FIA Friday press conference - Belgium
Part One: Andreas SEIDL (McLaren), Laurent ROSSI (Alpine), Otmar SZAFNAUER (Aston Martin)
Q: Laurent, please can we start with you. Formula 1’s most recent race winners. It was a great day in Hungary, how has that victory changed things for you?
Laurent Rossi: Well, it’s a confirmation for the team that they’re doing the right thing since the beginning of the year. So, we had moments of doubt, tough races but we learned from our errors, mistakes, missed opportunities and we told ourselves it’s always a good prep for the future when we have a faster car. Well, the future was a bit accelerated here but the team validated all of the learning and that gave them a big boost of confidence that they were doing the right stuff and going in the right direction. So, that’s good. And then, obviously, outside of the team itself, it’s validating a couple of choices, starting with our driver. It justifies why we thought it was good to sign Esteban for three years. It justified a couple of other decisions. It’s nice. It’s set things back in order, I would say.
Q: And does a result like that vindicate your decision to be in Formula 1?
LR: Well, absolutely. It’s a long-term project. It’s a 100-race project. We’re very early in that project and again, it’s a bit of an odd year. I would refrain from saying transition because every year it feels like it’s transition, transition, transition but it’s a prep year for sure and a result like that gives us the result to go further. You get used to it, somehow, even if it’s only once. You want to reiterate. Yes, it’s definitely a confirmation that we’re on the right track and we want to repeat that over and over in the next ten years.
Q: And does it change your objectives for the second half of this season?
LR: No. Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. It’s earlier than what we expected, but that’s racing, I guess. There’s always a couple of races where there’s a bit of a change of circumstances and you have to seize the opportunities. That’s what we did. Luckily for us – but at the same time we did well, because it’s 65 laps holding the position, so that’s good – but the objective remains finishing in the position we’re in, which is fifth, at the very least, but for the moment that’s the most tangible objective and it helps towards keeping that position, obviously, because we were a bit far from it. So now, the focus is going to be to just keep on doing the same work, to keep that position until the end of the year.
Q: And we got confirmation yesterday that Fernando Alonso is going to stay for 2022. Was there any doubt in your mind?
LR: As a one-plus-one contract, there’s always a doubt. The first one was Fernando himself said it would take him a couple of races to get back into shape. He even admitted it took him perhaps a race or two more than what he expected, so you never know when you start the year whether or not it’s going to unfold the way you want and there’s always a bit of uncertainty on both sides but at the moment, when he re-signed, there was none. Yes, it was still something possible not to renew but at the end both parties really wanted to carry on.
Q: Otmar, while Alpine went into the summer break on a high, the opposite was true at Aston Martin. Sebastian yesterday described his disqualification in Hungary as a ‘bitter pill to swallow.’ Have you got over the pain of it yet?
Otmar Szafnauer: It’s hard to get over something like that but we have to put it behind us. It is what it is, and move on, and look forward to the races that are in front of us.
Q: With that in mind, you’re now 29 points behind Alpine, who are fifth. What are the goals for you guys now in the second half of the year?
OS: Well, I heard Laurent say that that the tangible objective for them is to be fifth. We’re going to have a good battle because that’s our tangible objective as well. So, it’s something we can achieve and we just have to work hard at scoring points in every race with both drivers and maximising what we get out of our car and our on-track performance. So, that’s what we will do, and fight for that fifth position.
Q: And Lance is carrying a five-place grid penalty into this race. Does that change your approach to the weekend with him?
OS: No. We’ll try to qualify as high as we can with him. You can overtake here so, if we have a fast race car and do a decent job in qualifying, I think even with the five place grid penalty, we can get Lance into the points.
Q: Do you have a fast race car here? What did you learn in FP1?
OS: Unfortunately, I say this just about every time we sit here, the press conference is right when we do our debrief, so I can’t really tell you what we learned because I haven’t listened to the drivers, but I saw what everyone else saw: it looks like we’re relatively competitive but I don’t know what further changes we can make to the car because, like I say, I missed the debrief.
Q: Andreas, McLaren are on exactly the same points as Ferrari, 163, how important is it to hit the ground running here at Spa?
Andreas Seidl: Well, it’s obviously very important after the two weeks of shutdown, to make sure as a team, we are ready straightaway, again, in terms of pulling the weekends off. The key in that battle we are in will be to keep consistently scoring points, like we did in the first half of the season. I think we have everything we need on our side, together with Lando, together with Daniel in order to keep that battle alive with Ferrari to the end of the season – but, as always, it’s important to simply focus on ourselves. I think we have a very competitive car and now it’s down to us to deliver.
Q: I know you’ve missed the debrief as well but do you think you do have a very competitive car here at Spa?
AS: Difficult to say. I think on paper the track should suit our car. Our two drivers have always had strong performances as well here in Spa but still early days. I think we had a solid start. We managed to get through the programme as planned. We tried some different aerodynamic configurations in the first session. We brought to the car another small upgrade as well. Everything worked as expected but now we need to see how the rest of the weekend goes.
Q: Let’s talk drivers. This is Daniel’s 200th Grand Prix. He’s joined a pretty exclusive club of double-centurions. How has the team benefitted from his experience this year?
AS: Well, obviously it’s clear if you have done 200 races you have a lot of experience but also speed, otherwise you don’t survive in Formula 1 for 200 races. I think since day one when he was joining the team, we obviously benefitted a lot from the other experiences he made already in Formula 1. He was part of different teams already, he has a clear idea of what he needs from the team side, in order to perform, in terms of how to prepare race weekends and how to execute race weekends. As you all know, the process of him being fully comfortable with our car is not completed yet – but I think we are on a good direction. He is putting in a lot of energy, the team is also trying to work on the car to adapt it to his liking, and I think it’s only a question of time until he’s back to where we want him to be and how we know Daniel. I’m looking forward to another 200 races with Daniel in Formula 1.
Q: And Lando described the first half of his year as ‘almost perfect’ yesterday. Would you agree with him?
AS: Definitely. I think when you see the run of results Lando had on his side, together with his crew, together with the team, it was… yeah… I would call it a brilliant first half of the season if you look at all the points he could score and the performances he has shown. Just a great confirmation also for the entire team that they did a great job over the winter, together with the guys from Mercedes, delivering a competitive car and I’m simply happy to see that we clearly made the next step again as a team, with a car and the way we work together. And also Lando clearly made the next step as a driver, which you would also expect from a young guy going into the third season in Formula 1 if his objective is – which is the same as we have – to become a top guy in Formula 1.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) To all three team principals present please. The three of you are either on or planning to be very close to the budget cap – so where do you stand on this question of whether or not accident damage should be excluded, or included, or whether the guilty party should pay for any damages etcetera?
AS: Yeah. I think I made our position clear after the race in Hungary. The budget cap has been discussed at length between all teams in the past. I think there was never a discussion about the budget cap being a zero-crash budget cap, it’s simply down to us to make sure that, when we go into a season, that we have a certain amount of the budget reserved for potential issues, be it a crash or reliability issues, and then you have to manage that going through the season. I think that’s the challenge we are in. I hear all the noise from the usual protagonists, or suspects, but I guess there is… yeah… our position is clear. I think it would also go against the objective if you would open the door to again now for some kind of tokens or allowances for crashes or going into the topic of the guilty party paying the bill.
LR: I’m fully aligned with Andreas. I mean, you have to manage your budget and whether it’s the crashes and the spare parts you need for a regular season, I guess you have to budget for that too. I agree also that trying to have a party being deemed responsible is going to be quite difficult. We saw lately that there has been some crashes and the jury is still out on whether it was one driver or the other driver’s fault. So, it would take forever to settle all the arguments. So, I guess it’s easier the way it’s been designed and we should keep at it. OS: I don’t think there’s much more to say apart from we had lengthy discussions before the budget cap was finalised about this topic and everybody agreed at the time that crash damage was something that you couldn’t specifically or precisely plan for – but you had to have some kind of allowance and it’s exactly what we should be doing in the future and, if you allow too much of an allowance, then that’s what you have to do. And as for trying to figure out who the guilty party is, I think Laurent is absolutely right. Almost every crash, everyone’s pointing the finger at each-other. We just need to leave it the way it is.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Laurent, it emerged a few weeks ago that Rémi Taffin is no longer part of the team. I just wondered if you could explain the reasons for his departure. How will the engine programme will be managed now, and whether this impacts the work going on with the much-revised 2022 engine behind the scenes? Thank you.
LR: What we’ve done basically is agree with Rémi that we’d reached the natural fork in our history. We’re going in a new direction, we’re taking the team in a new direction, so it was only natural to part ways now rather than in the midst of a new adventure. It doesn’t change what’s in the pipe in terms of the engine next year. The plan was laid out before the beginning of the year and we’re following it. Perhaps only a bit on the boost, with revised budgets now that we’re Alpine but at the end of the day the choices that were made are more or less the same, the engine’s going to be frozen so it’s now the time to move onto the next step, so that’s what we decided to do in full agreement.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Question is to Otmar. Otmar, are you talking to any other drivers other than Seb and Lance with regard to your cockpits for next year?
OS: Well, Christian, will be soon announcing so I think it would be premature of me to give it away but watch this space, it’s not far off.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Laurent, obviously we had Alpine at Le Mans last weekend and we know that you guys are evaluating a possible top flight prototype programme whether that’s Le Mans Hypercars or in LMDH. I was wondering if you guys do go down that avenue would you want to get your Formula 1 drivers involved in that programme as well. Esteban said yesterday ‘never say never’ to a possible Le Mans outing, but would that work for Alpine to have the F1 driver involved on the sports car side?
LR: Well, we have discussed that with both drivers. It is a possibility but precedence will always go to Formula 1, they both know that and that’s why also Esteban said he will never say never but at the same time is always going to be given the priority. Only because it’s a different cars, different tyres, it takes time to adapt, it’s exhausting races, especially the 24 hours, so you cannot just decide that you switch from a Formula 1 race to an endurance race from one weekend to another. Also the scheduling, the calendars are not necessarily consistent so if one day we have an opportunity, for instance Le Mans like this year, at the very end of the shutdown, which is unusual, as Le Mans is usually 10th of June more or less, perhaps, but frankly it would be more nice to have than a must have, after their career they are welcome to stay and that’s something that if we were to carry on with Le Mans and endurance at large, it’s something we have in mind and that’s also something that is weighing in my decision process. Fernando would be obviously be good option because he has been there, done that, he has proven that he is a great driver on every single type of ground, if your will, so it would be silly not to seize this opportunity if it was presenting itself. But, like I said, for the foreseeable future F1 drivers will driver F1 cars and others will drive the rest.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Laurent, will Rémi be replaced directly and more broadly on the management side, how happy are you now with the structure that you’ve got at the team, as obviously there have been a few changes since the rebrand at the start of the year? Do you think that you have now got all the pieces in the right places?
LR: Well, I won’t reply directly to the replacement because it’s basically organisational matters and the responsibilities have all been allocated so there is no hole in the net, if you will. Then, organisations always evolve. I have been doing my own assessment in the past six months on what could be improved. I’ll carry on so I will certainly put some new touches here and there in the firm of new hiring potentially or changes to the structure. It’s still a work in progress. It’s early in the new journey but I want to make sure that within this year that I qualified as a prep year earlier on, a prep year for a lot of things, including the organisation, I can have a full grasp of what’s going on and what can be improved and I address as many items as I can, so there might still be changes, you will see.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) To all three, please. Including this race we basically have 12 races potentially in the next 15 or 16 weekends. Given the hectic schedule would you prefer to see one or more of those races cancelled in the interests of staff welfare etc?
OS: Well, I think Dieter we’ve got to do the best we can in these unprecedented times of COVID and try to get in as many races as we can. You are absolutely right about the staff and we have to make sure that we do look after their welfare but I think this year we should try to see out the schedule and plan better for the future years.
LR: Yeah, I second that. We need to have the schedule respected as much as we can. To be honest I spoke to the team as well because I wanted to make sure that, well, I guess I speak continuously to the team about that topic, in order to make sure that it’s done the best way possible. They told me, Alan Permane told me, that the team will be just happy to race, no matter what, so the idea is to let’s go with the schedule but let’s make it easy for the crew, the team, as much as we can. Part of it is on the FIA side, so in rescheduling, making sure that when we have double-headers they are consistent with each other and we don’t travel too much to do things. And on our side it’s to make sure that we provide the extra touch for them to go through this quite hectic schedule for sure the best way possible.
AS: Yeah, I mean we fully trust Stefano and his team to make the right calls on the number of races and the venues we go and the schedule. I think it is very important to make sure we protect our people as much as we can, accepting that it is obviously another strange year and, as Otmar said, I think it’s important moving forward that we get back to more stability again and have clear planning in place of how the year looks like. In terms of the number of races I think here as well it’s simply important that we don’t do the number of races, 23 for example, at any cost. It obviously needs to make sense, also from the commercial point of view. But again, that’s Stefano’s task and we have full trust that he will get this right.
Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Otmar, Laurent was talking about his senior management within his F1 team. In terms of Aston Martin obviously you guys have made a number of high-profile signings in the last number of months. Are you guys done with your bug signings or are there any more senior figures to come to the team?
OS: Well, we have Mark White starting this month as well and we are still on a recruitment drive. We are still one of the smallest teams at 550 employees and our goal is to compete with the teams at the top eventually and that means we will continue to recruit likeminded individuals with good experience that will help us.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Laurent, who in Viry reports directly to you?
LR: Well, this is internal stuff, but there are four directors reporting directly into me, if you want to know. I won’t tell you their names but that’s about it.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Laurent, sorry to put the focus on Fernando’s contract when he has only just signed this one, but as his comeback was all about looking to the new set of rules I assume both you and Fernando want more than just one year in those new rules to achieve all your targets. So what do hope or intend to give Fernando to show him over the next 12 months in order for him to want to stay for more than one extra year.
LR: Well, we just need to keep on doing what we are doing, because that have him the confidence that he is in the right team and obviously we need to give him a better car, so this yields better results. The results we have are not where we want to be four years from now and I’m sure not where he wants to be in a year from now. It’s just a step on the way. We discuss that, him and I, quite a bit and the idea is to stay together as long as we are performing together and we’ll play it by ear. At the end of the year next year we’ll decide… I mean, not at the end of the year, I guess before that, we’ll decide what we do together but the goal is to carry on as much as we can. As long as Fernando is going to be operating at the level he is he should be an Alpine driver. If he is not fit for F1 he will leave F1 altogether and we owe him a car that will match his talent. So that’s the deal we have together.
Part Two: Franz TOST (AlphaTauri), Jost CAPITO (Williams), Toyoharu TANABE (Honda)
Q: Jost, I think we’ll start with you, please. Great result for the team in Hungary, just how much of a boost was it?
Jost Capito: It was a fantastic result in Hungary to get 10 points for the team and to get the first, the best result for the team since 2017 was really fantastic. It was a big confidence boost and a big spirit boost for everybody in the team and to move to eighth position in the championship is absolutely fantastic and now everybody is full on alert and fighting that we stay in eighth position. I’m sure we will need some more points for this, so we have to be really focused and fight hard race by race.
Q: How tough is this battle for eighth going to be?
JC: I think it will be extremely tough. I think it is the eighth, ninth, and tenth teams we wouldn’t get points for a standard, dry, normal race without incidents, just a normal; race, because our cars are too slow for this, so that means if there exceptional circumstances, something happens, you have to be absolutely faultless and deliver a fantastic strategy, good decisions, great pit stops, everybody has to be full spot-on to get thew points when they are up for grabs, because we just can’t have a normal race and fight for points so we have to get them when it’s difficult to get points.
Q: So are you doing a rain dance for this weekend?
JC: Yeah, but I don’t tell you where.
Q: How impressed were you by Nicholas’ race at the Hungaroring?
JC: I wouldn’t say I was impressed because I know his capabilities and he did a fantastic race and he has done fantastic races in the past. It is impressive but I was not impressed because I know what I can expect of him. He is rarely doing any mistakes and when you are following him racing and he completely is very capable on doing what his race engineers tell him to do and what kind of lap times he could achieve, and, and, and... He is a very good race driver and he deserves the seat in our team, definitely.
Q: He said yesterday that he is 100% ready to lead Williams if George were to leave. Do you agree with him?
JC: I agree with him. I think he is… maybe not now, yet, but he is really improving race by race and I’m sure by the end of the season he is ready to do that, especially his personality is in the right spot to lead the team, yeah. He works very well with the engineers. He is very motivational. He is very clear in his direction, where he wants a car to develop and he is very much liked by the team and he is demanding so I think also he learned a lot with George as they work together, they spend a lot of time together on and off the track, so it’s a fantastic relationship, so I’m, sure by the end of the season Nicky will be in that position that he can lead the team.
Q: Does this all point towards a 2022 contract for Nicholas?
JC: Yeah, looks like, I would say.
Q: George… prior to the break, he was saying he wanted to get his future sorted out before we got to Spa. There is still no news. At what point do you need to know?
JC: Before the first race, before the first test next year, I think. At the moment, we are not worried about our situation and I think Toto will take the decision sooner or later. I believe it will be sooner. The Williams seat seems to be a very attractive seat for every driver who hasn’t got a fixed seat for next year and as most of the seats are fixed for next year, I think we can lean back and wait for what the decision is and when the decision is taken, we can get into more detailed discussion with various drivers.
Q: Now Tanabe-san, very sadly Honda are not going to get their farewell race at Suzuka this year. How disappointing is that for you personally and for Honda?
Toyoharu Tanabe: Yes, so we are so disappointed that we cannot race in our home circuit, Suzuka, in Honda F1’s last season. Personally, again not explaining, and then as Honda, the people who have been working and have worked very hard to have a Suzuka Grand Prix this year, then finally it was cancelled, so all the Honda people also disappointed very much. And then this year is a Japanese driver, Yuki Tsunoda’s debut year, so many Japanese fans have supported him very much and then another disappointment is that he cannot race in front of them, him racing with a Honda team. And then another one is that we cannot race in front of our Honda team members and then again, the Japanese fans.
Q: Let’s talk about power units now. There have been two opening laps crashes in two races for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez; what can you tell us about the state of those power units?
TT: For Max PU, we decided we cannot use it in racing. Checo’s one has been completely destroyed, so in the case of Max’s one we are not sure if we can replace the parts maybe we can use it as normal condition but from a safety point of view the current damage is a little bit too big to use it in the races. As you know, in the current PU regulations we cannot change parts which are sealed by the FIA, so unfortunately we want to change a part which is sealed and of course, we in Honda respect the PU regulations, which are based on long experience and then the FIA and the PU manufacturers discussed and then have been established. But looking at our situation, I think there is room to reconsider the regulations, so for example I think it is possible to have an enquiry to discuss about parts changed, so a representative could be the FIA technical members and then team representative which were involved in the accident and all the PU manufacturers. Then we can review the accidents, which can take impact data, we can check chassis damage, we can check PU damage. And then altogether we can discuss about parts change requests from PU manufacturers, so we can change or not. So consider current situation in the economic situation, also the sustainability of this sport, I think we have room to consider that type of thing. Anyway, we respect the regulations, very much.
Q. Franz, how disappointing is it for you, a Honda powered team, not to be racing in Japan this year?
Franz Tost: Yeah, it was a very big disappointment for all of us, because especially this year we wanted to go to Japan, first of all, to say goodbye to Honda, to race the last time in front of the Honda people, like Tsunoda-san mentioned, to go there to all the fans, because Yuki has a lot of Japanese fans and of course he wanted to race there. The government decided not to organise this race and therefore it’s a bit disappointment because I think it would have been a fantastic show over there.
Q: You mentioned Tsunoda-san. He had an excellent result in the Hungarian Grand Prix to P6; how much do you need him to maintain that level of consistency in this second half of the season?
FT: You must not forget, Yuki is a rookie and at all the race tracks, he is the first time out in a Formula 1 car and especially in the second part of the season, there are many race tracks which he even doesn’t know. For example, America, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia – OK, all the other drivers also don’t know this track – which means we must be realistic regarding to the expectations. So far, Yuki is doing a good job. He crashed a couple of times but – as I always say – a young driver earlier or later will have his crash period. I hope it’s finished now, yeah? But we are quite satisfied with his performance, he is improving a lot and he is working quite hard and therefore the second half of the season, he now knows the car much better, he will provide us with good results I’m convinced about this.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Jost, you mentioned that there’s a good chance that Nicholas Latifi will be around next year. If George Russell isn’t there, can you just lay out the kind of criteria you would see applying for the other driver? Do you need an experienced driver in both seats or do you think a strong rookie would be a good option alongside someone like Nicholas Latifi, given he has the experience and the continuity?
JC: I think there are different options and different strategies. It could be an advantage to have an experienced driver and it could be an advantage to have a rookie and you will know at the end what would be better or not as good but we are looking into the various option, drivers who have a lot experience, drivers who have some experience and drivers who have no experience and it’s not just the experience, it’s also the personality and I think the spirit to join Williams; where Williams is now I think we are improving and we have ambitious objectives for the years to come and the most important thing is we have a driver with the spirit to support Williams, on the way Williams to go and that’s more important than experience or non-experience.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Tanabe-san, I would like to ask you about Sergio Perez and his work with both Red Bull and Honda, this season. Obviously Sergio came to the team with a lot of experience. How have you found working with him and what has impressed you the most about Sergio?
TT: Since we have worked with Checo he has been giving us a lot of information about… It’s a little bit different than information – kind of suggestions how to improve the PU, he said, in terms of usage for he has some questions why. So it works very well, to improve our PU performance, not only PU side but also chassis side. I don’t involve very much the discussion in the chassis side development but I feel with Checo we are getting more strong as a team.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) To the two team principals please: both of you are either on or trying to get to the budget cap. Where do you stand in this debate about whether or not accident damage should be included/excluded, whether a guilty party should pay for the damage? Tanabe-san, perhaps from an engine perspective, where do you stand on an overall perspective please?
FT: Of course, you know, if you’re involved in an accident where another team pushed you off the track and your car is completely destroyed, with the cost cap you are asked whether it would be possible that the costs for this damage is out of the cost cap. It’s then a principal question who this develops in the future, because it could also be then that deliberate accidents would come up and then the cost cap is getting into a direction which is not what it was intended to be. But of course, if your car is totally destroyed because of the fault of another driver, then on one side out be unfair that this costs are being involved in the cost cap, but in the end it’s a decision of the FIA.
JC: I agree with Franz, it’s a decision of the FIA and I think we have to admit the discussion, of course and it needs to be sorted. On the other hand, we have to make sure that the cost cap stays a cost cap and there are not many ways where you can get, how you can get outside the cost cap. I think whatever the discussion will be, there has to be very strong rules to keep the cost cap and not find doors to get around. I think that’s the most important.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Franz, you said before the summer break that it looked like there were no alternatives to your driver line-up for next year with obviously Pierre and Yuki in those seats. I just wanted to know, when do you think an announcement will be made? Are you waiting for the senior Red Bull team to make their decision on a driver before you can make a final step on who will be racing for Alpha Tauri next season?
FT: I think it will be decided in September and we will announce it then.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Again, to the two team principals: including this race, you potentially have twelve races over the next 15 or 16 weeks. There’s a chance that one or two of them may drop out due to the Covid situation. Would you prefer to see that or would you prefer Liberty Formula 1 to actually pack it full of the 12 races?
JC: I think we all would prefer that we would have the 22 races and we are – I think I rely and I think I am very confident with Stefano to make the right decisions. I’m sure he has a very hard time to get the calendar sorted for the second half of the season and he’s got our full support and our full trust that he takes the right decision. I hope it wouldn’t be 23 races; we don’t think the races off we would have taken points!
FT: We are a race team; our job is to go racing. I hope that we have as many races as possible and we will support FOM and Stefano in these respects.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Jost, is your team totally and absolutely committed to Mercedes until the end of the current regulation window?