FIA Friday press conference - Turkey 09 May 2008
Team personnel: Ross Brawn (Honda), Norbert Haug (Mercedes), John Howett (Toyota), Frank Williams (Williams)
Q: Ross, Rubens Barrichello is celebrating his 257th Grand Prix. You have worked with him quite a lot with Ferrari and now Honda. How much has he changed? Give us a little appraisal of his current state.
Ross Brawn: He has not changed at all. But what is great, not only about the achievement of 257 races, is the fact that he is still as strong and as competitive for many more. When Riccardo Patrese reached the record he was retiring, but there are no signs of Rubens needing or wanting to retire in the future.
Q: Do you think he is still learning?
RB: I think every driver keeps learning as do the engineers, technicians and all the other people involved. There is always something to learn in F1.
Q: We saw Jenson Button in the points in Barcelona. Is that the product of new bits and pieces coming through but is it also perhaps a development of the Brawn effect?
RB: There is a good programme of development with the team and with the car. I think there is some benefit from the changes and the progress we have made with the car. From where we were with the car in winter testing I think we can be quite pleased where we are now. What I want to do in the future is start the winter testing with something a lot stronger than we had this past winter. On your second point I hope I have been able to give the team some more confidence in doing the right things. They are all capable of doing a very good job. I think sometimes it just helps to have a reference point with someone who has been fortunate enough to win races and championships and who can say guys you are not that far off, lets just work hard and focus on the important things and we can do it. Thats the thing I have tried to bring to the team.
Q: As well as that, how much has it been a case of putting the right people in the right places?
RB: There is always that in every team. Every successful team is a combination of a lot of very good people, all highly talented people and sometimes it is a question of helping them see each others needs as well as their own and getting the whole group to work together. You will only succeed as a group. You will not succeed any other way.
Q: John, Timo Glock is somebody at the other end of the scale than Rubens, having his first season in F1. How do you feel he is developing?
John Howett: Very well. He had a good day today and his confidence is growing. We are very happy. He is a cohesive part of the team and he has certainly shown at times that he has the capability to do a very strong performance. We are looking forward in the next few grands prix to really seeing the full potential.
Q: He started off particularly well but the qualifying seems to have dropped off a bit.
JH: I think only the last race in Barcelona. I think he had a very strong race in Barcelona, but he didnt manage really to get a strong lap that he had shown in the first three that he could actually put in. It is part of the growing experience in F1 and getting used to the tyres, getting used to setting up the car for both the race and qualifying. We are very happy where he is at the moment and we expect a lot more performance in the next two to three races.
Q: We have seen Jarno Trulli in the Top 10 quite a lot in the last few years, but not necessarily confirming that with points finishes. But in three out of the four races this year he has been in the points. What has changed?
JH: I think he just has confidence in the car. He is really sparkling if I can say that this year. From the Bahrain test he had confidence in the car and he is really delivering in qualifying and I think he has an extremely strong race pace.
Q: Frank, a word about Kazuki Nakajima - twice in the points. How do you feel he has got on?
Frank Williams: Well, he is very young and very sincere and earnest. He works hard at the track and away from the track and spends more time on his fitness than even Nico Rosberg does. I think if his car is good enough he will be as good as the car and he will do well.
Q: Nico seems to have been in and out of the Top 10. Is the problem with the car?
FW: We have seen him spend quite a bit of time out of the Top 10 until the time it really matters. I dont know how many times we have qualified out of the Top 10, but I dont think it is more than once or twice this year. But it doesnt seem to bother him and he always seems to accelerate from 15th to 10th at the first corner and 10th to 8th by the second. It is great to watch.
Q: How do you feel you are getting on with the battle in the midfield as that really is a major battle with everybody?
FW: It is. It is unpredictable every time. You could be at the top of it or the bottom of it only covered by two or three-tenths-of-a-second at two or three circuits. It is not the place to be.
Q: But knowing you are a racer it must be very exciting to see where you are coming out of it.
FW: We worry about the amount of points we collect at the end of every year or have collected. That makes such a difference to the money, of course, and everyones morale and the sponsors.
Q: Norbert, we saw Heikki Kovalainen have the accident at the Spanish Grand Prix. You have seen a lot of drivers coming back from big accidents in the past. How do you feel he has come out of it?
Norbert Haug: I think he is fine and that for us, and I think for the F1 community, is the best message of today. He came and settled into the car and just continued like he drove the car before - very focussed. He had a smile on his face this morning which was very positive. He passed the test yesterday in a very good manner, so we are all very pleased that he is back and can do a very good job.
Q: From an engine suppliers point of view how much development are you still able to do?
NH: Very, very limited after the start of the season really just some stuff around the engine and the outside, but not the inside. As the expression says, it is basically frozen.
Q: That was not an expression you liked.
NH: Not at the beginning, thats right, probably there could be a better one. But in the meantime everybody knows what we want to describe by saying that.
Q: Do you think the disparity has grown in terms of the power of the engines?
NH: I think it is difficult to judge really as it is the whole package at the end of the day. If you look at the data and the top speeds and lap times, if anything, it has closed together. I think it is a really, really intense battle - much more so than in the past. F1 was never easy but it is really unpredictable and if we make a mistake we may end up 10th on the grid or whatever. It is really closed together and if you look at the fastest race laps of the recent races, even in Barcelona which is a very challenging track, I think the whole pack came together in a very impressive way. It is the end of a period with a comparable set of rules and thats always the case, but I think F1 has never been more challenging as it is now and you can name a lot of teams that are capable and invest a lot of money and have good people. But it is a very intense fight.
Q: To all of you. Your feelings about the loss of the Super Aguri team.
RB: I think it is always a great shame to lose any team from F1, we cannot really afford to be losing teams. I think they showed a lot of character and a lot effort in the past couple of years but circumstances prevailed and they were not able to carry on. But it is a shame that they were not able to find the funding to continue.
JH: Very sad to lose a team, but I would say it is as competitive off the track as it is on the track to maintain a commercial environment and a strong team. I think in the end we are in the premium level of motor sport in the world and we have to compete at all levels - both on and off the track.
FW: I cannot really improve on whats been said by the two honourable gentlemen behind. They have said it all really. It is a shame.
NH: It is a shame. We all know Aguri, he was driving in F1. He is a particularly nice guy. I think he worked very hard, but the fact that more teams have left F1 than are currently staying in F1 just describes the fact how difficult it is to continue on that basis. In that case it is particularly sad because they have been nice guys, good drivers, very committed. The beginning looked very promising and they had quite a good set-up and made it into F1. At the very last moment I think they went flat out, had good support from Japan and from various people and even more, so it is a shame that they need to quit right now.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) On the Super Aguri question, if I could ask Frank to start and then perhaps the others as well, with their departure, to what extent does it facilitate the path towards a new Concorde Agreement? I ask Frank first because obviously his teams stance was fairly uncompromising towards customer cars.
FW: First of all I would say, if I were Max (Mosley, President of the FIA), what Concorde Agreement? There isnt one and there isnt going to be one, but if you mean there is, dont worry, there is one in place by But at the end of the day it is only for the top ten teams and if they were to have finished at the end of this season in eleventh place, they would still not have been able to receive any of the starting money if you like, but not they would not have been excluded from the opportunity of earning prize money.
Q: (Ian Parkes - The Press Association) Ross, youve mentioned that on the one hand you are not too sad to see Super Aguri go, but on the other hand perhaps not unhappy given the drain they were proving on Hondas finances and what impact that might have had on your teams plans not only for the end of this season but for next season as well.
RB: First of all, I am sad to see Super Aguri go but it had no impact on our team. I think Aguri Suzuki made the statement in Japan that he wasnt able to find the money and continue but there was no strong relevance for our team.
Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Ross, if I could just follow up that question. It seems that Nick Fry has been labelled in some of the media as the guilty party in the Super Aguri exit. Do you feel that he has perhaps been unfairly targeted by some people and by Suzuki? I gather in the press conference he spoke out against him particularly.
RB: Well, Im sure its a very difficult time for Aguri. Hes worked for two years on this project and I think he realised that the end had come. I think probably when he reflects on the things he said he will reflect a little differently, because what I saw was that Nick was making big efforts at times to try and keep the project alive, far beyond any reason for us, personally. It was because of the connection of Aguri with Honda that Nick did a lot of work to try and find a viable solution for Aguri and it looked as though the Magma option, which I know Nick worked on very hard to put together, was a strong viable solution. And when that didnt happen, there were no other viable solutions.
Q: (Tomas Richter - TV Nova) How big do you see the probability of other teams joining Formula One in the next two or three years, considering the technical regulation changes?
NH: Well, its difficult to judge really. Its difficult to enter Formula One these days, if you need to build up from scratch and if you need to build your own car. Its not impossible and maybe there is a chance that more manufacturers are coming. I think there is a more intense fight due to the manufacturers involvements and their teams. Most of the manufacturers have their own teams in the meantime, which is good for Formula One, but I think a complete independent team for the future has to try jump very very high to make it into Formula One. Not impossible, but maybe not very likely in my view, in the next couple of months, weeks, whatever.
Q: (MC) John, can you imagine someone coming in and doing what Toyota have done?
JH: Yeah, personally I can. I think if you look at tracks, basically I guess demand for Grands Prix is higher than supply. Were seeing a lot of countries, if you like, bidding for it and although economic hardship prevails for Western Europe, we still have to say that India is a booming market, China is a booming market, Russia is growing also, for us its the biggest market now in Europe. I foresee that from these countries, where there is very strong economic strength, there is the potential for teams to enter Formula One. It is technically challenging and it probably also depends on what those backers or potential entries perceive as Formula One and the benefit it can offer. So it probably also has some relevance as to the future positioning of Formula One as a sport.
Q: (MC) So you think there are manufacturers out there willing to invest as much as Toyota?
JH: I believe there could be companies, very significantly resourced companies, interested to join and potentially other new developing manufacturers.
RB: I pretty much go along with what John said. I think its extremely difficult to see a privateer coming in because of the investment and the facilities needed, but its viable for a lot of manufacturers at the moment, theres no reason why it shouldnt be viable for other manufacturers in the future, particularly the expanding market for Formula One. Different countries are now starting to establish our sport, I think there are a lot of opportunities from that direction in the future.
FW: As a privateer, if a privateer was trying to enter, financially you would find it very difficult right now assuming you read the Wall Street Journal and the FT (Financial Times) etc. to raise money, to raise capital and I would imagine thats what Aguris problem was. He just couldnt find the money. We have a Japanese driver, never yet found a penny of sponsorship for him in Japan, and thats much cheaper than actually creating a team.
Q: (Dominic Fugere - Le Journal de Montreal) I would like to have your take on the significance of Danica Patricks first win in Japan, and what it will take to have a woman back in Formula One as a driver?
JH: Why not? I think it would probably be very good. We just need to see a driver with the capability that could deliver performance because we are basically all focused on winning and track performance. I dont think theres any discrimination in terms of anything within our organisation or team, so if we could find a suitable driver, we would be delighted. We have young driver programmes. Unfortunately most of the guys coming into karting at the moment and who are delivering performance are male, but I think it would probably be good but you would need someone who could be competitive.
Q: (Dominic Fugere - Le Journal de Montreal) Does the fact that Danica Patrick has now won change anything?
JH: I think it shows that its possible for an extremely talented lady to be competitive, if you like, in what is historically seen as a male environment, so it probably opens peoples eyes to the possibility of that happening, yes.
RB: We can all see the commercial attraction, how exciting it would be to have a female driver in Formula One. I think the key thing is that they can be competitive, because it would be a shame if, purely because they were a female driver, they got put in the car and couldnt compete properly, but if they can compete properly, absolutely, it would be great.
NH: We ran Sarah Fisher at Indianapolis once. I fully agree with what Ross has said. I think the key is to be competitive and if that is the case, I think motor sport is its certainly not possible in soccer to compete against these fellows. In various sports its not possible but it should be basically possible in motor sports as the Indy Racing League has proven; or as, for example, DTM shows but the key is to be competitive. We had a winner in touring cars years ago - many years ago, 16 years ago, I think with Ellen Lohr beating her team mate Keke Rosberg at that stage, which was not very pleasing for my friend Keke, but anyway, it is possible and hopefully Formula One will experience that in the future.