FIA Friday press conference - Hungary 01 Aug 2008
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Technical directors: Aldo Costa (Ferrari), Mike Gascoyne (Force India), Willy Rampf (BMW Sauber), Pascal Vasselon (Toyota).
Q: First of all a question to you all: In the last four grands prix we have seen drivers who perhaps we wouldnt expect to see on the podium and perhaps one or two drivers who we would expect to see on the podium not on the podium. What do you think are the reasons for that?
Mike Gascoyne: Obviously in the last couple of races there have been quite a lot of incidents with pace cars. I think with the pace car regulations as they are now you can obviously luck in. It has always been the case under the safety car you can luck in and that happened to Piquet in the last race. People can get lucky, but having said that, he had good pace afterwards and drove a great race and made the most of it. But I think we do need to revise the safety car regulations as we have them. They are pretty confused and I dont think they achieve what they set out to, so I do think we need to look at it. But it is good for F1 when things like that happen.
Q: Pascal, perhaps Jarno Trullis might be considered to be one of those incidents?
Pascal Vasselon: I think it is quite different because as Mike says one obvious reason to change the pecking order is the safety car and it has happened two times in the last few races Canada and Hockenheim. In our case, at Magny-Cours, I would say we are always fighting close to the podium and this time we were on the high of our performance and our close competitors were probably on a low and we got this podium on merit. But I cannot see only luck here. It is just a combination of a high on our side and a low for our immediate competitors.
Aldo Costa: I tend to agree with my colleague. We had very unusual circumstances, very difficult races, with weather, different events in terms of weather, different track temperatures conditions, accidents and as Mike mentioned, the safety car. The safety car is a real gamble at this moment, so it can change very much the result of the race.
Q: Do you agree that the regulations should be looked at?
AC: Yeah, with the FIA we are looking at it in order to have a better system. I think it can be improved.
Willy Rampf: I think overall the cars are closer together. At the last race at Hockenheim it was definitely the safety car which changed the order. And Silverstone was the heavy rain. Basically who stayed on the track at a reasonable pace was able to score good points or a good position. It also looks like some cars are very strong in qualifying, not too strong in the race or vice-versa, so not such a good qualifying position but then very good pace in the race. I think this is also mixing up the grid and also basically the finishing result.
Q: Are you having to modify your strategy to take that into account?
WR: Yes, definitely. Depending on where we see us after Friday and Saturday morning we judge where we could end up in qualifying because normally we have a fairly good race pace.
Q: Mike, what are your feelings about expanding the team for next year? Do you need expansion, further investment and more resources?
MG: Obviously, we are the smallest team in F1, a team in the last couple of years in its Jordan guise suffered from no real investment. Then under Midland and Spyker it didnt go anywhere, there werent proper budgets and the team could not really develop. But over the last six months as Force India we have put in place proper budgets. They are still very small budgets compared to all our competitors but that has allowed us to expand, improve and bring some new people on board and we will continue with that for next year. And obviously looking forward to next year you have got all the rule changes. We have inherited a performance deficit really from Spyker and Midland and although we are catching that up, F1, I think, is perhaps its most competitive its ever been, certainly in the 20 years I have been in it. Although we have improved hugely compared to our competitors and we are regularly within a couple of seconds of the quickest car that still means we are the team rooted at the back. That is very good for F1 but that makes our life pretty difficult. But obviously for next year it is a level playing field. We do have good resources, especially in key areas like aerodynamic, where we can match the opposition, and we see it as a real opportunity for us.
Q: So you feel it is going to level things out rather than allow the bigger teams to pull ahead again?
MG: Well, I mean there are two schools of thought. In F1 over the last three years we have had rule stability and it has become very close. There is an argument that everyone starts from a level playing field, so it is an opportunity but it could mean also some people will get it more right than others. Therefore it could move the field apart. We just have to make sure that we are one of the ones that get it right.
Q: Pascal, a quick update on what happened in Timo Glocks accident two weeks ago? Was it a worry?
PV: Yes, it took us some time to find out what happened, simply because just after the race we were not finding anything exceptional with that car immediately at the moment of the failure. We were just finding a load case which was not explaining at all the failure. It took us a long time to find the life of this part and what went wrong. We found the cause was in the Silverstone race where this rear right suspension corner has seen some outstanding loads.
Q: Have you modified your procedures to make sure that such a thing will not happen again?
PV: Yes, we have obviously a screening procedure to handle parts which may have been damaged by an incident. Actually we had detected a problem with the push rod. But in a race we run a reduced number of sensors and we had not been able to re-estimate the loading of the suspension parts. Clearly we have not been good enough for checking and screening these parts and we have improved our internal procedure now.
Q: In terms of performance, what do you feel you need to make the jump to catch up with the teams ahead?
PV: We have made, obviously at Magny-Cours, a performance step. We missed the one at Barcelona which some competitors did but we got a performance step in Magny-Cours. Since then, in fact both at Hockenheim and here, we are running updates packages, so we are still pushing and we need roughly half-a-second to fight at the front and three-or-four-tenths to fight regularly for the podium.
Q: Aldo, did you have any indication today that you have solved the problems that you had in the last couple of races in terms or competition?
AC: I will speak about a specific problem as the races were different, so I will speak about a problem. I think it is a combination. I think the last race for us was very difficult for finding the good grip from the tyres but we were not the only team. Most of the drivers were having, during the race mainly, a lot of problems to find grip. The tyres were very, very hard, probably too hard for that kind of circuit, especially the hard tyre. There was no wear at all, the tyre just was not working for that kind of circuit. This was valid for us and it was valid as well for most of the teams. Silverstone was another story. We had wet conditions and again we analysed what went wrong, say on one of the two cars and we think we understood, but in parallel of course we have to monitor the performance of our main competitors, so we need to work on the general aspect of the performance of the car and to try to find improvement and try to catch up if in the last few races they made a bigger jump compared to us. That is simple. There are still eight races to go, so we need to work and work to find the performance.
Q: How easy is it for both of you to maintain that pace of development and keep the impetus going for this season and at the same time looking at 2009 as well as I assume you have started your programmes for next year?
AC: Started is a simple word. We are very, very well into the project of next years car. We started a long time ago. It is a very difficult situation but not for us specifically but also for all our main competitors. It is a very, very difficult situation. We have to push hard for this years championship, we have to push hard for next years car. We have got only one team. We dont have two teams, so we need a very, very careful management of the resources, of the priority and we need to find the optimum balance between these two activities as we dont want to invest everything this year and then have a lack of performance next year. We want to be strong this year and strong next year, so thats very tricky.
Q: The same question to you, Willy.
WR: For us it is also very difficult. Currently we are in second position in the World Championship and we dont want to give it up, so we have to put extra effort into the development. But next years car takes a certain amount of development and we are evaluating it week by week how much resources we shift from one project to the other one. But the pace project for next years car we have to keep it going.
Q: What about your own personal goal? Has that has changed recently?
WR: No, it has not changed. I still have the position of Technical Director until the end of this season. Then I will make a break and I will have a different function next year. It is technical co-ordinator and my responsibilities go over to a colleague within our team and he will also then basically give more responsibility to the various departments.
Q: And you are obviously happy with that?
WR: I am very happy with this. I have been Technical Director for more than eight years. I think I am the longest period and I am looking forward to having a beak.
Q: A final question to you all. There have been various reports about the KERS systems. What are your feelings about KERS at this stage?
MG: We have looked at the type of systems that are available. Yes, we are working with our engine supplier as that makes a lot of sense. We are also looking at systems in our own right. I think from an engineering point it is an interesting challenge but also from a racing point of view. It can provide some variation in the way you use the system and I think the message it sends out on energy recovery and for F1 is a very good and clear message. You are bound when you are developing new technology to have some engineering problems and some people have had them but I am sure we will get on top of them. To make the system work from the start of next year is going to be very challenging. But people will make it work and we will get on top of the technology and we will develop better and lighter battery solutions, mechanical solutions because that is the pace of development in F1. So it is just an engineering challenge and we will get on top of it.
PV: We are developing our KERS system full throttle. At the moment we are concentrating on dyno activity because we want to go on the track when we are certain we will bring a performance advantage with this system and we make it totally safe. The schedule will be very tight. It is still possible, but clearly very tight to get something from the system at the start of the season.
AC: Yeah, we are working at the bench with the system. From an engineering point of view I think it is a nice thing to have. It is a nice challenge. Timing wise it is not that easy, so everybody, every team is very concentrated on trying to have the maximum performance from the system but also the maximum reliability and safety. As engineers we are happy to develop it and we are making good progress. Tight, I have to admit but that is normal. Very big rule change requires a lot of thinking, so the new car design will not only be the KERS but also the aero side and the tyres require a lot of work. But it is interesting.
WR: I think overall it is a very interesting project for engineers to develop such a system because it is really unique and it is not something on the market that you can buy. I think with the development we do, it will also push some development on some components which maybe in a few years we may see on a road car. To package it in a car is also very challenging. We have this component on next years car where we have already a lot of changes with the aero regulations and the tyres.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi La Gazzetta dello Sport) Aldo, you were talking before about the lack of grip at Hockenheim. We were talking with your drivers today, and the feeling is that the problem is not solved completely because the soft tyres have developed some problems. Could you explain exactly how it has been today?
AC: The problem at Hockenheim, for us it is very clear what our problem was, and again, most of the teams problems. Compounds were very hard, mainly the hard compound and the soft compound was probably on the limit to be the hard one. So we were suffering from a lack of grip, to make the tyre work properly during the race, to get a temperature from it, finding good grip from it. Here, the situation is - in terms of tyre grip, tyre management - its a typical Budapest track situation on the first day. The track is very green at the start, you have graining issues and then little by little the track gets rubbered in and the grip comes, so there are no particular issues from that side.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi La Gazzetta dello Sport) Willy, can you explain exactly what happened at the Jerez test and what is the most worrying aspect of the KERS?
WR: OK, what happened last week in Jerez as you saw, when the car was coming in after its second outing, the mechanic touched the car and he got an electric shock. We took the car back to Munich and we are currently investigating what was the reason. Up to now, we dont know 100 percent what happened but we are still investigating it and until we can really reproduce the problem and be sure that OK, it was exactly this or this component, we cannot say exactly what the problem is. But we continue as soon as we know what happened, as it is a critical safety issue, we will also inform the FIA and speak with them regarding what could be done in the future to avoid something like this.
Q: (Fréderic Ferret LEquipe) Question to Mr Costa: the sharkfin engine cover is part of the development of the car. Can you tell us how you decided to use it on your car and how important it is to catch up in performance with McLaren?
AC: I think its a pretty normal aerodynamic development which we tested a few times in the wind tunnel, then we decided to test on the track for certain reasons, and for us there was a small performance advantage and we had it here, so just a normal performance development like other teams have done already.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Question for Aldo: both your drivers are very fast, but they reach that speed in different ways. Can you describe the difference in the set-up and driving style of Kimi and Felipe please?
AC: To be honest, in terms of set-up development, there is not a huge difference between the drivers. Our two drivers have different characteristics in terms of driving style, in terms of attitude, qualifying to race. Sometimes, like every driver, like some specific tracks compared to others, they are quite different in terms of that but in terms of mechanical set-up, there are no major differences. So we can work with both in a parallel direction and then use what we learn from one driver to the other car and vice versa.
Q: (Thomas Richtr TV Nova) Aldo, I have a question regarding engine freeze rules. Renault personnel are complaining that they stopped their development according to the rules while other teams are changing parts of engines on reliability grounds. How can we explain this situation to Formula One fans when there is a horsepower difference between teams at least, thats what they say? There is about 20 or 30 horsepower difference between engines, at least, thats what Renault say.
AC: Yeah, you have to listen to their opinion, but you also have to listen to the opinion of all the other competitors. Rules are frozen on the engine but you are allowed to change components for reliability reasons and also, if you demonstrate that you are implementing a more economic, a cheaper component, you can also ask permission. The information gets circulated and all the teams have to express an opinion. So if they want to say no, they say no. And having listened to all the competitors, the FIA can decide not to allow these modifications. So I think its a very good process. There are very clear limitations and very clear possibilities.
PV: From the Toyota side, we have obviously had the same approach as Renault: that means more legal than legal. It was an engine freeze, our engine has been frozen.
WR: I think overall the process is quite transparent because all modifications get sent around to all the teams and if they dont agree, the modification cannot be introduced.
Q: (Michael Schmidt Auto Moto und Sport) Pascal, you said that the suspension or the track rod of Timo Glocks car had taken some extensive loads at Silverstone. Why didnt you just change the part? I dont think the track rod is the most expensive part on the car. You could have put on a new one if there were any doubts.
PV: No, its a very normal process to re-use parts after a race. Its a very normal process. All teams do that. You just have to make sure that you have a screening process which detects faulty parts, and again, in this case, our process has detected pushrods. Pushrods have been changed but the analysis has not been deep enough to detect or evaluate that an overload had been seen in other parts, so thats what we have improved. But obviously as soon as you have a doubt about a part, you change it, of course. In this case, we had no doubt about the part which went on the car for Hockenheim.
Q: (Jerome Bourret LEquipe) Mr Rampf, you are now one of the few teams not using this famous shark engine cover. Could you explain why, and do you plan to test it?
WR: We have not introduced it because it doesnt give us enough performance.
Q: (Fréderic Ferret LEquipe) Question to Mr Costa: you are the only one to use the nose with the hole that you are using this weekend. Can you tell us when you are using it, on which type of circuit?
AC: Yeah, I think its pretty clear when we have used it or not. On this kind of circuit, on high downforce circuits, it is something that has been designed for that. On other circuits you have seen the car without it, so I leave you to make a decision, a comment.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Question for all four of you: you all talked about the tight timetable for KERS. Given that safety of the mechanics, the marshals should be a priority, are we pushing things too fast? And a second question is, at what time would you decide not to use KERS in the first race?
AC: Yeah, I think all the Formula One teams are taking the safety aspect very, very seriously. You have to remember that first the system has to be managed on the bench, in-house, in testing, so the safety aspect is the first priority. You cannot use a system in-house, on the test bench, a system that you believe is not safe enough or in testing. Safety, of course, is the first aspect, I dont think anyone would use a system in the race that they dont believe is safe. And in terms of when it should be decided whether to use the KERS or not in a race, this is still very early days. We think there is potential, we think we can have a performance advantage, so we will push in that direction and at the very last moment, if the whole package is faster, we will use it. Otherwise not.
WR: Its very similar to us. Regarding safety, we are doing everything to make sure that the system is safe. The car that we used in Jerez, we also used it for a shakedown, just to run it for a few kilometres to be safe that everything is working. But it seems that not everything was perfect, so we are investigating it with a lot of experts to find out what happened. Regarding using KERS or not: first we have to see in the car what is the actual performance gain because there is this extra power from the KERS systems but theres also more weight or less ballast on this car, so it will always be a trade-off but the plan is to race this system.
PV: The safety of the marshals, of the public, of the drivers is of course the first priority of the KERS and we will all have to go through a fail of mode analysis which is a very strict procedure which will be co-ordinated by the FIA and Im sure that, through the technical working group, we will be able to share the different experiences of the teams, to accelerate the improvement of the safety level of the system, but for sure, safety will be the first priority of this system.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi La Gazzetta dello Sport) Aldo, coming back to today: do you feel that you are in the position where you expected to be yesterday or will it be difficult to fight with McLaren?
AC: As usual on Friday you dont know the fuel level of your competitors, so you have got this big question mark in your head. We think we are developing the car set-up as in a normal weekend. We think we have, as I said before, a normal grip variation during the day, so nothing unusual. Last year it was a difficult race for us but we think that on some types of circuit this year we have made an improvement. So we are pretty much - with our feet on the ground - looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday, but I cannot tell you anything more.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi La Gazzetta dello Sport) For everybody, there are a lot of rumours about the problems with the KERS: fire, battery explosions. Could you explain to us exactly what range of dangerous things there are around this new system please?
PV: Going through the possible failure modes of the KERS system is just what we have to do. We will all be trying to over-heat or over-charge batteries. We will all be trying to crash flywheels for those who will use flywheels. We just have to do that, in order to make sure that we keep these failures under control, so it will be all about making sure that we keep these failures under control on the test bench, and later on the track. So for sure, yes, you will hear about battery fires and things like that, simply because we will have to gain experience in this direction.
MG: I think the safety issue is one thats being stressed but its just an engineering problem and an engineering challenge. At the end of the day, we carry 70 kilos of fuel around at 200mph and go round corners. Its just a similar engineering safety issue to address. We have to go through it and be rigorous but its just like numerous other challenges on the car.
AC: I agree with that. Each of us has it clear in our minds what the risks are of carrying fuel in the car but in terms of batteries, generally, we dont have a lot of common experience, so we are looking at these things as they can have all sorts of problems or risks but as Mike said, it will be common engineering practice to be sure that we put safe things on the car, so it will be hard work but we are confident that we can do the job.