FIA Friday press conference - China 17 Oct 2008
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Drivers and team principals: Gerhard Berger (Toro Rosso), Vijay Mallya (Force India), Adrian Sutil (Force India), Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso).
Q: First of all to the two team principals. Can I ask for your reaction to the announcement that the FIA are seeking tenders from a third party supplier for engines and transmissions in 2010, 2011 and 2012. What are your feelings about that?
Vijay Mallya: Well, you know the global economic environment is certainly a cause of major concern. In my 25 years as chairman of the UB group Ive never seen such a position, where there is lack of confidence, where economic growth is being questioned, where there is a liquidity crisis, share prices have fallen off the cliff and trading conditions are certainly very, very difficult. In this context any initiative to reduce the costs of Formula One is most welcome. We have the FIA, the regulator, which writes the rules. We have the Formula One Teams Association that has recently formed, which I believe is also appreciative of the need to immediately reduce costs, so I think the FOTA and the FIA can talk to find out a solution but a solution is a must.
Gerhard Berger: Well, I couldnt agree more with Vijay. I mean I, as an independent team, am very happy to see things moving and that slowly everybody starts to realise that we are getting into a very, very difficult situation As we all know how much long lead time decisions like this can have it is very important to react quickly. As I understood, it is not yet fixed in which way costs are going to be reduced in drive trains. Obviously the FIA put some proposals onto the table in putting out the tender but hopefully also next week at the FOTA meeting, FOTA can make some reasonable and good possibilities. I am sure in the end we are going to choose the best, cheapest and most reasonable conclusion to fulfil all the needs of the manufacturers and to fulfil also the needs of the situation. But I am very happy that things are moving and it looks like they are moving quickly.
Q: Have you got your own personal suggestions?
GB: Well, as we put together FOTA of course everybody puts his ideas into it and then we are going to work out a proposal. Yes, I have some ideas but I think it is too early to discuss it here. I think I would like to see first with FOTA next week what are the different proposals or what are the different needs of other teams because I think it is very important to find solutions that fulfil everybodys expectations, not just for one team.
Q: Dr Mallya, any particular areas where you are keen to see costs cut?
VM: Well, you know there are several areas where costs can be cut. There has been a proposal mooted by FOM suggesting that the Concorde Agreement be modified to allow those teams that have been in Formula One for more than 10 years to exchange parts or to also go down the customer car route. The more you share, the less are the costs. There is no rocket science in that. It is logic. I think that is one of the things that we would certainly support but commonality of equipment and parts is once again something that reduces costs. I would imagine that that is the logic behind the FIAs decision to call for a tender for supply of the drive train. Of course I dont want to talk about the other costs associated with Formula One. However, I have to say that in the current economic environment there are many sponsors, there are many commercial organisations, who could regard Formula One as an unnecessary luxury. It is all very well for manufacturers to be in Formula One and justify it as part of their research and development initiatives or as a marketing initiative. But for independent teams like Gerhards and mine, we have to justify every penny of expenditure and make sure that we are not merely competitive but that we are commercially viable.
Q: I believe you are one of the best barometers when it comes to the world economic situation. How bad is it in India for example and are you disappointed that you have not been able to get more partners from India.
VM: India fortunately is somewhat insulated from the global meltdown but there has also been a meltdown in India. That is probably why I spent the last week making an alliance between Kingfisher Airlines and its biggest competitor Jet Airways. This is the need of the hour. I mean these two companies have been fierce rivals for the past several years and found it commercially compelling to come together now for mutual benefit. Having said that I think that there are several potential sponsors of Formula One in India, particularly as we look towards our grand prix in 2011 as Mr Ecclestone has announced. But Force India has only been around for one season, so I think it takes a little bit more time to get people to the table, to sign contracts and to execute sponsorships. One season is simply not enough.
Q: Gerhard, your feelings about the future of the team as a whole?
GB: Well, our situation hasnt changed at all. No, it has changed as our performance in the last half year really helped us a lot to position ourselves in a good way. Also my partner Red Bull is still committed very much behind the team. If the regulations change in a way that the system we are using at the moment, and share costs and get synergies for both teams, I think the situation could change for us and could help us, so I think that is the good side. The bad side is that in general the financial situation is very difficult. Sponsors are not coming into Formula One at the moment, not at all. The numbers you are asking are much too high. That is another issue that has to be addressed very well in the discussions in the next few months as if you talk, some people think about reducing 10 percent, as an example, drive train costs. I mean it is a long way off. I think it is the other way around. I think you have to come down in a dramatic, huge way. It is a bit too early to say is it turning around in a good way for Toro Rosso or not? I think it is not yet ready to know this but generally we are fighting and we will try to do our best for the last two races and then we are going to see.
Q: Adrian, do you feel you have been quite unlucky this year?
Adrian Sutil: Well, yes I think so. For sure there were many races where I didnt have the biggest luck, very unlucky we can say. And just lots of incidents, especially in the races, problems with the car, mechanical problems we had quite a lot. But then when I was in a good position there was this bad luck. We could finish I think five or six races, so this is just not enough. I am really disappointed with this season and I think it is just time to finish this season and hopefully we will do a better one next one.
Q: Overall, you performance? From your own point of view how has that changed?
AS: Well, I learned a lot this year which was very important. With Giancarlo I had a good team-mate where I could really measure myself, a good benchmark. He was pushing me all the time and I really saw myself progressing and growing, so right now I am feeling very, very good and I am still learning but it is getting very tight now and I start to really get everything together in the end, the qualifying, the race. I am just a much better driver now compared to the beginning of this season.
Q: Sebastian, a similar question. How do you feel you have developed? It seems to have been pretty much in the right direction.
Sebastian Vettel: Yes, I mean at the outset, especially the last half season it was very good for us. Obviously the start of the season was not ideal for us and myself. I mean the first four races I didnt finish at all, I think I did one lap in total, so it was quite an expensive trip to the overseas races but what was important was that we didnt lose the focus. We were 100 percent focussed for the next races and I think if you are looking for a turning point, then we should mention Monaco. After that we were able to finish in the points. The last five races I think we finished all of them. First of all finished all of them and secondly all in the points, so it was very god races for us. Obviously there are two more to go and it would be nice first of all to finish them and in the best possible position.
Q: And what about your trip up Mount Fuji on Sunday night?
SV: It was good fun. I mean it was very special. We walked up there. I woke up at 2 oclock in the night and started walking at 3 a.m. We were the first ones but surprisingly when we were heading to the peak, the top, there were some funny Japanese people standing in the corners and waiting for the sunrise, so we realised we were not the first. But you know it was a good experience. Obviously it was very cold up there, I think around minus 15 degrees, so we all had gloves and jackets, winter hats, winter gear which was absolutely necessary but it was a good adventure. It was good fun.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Chris Lines AP) Can I ask both the team principals about this statement from the FIA? When did you first know that they were going to ask for tenders and do you think that maybe this is an ambit claim trying to push the teams in the right direction rather than a serious commitment that there will be customer drive-trains?
GB: Well, first of all, I saw it ten minutes ago for the first time. Secondly, I am very happy that somebody has made the first step to push the matter. It doesnt say that the decision has been made and Im sure if FOTA is doing a good job next week, maybe the right solution can be found with the FIA. If its this one or another one, it doesnt matter. I think its just important that something happens quickly.
VM: I would endorse what Gerhard just said. I also got to know about this ten minutes ago, prior to the start of this press conference. As I said before, I welcome any initiative to drastically reduce costs. I am aware that FOTA has a meeting next week and if, together with the FIA, a solution can be found to address the subject and actually make sure it happens and doesnt remain one of those everlasting discussions, then its good for all of us: good for the sport and certainly good for the independent teams.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Dr Mallya, can you please tell us where you are in your negotiations with Mercedes Benz? You talk about being an independent team, if you get too close to Mercedes, might you not be an independent team anymore?
VM: It depends on how you define an independent team. Force India Formula One is owned by two private shareholders and no manufacturer is involved and I think that makes us truly independent because we write the cheques. The second point is that I have been in discussion with Mercedes as well as with my current suppliers, Ferrari, because I have decided that we want a complete drive-train which includes the most important KERS package. So thats our requirement and we cant do without any one component. So negotiations continue and Im hoping that we will be able to finalise something sooner rather than later because we need to finish this season, get on with testing and be prepared for significantly improved performance by the team in 2009.
Q: (Alberto Antonini Autosprint) Again to Gerhard and Dr Mallya: its again on the KERS issue. How does this enter the picture in view of what the FIA just proposed with the engine and transmission? And can you quantify the amount of resources devoted into buying the KERS system and possible development in terms of your total budget?
VM: As far as Force India is concerned, we are negotiating for a complete package which includes the engine, the gearbox and the KERS system. We are not splitting it up into three different components. I know of teams that are spending enormous sums of money trying to develop the KERS system. We have said from the very start that we are not capable of developing this system, we dont have the in-house resources to develop the KERS system and that we would buy it as part of the drive-train package. And so thats precisely where we are.
GB: Well, its the same for us. In our case, its not the drive-train but the engine and KERS together as one package. And thats what we are getting from Ferrari as we decided a couple of months ago. We are not involved in the direct development, we are just going to get what Ferrari are going to develop. I generally think its a typical issue where different teams and manufacturers are going to have different views. For an independent team its an extra cost factor which hurts but sometimes you maybe have to see a bigger picture and I know when I spoke to some other manufacturers like BMW or Honda, they see it as an extremely important tool for the future. The downside is extra costs which we have to deal with.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Gerhard, can you update us on the future of Sébastien Bourdais and the other driver in your second seat next year?
GB: We dont really have news at this stage. We are collecting names and data and trying to understand what could be the best solution for us. Obviously Sébastien Bourdais is on top of the list. He especially drove a very good race last weekend, he did well today, he is struggling to score a result for different reasons: sometimes his own mistake, sometimes because of a similar decision to last week. But generally, we see that there is some good potential but we are not ready yet to make our decision. Obviously we also have to see how we replace Sebastian (Vettel), so we are still in this process.
Q: Perhaps we can carry that over to Dr Mallya, what is your situation with the drivers?
VM: I have made it really clear that I am quite happy with Adrian and Giancarlo and they will continue with us in 2009.
Q: (Chris Lines AP) May I ask both the team principals, aside from the matter about the common engine supplier, what are the major issues you want addressed by FOTA at the meeting next week?
GB: I think what is very important we are talking about drive-trains a lot at the moment which I think is one of the big cost issues, no question about it, and I think it really has to be dramatically reduced but at the same time, its very important to see to the rest of the car. We are incurring cost on the aerodynamic side and electronics and other areas which have to be faced in a similar way to the drive-train and I think there are going to be different issues at next weeks meeting.
VM: Yes, as Gerhard said, apart from the drive-train which is obviously a very important component of the whole package, aerodynamic costs are also obviously quite large. Thats why sharing of resources, sharing of components, parts, even a bit of aerodynamics, would help bring down costs. It all depends as to what extent you can go to but arguably, if Bernies proposal of permitting teams who have been in Formula One for ten years or more to share as much as they like between themselves actually goes through, I think it will be excellent for all independent teams and bring down costs substantially.
Q: (Marco DeglInnocenti La Gazzetta dello Sport) To both drivers: of course youre drivers, not team principals but you are an important part of Formula One. So I dont want to ask you what is your opinion about the common engine because maybe its too early but in any case I would like to ask if you could suggest something to change Formula One in the future, what would be your main idea, what would you suggest?
SV: Difficult question, I dont really know. Obviously as you said when you started your question, I think the drivers are not in a position to decide and thats why we are not thinking about it, honestly. Obviously all I care about is driving the car. I think no matter what you can change in the future, introduction of the KERS system or reducing aero or whatever it is, we will still be trying to do the best on the circuit and fighting with understeer, oversteer, traction, whatever. Maybe we should consider
GB: What about increasing drivers salaries?
SV: Thats a good point, I dont know really. As I said, I never thought about it because its simply not in my hands, so I have no opinion.
AS: For me, at the moment, in a smaller team, for sure I am thinking that the teams should be more similar, everybody should have a better chance at the moment. For example for us its very hard to make another step because the factories are just investing so much money and we dont have this, so we can never really catch up and its really hard for us drivers because we give our best in the cars but the result is always the back row. So maybe there we can find a solution to bring the field a little bit closer together. I think we already did quite a good job in the last few years, the field is very close together but its maybe important to reduce the costs a little bit. Finally, maybe a slightly different weekend programme. Maybe free practice over a whole day, a little bit a combination of testing together with a race event, so there we could also save some costs. It makes more sense because you can set up your car and then you race straight away with the same track conditions and everything. Maybe something like this would be more attractive for fans, the cars would be out on the circuit a lot more, maybe two races like in GP2, a sprint race and a main race, so lots of suggestions. I think we can always improve it.
Q: (Daniel Oriental Auto) Sebastian, last year you did a very good job in Shanghai; do you think this will give you good luck? My other question is, have you tested the KERS system and how do you feel about it?
SV: Well, the first question: obviously last year was a very good race for us; we came from Japan and we didnt finish the race, even though we were in a very good position because of my mistake under the safety car. If this place gives me good luck or not, maybe we will need a couple more races or I need a couple of races here to judge. I believe that this year, especially, we have a strong package, so no matter the conditions, if its dry or wet, we should be competitive, so we will see. If it rains on Sunday, the rain is always welcome. It seemed to help us in the past, so why shouldnt it in the future. The second question, if I have ever tested the KERS system? No. Obviously we are a customer team and a private team, so as Gerhard explained, we are not in a position to develop this system. Obviously it will be introduced next year but as far as it concerns our team, we have had no tests yet.