be a good fight.
Q Do you think Fernando feels the pressure?
PS: No, I dont think so. Fernandos a remarkably calm character, extremely laid back. No, I dont think he does. I think that if he was ever going to feel the pressure and show the pressure, it would have been last year. We were racing a car that was considerably quicker than us last year and that was a very frustrating thing to do and while Ferrari have been quicker than us in the last couple of races, I dont feel its the same situation that we had last year. Fernando remained calm through last year to come through at the end with the championship. Ive seen no change in him this year. Hes very, very calm, hes very calculating, hes thinking about his job and hes working as hard as the rest of us.
Q: He said yesterday that he felt it would be down to tyres, that both chassis and engine manufacturers were neck and neck in terms of development, but actually it was in the hands of the tyres. Would you agree?
PS: Its very difficult to separate out the different parts of the package, and its only when youve got the five elements of the package together that you consistently win. Having said that, yeah, Im sure there is some truth in it. There is no doubt that last weekend we suffered with tyre problems, but that doesnt mean that its just a problem of Michelin or anything like that. One of the great skills of designing racing cars is getting the car and the tyre to work in harmony and if our performance wasnt good last week, its not necessarily that the tyre wasnt good, its getting the two working together. Ive said all along this year that I think that the situation is going to go up and down, as different tyres suit different circuits and I still believe that to be the case. We have taken a bit of a hammering over the last few races but I really see no reason why it cant swing the other way again.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Mathias Brunner - Motorsport Aktuell) Ross, usually in Hungary its very hot and Im sure Bridgestone worked in that direction before the summer break. Now, in conditions like today, how difficult is it to tackle tyre choice?
RB: I think you could all see today that there was a lot of degradation in the tyres, a lot of graining going on and very few peoples tyres were working properly to a lesser or greater degree. So its extremely difficult today to get a picture of whats going to be the situation by Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Its certainly cooler than weve had for some time and cooler than weve had in testing or racing, so some of the newer compounds were getting experience with in these conditions. I think weve suffered a little bit, because normally we have a good GP2 session to settle the track down before we get out there and that wasnt the case this morning, so it was the rawest condition we saw and on a track where, particularly here, youre trying to push to the limits of a compound.
The compounds looked pretty ragged today, but I expect that to improve over the weekend but as to how theyll behave in these cooler conditions, we dont have a lot of experience, because most of the summer has been surprisingly hot and it could turn up a few surprises this weekend with the tyres.
And just to elaborate on what Pat said, I think the biggest variable now for the remainder of the season is the tyres. I think both teams are working very hard on trying to improve their technical package but the thing, to me, thats going to be the biggest variable between now and the end of the season is the tyres, how they work with the weather, how they work with the particular tracks. This race, Turkey are tracks we have very little experience of and tracks that dont get raced on so they change a lot over the weekend. I think thats going to be an interesting challenge for both groups for the rest of the year.
Q: (Mike Doodson - Auto Action) Can each of you please make an argument as to why the regulations should not be changed, so that the minimum weight represents what could be the minimum weight of the car which does not require you to put any ballast in, in the first place?
PS: I think Mike that to mention ballast and mass dampers in the same context is an odd thing to do. Ballast is a something that is added where its pure purpose is to add mass and nothing else and a mass damper is an engineering device, as are many other things. Mass dampers are used in motor vehicles, in buildings, on bridges you know, they should not be associated with ballast or anything like that. I think, to answer your question, it does not really matter where you place the weight limit. We will still strive to build cars as light as we possibly can and as under the weight limit as we possibly can so that we can use ballast - and by that I mean devices that are there just to make up mass - to adjust the car in very much the same way that we would adjust the aerodynamics or the vehicle dynamics with springs or roll bars or whatever. We want to alter the weight distribution in the car and we want to keep the weight as low as we possibly can so I think that a change to the weight limit wouldnt really alter the way we went about things. If the weight limit went up, we would still strive to get that much further below it and to keep our ballast low. If it went down, we would work even harder to get the weight of the basis un-ballasted car down. So I dont think it would really have an effect on cost.
SM: If you reduce the weight limit a lot it makes it more expensive to reach those limits that Pat was just talking about because it is harder to get to that weight limit. The higher the weight limit is, it is cheaper because it is much easier to make components that are stronger and heavier and still achieve the weight limit so, you really send the favour away from the poorer teams, if you like, if you start reducing the weight limit.
Q: (Sal Zanca - Associated Press) Ross, you said the decision will be known at the end of the year, but have you made your own decision yet? And where does all this rumour and speculation come from?
RB: I dont know where it comes from and it wont be an instantaneous decision at the end of the year, so the team knows what it is doing. We will make our plans known when the season finishes. I will make mine known when the season finishes.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) I am sure Ross will not want to answer this, so I will ask the other three - given the pace of development, how hard would it be if you did decide to take a year off or would it be nice to go away and have a nice quiet think about things and maybe come back with even better ideas?
PS: I guess in a way I did actually do this about 15 or 16 years ago when Rory, who now works with Ross, and myself, and some others, went off to try and start a new project and it was actually very refreshing. It was very nice to be able to have actually a little bit of time to answer those questions that you have been asking yourself for years without the pressure of having to take cars to a race to perform at a race. It was challenging but a very nice thing to do. I think if youre talking about a years sabbatical as sitting on a beach I can think of nothing better at the moment but I know that within a week or two I would be clawing to get back.
Q: So you would recommend it. Pascal, your feelings about it
PV: It is something I have never thought about but it is no question for me, I am still looking for more work.
SM: I think it is much too early for me to think about that. But I think it is a good idea for Ross to have a year off to give us all a breather.
Q: (Panos Diamantis - Car and Driver) I have a question for Mr Brawn, leaving the tyres apart, he said that the biggest progress with the car was with the aerodynamics. Can you please explain to me the contribution of Mr Nikolas Tombazis to that since he came back? How does he change things and how does he fit in your future plans?
RB: I think if you look at the performance factors of the car, at least today I think the single biggest factor is probably the tyres, followed by the aerodynamics, so the aerodynamics are crucial and the area where most teams progress in a quantifiable way during the year. So, strategically, it is a critical area of the team and I think we have and have had a very strong aerodynamic team for many years and Nikolas was part of that team up until his departure a few years ago and he has actually come back to Ferrari in a different capacity than what he was doing before so he doesnt have the responsibility of the aerodynamic department. He is more involved now with the design of the car working with Aldo Costa so Nikolas is a very experienced and knowledgeable guy and of course his experience and knowledge is beneficial to the team. But I wouldnt point at anything and say that Nikolas has specifically done that because a lot of these things were in the system before he rejoined us. Certainly the design of this car was complete before Nikolas rejoined us, certainly the design of this car was complete before he joined us. But to manage properly, having the more intelligent and capable people you have in an organisation the stronger you will be and he is a very intelligent and capable guy so he is a big asset to Ferrari, but I dont think we can point at anything on the car specifically and say that was his contribution and there are very few things where you can point and say one person did that or came up with that idea. There is a system in place that evolves the ideas, but Nikolas is an asset to Ferrari, for sure, and I am very glad he came back.
Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) A question for Ross and Pat - which areas of the opposition do you think are the strongest?
RB: Well, Pat taught me everything I know so thats a problem. We both know each others thought process so it is something to get around that. We did work together for a long time, so we tend to think along the same lines. I think you just know that you have to keep pushing I think and certainly never give up and try to find steps in improvement for everything on the car and hope that the opposition doesnt find as much progress.
PS: It is interesting to be racing against someone who you do know as well as I know Ross and as well as he knows me because you do try and put yourself in their place and to think the way they are thinking and it is an interesting process. I think if you move away from the track and you look at the way the cars develop and everything - I think we both have quite efficient organisations and although I have no knowledge of exactly how Ferrari works - and I am sure it is not very different to Renault - I think the trackside talent is a great one and I am continually sitting on the pit wall and thinking well, I wonder what Ross is thinking now?
Q: (Mathias Brunner - Motorsport Aktuell) For Pat and Ross, when was your last test for wet conditions?
RB: Thats a good question because there hasnt been one for quite a long time. We had a little flash at Hockenheim but it wasnt very representative. If we get a proper wet session or even a wet race it is going to be very interesting to see how they compare because it is several months at least since we were last at a test and I think what we expect we will see - and I have picked up some clues - is that we will be better in some wet conditions and they will be in others. I know we dont have the situation we had a few years ago where Bridgestone were very dominant in the wet. I think Michelin have caught up. There are windows of certain wet conditions where I think we will have an advantage and other windows where the Michelin teams will have an advantage and the challenge will be trying to maximise the period where you have that advantage and minimise the period where you are struggling. But it will be fascinating when do get a proper wet race.
We can artificially wet Fiorano and I know we did some tests in April or May and havent done anything for some time now.
PS: Its a good question because I cant actually remember when we last ran some wet testing. I believe - and I am talking about Renault now as opposed to Michelin - we havent done any since December last year, but having said that the Michelin teams do work together in the same way that the Bridgestone teams do and if you look at the current extreme wet tyre that Michelin have that I think first came to Canada, it was a tyre that was evaluated by McLaren. The results were shared with us and it was a big improvement over the previous tyre and all the teams adopted it as indeed they have to by regulation with wet tyres so as Renault not done a great deal recently and a long while since we ran in the wet.
Q: (Steve Cooper - F1 Racing) A question for Pat, will Renault give evidence at the FIA Court of Appeal hearing and if the appeal goes against you, could you, or would you, appeal the verdict?
PS: The Court of Appeal process allows all interested parties to appear and give evidence if they so wish and I believe every Formula One team has been invited to that hearing. Renault will attend and will put forward a case. Should the FIA win the appeal against the Stewards decision, I think we would have to consider our position of course, but we are so convinced that the decision will be upheld - the technical argument is so overwhelming - we havent actually even thought of that process yet.
Q: (Heinz Pruller - Kronen Zeitung) Provided the cars are evenly-matched, how much do you measure a car by the engine, the aerodynamics, the tyres - there is an old saying that an engine is worth two or three-tenths, maybe more, but with a tyre you can maybe get two seconds, as it was in the days of Jackie Stewart and a bit afterwards. How is it now?
SM: I think it is a pretty similar level to be honest. The only thing that has happened in the last six months is the engine has become a bit more significant so your return for every ten horsepower is more than last year but the return for down-force and tyre grip is much the same and tyres are obviously a dominant factor, but with aero and engine behind it.
PV: The two dominant factors are tyres and aerodynamics.