FIA Friday press conference - Great Britain
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Toyoharu TANABE (Honda), Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), Claire WILLIAMS (Williams), Zak BROWN (McLaren), Marcin BUDKOWSKI (Renault)
Q: Question for all of you to start with. It was announced on Wednesday that Silverstone has secured a long-term deal to host Formula One. Can each of you give us your best memories of this track?
Marcin Budkowski: It’s always a track where we enjoy coming because of the public here. I think it’s always a sell-out and it’s a very ‘expert’ crowd, if you like, one which enjoys the racing but also understands the racing. Always claps and supports all the teams and drivers, very little booing, very, very positive crowd, so I think it’s always enjoyable – but I don’t have a stand-out memory personally here. It’s just the quality of the track and of the crowd really that stands out for me.
Zak Brown: Yeah, I think this is a great grand prix, very pleased we’ll be coming back for at least another five years, and I think if I had to pick my favourite British Grand Prix it would be Nigel Mansell in the Williams in 1987 coming back and passing Piquet. That was pretty awesome.
Claire Williams: As Zak said, I’m thrilled that Silverstone has got its place on the calendar long into the future. It’s absolutely what’s right, we all love coming here. As Marcin said, the crowds, the fans here are just wonderful. I’ve been coming here for 43 years, something like that. It was the race we were taken to as children, our special treat, the only race that Dad would let his kids come to. I remember being there in those glory days of Williams. We’ve had so many great races here. I think probably Nigel’s time in 1992 with the crowd invasion and all that stuff. For me, it holds such a special place in my heart. During my tenure at DTP, probably seeing our two cars overtake the Mercedes a few years, when Valtteri and Felipe led the race for a few laps. Fine, we didn’t go on to do what we would have liked to have done but still, those few laps, I suppose, spur me on, because that’s where I want to see Williamses in the future.
Christian Horner: It’s great news that the British Grand Prix is secured here at the home of motorsport at Silverstone. I think it’s the right venue, it’s a great track. I have so many great memories from here, been fortunate enough to win this race a few times, also in support formulas. One of my earliest memories coming here was back in 1992, shortly after I passed my driving test in my pimped-up Volkswagen Beetle, and they used to have a Goodyear tyre test here in June, the month before the grand prix. As an aspiring young karting driver I managed to find a hole in a fence – I don’t know whether it’s still there, around the corner from Copse, go through the tunnel, there’s a hole in the fence there, crawled through that, I managed to get into the pitlane, tried to pretend like I looked like I should be there. I had a karting jacket on at the time and came face to face with Ayrton Senna. It was a huge moment for me, he was one of my heroes. He’d had an accident on a jetski and so he wasn’t doing a lot of driving but he noticed the kart logo I had on my jacket and started asking me about karting. I thought, ‘I can’t top that! This day cannot get any better’ and then I managed to sneak through a garage and get to the front of the pitlane and Nigel was testing his Williams. I managed to get into your [Claire] garage, God knows how, and overhear Nigel. They were asking him what was preventing him going faster through Becketts? I remember him saying ‘I’m struggling to line my eyes up with my eye-sockets, because we’re so fast through there!’ So that was a huge memory for me, just topped the day off. Meeting Senna, then Mansell, and then driving home in my very flash Volkswagen Beetle.
Toyoharu Tanabe: Silverstone is the track I have seen, for the first time, a Formula One car. And then I’m very happy to hear the news. Our factory is located in Milton Keynes, also very close, and I’m very happy to hear that news.
Q: Marcin, tough weekend for the team in Austria last time out. How was FP1 this morning? Are you confident there won’t be a repeat here at Silverstone this weekend?
MB: Yes, we had a very difficult weekend in Austria. I think throughout the weekend really, and we didn’t qualify the cars in Q3, we had a difficult race as a result – but also because we didn't’ really have the pace at that circuit. We’re coming to a different circuit, it’s a different challenge here. I think Austria was a particular poor circuit for our car’s weaknesses at the moment and Silverstone is a combination really in terms of track, corners, so we expect to be better here, although we’re not happy with our general level of competitiveness at the moment. FP1 was a good session. It’s a working session. It’s one where we experiment on set-up and on different development directions. I think the track this morning was very green: new surface, very variable grip, so I think there was a lot of evolution and we benefitted from this, as I think, did Pierre in the Red Bull as well – but it was a good working session, we learned some things, we fine-tuned the set-up so we’re looking forward to the weekend really.
Q: So more confidence ahead of this weekend?
Q: Marcin, you’ve been at the team for pretty much a year now. From a structural point of view, are you happy with how things are working now at Enstone?
MB: yeah, I’ve been there a little bit more than a year now. Obviously joined a team that is still in the process of reconstruction. I’ve found a team that under the previous management and the previous ownership was heavily under-invested. A lot of people left. A little bit, it’s a team left behind by the evolution of F1 – because there was no investment in infrastructure, in tools, in people, and obviously when Renault came back there was a lot of investment made, a lot of recruitment. We increased the workforce by more than 50 per cent now. It takes time to integrate all these people, to get all these new tools online, to get the understanding of the physics involved in designing and racing a Formula One car again. So we’re in that phase of rebuilding still. It’s in a much better place than it was – but there’s still some work to do, and certainly since I arrived I’ve focussed on the organisation structure: putting the right people in the right positions; getting the team to work better; getting the team to be more efficient; to be more creative. It’s getting better but there’s still some amount of work in front of us.
Q: Zak, coming on to you. You’ve re-signed Lando Norris for 2020. What’s impressed you about him this year?
ZB: I’ve been impressed with both our drivers. Really pleased with our driver line-up, which is why we wanted to confirm it ahead of the silly season, which seems to be ramping up. Carlos has been extremely quick every weekend and then Lando specifically, he also is extremely quick, a quick learner. He’s not making some of the mistakes – knock on wood – that you maybe anticipate from a rookie driver. He drives quite mature, his feedback’s good, he gets along with Carlos very well, and both our drivers are driving for the team, so we’re just very pleased with their progress, so we thought we’d get that out of the way so we can continue with our programme, head-down and just keep racing.
Q: It is still relatively early in the season to be committing to next year’s driver line-up. Why have you committed now?
ZB: We like what we see. Both drivers are doing an excelling job. Specifically in Lando’s case, he now has enough races under his belt that we’ve seen him under pressure, we’ve seen him having to race his team-mate, we’ve seen him at the front of the field. We’ve seen enough rounded elements to his driving to know that he’s one of the future stars of the sport. Again with the silly season ramping up, we want to not be part of that, keep our head down and just be focussed on what we’re doing.
Q: Tanabe-san, congratulations on the win in Austria last time out, great for Honda. How was the victory received back in Sakura?
TT: Thank you very much. It was a great result and the win came as a result of all of our Sakura members and the people who have worked for this project and they are very much satisfied and pleased. On the other hand, everyone is motivated now more than before, I believe, and we will keep working very hard to improve our performance.
Q: Does this win influence Honda’s decision to stay in Formula One beyond 2020?
TT: In my position, as the technical director of Honda F1, I’m not very involved with the contract matters – but I feel, after the win, a very good reaction from inside Honda. So, we will see.
Q: And how confident are you being competitive on all circuits going forward?
TT: We had a great race in Austria – but we know our current position compared to the top runners. There is still a gap there. We keep pushing to get more performance, with our members and also the Red Bull team.
Q: Christian, we’re talking about that win in Austria. From your point of view, how unexpected was it?
Christian Horner: It was totally unexpected. We thought if we could sneak a podium there it would be a great result, going into the grand prix. And then, about three metres after the start, even a top-four or top-five finish looked to be optimistic after Max got an anti-stall at the start and dropped down to P8 during the first lap – and in the meantime flat-spotted his front left as well. But we could see early on in the race that he had got good pace. He came back through the field quite quickly. We went long on the first stint and we had a great turnaround by the pit crew. And Max’s pace in the second half of the race was phenomenal. He was able to catch and pass obviously Sebastian and Valtteri and then close in, and with a few laps to go you think, ‘crikey, this could actually happen’, here at our home race in Austria. There aren’t many races that Dietrich Mateschitz comes to, we had some of the top board members from Honda also in attendance, so to win that race in the manner that Max did was phenomenal. And having come off the back of one of the most boring races in history in France, to have such an exciting race and to come out on top was a phenomenal feeling. And for Honda to win their first race in the V6 hybrid era after the difficult comeback into the sport that they had initially is testimony to the hard work and dedication of all the stuff. It was great to see the emotion and Tanabe-san picking up the trophy on behalf of the team, so it was a great day for the team and Honda all round.
Q: And did Max’s performance surprise you?
CH: Yes and no. I think Max has been delivering at such a high level pretty much since Montreal last year that nothing tends to surprise you with him. But the calmness with which he came back from the anti-stall at the start… He was probably one of the calmest guys out there. He fought hard but fair and was able to control the race and control his situation very well. It was certainly one of his very best victories.
Q: Tanabe-san has spoken about the knock-on effect of the victory within Honda, but what about within Red Bull and how important was the win in ensuring that Max stays with the team?
CH: I think within the whole team, the Monday morning after you win a grand prix, you walk into the factory you just feel that level of increased optimism, that energy. It energises the whole factory. People are working flat out all the time, but when they start to see rewards for what they are working for, it just makes it all worthwhile. I think for sure a huge effort has gone into this season so far, there is a long way still to go, it is still very much a transition year for us, but to see the delight in all the team members faced and to see what it meant to Honda as well was evry satisfying.
Q: Claire, Paddy Lowe has officially left the team. Can you explain the technical structure at Williams now?
Claire Williams: Did we not announce that a while ago? He has decided to leave the team and we wish him well. We’ve talked about our technical structure over the past few weeks in that we have now a technical management team in effect, that are effectively running the engineering side of the business and that consists of our Chief Aerodynamicist, Doug McKiernan, Dave Robson who is Head of Engineering Operations and then Adam Carter who is our Head of Design, and they are running it very collegiately, in a fantastic way and they are making real progress, which h is great to see. But obviously they have 650 people below them who are all working incredibly hard to make sure we deliver what we need to deliver over the next few races.
Q: Something we touched on a little bit earlier, the history of Williams and Silverstone. It’s 40 years since the team won its first grand prix, here at this track. Of all the team’s achievements where does that one stack up and does your dad still talk about it?
CW: He doesn’t talk about it regularly, but he doesn’t talk about a lot of past memories in Formula One. For Frank, it’s all about the future, but that was the start of what has been a phenomenal career for Frank in this sport. He’d fought long and hard, really, truly long and hard to achieve that. He started his own career racing himself, realised quite quickly he wasn’t any good at it – didn’t quite understand where the brakes were – and decided to be a constructor. It took him a decade to get that first grand prix win here. He fought incredibly hard. He had no money; he came from nothing. He had to sell the team at one point and then he had to again start from nothing. But he never gave up and we talked a lot about that yesterday with the team, Frank’s resilience, his tenacity, and he really deserved that victory in 1979. I think a lot of people around him at the time thought it would never come but as we all know Frank loves this sport. Victories are great for Frank but really, truly, it’s about being in this sport and competing.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action and Speedsport) Zak, you have a new wind tunnel coming but as far as revamping the team, are you looking for more people or is there anything else that needs to be done to the facilities?
ZB: Well, I’ve got Andreas Seidl now running the racing team. He and James Key are settled in and leading the charge. I think we are happy with the structure that we have and the senior leadership we have, but grand prix teams, especially with the new rules coming up in 2021 are going to have a certain element of reinventing how we go motor racing so I don’t think you are ever sitting still but from my standpoint I have the leadership I want to have in place and now it’s over to Andreas to fine-tune the racing team as he sees fit.
Q: And facilities?
ZB: Facilities, we’ll continue to invest again. We need to see what the final 2021 outcomes are to make sure we are investing in the right areas. The wind tunnel was certainly something we had been behind on for some time, so that was an investment we knew we needed to make. So I’m very happy that we are moving forward with it. We’ll make other cap-ex as we see fit as we get more visibility on what the future of the sport looks like.
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday) Claire, much speculation in the media about Robert’s future with the team, which in all fairness the team has said is a non-starter, he is committed with the team. But a lot of rumours have him working very closely with your engineering department, his feedback has apparently been crucial in developing the car. Could you perhaps explain the other side of Robert that we don’t get to see on the TV screens?
CW: Sure. Just to clarify the point about Robert’s situation with the team: Robert is racing with us this year and will continue to do so. I don’t know where this speculation has come from but in the past couple of weeks there seems to be a lot of speculation around about Williams. But one of the reasons that I wanted to bring Robert into the team was, talking to him last year he did a great job for us as a reserve driver, and throughout last year we really saw his strength and his technical ability and his feedback. If you spend any time talking to Robert you know and understand how intelligent he is, how much knowledge he has around the car and its performance and how to get the most out of it. Obviously coming into this year, we knew where we were ahead of time and we knew therefore that we would need somebody, a driver, with that level of engineering intelligence that could really help translate what was going on in the car back to the engineers and back into the factory and that was a key reason why we brought him on board. And he has continued that process with the engineers. He has been invaluable in helping to drive the performance that you are seeing we’re bringing to the car over the course of this season. Robert, as a person, he’s incredibly hard working and he’s very focused on what he’s here to do and we all know where he has come from and the accident that he has had and for anyone to come back into our sport having experienced such an accident is quite remarkable. It shows his resilience. The only other person I’ve seen that in myself, in my lifetime, is Frank. To come back from such serious injuries, to have that level of determination is really quite extraordinary and I think that probably sums Robert up in a nutshell.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To Zak and Christian. Zak you talked about wanting to avoid getting involved in the ‘silly season’ by confirming your drivers early. By retaining Carlos and Lando whatever slim chance there was of Fernando coming back to the grid after taking some time away, with McLaren at least, is not on the cars now., With his ambassadorial role, would you be happy to release him to speak to other teams if an opportunity arose for next year? And for Christian, you’ve been talking about supporting Pierre, there has been a lot of speculation about what will happen with him, even some links with Sebastian returning to the3 team. What’s the Red Bull position with regard to the 2020 driver market?
ZB: Yeah, with Fernando he remains an ambassador with McLaren, we’ve got a great relationship with him and we are speaking with him about some racing programmes in the future that are nor Formula One-related. But we are happy for him, if he wants to get back into Formula One, because we don’t have a seat available to go race for another team, and we will very much support with that if that’s what he wants to do.
CH: Our philosophy at Red Bull has always been to invest in young talent. That’s the purpose of Toro Rosso – it is to nurture and develop young talent. Pierre has had a tough first half of the year. We know ultimately what he’s capable of, which he hasn’t show his full hand yet. We saw a glimpse of it in P1 just now. With time and patience it will come right for him. Formula One is an impatient sport, but our philosophy is very much to invest in youth and to give young talent an opportunity and chance and therefore we obviously keep a very close eye on the nurturing talents at Toro Rosso.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines / Racefans.net) There has been a lot of speculation about an eventual successor for Chase Carey and quite a few names are in the frame. Christian yours is one of the names that has been speculated about. Would you be interested in accepting the position were it to be offered?
CH: I enjoy racing. My commitment is with Red Bull. There is a lot more I want to achieve from a competitive position and my objective is to get Red Bull back into a consistent winning position, challenging for championships. I am not aware that Chase is about to step down imminently, I think there is a lot of speculation but I think it is exactly that, so as far as I am concerned I am very happy doing what I am doing and my focus and commitment is very much on getting Red Bull back into a competitive, consistently winning situation.
Q: (Owari Masahiro – Formula Owari Masahiro) Christian, Doctor Marko says you can win five races this season. What is your opinion? How many races can you win? And which race is your next biggest chance?
CH: Well, there’s no crystal ball so we’re approaching the half point of the season. To have got that first victory is an enormous achievement and a huge milestone for the team and for Honda. We approach things race-by-race. As a team, with try and optimise. We didn’t go into Austria expecting to win that Grand Prix and came out with the first place trophy. That’s how we will approach every single Grand Prix between now and the end of the year. What that leads to in results we’ll know by the end of the year. Helmut obviously has an optimism which he’s already pushing and always going for which is great. I think from the team’s side, it’s a little bit more on a race-by-race basis but of course the target is to try and win as many races as we can between now and the end of the year.
Q: (Kevin Eason – Sunday Times) Much as it’s lovely for Lewis, are you worried that Lewis and Mercedes are killing this sport with their domination which is unprecedented now and how are you going to stop it? When can fans expect to see a level playing field and people like Frank Williams emerging to win Grands Prix against the big boys?
MB: Well, I don’t think you can say something like they are killing the sport, they are doing a really good job and they are deserving their wins and their championships and all of us are sat here and thinking we should look up to them and do the same job and then we will compete with them. I think there are changes coming for 2021 under Liberty’s and the FIA’s guidance to make the sport more competitive, certainly to make it fairer and more sustainable as well. Whether they will be successful… we think they are on the right path. I certainly think the budget cap is probably the biggest impact on the relative competitiveness of the sport so we’re very supportive, we’re very pro-active in helping them writing the regulations and planning what the sport will be from there. Whether they will be sufficiently impactful for all the teams to compete for victories I’m not sure. However, is that what we really want? We want the best working teams to compete for victories. Hopefully there’s more than just one or two.
ZB: Not a lot to build on. First you’ve got to give credit to Mercedes and Lewis for doing an outstanding job. I think we all recognise the sport is not where it needs to be, to have a more level playing and therefore better competition. I think 2021 will be a big step forward so I think we can expect a lot more Lewis and Mercedes victories this year, most likely again next year and then hopefully in 2021 with enough rule change that we will start to see the grid get a little bit more mixed up because certainly we need to be putting on a better show for the fans and when they show up to the British Grand Prix, thinking that there may be seven/eight/ten drivers who can win the race when in reality right now it’s just the few.
CW: Probably just going to repeat everything that everybody else has already said but I don’t think you can take away from Mercedes the extraordinary job that they have done and it’s down to the remaining nine teams to do a better job to take the fight to them. Someone’s got to win, that’s the whole point of this sport, that you employ the best people, you get the best resources you can around you in order to create the most competitive car and they have done the best job of that. Someone has to win in this sport. We don’t obviously want the same team – it’s not great for the health of our sport – for the same team to win in each and every race. I think that’s why huge congratulations have to go to Red Bull because it’s tough to beat Mercedes at the moment and to see another team taking a victory at an event was fantastic, fantastic for the sport. But it’s about creating great racing, isn’t it and making sure that all the regulations collude in order to achieve that and I’m very much hoping obviously that the regulations that are coming on board in 2021, whether that be the technical regulation, the financial regulations all contribute to helping improve the competition that we have, that ensure the sustainability of our sport moving forward into the future.
CH: Everybody has the same set of rules presented to them at the beginning of each year and you’ve got to take your hat off to Mercedes and Lewis for doing such a great and dominant job. I think, for me, the lessons that you learn, particularly over time, is that the more you change things, the more spread you create in the field and the regulations change that we had over the winter didn’t help anything. In fact it made a dominant team even more dominant so I think the aerodynamic changes, the tyre changes that were made actually didn’t do anything to help the sport or the spectacle and I think that’s where we need to be very very careful for 2021 because each team will believe they can get an advantage and ultimately somebody will get it right, somebody will get it wrong but there could be a much bigger spread than there is currently and for me I think the most important thing is once a set of regulations is achieved and found for the future, is consistency. The most important thing is leave it alone for a long period of time and then you will get the grid coming together with stability. The worst thing is dicking and changing something every year which isn’t fully understood that then changes the dynamics of the car. So for me I think you will get absolute convergence with stability and I think that whatever is done for 2021 should be fixed pretty much for a five year period unless there’s some fundamental flaw in it.
TT: Mercedes and Lewis are doing a very good job. They are talking about the 2021 regulations and then the PU manufacturers working on 2021 regulations to have a more competitiveness for each person. Not fixed yet but we will see the result soon, I think.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer.com) Christian, I wanted to follow up on Dieter’s question actually: your name as a team boss has been linked with running F1 in the future but so has Toto’s as another team boss. What would be your feelings if Toto was to take on that role in the future and perhaps the other three team members to your left, what would be your thoughts if either Christian or Toto were to take on the role of running F1?
CH: Well, Toto already is, by all accounts I think! So look, to be honest with you, it’s an irrelevant question. As far as myself is concerned, I think I’ve made my position clear: I love racing, I love competing, I love the team that I’ve been involved with since the beginning and my goals and ambitions for the future are to very much bring it back into a competitive situation. It’s Liberty’s business at the end of the day. Whoever they chose to run it for them is their choice, it’s not down to the teams, it’s their business, it’s their investment. I think that Chase is doing a great job. I think he’s learned quickly about Formula One. I think if you look at the actual show now, the crowd sizes, the attendance, everything that’s going on around the sport, there’s a lot of great things happening. We just need a better product and I think if the product can be addressed through the regulation changes for 2021 and we get that right then the potential for this sport is phenomenal because even when we’re seeing serial winning, there’s still 140,000 people coming through the gate here. Austria was a sell-out, Canada was a sell-out. Attendance is up everywhere we go and you think crikey, if we can actually put on a great show like Austria was and it doesn’t necessarily mean that that means Red Bull need to be doing the winning, it would be great to see some of these guys doing the winning as well, then I think the potential of Formula One is huge.
CW: Well firstly, I’m quite annoyed that my name hasn’t been put in the mix. Seriously. No, it is pure speculation. I believe it’s never come up about Chase so I don’t know what’s going on there. If you’re genuinely asking me my thoughts around Christian or Toto running Formula One, clearly I think they would both be excellent at it.
ZB: Not a lot to say. I’ve seen a variety of names linked to it. I don’t know how real it is but Toto would certainly be a credible candidate.
CW: What about Christian? You don’t say Christian.
ZB: I was asked about Toto.
MB: I’m not in the running, I can reassure Toto and Christian they’re safe.
Q: (Rob Harris – Associated Press) Just picking up on that theme of leadership: amongst the main headlines earlier this week was a name from the past, Bernie Ecclestone talking about Vladimir Putin which seemed to get lots of headlines, a reminder of how controversy can create headlines. Is the problem with Chase and the Liberty leadership, it’s all a bit dull and between races… do you need someone to whip up a bit of drama and frenzy to actually help the sport overall be top of the agenda all around the world when there’s so many other competing sports?
CH: Bernie’s ability to generate a headline, as he’s demonstrated this past week, is still absolutely right up there with the best. But as I said in my previous answer, I think that Formula One’s doing a lot of good things at the moment. If you look at the fan engagement, if you look at the amount of fans that are getting into the circuit now, things like the hot laps, things like Netflix that were done over the last winter, in terms of digital engagement, the whole digital media strategy. All of that is being embraced and I think the fundamental thing isn’t the promotion of the sport, I think it is the product itself. I think when you look at a race like we’ve had at the majority of races this year they’re too static, they’re too predictable, there’s not enough action. One pit stop races are the most boring races you can have and I think that’s what we need to focus on as a collective group because that’s where ultimately we all benefit out of: If the product is better, the racing is better. Partners, manufacturers, sponsors will want to be there. The fan engagement then goes through the roof. So I think we need Ross Brawn and his team working in conjunction with the FIA to give Chase and Jean Todt a blueprint of this is what Formula One needs to be.