FIA Friday press conference - Germany 18 Jul 2008
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Team principals: Stefano Domenicali (Ferrari), Norbert Haug (Mercedes), Vijay Mallya (Force India), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber).
Q: My first question is can you give a run down on how you feel your team has performed in the first half of this championship? Dr Mallya, can I ask you to start.
Vijay Mallya: Well, it is appropriate that you asked me to start considering I am playing catch up. As you know I inherited a team that was not very competitive in previous years. F1 has got a lot more competitive in 2008. You are fighting for fractions of a second and in this context we have certainly improved. Obviously the question is have we improved enough to score any points. We have given it all we reasonably could for 2008 and we have only one more element of development to come which is a seamless-shift gearbox which we hope to introduce for Hungary. Beyond that I have decided that we will now concentrate on the 2009 car. We have at least shown to ourselves and to our fans in India that we are capable of improvement. Now whether that improvement is enough or not is a secondary question. We have improved and we have the capability of improving. Hungary is the last stop for us in terms of development for 2008 and then all the focus is on 2009 when we sure hope to score some points.
Q: The car obviously performed very well in testing here. How do you feel about that?
VM: That is very encouraging but at the end of the day it is tomorrow in qualifying and the race itself that really is the proof of the pudding.
Q: The other point you make is about stopping development and concentrating on next year. How much are you also concentrating on building up the team, as one or two people would suggest it had been run down a bit and needs massive investment?
VM: Thats a fact. Things were sort of run down in terms of budget and resources but we bumped it up somewhat for 2008. We have an increased budget for 2009. It is a new set of regulations as we all know and as far as the human resources are concerned we have added two senior engineers to our design team. We will add as many as we need to. Of course we also have the support of EADS who have also dedicated about 10 people to us concentrating mainly on aerodynamics and CFD where we need to play real catch up because when they first came and assessed the teams capabilities prior to the start of the 2008 season they told me quite categorically that we were three years behind the game, so we are looking forward to their active support and help. We have three wind tunnels running now, one of our own and two that are leased facilities, so we are giving it all we can.
Q: That sounds good from an investment point of view and ramping up the whole programme.
VM: When you have to compete with teams with significantly higher budgets and vast resources you have at least to step up to the plate, otherwise you wont get anywhere.
Q: Norbert, three wins out of the nine races so far. What is your appraisal at the half-way mark in the championship?
Norbert Haug: First of all I think we all have to admit that it has been a great season. Of course we should have scored some more points. There were quite a few opportunities when we didnt take the points that were available to us. But I think lots of people can state the same. I think it is the first time in history, since 50 years, that three guys are on a par after half the season which is quite remarkable. I think that is great sport, great entertainment, and it will help to sell additional tickets here in Hockenheim which is important for the venue. And so far I think it is a real positive remark on the first half of the season. Of course I am a little bit sad thinking about Canada, thinking about the race, but this is the story. I am sure Stefano has similar feelings on some other races. But we have produced great sport and a thrilling season with great races like we have had in Monaco and Silverstone. There were some really good races this year when it was not very clear who would win. We have had a phase in F1 when it was quite clear that if one guy or probably a second guy did not make a mistake that most of the time the chances were high that he would win. That has changed a lot and I think that is very positive indeed.
Q: What are your feelings about Heikkis performances? Has he been very unlucky or has he exceeded your expectations?
NH: He was quick. You saw the fuel load in Silverstone when he did his first pole position. He has the speed. These are small details, but I think in the rain he was just struggling a little bit with the rear end of his car and if you do not have the full confidence under these circumstances then you are just history. But if you can beat everybody with a comparable fuel load by quite a margin as in Silverstone you need to be a very good racing driver and thats what I think Heikki is. It started with the safety car in Melbourne, he had an accident in Barcelona which wasnt his fault. He had a cut tyre in Turkey. There were a lot of opportunities where he could have scored more points but this is the name of the game. We inside the team know that he is a great driver, a great guy and an absolute team player, like Lewis too, so I think that helps us a lot. The team is very balanced, very focussed, very determined and this is very, very positive.
Q: When you look at Lewiss performances, particularly in comparison to last year when he had an absolute dream start to his F1 career, how do you see his performances this year?
NH: I see a positive. You cannot continue like he started. It is a big, big surprise when you come into F1 and do nine podiums in a row. In fairness, the 10th race last year was the Nürburgring, if you remember, when he had a problem with the wheel gun. It was not Lewiss problem otherwise speed-wise he could have continued as the potential was there. I just think that the statistics say it all. He has done 26 races so far, in 13 he was first or second, I think, and three or four times he was third. 16 times on the podium in 26 races. I think if you only have 10 races where you did not finish on the podium that is quite remarkable. Of course he is criticized, of course he is observed in a very special way, but I think he reacted brilliantly at Silverstone and we know that he can do it. If he had not delivered at Silverstone then he would have delivered here or in the next race. I think that is what a good team is about and that you support each other and of course he did some mistakes like in Canada but he will learn from them. But his statistics after one-and-a-half years of F1 are just brilliant.
Q: Mario, an appraisal of the team up until half distance as it were?
Mario Theissen: Well, no complaints. I am really happy about the teams performance so far. If you look back to 2006 and our first season, we scored 36 points. Last year it was 101 and now half-way down the season we have 82 already. With the double victory and the seven podiums it means we have achieved our seasons target already and this is a very strong base for the second half of the season.
Q: Is your aim still to catch the two teams ahead or does that happen next year?
MT: Well, we are in the middle of a party of three right now. That was the other target for this year to turn the club of two into a party of three. It has happened. In terms of raw car speed we are probably number three but then if you put the other issues together which are required to be successful, reliability, drivers performance, pit crew race strategy, apparently we are competitive. There is no reason why we shouldnt be competitive in the second half of the year.
Q: Do you think Nicks qualifying problems have been solved and do you think that is going to make a big difference in the second half of the season?
MT: I hope so and I am confident because Silverstone was a very strong weekend for Nick. He was quick in qualifying, the same level as Robert. And he did a stunning race not making any mistake and showing fantastic overtaking manoeuvres and he was always in control. He went up from P5 to P2, so there is not much more you can ask for. I definitely hope and I am confident that it was not a one-off but it was a return to his normal form.
Q: Stefano, five wins out of nine races so far this year. How much are you on the limit of reliability especially as we saw the problem with the exhaust in France?
Stefano Domenicali: Well, I think that is part of the game. Reliability, performance and organisation are the three more important elements when you want to be a winning team and when you want to win the championship. Thats for sure. Being always on the limit we know is a key point. But generally speaking I can say I can cut and paste the words of Norbert because that is exactly the situation we are living in now. If you look pragmatically to the drivers championship and the constructors championship the situation is for sure positive but on the other hand we are never happy 100 per cent if you consider the opportunities that we had. That gives you the other half of the glass. But for sure thats our nature but once again I think that we need to be proud of what we are doing and for sure the challenge for the next part of the season will be very high. I always said at the beginning that the fight would be with our main competitor, which is McLaren Mercedes, but also with the BMW Sauber team because that is the reality. I wasnt wrong at the beginning and that is the situation we are facing now.
Q: What are your feelings about the second half of the season?
SD: I think it will be very challenging for all of us. Now we are in a situation where I would say that all of us have to concentrate 100 per cent on this championship but we also have to bear in mind that we have to work a lot on next years car. That is very important because if we miss the beginning it will be harder to catch up. It is really a matter of being very flat out on both of these objectives and try to balance the resources that we have.
Q: In the light of a story that has appeared in an English newspaper today, what is your contract situation with your current two drivers? And when you will announce the driver line-up for next year?
SD: What was the story in the English newspaper? I do not know it. But it is very easy to answer. For sure it is not a problem for us as we still have long-term relationships with our drivers, so really there is no rush. I can see a lot of discussions going on but on that respect, on our side, we are very happy about the situation that we have now.
Q: You have long-term contracts with your drivers?
Q: But you are not going to say how long?
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) For Stefano and Norbert: last week BMW tested their KERS system on the track. Where are you guys at with your systems?
SD: Still not on the track, so if they did that, I am very happy for them. Its a very complex project and for sure we are working very hard to have a very reliable and competitive system but at the moment we are not yet ready to go onto the track.
NH: Well, we will test before the end of the season, according to our planning. We think we can do a big, big part of the development at home, in our facilities and we are on track, I have to say. Mercedes Benz has a lot of knowledge about this technique and so we are definitely heading in the right direction and we will test before the end of the season.
Q: (Will Buxton Australasian Motorsport News) Question for the three engine manufacturer representatives, expanding on Dans question on KERS. Ive read some stories about Red Bull having problems with their testing of KERS: instability of the batteries, overheating, potentially dangerous by-products coming from exploded batteries. What are your thoughts on KERS moving forwards as a system, its stability and how much resources youre going to have to put into making sure that these things work and work safely?
SD: OK, first of all we need to understand exactly what has happened. I think that is something which will be discussed at the next Technical Working Group and we will have an understanding exactly what has happened to them, so we dont have to over-react to anything at the moment because of course its a new project, we need to take care of all the safety aspects and all the other things. Once again, we know that there is something to work with and to make sure that this will be an effective device without incurring any risk of potential problems or safety issues. But I would say that as far as we know, from our side, the situation is in progress and under control.
MT: Well, I have to say KERS is an exciting project. It is definitely cutting-edge technology. If we want to gain a lap time advantage, the power-to-weight ratio of KERS components needs to be of the factor of three or four of what you would see in current hybrid road car vehicles, so that already indicates that we are really pushing the envelope here. We are developing or working on several alternatives, especially in terms of energy storage we do an electrical system and we have had some issues already in development which is normal, no big ones, and we have carried out extensive work on reliability, on potential damage and on all cases which could happen. So that means we have done an FMEA (failure mode and effects analysis) on the entire system, especially on the storage unit and we are doing specific tests to really figure out what can be done or what can happen and what can be done to avoid it.
NH: Our company has a lot of knowledge on KERS, that is very well known. We share some of the knowledge with BMW on the production car side. Its an interesting, challenging project, not an inexpensive one, by the way, but I think its challenging and we are looking forward to having a good system on our car very soon.
Q: Dr Mallya, what sort of challenge is it for an independent team?
VM: Its a very big challenge. We buy our engines, we develop our own gearbox and to have some sort of a hotchpotch of a car where the engine is sourced separately, the gearbox is sourced separately, the KERS is developed separately, isnt my way of doing things, so Im in negotiation with my friend in red here (S Domenicali) who supplies me with a wonderful engine to give me a package and it makes no sense for us to try and develop our own independent KERS system. So hopefully hes making good progress, so that I can benefit from it as well.
Q: (Kevin Garside The Daily Telegraph) Stefano, let me take you back to the English newspaper, if I may. It was The Times and they were presenting a trivial football news kind of story. They suggested you were swooping at the McLaren Mercedes event last night, tempting Lewiss father with an offer to bring young Lewis to Ferrari. If that wasnt what you were talking about, perhaps you could tell us what you were speaking to Lewiss father about?
SD: Thats fantastic anyway. Its good news! I was walking away from Norberts party because I had other things to do with our sponsor. Anthony just came up behind me and just said hallo and thats it, very easy. Its nice to see how these things can grow. Everyone has seen it, I think. Easy.
NH: I think thats a great place to start negotiations with our driver: behind the Mercedes grandstand. Of course Stefano would do that! Why would he not meet in a hotel room or wherever? And hes a gentleman, by the way. Hes not coming to our function and then talking to our driver. But I think its great that there is some communication going on next to the race track, and I think that was it.
Q: (Marco Evangelisti Corriere dello Sport) Norbert, apart from KERS, what is the state of the project of your new car and how is it affected by the necessity to always bring new developments for such a close championship?
NH: Everything is going according to plan for our new car for 2009. We have our plans and we are on schedule, so everything is fine. It will be an enormous challenge for everybody. There are a lot of changes in the rules: not only the slick tyres but the changes to the aerodynamics, the KERS, so a lot of changes, probably the most changes in the shortest period of time for 20 years in Formula One or longer. So its a huge challenge for everybody. Maybe it mixes up the order a little bit next year, so you can probably expect some teams that are not so strong right now to be stronger, because lots of them are already concentrated flat out on the 2009 car. So that may change the pecking order a little bit, thats possible, but we are working according to our plans.
Q: (Thomas Richtr TV Nova) Mario, have you already done a simulation for next months Valencia Grand Prix and what are your thoughts about the official FIA information that the race length will be 305 kilometres while Ross Brawn said it could be even slower than the Monaco Grand Prix?
MT: Thats a total contradiction to the information that I have and I have talked to Hermann Tilke today who told me its quite a fast track.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) For Dr Mallya: I know you are not directly involved but can you give us an update on a Grand Prix in India?
VM: In fact the news is quite positive. I happened to be having lunch with the CEO of one of Indias biggest banks and he confirmed to me that they had sanctioned a facility to the development of the Indian track, that he has actually bought the land and on October 1st. Construction of a brand new track will begin and so for the first time, now I think I feel very confident to be able to say to you that there will be a brand new track and that we will have our first Grand Prix in 2010. Its just outside New Delhi.
Q: (Carole Capitaine LEquipe) A question for Mr Domenicali: after Silverstone, you said we made some mistakes, its a Grand Prix to forget but also not to forget because we can learn a lot from such a Grand Prix. What did you learn after Silverstone?
SD: I think that for sure its pretty obvious that Silverstone was not really a weekend that you like to experience but anyway, thats part of the game. The thing that you normally do when you have such a race is to do a step-by-step analysis of all the things that didnt go well, starting from the general performance of the car during that weekend, then going to qualifying, then of course the things that happened during the race. We did a very, very detailed analysis of all the things that didnt go in the right direction and I think that all the people involved have done the right thing. Im pretty sure that the situation that we experienced in that Grand Prix will not happen again.