FIA Friday press conference - Singapore 25 Sep 2009
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Team principals: Stefano Domenicali (Ferrari), Norbert Haug (Mercedes), Sam Michael (Williams), and Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber).
Q: A question to you all. Can you tell us how the engine situation is in your team? It is getting to that critical time of the year, just four races to go, and everybody is wondering how many engines everybody has got.
Sam Michael: From our point of view it is quite okay. We have not had any failures so far this year, so we are managing our pool of eight between each driver and so far we are on schedule not to use any new engines. That can always change in the next few practice or race sessions, but at this stage it has worked out well. It is a manageable thing. You can handle probably one failure but once you get more than one, it becomes very tricky. You either have to reduce practice mileage or fit a new engine, but we are fine.
Mario Theissen: We are borderline after the two unexpected engine failures fresh engine failures we had recently. We have one fresh engine for each car for the final four races and apparently we have never done four races with one engine on the track. On the dyno it would work, but we have to see now where we are. Apparently we have some mileage left on used engines to cover the Fridays.
Q: So it is a little bit of management?
MT: Yes, but it will be tight. We are not sure if we get to Abu Dhabi with this engine, so we will see. Maybe we will have to pull a ninth engine.
Q: Norbert, you have got about six cars to deal with.
Norbert Haug: We are fine so far. I hope it stays like that but as my colleagues already pointed out this can happen very quickly and if you have one small problem it will happen. I think it is absolutely important not to get complacent and have respect in front of the work you have to do. So far so good and I would say thank you to the guys in Brixsworth and Stuttgart. They did a fantastic job so far but again it is still quite a way to go and I hope we can continue this trend.
Stefano Domenicali: We have two engines for the next four races for each driver but I can really cut and paste what Norbert and Sam said. You cannot be complacent but this is the situation now and we need to see how the situation will evolve, but two for each driver.
Q: Another question to all of you. Can you give us a little feedback on how the session went and how the drivers have reacted to the changes to the circuit?
SM: It was quite okay. It was very dusty to start with. They spent a lot of time cleaning the track last year and they didnt do that this year. That first session was ramping up quite a bit. I think in terms of lap time there have been three corners that have changed on the track. Out of those three corners we think it is possibly going to slow the lap time down by about two seconds. P1 last year we were in mid 46s straight away and qualifying was 44.0, so this year it is about four seconds slower in the first session and maybe two-and-a-half seconds slower in P2 now, so it is definitely a slower track because of the lay-out changes. In terms of our programme everything went okay. We had some new aero parts on the car. A new front wing and rear wing and some diffuser modifications. All that checked out okay and we just did our homework for the race.
MT: Well, we have a big aero upgrade here and in order to bring that to the track we also had to do a new gearbox, a lower gearbox, which helps us to lower the engine cover at the rear end of the car. We had some problems today, both gearbox related. Both new parts but apparently with the new arrangement and it can even happen with known parts so Nick (Heidfeld) didnt lose too much time in the morning. Robert (Kubica) lost 25 minutes in the afternoon. Apart from that it was okay. Performance, not happy yet, but it looks like the car is certainly better than before and I hope we can improve tomorrow.
NH: I would say it looked reasonable. We went through the planned programme. I think it is difficult to judge on the first day here like it was explained before with the dusty track the track really changes and it depends on the fuel load you are carrying, the tyres you are using and at which stage of the session. But all in all I think it looked quite okay. You can probably get an impression from the long runs and then kind of guess what people are doing normally during Fridays and then see where you are and I think that was not too bad. But having said that it will be incredibly tight again. From (Jenson) Button in fifth to Lewis (Hamilton) in ninth position, it is less than half-a-tenth and I think that says it all. I think if you have a situation like that in qualifying, if you lose less than half-a-tenth and this can happen at every corner or every kerb, then that costs you probably five places even if you have the same fuel load. I think it is very important. It is a drivers track at the end of the day. It is probably not the most interesting in the calendar but during qualifying it will be all about commitment and to get the last half-tenth out of the car. I expect it to be incredibly tight and as Sam has pointed out, the track has changed quite a lot. I think in turn 10 the chicane is quite a tricky one. If you really misjudge it and get it wrong you definitely can ruin the chassis there. I think that is different to last year but all in all it is slower but not less challenging. I think the atmosphere is great and I think everybody will agree that it is probably the best pictures you can produce over a Formula One season.
SD: For us as you already know the situation is that we do not have any more upgrades by choice. We have to manage what we have. This is the situation that we have to face. Today for sure I cannot really add anything to the fact that in terms of the situation of the tyre degradation tomorrow the situation may be different as I think the track will be much better, no doubt. We had a couple of problems today, so we did not run as smoothly as we wanted but this is part of the game and lets hope that we can fix everything for tomorrow.
Q: Sam, obviously engine plans are still up in the air. How close are you? When do you need to know which engine you are going to be running?
SM: From a technical point of view it is always best to know a long time in front. But we are still in the middle of that decision. That is all I can say as I dont have any more information on that. As soon as I know, then I will start designing next years car around it.
Q: You would like to start already presumably?
SM: As I said with an engine decision you want to know as early as possible. I guess you could say that Brawn proved this year how late you can go, but I am sure they dont want to plan to do that. It just shows what is possible if you have to.
SD: It is a decision that has to be taken very carefully, so just wait.
Q: Mario, you seem to have an engine but not necessarily an entry. What is the timescale? What has to happen for the Sauber team now?
MT: Well, apparently it is important now to get a solid entry, either number 13 or number 14. We are in the hands of the FIA more or less and we are working on that behind the scenes, but I do not have any confirmation today.
Q: When do you need to know by?
MT: The earlier the better, but for the time being we work towards next season in the same way as if the entry was there already.
Q: Norbert, a lot of people have been talking about your engines. They all seem to want them. What exactly is the capacity? How many teams can you handle?
NH: I think it depends on the final FIA decision to start with. It is still in the rules, it still says one customer team, but there is an exception already made. I think the final decision will be made sooner rather than later. Capacity-wise, due to the new regulations, due to the freeze, we are doing including core builds, rebuilds half of the number of engines we did for our own team two years ago. That is certainly going in the right direction. Capacity-wise it would be possible to supply three customer teams. But it is not certain that we are in a position to so, but capacity would not be a problem.
Q: Stefano, it has already been mentioned that one of your drivers, shall we say, is between a Spaniard and a Finn. What is the situation within the team?
SD: I think what I can say is repeat what our president said. In the last couple of days the situation has changed, so we will keep you updated as soon as we can say something. At the moment nothing to add on that.
Q: The Spaniard element of it seems to be the key to everybody elses drivers.
SD: I have to focus on our problems to be honest. I do not know what the others will do when we have taken the decision.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Joris Fioriti AFP) Mario, can you confirm right now that Ferrari will be the engine supplier next year?
MT: We have been talking to Ferrari and we have got a very positive response from Ferrari but apparently the first thing that we need is a place on the grid.
Q: (Joris Fioriti AFP) If you have a place then you will have a Ferrari engine?
MT: That would be our favourite option.
Q: (Joris Fioriti AFP) Question to all: Brawn GP were the fastest in the first session and then Red Bull were fastest in the second. Does it mean that it is going to be a Red Bull-Brawn GP fight like at the beginning of the season?
MT: No idea, lets see tomorrow.
SD: We will see on Sunday. In my view we need to be pragmatic. I think that not only Red Bull and Brawn have done a step. I think McLaren have done a step. We must not forget that Force India did a big step in the last races. Williams has done a step. As Mario said everyone has done a step, so I think this race we need to be very careful but for sure it will be a tough race between the first teams.
NH: Well, we are certainly working on it that it is not a Brawn and Red Bull race here. We try to interfere but I am not sure if we can do it. I am quite convinced that not everybody in the top five was using the same amount of fuel, so things may change tomorrow. But of course they are strong and as Stefano pointed out other people have made steps as well and if you get your act together there may even be some surprises. I think there are probably five teams in a position, depending on the strategy, to fight for pole position which is very possible for Formula One.
Q: (Joris Fioriti AFP) Which are the five teams?
NH: I think it needs to be kept open until tomorrow but I think your opinion is not much different to mine. Whether it is four or six I dont know, but it is a handful at least.
Q: (Peter Haab Motorsport Aktuell) Can you give us some information on Felipe Massas progress?
SD: With pleasure. Felipe is recovering quite well. He has started a training programme in terms of fitness and again starting his preparation. The next step will be to start a programme on the simulator and then the programme will be to do some kart running. And as soon as these things are fine, then we will decide when to put him back in a proper racing car.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) A question to all four of you: given that FOTA is all about unity and co-operation, given that some elements in this paddock would like nothing better than to divide and conquer, what do you guys think about Williams going against the grain and running KERS next year?
SM: One thing to be clear on: Williams have always said that we supported KERS, the concept of it, the ability to help Formula One with sustainability and the environment. We havent stopped the development of KERS and we never did do that, just like the other teams didnt. I think at the moment we are discussing with FOTA the potential for an agreement not to run KERS next year. We are in the middle of that, in terms of days, so it would be wrong for us to come out and say that we are going to race KERS next year. In fact we never said that. In any statements, if you read carefully what we said was at no point did we say we were going to race KERS, we just said we would continue developing it. I think if you ask most of the people who have KERS, theyre doing the same thing. So its quite different to say that were going against the grain of FOTA. We are in FOTA, weve only had one meeting in FOTA since we rejoined, so that is in the middle of process at the moment. I think its wrong to say that Williams are going against the grain of FOTA, especially at this time when we are talking to FOTA about exactly this point.
Q: (Tetsuo Tsugawa Tetsu Enterprise) How much difference do you think there is between the Cosworth engine and the homologation engine? I believe they have still homologated their engine each year, but do you think they have some advantage?
NH: Its difficult to say. Mario is the specialist.
MT: I have to say that I dont know and probably none of us knows what they are doing with their original engine. Apparently, the engine was originally designed to (rev to) 20,000rpm plus. Now its 18,000. Apparently they have to retune the engine. I have no information where they are performance-wise and reliability-wise or durability-wise. So I just cant answer the question now. We just have to see what happens when they are on the grid next year.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi La Gazzetta dello Sport) Mario, will you remain with Sauber next year or do you stay with BMW Motorsport?
MT: That is completely open and I will not deal with this question before the end of the season. We have put in a lot of effort to secure the future of the team and it would have been counter-productive if I had mixed it up with my own future. Im not concerned about that and I can decide on that later on.
Q: (Mark Fogarty Auto Action) To all of you: as we saw at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the automotive industry is diving headlong into new and different forms of technology for power plants for cars and it seems inevitable that the direction were going is away from supplementing the internal combustion engine. Why shouldnt Formula One in fact be a proving ground for this new engine technology? Wouldnt it be a place to develop things very quickly?
SD: I think we shouldnt forget that Formula One should be the pinnacle of motor sport, but in the actual context of the situation that we are facing, we need to make sure that the rules that are decided are well balanced, otherwise we run the risk of having expensive technology, not applicable for all the teams that want to run in Formula One. So for sure the future of the powertrain in 2013 has to be considered very carefully, because for sure, one important element to keep the constructors interested in the Formula One business is to make sure that what we are doing here has a relevance in the automotive industry. But once again, its a matter of compromise, its a matter of balance: the cost of bringing new technology within the framework of the regulations in Formula One versus the reality that we have to have a lot of teams on the grid and they have to be able to spend money on that.
NH: I think there are really very good plans for the new engine formula, but it takes time, obviously, and thats why we currently have this engine freeze. But the next engine generation will certainly be very different. Having said that, weve got some experience with KERS and I think we are all very much pro-KERS but if you have a competition race and the KERS technique then that just costs a lot of money. The technical guys behind me, especially, would love to have that and I dont know one technical guy who would not love to go in that direction, but the question is what can you afford and where do you put your money? I think we have to accept that the next engine generation will be something absolutely new and special, but having said that, the specific consumption of the current engine is an absolute world record. I just think sometimes we need to accept that if you need to feed seven hundred and fifty horses you need to give them more than if you need to feed 75 horses and thats very simple but its reality. And I think if we have a total look at Formula One, whats happening in terms of the environment, its still a very positive issue, all in all, but its a conflict: what money you can spend, and street cars sometimes require different technical developments to racing cars. KERS hybrid was probably an example but you cannot put it in the same way you are building it for Formula One into a street car. The principle is comparable and you certainly learn, you do learn and we learned and we couldnt have made it without our people from production development, so all in all, it was a very good example indeed, but an expensive one as well.
MT: Yeah, I think I was one of the strongest campaigners for KERS and I still think its been a fantastic opportunity for Formula One and it might well be one in the future, to take the technological lead and to do something to spend our excellent resources on, something that makes sense, that is sensible for the future. On the other hand, we have had a lot of discussions on the effort that you have to put behind it and Im now in the very different situation of a team that has to survive without a manufacturer next year and you certainly then see the other side. I think we should put in as much innovation as possible, as affordable. We should go for what is possible in Formula One but without losing any competitors. Thats the trade-off we have to make, so this is also why BMW has supported the FOTA decision not to run KERS next year.
SM: Pretty similar to the other guys, in terms of the trade-off of F1 development. Obviously were not an engine manufacturer but we do silly things with the engine manufacturers that we work with that trade off to road cars, but as Norbert said, there are very different objectives for road car development as opposed to Formula One. One example is to look at diesel technology, and that was all the rage five or six years ago and that swamped road cars but its not necessarily the right thing for Formula One. There are lots of examples like that.
Q: (Ralf Bach R & B) When the engines were frozen two years ago, everybody thought it was maybe the right thing to do. When Renault was allowed last year to maybe make the engine a little bit better, I thought OK, maybe they were so far away from the competition that they should be allowed to do it. But now I dont understand anything anymore. Do you think its Formula One when Mercedes is forced to reduce the power of the engine, because they maybe have the best engine? Is this Formula One for people and spectators anymore?
SD: First of all, no one has said that the Mercedes engine has to be re-tuned.
NH: If you read the (FIA) press release this is not the case. I think maybe you should go through it once more. It is written very conditionally but it doesnt speak about Mercedes at all. Its not a Mercedes issue. It is just a general issue.
SD: We can discuss if freezing everything in Formula One is correct or not but this is a decision that once again went in the direction of trying to reduce the cost of Formula One. I think that, as an engine manufacturer, we have done a lot in order to reduce the cost for customers, in order to make sure that we were able to come and be on the grid in Formula One and I think this is due to FOTA and to the effort that the manufacturers made altogether. Then, if this is correct or not, I would say thats a question that is difficult to answer. The opposite answer can be that if that was not the case, if we were here with the things that we have on the grid, question mark; we dont know. But on the other subject, I cannot really answer because its not the specific issue that was discussed in the FIA. There is an engine working group that will deal with the engine situation, that will be discussed and we will discuss it within the group as always and see what the situation is but nothing more than that.
MT: Even as an engine guy I have supported the homologation because almost everything that we have achieved in the past two or three years in terms of cost reduction came from the engine side, through homologation and the extension of engine life, so that was certainly a very important and positive step. As you said before, we had the discussion a year ago about the Renault engine. It was dealt with within the engine working group and we came to a conclusion between the engine manufacturers that if there was a situation like this again, it should be dealt with in the same away again, and we would see what the outcome was.