FIA Friday press conference - Mexico
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Andreas SEIDL (McLaren), Toto WOLFF (Mercedes), Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), Otmar SZAFNAUER (Racing Point)
Q: Andreas, we’ve seen some strong performances by McLaren in recent races. How comfortable are you in P4 in the Constructors’ Championship, 43 points ahead of Renault?
Andreas Seidl: Yeah… well, I wouldn’t say ‘comfortable’! It’s obviously good to be in that position; it’s good to see how we perform as a team, still getting better and better, still bringing more parts to the track as well for this year – but at the same time it’s not something we get carried away with. The targets we are having are a lot higher, so for me it’s a lot more important… of course we want to score this P4 this year but it’s a lot more important to get everything in place, let’s say, in the next weeks, months, which we think is important to make the next step also.
Q: Well, let’s talk about that step Andreas, because you’ve already announced Mercedes power units in 2021 but also a change in design philosophy for the 2020 car. Can you explain why you’re doing that, given the progress you’ve made this season? Can you stitch those two things together for us?
AS: First of all, regarding the Mercedes decision, I think we have communicated everything regarding that. Obviously, it was an important milestone, also for myself, to have clarity here as quickly as possible, so very happy to have the World Championship-winning powertrain in the back of our car from 2021 onwards. At the same time, this is 2021, so our focus is on next year, on 2020. The reality is that we are still more than a second down compared to these guys next to me, so this means, even with the regulations staying the same, we still see a lot of stuff we want to tackle with next year’s car, which means we also have to do some bigger changes also, in terms of car concept. James Key is working hard on that, together with the entire team back home. I’m very happy with the progress that I’m seeing there and the target is clear for next year: we want to somehow jump in between these… let’s say a position in terms of lap time also where we are right now and where these guys are, and hopefully we can make that step for next year.
Q: Otmar, it’s pretty congested where you are in the Constructors’ table at the minute. You’re currently lying P7 but only ten points behind Renault in P5. Looking at these last four races, do you think you have the car to take P5?
Otmar Szafnauer: Well, we hope that we do, and we’ve made some significant upgrades recently to the car and we’re still understanding it a little bit. Our drivers and team are up for the fight. It’s not going to be easy. We are ten points behind not ten ahead, which makes it doubly difficult but we’ll do all we can to finish fifth, if that’s possible.
Q: And a quick word on Lance Stroll if we may. We saw a strong performance from him in Japan, out-qualifying Checo Pérez for only the second time this year. Do you feel he’s finally turned a corner?
OS: Lance is a very intelligent and good racer and he’s been learning all year, so I’m not sure it’s turning a corner but he’s getting better and better. And apart from the little mishap we had, here he looked pretty strong in FP1 as well but that came to an abrupt end at Turn 16. But we’ve got two good drivers. Sergio’s been with us for a long time, he knows the team, he’s great on a Sunday; Lance is learning and hopefully between the two of them we can make up that ten-point deficit that we talked about.
Q: Christian, how confident are you coming into this weekend. Max Verstappen has won this race for the last two years, what chance a third?
Christian Horner: I think you’d have to look at season in isolation, and I think at the moment Ferrari are very much the benchmark in terms of outright, one-lap pace, and qualifying is so important here because it’s pretty difficult to follow closely other cars. Obviously, Mercedes’ form has been phenomenal across all types of circuit this year. I think coming here it’s a bigger challenge than we’ve faced previously. And, of course, on top of that, we’ve got some variable weather around on Saturday and Sunday. I think it looking pretty tight if you looked at the first session though, looking at the relative competitiveness of the cars. So, it looks like it could be a fantastic battle over the next couple of days.
Q: You were third and fourth in FP1. Quick word on Alex Albon who has out-scored Max Verstappen 48-31 in the five races that they’ve done together as team-mates. His race performances have been very strong, he’s now starting to maximise the car in qualifying. Can you just sum-up his progress.
CH: Yeah, I think he’s doing a very good job. You have to remember this is his first season in Formula One. He’s up against an incredibly tough team-mate in Max and he hasn’t had the benefit of a bunch of testing or anything like that, so I think he’s equipped himself and adapted well. His feedback shows a very strong understanding of the car – and as he gains confidence on circuits he’s visiting for the first time, he’s certainly impressed the whole team with his attitude, his application and his performance so far.
Q: Re-sign him for 2020?
CH: It’s still early days. I think the privileged position that we’re in as Red Bull with the ownership of two teams is that we don’t have to make any firm decision about who partners Max until the end of the year. They’re all under contract to Red Bull, all of the drivers, so we’ll take our time to make sure we make all the evaluations in readiness for next year.
Q: While we’re talking about the future, can you provide us with some clarity about the team’s long term future with Honda? What are the plans?
CH: I think it’s very similar to everybody else at the moment: there is no Concorde Agreement in place; there’s a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes but there’s no team with any commitment to Formula One past the end of 2020. And so I think Honda, wisely, are waiting to see how the technical regulations, the sporting regulations pan out, and the commitment of the teams to the relevant Concorde Agreement, so, yeah, I think we’re in a relatively similar position to the other teams around me.
Q: Toto, so you clinched the Constructors’ Championship in Japan, great weekend for the team. Now that you’ve had a few weeks to reflect, where does this Constructors’ Championship rank in comparison to the other five?
Toto Wolff: This year has been very different, because first of all the loss of Niki is overshadowing everything we do. He was such an important part of the team and with us at every single race and there’s still this big void – and you could feel that when we won the Championship in Japan, that he was missing. On the pure sporting side, obviously we set ourselves this unbelievable objective of trying to win six double-championships in a row, which was not done before and I think achieving that is really something that we can be proud of. But, having said that, we are always sceptical about our own performances and, if Ferrari wouldn’t have dropped the ball in Sochi, and wouldn't have dropped the ball in Suzuka at the start, it would have gone much further than Japan, and for this very reason, it’s nice to have locked it in, and have it between our two drivers for the Drivers’ World Championship but it doesn’t feel as if we have been really the dominant force in those last few races. And I see the positives in that – because it helps you to not get carried away with this fantastic achievement of six titles.
Q: While we’re talking about performance, your last pole position was back in Germany. Is that stat an accurate reflection of performance, or have you missed some opportunities?
TW: No, I think it’s an accurate reflection of performance and you can see that the Ferrari on a Saturday is almost unbeatable. They are able to up their game from Friday to Saturday and once all the power kicks in that they have available, it’s very difficult to compensate for the loss in straight line. But I don’t want to diminish their performance with the rest of the chassis either. They just seem to have the strongest car on Saturday. And when it comes to racing on Sunday, the Red Bull and the Mercedes are maybe a tiny bit more competitive at some of the races. Not the high-speed tracks that we’ve seen – but all of the others. We seem to be crawling back a little bit.
Q: And the Drivers’ Championship is now a straight fight between your guys. Are the orders from the boss going to be a little bit different this weekend?
TW: Well, Japan was a very complicated race for us in terms of strategies. I think we have an obligation to do our best, to give them a car that is reliable and fast for them to fight it out on track, give them equal opportunity, and if you look at the points, the probability is probably much better on Lewis’ side to win the Championship, but nevertheless, we don’t want to interfere in their fight and will do our best to stay neutral as we’ve always been.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action / Speed Sport) Otmar, regarding the protest you filed against Renault in Japan, was that an issue you’d been looking at for a few races, or is it something you’ve been looking at for a long time?
OS: Well, we started looking at it after Silverstone. We, ourselves, had some issues with our brake bias actually failing, with I think resulted in Checo I think running into Hülkenberg at the restart after the Safety Car. That’s when we started looking at making our system a little bit more robust. As I’m sure everyone does, we started looking at our competitors to see what they do better than we do, and that’s when we noticed that Renault had the system that we really wanted. So it started in Silverstone. We then wrote to the FIA asking if we could do the same, and the FIA wrote back saying we can’t. So that’s how that all came about.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport-Total.com) A question to all four gentlemen: with the budget cap kicking in in ’21, is there an element of danger for sort of a spending war going on now and in 2020 for those who can afford to get a head start into ’21, as happened in 2014 with the hybrid formula?
TW: The truth is that we are all within the same financial reality and none of us has unlimited resource, unlimited financial resource behind us to just pour money into the system. It’s still about efficiency. I can tell you, and you know very well, that in the auto industry things are not looking easy. Nevertheless, having said that, it is clear that the big teams are the ones that are very restricted from 2021 onwards. We need to look at our structures, change process and maybe also the organisation in a way to adapt to these new challenges, which will hit us hard in 2021, because we will be doing things differently to the way we are doing them today. This is why it’s a clear in 2020 that we have to adapt and change and all this change is costly and will be happening in 2020, so 2020 will be a year of more financial expenditure in order to get ready for 2021.
AS: From my point of view I don’t see this big risk. The big teams or the top teams still really have a head start clearly for the ’21 regulations. I would say not just because of budget but because they are simply in better shape and are doing a better job. For the ’21 regulations the aerodynamics will still be a key performance differentiator. There are limitations also in place for next year, in terms of CFD and wind tunnel hours that you can do, so in the end everyone has to decide how much hours you want to spend on the ’20 car and the ’21 car, so that’s how we see it. On our side, on the budget side, we have a given budget so this will not be affected by the ’21 regs coming in, in ’20.
CH: I think we’ve missed a bit of an opportunity, in fact I raised it at the meeting last week, where, if you look at it, we have the budget cap, which in principle I think is pretty much agreed. It’s painful for the bigger teams and obviously will prevent the bigger teams from spending beyond that 175 million cap. I think with hindsight we would have been better bringing the cap in first for ’21 and then taking more time to develop these regulations and evolve them and bring them in in time for ’22, so that any development that the big teams undertake would be under the umbrella of the cap. I think it’s impossible to bring that cap forward to 2020 because you will never achieve agreement on it. So therefore, my feeling is that a budget cap is ultimately a sensible thing for Formula 1, but the interim period of 2020 with the current regulations we have as teams gear up for 2021 with unrestricted spend makes it a very expensive year and I think it will create a broader gap between the teams going into 2021 as those teams with more resource will simply spend more time in the research and development phase before the cars hit the track at the beginning of ’21. So, as I said, I think an opportunity has perhaps been lost to have that process more controlled under the cap and delay these regulations and evolve them, because there is some great stuff going on, but the car and the concept looks very underdeveloped at the moment and I think if another 12 months was taken to develop that concept and bring in something that works and perhaps addresses some of the other issues like weight and so on, I think would have been perhaps a more beneficial approach.
OS: From our perspective we’ll be way under the cost cap this year, next year and in future years to come. As Christian says, if next year there is a tendency to spend more to prepare for 2021, we certainly won’t be doing that, because we just don’t have the financial resources to do so and that might give the bigger teams that do have those resources an advantage going into 2021. So perhaps the sensible thing to be done, as Christian says, is to move the rules out so that you are faced with the umbrella of the cost cap when you’re developing for the new rules. I don’t know if that opportunity is completely gone but if it isn’t then it’s a sensible thing to do, because for us, we won’t be anywhere near the cost cap.
Q: Just before we move on: Toto, your thoughts on what Christian has just suggested?
TW: I think Christian said it in a very right way. I think in Formula 1 we are very ‘actionistic’ (sic). Things need to be done immediately and everything is so bad and we can’t continue without deploying a more strategic long-term vision. There are arguments that said ‘well, why don’t we put the cost cap forward, why don’t we implement it one year earlier and then start with the technical and sporting regulations in 2021’, but as Christian said, I think they are not very mature, the regulations will need some more input around the cost cap. The single most important factor is the auditing and policing process and none of that is in place for 2020 and obviously if you can’t police it in the right way it makes no sense to implement the rule. In general it’s a situation that we need to see a ramp-up in resource, in the way things are being policed, on the financial side and on the technical side. This is something that we need to address and therefore I think that the idea of pushing it one year out looks logical and strategically well thought through, but it didn’t gain the traction and didn’t trigger enough appetite with the ones that decide.
AS: Yeah, not a lot more to add really. I think our position is clear. We like what is on the table now, what we have seen last week also, in terms of what’s coming in on the technical side, the sporting side and on the financial side ands just waiting now for the 31st of October to see the publication of these regulations and we all know what we have to work to from ’21 onwards.
Q: (Craig Slater – Sky Sports News) Toto, we read some very powerful words today about your understanding of the racism Lewis suffered as a young boy. You also talked about how he’s not perhaps appreciated as he should be or has the honours he perhaps deserves. We see all the furore about making some comments about the environment recently. Do you have any lingering worry as his boss that there is an unconscious racial bias against him still?
TW: I don’t want to step too much into personal experiences and things that he made aware to me, because this is a discussion we had in private, but look at the room here, it’s not very diverse. I think for us it is very difficult to understand that if you are one of the very few that you are faced with these kind of situations. I can tell you that from my personal perspective, racism is not something that is out there and in a more educated environment and very into the face it’s more the subtle side that is very painful and hurts and this is why we sometimes need to put ourselves into a different perspective and I have very much learned to do that because of him and his perspective. I have never seen things in that way before he had explained it to me and I realised them. In terms of things that have been said around the environment, I think it is very important that each of us tries – and this is my personal opinion – tries to the best of his abilities to be conscious about things and help in reducing emissions and our own personal bit to the whole story. I have seen Lewis doing that. I have seen him changing in his behaviours, be it reducing his own flying, and he has done that, and I think we need to acknowledge that and respect rather than criticize. It’s the power… how can I say, almost like the economies of scale – if everybody changes we will have nine billion people changing and I think it needs to start with yourself and he has done that and I think he is right.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To all four please. To pick up on the comments about the 2021 rules and what could have been done in terms of the cost cap. To be clear, do you think there is any scope to delay the wider introduction of new rules for 2021, would you support that, and what shape are 2021 rules in in general after last week’s meeting?
OS: Well, it was discussed at last week’s meeting. We had a bit of discussion, a debate on delaying the rules by a year, just for the reasons Christian mentioned. I think it’s just a bit more equitable between the big teams that can afford to spend more now if we delayed it by a year, but I think there is a small chance of that happening. As far the regulations go, we’ll know in a week’s time. They are a bit more restrictive than what we have today but it’s financial, technical and sporting, so it’s three different publications that we will get.
CH: As Otmar said, there are three elements that are going to be passed through at the end of the month. The sporting side is arguably the easiest. I think the technical regulations, they are immature and there are still a large amount of questions being raised. So I think what does get published there will be inevitable TDs and refinements before we get to the 2021 season. Likewise with the financial regulations, there has never been a policed budget cap in Formula 1 previously and obviously having all the tools and the infrastructure to police all the different corporate entities that exist and subsidiaries etc within Formula 1 is no small undertaking. It’s a very complex business and everybody’s structure is different. So there is a lot of ground to cover and even though I think regulations will come out on the 31st, I think there will still be financial directives, technical directives that see adjustments happen before we actually get to the 2021 year.
TW: Yeah, maybe only one point to add, because it’s pretty much my point of view too, is that I don’t think these regulations are going to be stopped. It’s been made very clear that this is moving forward. There will be tweaks and changes in detail and interpretations but broadly I think this is moving forward.
AS: Nothing to add really.
Q: (Christoph Becker – Frankfurter Allgemainer Zeitung) Coming into the year it looked like this was going to be Brexit season. Now it’s most likely not, it’s going to be in the future probably. Could you elaborate a little bit as to how much this issue has affected your teams this year, and how much it will continue to affect you, since the political situation seems to be a little bit unclear still?
AS: I obviously have also heard what’s going on there in detail….
TW: They’re going to kick him out first!
AS: … in the newspaper, but I’ve got the guarantee that I can stay at least, whatever happens. I think as a team we simply did our homework and prepared for every possible scenario which is on the horizon and I’m sure whatever happens in the next weeks and months there will be solutions in place and we will keep going racing.
TW: I think you need to prepare as in every company out there, for a potential impact. It’s clear that it will harm us in a way because our business live with the just-in-time concept of product supplies, but we are going to get our head around it and as a team I think we have put a lot of effort into understanding what the potential impact could be and we are ready for whatever outcome.
CH: Likewise we’ve done our research, as far as you can do, as to what is the potential impacts of a Brexit, if there is a deal, if there’s no deal, if there’s extensions, and I think it’s been a bit of distraction this year in certain respects. I think people, as a whole, are fed up with it. They just want it done, one way or another and whatever it is we’ll deal with and get on with it. It’s a little bit of a comedy show, British politics, at the moment in the way that the whole issue has been handled with obviously different agendas being covered. But whatever it is, we will deal with it and I think we’ve done our due diligence whichever way it goes.
OS: We’ve been planning for the worst case, the worst case being a no deal Brexit so I think we’ve put some plans in place to cope with that and we’re hoping for the best case. But only time will tell, but I think we’re well prepared to keep going if Brexit does happen sooner rather than later and there is no deal.
Q: (Bart van Dooijeweert – Nu.NL) Christian, Max Verstappen is driving the 99th GP of his career this weekend, making one hundred in the US. Obviously he’s not a rookie any more. You’ve been very positive about his results the last 18 months. On the other hand, in this sport, nobody’s perfect, there’s always room to improve so what can he still do better do you think?
CH: Well, I think you’re always learning in any sport. I think that it’s incredible to think that Max has only just turned 22 years of age and he’s about to celebrate his 100th Grand Prix, which is a remarkable record already. I think he’s doing a great job. You can see that the experience of those 99 races is really serving him well. I think he’d probably only done about 25 races in cars before he arrived in Formula One so all his learning has been very much under the scrutiny of the media and I think he’s dealt with that incredibly well. He’s extremely well rounded now; he’s almost a veteran!
Q: (Fernando Alonso – Motorlat.com) Toto, there’s a subject about the upgrades on your engine, that there are a lot of worries, precisely in the site of Racing Point and the problems that the car that Checo has in several races. Do you think these problems are more about the hard to develop this season or is it because the development is taking as high as possible or is more about the configuration for the other teams?
TW: I think you have no differences between the configurations. As per the rules, you need to have the same hard and software on every car and our philosophy has always been that the learning that is happening across a multitude of cars is very important to improve the performance. On the Racing Point cars, we’ve been unlucky this year, in the same way we’ve been unlucky with Robert (Kubica), I think it was Spa and these have been incidents that are not down to pushing performance but more things that we haven’t seen before on the dynos, so things still break, this is a mechanical sport and with all the best simulations in the world you still sometimes find out while running them in anger that things break and this is what happened to us and this is something we need to keep under control, also for the future races. Certainly it’s something that we need to be on our toes for the last few races in order to give equal material to our two drivers and next year we just need to get better in terms of reliability as well.
Q: (Rebecca Clancy – The Times) Toto, Lewis traditionally turns up in the second half of the season but this year he has won just one race since the summer break and then Ferrari have come back as well. Lewis spoke the other day about how he’s had quite a lot going on his life and I just wondered if you’d noticed anything different with him this season or is it perhaps just very draining going for his sixth title?
TW: There is a reason why this is a record. I think it’s very difficult to keep yourself in the right spot, motivated, energised, passionate about things and we certainly are but it’s not trivial. I don’t think this has really played a role in his second part of the season. I think that Valtteri has upped his game which is good for the team, it’s good for Lewis, it’s good to see. The Ferrari has become very strong and has resurged after the summer break and has become the benchmark and the result is that we’ve not been able to score the results that we had in the first half of the season, so I wouldn’t put it down to him as a driver, I think he’s still in a very good place. It’s more that he didn’t have the car that was able to give him these kind of results.
Q: (Jonathan McEvoy – Daily Mail) Toto, I was wondering that when you get the new regulations signed and sealed, will you then sit down with Lewis to discuss a new deal and how strongly do you believe that you will be able to keep him away from Ferrari?
TW: I think that this Ferrari thing has maybe been blown out of proportion. Lewis has a clear opinion where he sees himself in the future and we are and have always been very loyal to our drivers. This is taking it ordinary cross of business, 2021 everything is different and the drivers in the same way as the teams will be looking at opportunities and their future evaluate options that are on the table, benchmark the team’s performance and at the end of the day the cars’ performance is what counts the most for the top guys. These discussions have slowly but surely started but I don’t see this coming to any closure in terms of the 2021 line-up any time soon. That will be going into the next season, is my opinion.