FIA Friday press conference - China 17 Apr 2009
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Senior team personnel: Norbert Haug (Mercedes), Christian Horner (Red Bull), Mario
Theissen (BMW Sauber)
Q: A question to you all. The diffuser saga has come to an end in many ways and a decision has been made. How does it affect you now that the decision has been made? How long will it take you to catch up? What sort of effort is required and when do you feel you will be on a parwith everybody else on the same technology? Christian, perhaps you would like to start.
Christian Horner: I think obviously after the appeal hearing the situation is now closed in that the diffuser is obviously allowed. For us it has a significant impact because obviously we designed the car around the regulations how we believed should be interpreted and obviously came up with a very good car. The benefit that diffuser offers is significant and obviously if you havent incorporated it into the car design from inception it is something that is difficult just to bolt on, particularly in our case, and as an independent team for us it almost represents a B-spec car, so it is a significant change to the rear end of the chassis in order to try and optimise it and integrate it into our design solutions. The guys, led by Adrian (Newey), have done a fantastic job this winter and the decision to release the car late was the right thing to optimise the time in the wind tunnel but now to be faced with an upgrade with the quantum of this one is going to be a significant challenge and difficult to put an exact date on when we will be able to introduce our own solution but it will be one of the early European races.
Q: Does it include a gearbox redesign?
CH: It impacts on the whole rear end of the car in our solutions. It is significant and obviously the only hole it has left us is in our budget. It is a significant amount of cost in not a great climate but the performance you can see today, six of the cars in the top eight are running that solution, so we have to do it in order to maintain our competitiveness. On the positive side is looking at the performance of our car so far this year. Without it we have been pretty competitive. The only car in the top eight today with if you like a standard solution, so hopefully what we can look forward to is a further step in competitiveness when we do introduce it.
Q: Mario, how does it affect BMW Sauber?
Mario Theissen: Well, apparently in a similar way. It is definitely not sufficient and not possible to just exchange the diffuser and come with a new solution at the rear underbody. We have to redesign the aero package, at least the aero package. I wouldnt go as far as Christian and to say that it is a completely new rear end with our car but the aero package will be totally different. Apparently we have started to work on it and we will have an aero update for Barcelona. But I cannot tell you today if the diffuser will be included or not. It is part of a lot of ideas and a lot of developments we are following and the final package is not decided on yet and if there is such a two stage diffuser included it will definitely not be the full exploitation of the potential.
Q: Would you expect that to come later?
MT: Apparently we have to push towards this direction and find more and more in the course of the season, so we will definitely not be finished with the Barcelona aero package.
Norbert Haug: Very much the same. We have to realise that everybody will improve significantly in Barcelona, so the guys that are upfront, like a second quicker, they will improve and they are in a better position to do so. But it is what it is, that is the decision, and we need to develop quicker than the guys in front which is not easy. I know it from the past that it was the other way around and to catch up in the course of the season is always a significant challenge, no doubt. But lots of people say it is good for the sport, not so good for us these days. But of course there are different colours in front of the field and I am at least pleased that the Brawn guys are using our engines. That helps a little bit. Or helps very much. I have to say they do a good job. To comment on it, would it have been necessary this interpretation, A or B, is history right now. We need to catch up. And of course what Mario and Christian said, it is a cost issue as well but we need to put our heads down, work hard and come up with a better solution than we currently have.
Q: Does it involve a gearbox redesign?
NH: It depends. As Mario pointed out on which car you have and which design you have but lets say that the worst case scenario is a complete redesign including suspension, gearbox housing, whatever. But it depends. It may be on the one car like that and on the other car a little bit different. It is not like you develop a double diffuser in your wind tunnel, put in on your car and here we go. It takes time. The best ones of them have invested months and months, more than half a year, three quarters of the year, and as stated before what other people who are intelligent and good people achieve in nine months is difficult to achieve in nine weeks. We are in that process but we just need to push and need to work harder.
Q: Another subject, KERS. Christian you are not using it yet at Red Bull Racing. Do you hope to and do you see the value of it?
CH: KERS we obviously havent run so far this year. Our evaluation prior to the start of the year was that it was more of a strategic tool than a performance tool, so we can see that there is performance off the start line and certainly if you are defending a position a KERS car, a KERS quick car, is very difficult to overtake as we saw with Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso at the last race in Malaysia. For us it hasnt earned its place on our car yet. We are using an identical system to Renault. We have tested it extensively during the winter and we have come up with a very good solution that has run reliably. But in terms of ultimate performance we dont feel it has earned its place on our car yet but thats not to say it will not do in the future. We retain a very open mind about KERS but at the moment there is no fixed date at which to introduce it.
Q: But you see the value of it when you have come up against it?
CH: Yeah, I think it is about 10 metres off an average start to the first corner which is about one row, so you look at some of the KERS starts from the first couple of races and you can see the cars that are equipped with them. Thankfully there are less of them here, so obviously other teams are coming to a similar conclusion to that of our own. From a strategic point of view, from a racing point of view, Fernando (Alonso) in Malaysia did an excellent job in keeping a trail of cars behind him for a lengthy period of time and I think the fact he had a KERS system to use obviously helped him to achieve that.
Q: Mario, you have run it with one car and then with two here?
MT: Yes, Robert has been using KERS today for the first time. For him it is right on the edge. With Nick and Nicks weight it is an advantage with our car. With Robert it is about plus minus zero, so the strategic advantage remains. So far in the first two races we were not convinced it would help him but now we have a full day with KERS to review and then we will take a decision. We are able to put it in or out within a few hours and we have both options. We will see what we do now.
Q: Norbert, it is interesting that the McLarens use it but the others dont?
NH: With the others you mean the customer teams? Yeah, this maybe is an option during the course of the season but it is not finally decided and as my colleagues pointed out it is still a decision. Coming to the positives we saw some very entertaining racing. It was probably a little bit coloured with other issues but the race track showed great manoeuvres. As a race fan if you look at it you just have to say it was fantastic and it could have been a longer race obviously in Malaysia. But also the race in Australia was very good and, of course, like Christian pointed out, KERS played some role in overtaking and we saw some manoeuvres, overtaking, re-overtaking, and some of you guys in the press room jumped up during the course of the race which is positive. We have to mention these positive things as well. On the other side the quick cars do not have KERS at the moment but they have other advantages. I have to say I think for us it is more of a help. We have a very compact light system. I think our guys did a good job in that respect, so we can use it and if you look at the sector times in Malaysia, for example the first sector very clearly illustrates who can use KERS in a straight line. It is very similar to here. In the race it is a different story as well if you can use it at the right time. Of course you have to come out quick enough from the corner to be in a position to overtake. But it hopefully helps, like it did in the first two races to overtake, and this should be a track where KERS helps more and I assume this is why Mario convinced Robert to use it here as strategically it can be an absolute plus.
Q: And you can see one or two circuits where you wont have it?
NH: Not necessarily. It can be a discussion obviously with Monaco and so on. But still there if your balance is right and if you can afford it weight-wise it should be okay.
Q: What is the commitment from Mercedes to supply three teams? Is it a huge effort or just taking up the capacity that is there?
NH: We are not running. The interesting thing is we really are earning money from it. We have leasing contracts with both Force India and Brawn GP and this is working very well. I have to say a big thanks to Mercedes Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth and the guys in Stuttgart. They did a good job over the course of the winter. Capacity-wise we are building as many engines as we did two years ago for example and the difference is we are leasing them and we are earning money with the two customer teams. This is quite remarkable. Capacity-wise we can afford it and we seem to have quite a good standard but, knock on wood, you never know. If you are fabricating all these engines something can happen. What happened last time to BMW can happen to us, can happen to anybody. Everybody who is serious will admit that and the more engines you produce the more mistakes you can make. But on the other hand you get a lot of testing before the season. You have a lot of dyno runs. You learn a lot, which we did. I think we have quite a good standard now and it is a positive for us and I hope it is a positive for Formula One. As long as Brawn wins and it is powered by Mercedes Benz, I mean more and more people are realising that. Would they win with a different engine, probably they would win as well. But I think they are happy and if the customer is happy that is always good for a car manufacturer.
Q: Mario, what are your feelings about the new tyre regulations we have had so far and the tyres here for example?
MT: Generally speaking we found out that with the new set of aero regulations and the new tyres you need a very much forward weight distribution, even more than expected. We have a very strong front end with a powerful front wing and relatively wide front tyres and a weak rear end with a small rear wing and not big enough tyres, so you need to put weight on the front axle. This is exactly the reason why we are discussing the use of KERS with Roberts car. The target is to achieve the desired weight distribution, the desired front weight and this is the limiting factor right now. I know there are discussions ongoing for next season to cure that problem which is good because now a big driver is penalised and that should not be the case. This weekend we dont have a clear picture yet. It looks like the soft tyre is really soft, similar to Melbourne, but we will need a bit more running tomorrow to have the full picture.
Q: Christian, you obviously have a new driver in Sebastian Vettel; he outqualified Mark (Webber) in the first two races, although Mark had the better results. What are your feelings about your two drivers at this early stage?
CH: Hes obviously been part of the Red Bull family for some time now but hes been very, very impressive for somebody of such a young age. Hes got a very mature head on his shoulders, obviously very quick. He was desperately unlucky in Melbourne; three laps
MT: He decided to be unlucky!
CH: but thankfully he told the truth
NH: I think it was OK.
CH: he told the truth in front of the stewards and got a ten place penalty. He was unlucky in Melbourne, a racing accident. When he started with a penalty in Malaysia it was always going to be a difficult weekend for him but he raced well, the conditions were obviously desperately bad and he was unlucky to go off just before the race was stopped. Hes only going to get better, hes still very young. Hes pushing the team very hard and hes also getting the best out of Mark as well, who has come back after a hideous accident over the winter. Obviously in November he was wondering if he still had a Grand Prix future with a metal rod in his leg. He then got back to the UK in early January and forgot to mention that hed also broken his shoulder. The recovery that hes made is testament to his determination and commitment and the fact that hes back in the car so quickly and competitively is great from a team point of view. The guys get on very well and I think they will push each other all season long and from a team perspective thats great because weve got two guys that are really driving the wheels off the car. I think its a really positive aspect for Red Bull.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Chinese media) Mr Haug, using the same engine, Brawn GP is much faster than McLaren. Do you think that is totally due to the new diffuser or how much has the diffuser played its role in such a situation?
NH: It is the whole package. It would be too easy to say put a perfect diffuser on a car and then you are there. Its not that easy, its the whole package, but I think we all have to realise is that this car was built over a very long period of time. Other people were still fighting for the current World Championship. This is not an excuse but it should be an explanation and the sooner you could concentrate on this years car, the more you could invest in it aerodynamically and so on. These guys did a good job. I think they had really good equipment, good people and its the whole package at the end of the day.
Q: (Chinese media) To all of you, still on the issue of the diffuser, the situation could be different at Barcelona or other races in Europe. However, there is no in-season testing this year, so do you think there will still be dramatic differences?
MT: Well, my view is that there will still be an advantage. As you mentioned, there is no in-season testing. You can do something on the computer, you can do something in the wind tunnel but your aero package especially should be tested on the track before you race it. So this is definitely a handicap. On the other hand, the teams who have the two stage diffuser are not sitting there leaning back, they are developing like us, so I dont expect us to be up to the mark at one stroke in
CH: I agree with Mario. Its a big challenge to develop a car without any testing, so it really stretches the team and obviously if you take a component to the track, youve got to take four of them because youve got to supply both cars and also have spares as well. Ive never seen as much hand luggage as I did when I came through the airport into Shanghai yesterday. I think McLaren had about 18 boxes; we werent far behind and I think that will be a trend for the rest
NH: Red Bull 19.
CH: I think that will be a trend for the rest of the year. Weve got components arriving today to run tomorrow and its going to be a real challenge to develop the cars through the season without testing but simulation tools, whether they be wind tunnels or cfd seem to be getting closer and
closer in correlation to the track which means that you can hit the circuit with a large percentage of items that you can bolt on and know that you are going to get some performance out of.
NH: Its right that Fridays are even more important, this is the only way you can run. OK, you can do some straightline testing but this is just a basic back-to-back test, how your aerodynamic work is correlating, but the reality is that Fridays are getting more important and you will see more and more running on Fridays, I would say, because as Christian pointed out, you will bring your new parts to the race track and then test them or do a back-to-back.
CH: Did you get your cases?
NH: Well, I count yours and you count ours and then we see.
Q: (Jerrome Bourret - LEquipe) Mr Haug, may we have your opinion on what happened to your team over the last few weeks? From Dave Ryans and Ron Denniss departures to the invitation to the World Council?
NH: Well, I ask for your understanding: this is an open issue. We will have the World Motor Sport Council on April 29 and I will not comment before then. I think lots of things have been said, have been written. I think Lewis and the team have been very open to admit that something was not correct and now we will see what the outcome will be.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Christian, obviously Adrian Newey and his design team looked at the double diffuser; did they consider it so illegal that they didnt even bother to talk to the FIA? Did they talk to the FIA and ask is this a loophole we can exploit?
CH: Its no coincidence that seven teams didnt go down the double diffuser route. Obviously a lot of work was done in the Overtaking Working Group and within the regulations there is obviously a spirit or essence of what the regulations are set to achieve. Certainly the precedent of holes in the floor, from our perspective, was deemed to be illegal, so thats why we chose the route that we did to protest the cars together with our colleagues at the first opportunity which wasnt after the cars had run, it was before they had run in Australia, to really get clarity. Obviously the stewards and the FIA made their position known there and then the option to us was obviously to appeal that. We feel that we had a fair appeal hearing, where the facts were presented from either side and I think the bottom line is that there was a lot of ambiguity within the regulations and you can call it a clever interpretation, if you like, that the three teams have taken. I think it was certainly against the spirit of what was set out within the Overtaking Working Group. However, the court found that these diffusers are permitted. As I say, we felt we had a fair hearing, we presented our case which was listened to carefully but now were in a situation where, as they are permitted, we had no choice but to develop our own solution which is obviously time and money and a big development channel that becomes open, because the underbody of the car is obviously the most powerful aerodynamic device on the car and so lap times will continue to tumble significantly as the solutions are developed.
Q: (Mike Doodson) My question is about evening races. The drivers were not happy about racing and the difficult lighting conditions in Australia - I think I heard the word dangerous used - and then in Malaysia where the rain stopped the race early and deprived spectators around the world of an hours racing. Its known that rain tends to fall at that time of day in Malaysia, so I wonder if you gentlemen are as enthusiastic about twilight races as Bernie appears to be?
MT: We are not excited about twilight races. I think this issue has been more or less overlooked when we came to Melbourne and the drivers pointed out that this could be dangerous, so its something which has to be respected and to be looked into when race times are decided in the future. Malaysia; its true, the later you race the higher the risk not just of rain but any delay would mean it gets dark and then there is no chance of continuing the race, as we have seen two weeks ago. So it would be wise to pull it (the start time) forward again.
CH: I think its a shame in one respect, certainly from Australias point of view, because the viewing figures were up massively, certainly across Europe because of the time of day that the race was held at. But I think you have to listen to the drivers when theyre saying its very difficult with the sun through the trees in their eyes at certain points on the circuit. So I think its something that needs to be looked into, whether theres lighting needed or screens or whatever, but I think it needs to be carefully considered. I think Malaysia was difficult, again. If we had run the race at two oclock, it was raining then. But the only option available to you at that point is that youre not controlled by daylight hours whereas I think we effectively just ran out of daylight in Malaysia. I think probably the time of year that we were in Malaysia being that little bit later probably more into their rainy season as well, was a contributing factor.
NH: Well, I think it was a general issue, basically. As Christian said, if we had started at two oclock I think the GP2 race was at two oclock and it didnt start for an hour or whatever but the chances that you would have hit rain earlier in the day, that still was very, very high. Not to start a race and delay it - the only positive is that you get more daylight for the remainder. But its a difficult one really. We have had races which were not affected by rain, we have had races the very first or second one was a great monsoon as well, this very often happens there. On the positive side, I know from England that the BBC and RTL in Germany had fifty percent more viewers, certainly due to the fact that it was started at 11 a.m., partly due to the fact, but there were more spectators and of course it would have been nice if the race could have been restarted. But I think its important to know that if we had started earlier, as usual, we would have had troubles as well, a little bit the other way round, probably delayed at the beginning but I think that it was the case either way.
Q: (Joris Fioriti - AFP) BMW was claiming at the beginning of the year that it was going to compete for the title. Its only the third race now but you seem to be pretty far from it. What are your comments?
MT: Yeah, youre right, its becoming extremely difficult now with the situation we have but we are pushing hard, we will see what we can do now, but indeed the current situation, with the diffuser cars, makes it much more difficult than expected.
Q: (Jerome Bourret - LEquipe) To Mr Horner and Mr Haug: yesterday Mr Theissen said that the diffuser controversy is a big test for FOTA; do you agree with him?
CH: Yes, in summary it is. Obviously weve got a situation where lots has gone on over the last couple of weeks. The teams obviously were in dispute with each other but I think its important that FOTA sits down in the near future and discusses the issues but for sure its our biggest test in its infancy. But I think its important that these issues are discussed behind closed doors and solutions are found.
NH: Yeah, very much the same. I would probably not say test but for sure during the course of the season you will have controversial issues and I think we need to be careful to differentiate and to see what the positives are to be united and what the negatives are in such a discussion and find good solutions. I think there is only one solution at the end of the day.