FIA Friday press conference - Bahrain 13 Apr 2007
Team principals: Nick Fry (Honda), John Howett (Toyota);
drivers: Jenson Button (Honda), Ralf Schumacher (Toyota).
Q: Can I ask the team principals to summarise today because it looked quite dramatic - certainly for one of you?
John Howett: I think a normal Friday. We had a programme to go through. This morning on a green track the car was working fairly well and I think we went through the programme this afternoon and were fairly happy.
Q: Nick, it all looked a bit busy?
Nick Fry: It was a little bit busy! Obviously, we had pretty much the same car as we had last weekend, so we werent expecting too much. The day turned out pretty much as we expected with the exception obviously that Jenson lost his engine this afternoon and only got some very early runs. We could probably have done without that because we come here not in the best position at the moment.
Q: We saw the guys working, was it the T-car with the engine off?
NF: I dont think that was anything to do with Jensons problem, just normal work.
Q: Jenson, explain the problems with the car at the moment, because obviously there are some fairly major issues. What can you say?
Jenson Button: Its pretty simple really; were not quick enough. Were not producing enough grip I suppose, for the drag. We can be reasonably quick in a straight line but the car is pretty difficult to drive and we cant do a corner the same twice, pretty much, in a race. It is very difficult to be consistent. Or you can put a bit more downforce on and then were nowhere because we dont have the straight line speed. So were a little bit stuck really. It is frustrating for everyone in the team, not just myself, but this is what we have at the moment. We just have to do the best job we can until we get something better.
Q: Is it better or worse on certain tracks? Better or worse in race conditions than in qualifying?
JB: Its easier in qualifying because you just have to do it once but in the race its a much more difficult car to drive. We had a reasonable race in Malaysia from where we started on the grid, and Rubens did also, but I dont think that really reflects our performance. I think that maybe other people didnt have such a good race and we got the best out of what we had.
Q: Rubens has been complaining about stability under braking, as he was this time last year, but I understand its a different problem?
JB: Its a slightly different problem! No, we are struggling with braking stability but thats not the only thing. Its very difficult to pinpoint one problem with the car. Under braking you have a stability problem at the rear, at the apex you have another problem and traction is not fantastic. But thats what happens. Everything seems like its not working. It seems like the traction control is not the best TC that weve had and other parts of the car are the same. The package at the moment is not that great and as soon as we find more grip and downforce for the same sort of efficiency, I think all the other problems will fade away.
Q: Nick, what are the plans for curing the problems?
NF: Its not really one thing unfortunately, as Jenson said. The car is just short of grip. Its principally an aerodynamic issue although there are some mechanical changes we also want to make to the car. We will make some changes at Barcelona, principally a large number of aerodynamic parts. There will be more for Canada and we are in the process of testing those in the wind tunnel and elsewhere. There will be more after that, probably in Magny-Cours. I think its just going to be a series of rolling changes, if you like, rather than one change which is going to fix the problem.
Q: So rumours of a new car are greatly exaggerated?
NF: I think it depends on what you mean by a new car. There are large parts of the car where we dont have any specially identified problem. The gearbox seems to work, the engine with the exception of this afternoon has been pretty reliable, the main part of the monocoque, albeit that we may have to alter things to make some changes to the aerodynamic shape. As far as we can tell, the rear suspension seems perfectly okay. We are going to have to change a reasonable amount. I wouldnt call it a new car but its not going to be insubstantial either.
Q: Is it true you have made an offer to Ross Brawn?
NF: No, its not true. I made one comment in Malaysia along the lines that Im sure there are a number of people who might be interested in Ross. In my view hes an incredibly talented person and he would be an asset to most Formula One teams. I also added that I thought Ferrari would have some kind of arrangement with Ross. You dont let a person of that talent go without having something, whether it be written or verbal, and I was told that Jean (Todt) or Ferrari had confirmed that was the case. My personal view is that Ross is taking a well earned years sabbatical. Im sure there are a number of people interested in him but we will see what happens later in the year. Maybe he will go back to Ferrari and maybe he will go fly-fishing, I dont know. The team principals talk to a lot of people all the time and we are no exception, but obviously in our situation we have spoken to a number of technically adept people.
Q: Ralf, your feelings about the Toyota car performance in the two races that we have had?
Ralf Schumacher: I think we have had a pretty decent start. In both races we have finished in the points. For me Malaysia was a bit difficult but apart from that we have not felt unhappy with what we have achieved so far. Theres still a lot to do, thats clear, but in general I think it works quite well.
Q: There seem to have been some problems before the start of the season gearbox and again stability and general handling at the back end of the car. Have they been cured?
RS: We have had some minor reliability issues which I guess at that stage of the season everyone has up and down the pit lane. Apart from that, we launched our car pretty early and we had some steps in between tests which helped the performance but nothing special apart from what normally happens during the winter.
Q: In terms of team stability, you and Jarno and generally the major players are still there. How does that feel in terms of an advantage?
RS: Its always good to have stability. A few changes were made last year in the beginning and now its time for the pay-off in terms of stability. It will take some time but Im sure we will soon see some steps on the car and some better results.
Q: John, the performance so far has been reasonable in qualifying and the race; is it better than expected?
JH: Towards the end of last year we thought we were fighting for third quickest package in terms of raw speed. Reliability was not good enough and we worked hard and we intended to come out this season with a more competitive relative position and therefore we are not where we want to be. I think its better than a lot of people assumed, based on some of the winter testing. We had been written off. I think we are there, we are hanging in there and we are working hard to improve.
Certainly we are close. I think Sepang suited us and we were much closer than we were in Melbourne but its still not our expectation: we have to work hard to improve.
Q: How big is the jump to the next competitor?
JH: I guess about half a second. Its not necessarily that big.
Q: And looking at Williams, how great is the information flow between the two teams?
JH: I think its strong in the areas that we are working on. Otherwise I think we are ardent competitors, so obviously, for the engine package, we have to co-operate. We have a joint venture development on the seamless transmission, so there is a lot of inter-action on that part, so the powertrain but apart from that, no, our point is that they are our ardent competition and we are close. They are very close, they are very very close to us. I think its good for us, its good to push us, we know where the powertrain is because its the same basic powertrain, so the rest is purely chassis.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Simon Arron Motorsport News) Question for both Jenson and Nick; Jenson, when your engine blew, you left your car, obviously, without the handbrake on and it started to roll backwards. The marshals took about four and a half minutes getting to it. I wondered how you and Nick felt about what looked like slipshod performance. Nick, we saw a close-up of you on the pit wall and you looked fairly pained by the whole thing.
NF: Yeah, obviously having weak performance of the car is one thing but we didnt need the problem that we did have. I agree, I was looking slightly worried when the car started moving and was much relieved when it only moved six inches or whatever it moved and stopped moving again. Perhaps someone should have been there a bit quicker but they were there fairly shortly thereafter and if the car had been in imminent danger of running onto the track, one would have hoped that they would have moved a bit quicker.
JB: When I got out of the car there was someone pretty much near the car but they didnt want to get any closer, I suppose, because nobody slowed down. The cars that I saw coming past when I was getting out of the car were still at full speed, obviously twitching quite a bit because there was a lot of oil on the circuit, so that wasnt very good to see. But the marshals were just very wary because of that. They didnt want to get too close in case something happened, I suppose.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Earth car. Nick, can you give us an update on the public response since you introduced the earth car in Australia?
NF: Yeah, reaction has been mainly positive, obviously with a couple of exceptions which we expected. I think we said at the launch that the work weve done around the world investigating before we launched showed there would be, to be exact, six percent of the people who were cynical about it, and that about sums it up. The thing that for us is the best is that a lot of people who werent previously interested in Formula One have come to us and it has sparked their interest and I think thats the most encouraging thing, that people who are not overly interested in cars or car racing or cars covered in logos, its captured their imagination. And weve had some good events around it, one with a school in Australia. Its being used in advertisements to promote various products and theres more coming through the year. Its got off to a quicker start than we expected. This wasnt anticipated as an overnight success and other campaigns of this type have taken a couple of years to get off the ground, so the interest that came about before we went to Melbourne has continued since, in fact somewhat better than we expected and it has attracted commercially; I think we have some announcements to make over the next few weeks. We are talking to a lot of people who ordinarily wouldnt be interested in Formula One necessarily.
Q: (Alan Baldwin Reuters) Ralf, as Jenson was talking about safety issues with the car, I was wondering if there were any conclusions from the drivers, as youre representative on the GPDA, about the incident in Australia with Alex Wurz and David Coulthard, whether youve had any suggestions now or any action is going to be taken or can be taken to make the cockpits safer?
RS: We talked about it at our last meeting and the FIA has been looking at the incident and they are looking at solutions for that, so we kind of asked the question but it was really not necessary for us to get involved because obviously what has happened has been seen and they are going to find a solution for it.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Nick, youve said you have been talking to technical people, partly because its your job and partly because of your position. Do you foresee major changes or additions in that department?
NF: We are always looking to strengthen the team, but these things, I think we all recognise, dont happen overnight. Even if you start talking to someone seriously, invariably if they are any good they do have existing contracts and they do have the usual gardening leave and the other things, so lead times on these things are, in most cases, relatively slow but we certainly need to strengthen the team in some areas.