Berger exclusive - customer cars, the FIA Presidency, and those sale rumours 12 Jun 2008
After almost 25 years in the business, there is absolutely no way of pulling the wool over Gerhard Bergers eyes. As a driver, he was always his own manager, and as such learnt as much off track as he did on it. Now, as the guiding force behind Toro Rosso, Berger is calling on all this commercial acumen to ride his toughest storm yet. Over the coming months he hopes to see the customer car debate finally put to bed, but then faces co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz selling off his slice of the team. A candid Berger, however, seems unfazed by the future
Q: Gerhard, what is the state of affairs concerning customer car discussions - and your disagreement with Force India on the matter?
Gerhard Berger: Well, the situation has definitely changed since Super Aguri dropped out of the championship, as now all ten remaining teams are eligible for the TV money allocation. Leaving aside that I still believe one hundred percent that we are fulfilling the wording of the regulations, now the lawyers are working on a compromise that everybody can live with. I think it cannot really be in the interest of all involved to spend a lot of money on lawyers and court procedures - we should focus instead on the sport.
Q: Rumour has it that Red Bull has agreed to pay a bonus to Force India this year. Is that true?
GB: This is still in the hands of the lawyers - lets see what the outcome is. My guess is that it will be finalised within the next couple of days.
Q: And where are the discussions regarding customer cars beyond the end of this season? You said that nothing is final yet
GB: There is an agreement between the teams that from 2010 on there will be clear wording that defines what is a constructor and what is not. If nothing changes, from 2010 onwards we have to be a constructor in the wording of the new Concorde Agreement.
Q: Red Bulls Dietrich Mateschitz will not finance a second team if there is no synergy permitted between his two teams. If customer cars were to become legal, is it possible he might change his mind on selling his share of Toro Rosso?
GB: I dont know, thats a question for Didi (Dietrich) Mateschitz!
Q: Following the loss of Super Aguri, everybody seems to have realised that budget caps are overdue. How would you restructure team expenses to economize?
GB: I see that as a very complex process where specialists have to work on it and make the right proposals. The crucial thing will always be to make everybody think in the same way - that the costs really have to come down. At the moment you have some teams and individuals who strongly believe that costs have to be controlled. And on the other hand, you have those who say we dont have a cost problem, we would like to go on as we do now because this is Formula One and we have the money. The others have to see that they find the money. There are two views and I am not sure which one will succeed, as the manufacturers want to show off all their technical abilities. If Force India and ourselves had a manufacturer behind us, we probably would not be in that discussion. But as we dont, the question is whether in the future there will be room for an independent team to survive in a fair way, so that the market gives the possibility to find the money. I think the goal must be to give independent teams a chance to be competitive, because to be last is ultimately not worthwhile.
Q: For private teams to find money is very difficult. What could or should be done to help that?
GB: I think you have to find a way to value yourself. Today if you see the marketable (sponsorship) areas on the car, and you know that a budget is minimum 120 to 150 million Euros, then you know the price that you have to ask for certain areas. This price is not really fitting together with the return on investment for the sponsor. This only works if you have a winning team, one with a big history - if you are Ferrari, thats fine, but if you are building up a team then thats a problem.
Q: So what would you see as an option?
GB: Im not sure I should say this because people will point out that I am speaking purely on my own behalf, but when I step back for a moment from the Toro Rosso side, I still believe that if the pot was split in equal parts it would firstly help, and secondly, be much more fair because every team would be part of the show. It does not help Toyota to run alone. On top of that, the teams winning races have the advantage of being on television much more, which in turn gives them a much better position to get sponsorship money. (McLaren team principal) Ron Dennis will not agree with me, but I think it would be the better system.
Q: If Toro Rosso wants to have a future - and attract investors - presumably it must transform itself into a constructor team. This sounds like a costly undertaking. When should this process start if it needs to be finished by 2010?
GB: It is a constructor team! Minardi (which Red Bull bought and transformed into Toro Rosso) always was a constructor team. True, we are using Red Bull Technology, which means that we have engineers there thinking for us. In the future, you might say that there should be a spatial separation and that those engineers should be in our factory - that would probably include 30 to 40 people. But there has never been a rule that you could not outsource a wind tunnel or the production of parts. And that goes way back. What I think people want to tighten up is the wording defining what a constructor is. There we probably need some modification, but for Toro Rosso it is no big issue - especially with two years in which to do it.
Q: How do you see the teams responsibilities towards its drivers? They obviously signed a contract under different conditions
GB: That is something a driver always faces. Because in the same breath you could argue that Lewis Hamilton signed with McLaren without knowing that they would sell 30 percent to the Bahrainis. You never know the outcome of such a situation, except that probably the team is benefiting from such a move. Looking at us, I can say that we did a good job so far, so it would be sad if all that fell apart. For the drivers, I think that they have got what they expected to get and in the second half of the season it should be even better.
Q: And how do you see your personal future in Formula One racing. There have been whispers connecting you to the FIA Presidency
GB: I heard that too. I have to say it is nice to hear that some people think you should put on those shoes, but its nothing that I would like to do. I was always interested in the sport, in the cars, the drivers, the teams, the fighting on the circuit. And doesnt the old saying warn against trying on shoes that are too big for you?
Q: And what about the recent rumours that a possible candidate to take over Dietrich Mateschitzs shares in Toro Rosso has emerged?
GB: We are in talks with a number of interested parties. Ask me when the ink on the contract is dry who came out on top.