FIA Friday press conference - Qatar
Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), Toto WOLFF (Mercedes)
Q: We’ve just had our first laps of this Losail circuit, so gentlemen, first of all, what have your drivers been saying about the track? Toto, can we start with you please?
Toto Wolff: First of all, it’s great to be on a new track. It makes it interesting and you’ve seen the track ramp-up was quite high, so it’s very difficult to really compare times. Also, some corners were taken pretty wide. I don’t know if that makes a difference. Lewis was not entirely happy with the car this morning. Valtteri, more so, but the conditions are probably not representative of what we’re going to be seeing in qualifying and the race, which happens in the night. So, I guess it’s learning the track, understanding the set-up direction, where it could go to – but it’s not yet representative.
CH: Yeah, interesting track. Both drivers quite enjoyed it. Checo couldn’t remember coming here until we showed him some pictures, actually won a race here 11 or 12 years ago. But I think it’s a challenge. I think on low fuel it’s going to be exciting for the drivers. I think that it’s obviously designed primarily for motorbikes, which is why the kerbs are so low. I think track limits you could see becoming a bit of a nightmare for race control but I’m sure they were using that first session to look at where’s the boundary line? But early days. I think it will ramp-up quite quickly.
Q: Let’s throw it back to last weekend now. We had a fantastic Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. And the intensity hasn’t let-up in the days since. Toto, starting with you, you’ve chosen to request a right to review to the incident on lap 48. Can I ask why?
TW: Well, the intensity is high. It’s normal. There is two drivers, two teams fighting for a world championship. It’s close, it’s swinging one direction and then the other. Red Bull had a fantastic weekend in Mexico and then we were able to strike back the following weekend – but it’s the tiniest of margins that could make a difference at the end. Also that has gone both ways. Max has lost points with crashes, that he wasn’t entirely responsible for and on the other side we lost some points when it was about, for example, the Spa race, which shouldn’t have been as it was. So, you fight every single point and we still feel the incident… so we don’t expect to gain anything, to be honest, from the right to review but it’s more about the principal and the philosophy because if it stays that way it means overtaking from the outside is pretty much not possible anymore because the inside controls the corner completely. Now that is anyway the case but as it was before, when a car is next to you, you need to leave a car width. That’s not the case. We just want to take it to the end, have a judgement on that and then adapt, if necessary, for the last few races. And you can see some of the drivers have actually expressed that same opinion. So that’s why we’re making the stewards have another look on it.
Q: Thank you. Christian, what was your reaction to Mercedes' request for a review?
CH: I wasn’t really that surprised. I think, just referring to Toto’s comments there about overtaking on the outside isn’t possible. I think Max demonstrated clearly it is in Mexico, into the first turn. I think this right to review, we’ve been through it, at Silverstone, where we felt that there were strong circumstances to look at and the consequences of an incident like that were obviously serious with the retirement, destruction of the car and the loss of an engine, and so on. With this one, it feels a little bit spurious because the key questions to ask yourself, and the key fundamentals are: is it new? Potentially. Is it relevant? One could potentially argue that as well. Is it significant? Absolutely not. I think there are enough camera angles for the stewards to make their decisions. I think we’ve seen numerous incidents, both in the Sprint race and during the grand prix, indeed on the first lap of the grand prix, with Valtteri taking an almost identical line, and so I would be surprised, I would be disappointed if it were to go to another hearing but it’s just frustrating it’s taking this long. I mean, the discussion was yesterday. Not quite sure why it’s taking… it would be nice to have it cleared-up, obviously before we go into the next session.
Q: Toto, do you think the new evidence is significant?
TW: You know for me, the question is less a legal one. It is enough evidence or not to go to a review? I think it is – but it’s clear that we both may have different viewpoints on that. It’s more the racing consequences that it has, and I have a very strong opinion about that. So it is really important to understand what’s on and what’s not on for the next few races because we don’t want this championship to be decided by a highly controversial situation that may end up in the stewards’ room again and with lots of polarisation afterwards.
Q: You did say last weekend Toto, that you didn’t want to win the championship off-track.
TW: Well, that’s the main aim. We don’t want to end-up, after Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi wherever it may end in one or the other direction and it going to the stewards’ room, or to the International Court of Appeal because one of the teams feels it wasn't treated rightly, so that’s why now is the time for this for this very championship to discuss the rules.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) A question to both gentlemen please. Is there any concern that investigating a grand prix several days after the event could actually open a can of worms and set a dangerous precedent for Formula 1 whereby you have all the teams challenging the results all the time?
Christian, can we start with you please?
CH: Well, I think that’s the danger for the FIA with this. That if they do go down this route than every single incident from now on will be questioned. They’ll be evidence from iPhones or spectators’ phones. There’ll always be something that can be deemed as new or relevant or significant and I think that the stewards made their call. It wasn’t even referred to on their listing after the event. It was a non-issue. It was two drivers racing hard, both in truth went in deep, went in late. Both went off the circuit and we saw many incidents at Turn 4 throughout that weekend in both the race and on Saturday. Then, of course, if you wind it back, you know you get incidents like Istanbul, you get to incidents like at Monza. Where do you draw that line? So, yeah, the competitors are going to push every angle that they can but I really don’t see the relevance of it and I think it does set a dangerous precedent if this incidence, on this occasion is reopened.
Thank you. Toto?
TW: I think indeed it’s a danger. Nobody wants to have feeds from social media that’s coming in and then you suddenly have new evidence, rightly or wrongly, so we need to clean that up. Hopefully in the regulations, with the consent of everybody that, first of all, the stewards need to have access to all relevant channels. I think in that case the stewards didn’t have access to the onboard, which is an important tool to judge. I think we’ve had instances in the past, like Red Bull on the Red Bull Ring where Lewis didn’t see a yellow flag but on the video you could see he did – or he could have seen it, and it was penalised. And I think in that case, those informations weren’t available to the stewards, and that’s why it’s relevant and we should make sure they have access quickly to all these relevant channels. But I agree: we don’t want to drag it for a week or two. That’s not the right thing.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) This is for you Christian, but Toto I’d like a comment from you afterwards. Christian, in the incident at Copse during the British Grand Prix, the driver on the inside ran a bit wide, the driver on the outside didn’t give room and you called that move from the driver on the inside “reckless” and “amateurish”. In Brazil, the driver on the inside ran a bit wide and the only reason they didn’t collide, you could argue, is that the driver on the outside did give room, but you called that “hard, fair racing”. Could explain the apparent contradiction please?
CH: Well, I don’t think it is a contradiction as it’s two different corners, two different circumstances and two different car positionings, and I think Silverstone, you’ve got a gravel trap and a wall and you know the overspeed that was at Silverstone is incomparable with what it was at Interlagos., You could see at Interlagos that both drivers braked late. They have arguably outbraked each other but at no point was Lewis in a position to turn into the corner as Max was at Silverstone and of course the difference at Silverstone was that we had a driver end up in hospital. We had a car destroyed, we had an engine destroyed and a driver eliminated from the race. This was a racing incident. Lewis won the grand prix. He was the quicker driver in the quicker car on the day and you know there was no consequence and I think the two incidents you cannot compare, because then we can go back to Monza, numerous other incidents and you have to take each one in isolation. Different circumstances, different corners, different conditions, different layouts, different surfaces, different kerbs, different run-offs, they are incomparable.
TW: The outcome from Silverstone was much more severe and nobody liked the pictures, but the philosophical question remains the same. If the outside drive doesn’t cede room then they collide and they would have collided in Turn 4 in Interlagos if Lewis hadn’t have opened up and run even wider, so I think the regulation that can be applied is the same.
Q: (Jon McEvoy – Daily Mail) Do you each believe that you are running legal engines, legal rear wings and any other elements as well? How would you describe relations at the moment between Red Bull and Mercedes? Would you say there is still mutual respect as you fight these last few rounds?
TW: I open a diplomatic speech. I think that nobody would show up at the track with an illegal engine or an illegal rear wing. The world is too transparent for that and you would be mad if you take decisions in a team with such a visibility that are illegals – 100%. As far as the punches between the teams, there are many great people working in Red Bull and obviously many great people working in Mercedes and it’s a hell of a fight. There is a respect for the capability that Red Bull has, definitely. And it’s clear that this is tough. It’s the World Championship of the highest category in motor racing and what started as Olympic boxing went to pro boxing and is now MMA, but that’s OK. We are in the ring there trying to do the best job possible, elbows are allowed now because the rules say so and gloves are off and nothing else is to be expected.
CH: There is no relationship. There is a competition and I think it was interesting to hear Toto’s views after the sprint race last week and I think that on his team radio. Look, we are going to push to the maximum. We worked hard to get into this position. It’s the first time they have been challenged. It’s interesting to see how people react when they are under pressure, when they are challenged. It’s by far the most intense, political title fight we’ve been involved in in our time in the sport. Does our car comply with the rules? Absolutely. Do we have concerns about the gains in straight line speed we have seen since Budapest, but which have been exponential in the last couple of races? Absolutely. Do we expect the FIA, as the scrutineer and the policeman of the sport, to ensure that all the cars are compliant? The rules are a complex set of regulations so you know we rely very, very heavily on the FIA to ensure that it’s absolutely scrupulously fair, because what we absolutely want going into these last three races is a fair fight. Whoever comes out at the end of this on top, it shouldn’t be in the stewards room or in a court of appeal, it needs to be done on track. We just want to ensure that going into these last three races that these cars are being scrupulously policed and are in full compliance, because there is too much at stake. You’ve got two teams and two drivers that are fighting for the biggest prize in sport and the stakes are incredibly high and you want to make sure the playing field is level.
Q: Christian you say there is no relationship, but is there respect?
CH: I think relationship and respect are two different things. Of course there is respect for everything that Mercedes have done and everything that Lewis Hamilton has done, but I don’t need to go to dinner with Toto. I don’t need to kiss his arse, or anything like that. There are a few other team principals that might but from my perspective it’s a competition and I think it’s great that we’re in this position, that we’re fighting. We’re fighting for the World Championship, we’re fighting for the Constructors’ World Championship and it’s the first time in seven year they have been challenged, so that intensifies it and I think the sport is a big winner out of this and I just hope that we have a hard and fair fight between now and the end of the season.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) A question for both of you, picking up on what you said, Christian, about this being the most intense political fight you’ve had. Between both of you, do you feel that at points this season, between Mercedes and Red Bull, that the political fighting has gone too far, has it crossed a line? Also is there part of both of you that actually enjoys this kind of political warfare as well and trying to get one up on each other?
CH: Formula 1 is a competition. It is the most competitive sport, arguably, in the world. It’s the most technical sport in the world. There is a huge amount at stake. The competitors are operating at an unbelievable level and you know on track, off track it’s been an extremely intense season, but I think we have absolutely…. This is what we have worked for. We have worked incredibly hard behind the scenes, it’s not just what you see at the circuit, that’s only 10% of who our team is. It’s what goes on behind the scenes in the factory, the late nights, the difficulties through all the remote working that we have had, the circumstances of the last 12 months. As a team we have fought incredibly hard to get into this position. Max having won nine grands prix this year and the team having won 10 grands prix, is a position that we have strived for during the difficult years and we have never given up. We’ve kept fighting, we’ve kept pushing, we’ve kept believing and Mercedes, make no bones about it, have set the bar incredibly high but it’s great that we are in this position, we’re enjoying being in this position and rest assured we will give it everything that we have between now and the end of the year.
TW: Yeah, I think, what is there to add. The fight happens on all levels – political, sporting, technical. That’s clear. I think that whoever wins this championship at the end of the year, Driver and Constructors, merits the win, because it was on a very high level.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Question to both of you, obviously we’re listening to the comments here in the press conference and we have heard numerous comments as well during the course of the season directed towards one another. Where does this dislike of each other stem from? What’s been the cause of it? And do you feel there will always be this undercurrent of ill feeling towards one another or is there any hope of any reconciliation between the pair of you. And a direct question to you, Christian, you talked about there being a fair fight, that the FIA police things correctly. Are we going to see therefore any kind of protest from yourselves towards Mercedes’ straight line pace as you’ve referred to and obviously pointedly there towards the rear wing?
TW: I think the competition is just too high. You cannot expect that you are going to dinner with your rival or with a rival team or with your enemy in that sporting competition, irrespective of the personalities and the characters, nothing else. Everything else would be not normal and that’s as simple as it is. No negative emotion or positive emotion. The emotions are pretty neutral.
CH: Look, Toto and I are very different characters and you know we operate in different ways and I think that…. Am I going to be spending Christmas with Toto? Probably not, unless you’re in panto this year, I might take the kids.
CH: I think that from my perspective it’s a tough competition and that’s Formula 1. I don’t think… you don’t have to be best mates with your opponents. How can you be? I think that would be dishonest in many respects, to fake a façade when you are competing against each other. What was the second part of the question?
TW: Whether you are protesting us?
CH: Aren’t you protesting us at the moment? Would I protest? Absolutely. If we believe that the car is not in compliance we will protest, because the straight line speeds we have seen in Mexico and Brazil… I think everybody could see in Brazil it was not a normal situation. Yes, a new engine comes, we know with Mercedes, comes with increased performance but when you have a 27 kilometre an hour closing speed and you see ‘witness’ marks on rear wing endplates that have been marking up from wings that have been flexing, it’s very clear to us what has been going on. So, of course that’s why I refer it’s down to the FIA but if we feel that to make sure the cars are in compliance, if they’re not you protest if you believe a competitor isn’t complying with the rules.
Q: The decision has just dropped and the news from the steward is that they deny the competitor’s decision for a review, under Article 14 of the ISC? Can we get your reaction to that, please?
TW: Completely expected. I think we wanted to trigger a discussion around it, because probably it will be a theme in the next few races and I think that objective is achieved. We didn’t really think it would go any further.
CH: I think it’s obviously the right decision because it would open Pandora’s box regarding a whole bunch of other incidents that happened at that race. I think the most important thing now is to focus on this grand prix. It’s great to be here in Qatar. I think it’s going to be a good circuit and we want a good clean fair fight, not just here but in Jeddah and in Abu Dhabi.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) A couple of questions for Toto. You said you would be mad to turn up with an illegal wing or engine. The only thing is you did have a wing that failed in Brazil. You mentioned that the FIA can cut it into lots of pieces if they wanted. I just wondered whether you’d had it back? Is there any concern that perhaps you could face some penalties yourselves as a result of their investigation into that wing. A second question: we saw quite a strange reaction from you, passionate somewhat, perhaps. Are you struggling with the pressure of this title fight? And if not, how are you managing to cope?
TW: I start with the second part: I don’t feel pressure. I think I’ve felt pressure in my life at various other points that is ridiculous compared to what I had in my personal life, number one. I’m very passionate about it and I protect my tribe and my driver and when things are going against me you will see the emotions. You need to be authentic about it. As for the rear wing. Yeah, we got the rear wing back and, as we thought, it was broken. It broke in qualifying. We didn’t pass the 85mm slot gap test on the far right side. We passed it on the left and the middle, but not on the middle by a fraction of a millimetre and that’s fine. We weren’t allowed to inspect it, nor to make the argument that the part is being broken and consequently we found out that two screws became undone in qualifying and that caused that right side to be irregular and you know probably it was even detrimental to the lap time but it is what it is. It was reported to the stewards and that was very different to how these things were handled in the past where you would be able to patch up things that got broken during parc fermé but we’ve moved on. It’s a race gone. We were obviously able to turn it around. I wish that Lewis had been able to take more points from the Sprint Qualifying, but that is the past. I think now the rules are in a way reset and we’re going to do the best out of it for the current grand prix and the next ones to come.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Just to go back to the topic of the Mercedes rear wing. Christian you talked about if you do feel that it is illegal you will protest it. I wondered how close you are to determining that situation and Toto, if you have anything to say about the legality of the car?
CH: We will follow the situation and it will depend really on what happens this weekend – so what we see and the analysis that we have conducted, so it really depends on what we see. It doesn’t just apply to here because I think in many respects it’s even more pertinent to the two circuits that are coming up. But as a competitor, I’m sure Mercedes, we know, have paid a huge amount of attention to our car this season, and we are doing the same. It’s high stakes and there is an awful lot to play for and we just want to make sure it is an equal playing field.
TW: Yeah, I’ve always said that is how you fight. You are trying to avoid that a competitor has an advantage. If you’re led by scepticism because someone told you something and you expect that to be the root cause, you should go for it. We’ve said that I think we have been controlled 14 times on this particular wing. The FIA has all the drawings about it. There is no such thing as Red Bull expects there to be. So we are happy to send it, cut it, I can send you one to Milton Keynes.
CH: So, how do you explain the score marks on the rear wing endplate?
TW: I think it is within what is allowed and therefore that is OK.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport.com) Toto, the decision says, like Christian said before, that the new evidence was relevant but not significant. Can you first of all confirm that the evidence that you submitted is basically just a video or was there anything else and what about this onboard video that for you that made it significant enough to amend the decision of Brazil?
TW: I think we made a little dossier without investing too much time, particularly not of the engineers who are involved in the performance of the car. It was premeditated where that would go, but still we wanted to make the case, also to make it public and I think what we have seen on the video is clear to anybody who has ever raced a car. Obviously far away from any of the levels that any driver in Formula 1 driver can do but that corner was not meant to be the corner where he stayed on track. He didn’t mean to stay on track. That’s my personal interpretation but I shouldn’t be judging on anybody’s driving because if I could I should sit in a car and not sit here on a chair and comment.
Frédéric VASSEUR (Alfa Romeo), Franz TOST (AlphaTauri)
Q: Let’s start with a question to you both. We’ve just had the first laps in Formula 1 here, can we kick off hearing what your drivers have been saying about the track here? Franz, let’s start with you?
Franz Tost: They both are quite happy. They said already yesterday that they like the track. There are some challenging corners in there. Some parts are quite fast and it looks after FP1 that the car is reasonably competitive and both drivers are so far satisfied with the car. We have some small topics from the set-up which we have to sort out but generally speaking they like the track.
Frédéric Vasseur: I think the feeling is quite similar, that the layout of the track is a good one, a lot of high-speed corners and for the drivers so far they are quite keen for this. We will have discussion about the kerbs probably, during the weekend, but the layout is OK. It was a bit sandy this morning but it will be OK in the rest of the weekend.
Q: Fred, can we stay with you because it has been a busy news week for Alfa Romeo this week, with the announcement that Guanyu Zhou will be your second driver in 2022. Talk us through that decision. Why Guanyu and not Antonio Giovinazzi?
FV: I think we are at the beginning of a new journey for the team in F1 with the new regulations and if we have to change I think it’s the right momentum and Zhou is doing very well in F2, he is P2 in the championship. There are still two races to go and he could be champion and I think it comments that he is the right choice today.
Q: So that leaves you with Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu for next year. How strong is that driver combination?
FV: I think the combination is an important topic, that Valtteri is very experienced, he’s doing very well. He did a fantastic second part of the season this year and he will bring to the team his own experience. And alongside, we will have a rookie coming from the F2 that I think it’s always important for the rookie to have a reference and with Valtteri he will have one of the best references in the field.
Q: Is Valtteri excited about the opportunity to build the team around him?
FV: This, you have to ask to Valtteri first, but yeah, it was part of the discussion. I think he was and it’s quite natural when you are the teammate of Lewis, you are a little bit in the shadow of your team-mate and with us it will be a strong pillar of the performance of the development of the team. I think it was also for him an important step and I’m really convinced that he will achieve in this position.
Q: Will any Mercedes personnel be coming with Valtteri to your team?
FV: So far no. Except the physio.
Q: Do you see it as a disadvantage having two new drivers, going into the…?
FV: I don’t think so, because it’s not the continuity of the current car, that for sure with the new regulations, a completely new package, new tyres, new aero regs and for sure you need to have someone with a big experience and I think with Valtteri we have this. But I’m not sure that it makes sense today to have the continuity into the line-up but I think everybody will have his own assumption of this and it’s more a matter of opportunity than something else, but I’m convinced that it was the right choice for us.
Q: And as you say, it is new, everything in 2022. You’ve got the new drivers; are there any other areas of the team that you feel need building up, bolstering, going into the new era?
FV: Yeah, but it’s a now and then process, you are always trying to reinforce the team to improve on some positions and we are doing it but I will keep it for me.
Q: So now that your plans are complete, what are your expectations for 2022?
FV: The last two seasons were a bit difficult for us but we did a much better ’18/’19 and we have to come back in the mid of midfield, let’s say, to be able to be in Q3 much more frequently and we know that this is a decent step forward but as we stop completely the development of the current car at the end of 2020 and we were fully focused on the 2022 project, I think also that Ferrari will do a good step forward and I’m convinced that we can be back where we were in ’18.
Q: Franz, can we talk about young drivers? Any advice that you can give Fred on bringing a young driver into Formula 1, because you’ve done plenty of that yourself over the years?
Franz Tost: Yeah, but Frédéric knows for himself how to handle everything because he is so experienced from GP2, from Formula 2 and so on. He knows everything for himself, it is not necessary to give any advice.
Q: Let’s talk about Yuki now, Franz. It’s been a tough couple of races for him and he thinks he was hard done by in Brazil with his penalties. What’s your take on his crash with Lance Stroll?
FT: For me this never should have ended in a penalty because Yuki just overtook him, was on the inside, was running over the kerbs and Stroll could have given a little more space. For me, this was a good overtaking manoeuvre and he should not have been penalised for this.
Q: And you’re involved in a very tight battle for fifth in the Constructors’ championship with Alpine. How much do you need Yuki to step up and score points at every race?
FT: Yeah, you need everything, every single point and I hope that Yuki will score points in the next races. He is improving his performance a lot, like you could see this morning, also in Mexico arriving in qualifying one in his first run, he was faster than Pierre and but then in qualifying two he couldn’t get it together but that’s also a normal process for a young driver. He has to learn this, how the tech and the most efficient way in the qualifying to get the most out of it and he is continuously improving his performance, you could see this, and therefore I’m optimistic for the next races.
Q: And I feel we have to talk about Pierre as well because he’s doing such a good job; do you feel this is his best season in Formula 1?
FT: Yes, he has continuously improved his performance, year by year and you can hear in the debriefs when he is talking about the car, about the technical side. He now has the experience and it’s important for a driver to understand, especially nowadays, these complicated cars and with the power unit and everything to get everything optimised and he has now reached a very high level of knowledge regarding the aerodynamic side, the mechanical side but also from the power unit side, he does many changes in the cockpit from his side to optimise the performance and for me Pierre is belonging to the best drivers in Formula 1 currently.
Q: So given Pierre’s performance, given the competitiveness of the car, given Yuki getting better, how confident are you of that P5 in the Constructors’ championship?
FT: I’m quite confident. As we’ve already said, we have a good car, we have two fantastic drivers, we have a team which is working very good so we should achieve this goal.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Phil Horton – Motorsport Week) Fred, now that the 2022 driver line-up is finalised, what’s the plan next year for Théo Pourchaire?
FV: Still staying in F2. We had a long discussion in the last couple of weeks that he did a fantastic season in F2 for the first one but we have also to keep in mind that 18 months ago he was in F4, that the step between F4 and F3 was huge and he did well in F3, the same for the F2. He won this season in Monaco but as Franz said before, the car is so complex and we have just six test days before the season, it means that it would have been, from my point of view, too risky, too challenging to do the step now. It’s much better to be focused on the championship in F2 next year and we will see the future.
Q: Will he play a greater role inside Alfa Romeo next year?
FV: Théo, yes, Théo will for sure do some FP1. We will do some test days that we will try to prepare him for the future, but again, when you are doing the championship in F2, the most important thing is to win the championship and not to prepare the future or something like this, and I will ask him to be champion in F2.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Fred, a question for you about Guanyu Zhou. It wasn’t specified in the announcement how long the contract is with the team. Could you reveal, is it a one-year deal, is it a multi-year deal, and what were some of the qualities you saw in Zhou that made you want to sign him for next season?
FV: I won’t make any comment on the duration but if it was the case, for sure, it would have been part of the press announcement but we are expecting to have a long-term collaboration.
Q: What about his qualities?
FV: Quality, I think that first, I think the performance is speaking for itself but he’s a front runner, that he won this season in Bahrain and Silverstone. In F2 it’s probably the two most demanding tracks, Bahrain for tyre management and Silverstone, it’s high-speed corners but he did some pole positions, he’s always there, consistent and I’m sure he will do well next step and also I would say that the determination because that he moved from China to Europe and we know perfectly that when you move from Europe even to Japan, it’s not an easy move for a driver and Zhou did the opposite. But when you are 13 you move in Europe just because you want to become a racing driver, for me it’s a mega, huge commitment but I’m convinced he will put all of his energy into the project and I’m convinced he will do well.
Q: (Julian Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Fréd, are you encouraged or tempted to keep Zhou until at least the next edition of the Chinese Grand Prix which would be 2023 at the earliest?
FV: Yeah, but guys, we didn’t start 2022! We are in 2021, we didn’t do the first test session, let’s see what he will do next year, how we will move forward and then we will take the decision at the end of 2022 for 2023. The fact that you have a Chinese Grand Prix has nothing to do with the performance of the team and the performance of the driver.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Fréd, Antonio had quite a strong social media post this week which I know you’re fully aware of, stating F1 is emotion, talent, cars with speed but when money rules it can be ruthless. The inference there is quite obvious from what he’s saying. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on that social media post from Antonio? Have you had to speak to him, have you had to take any kind of internal disciplinary action because I understand you weren’t happy?
FV: Yeah, you can imagine that I was not very happy but on the other hand I can understand that it was quite emotional for him, that we had a discussion, now he knows perfectly that he has to stay focused on the next three events, that it will be important for him, that motor sport is a small world. If he wants to come back in F1 he has to show that the motivation and pace are still there. But now regarding the fact that motor sport is driven by sponsors, it’s not new, I think every single team from the grid, they have sponsors, they have finance and that we have to deal with, but we all have the same target at the end, to perform and it’s part of the job.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Fréd, you said that motor sport is driven by sponsors. We know that Zhou is bringing backing to the team, just how much of a role did that play in your decision to sign him for next year?
FV: The first criteria is the performance of the team. It means that to be performant you need to have good drivers, good technicians, good engineers, a good feeling from the drivers, and a good budget. It was a pillar of the decision for sure. I was always clear like this because we want to get the cost cap. It’s the best way for us to be performant. But it’s not the only one. I think Zhou, again, is doing a very good job in F2 and I think that everybody is underestimating the level of performance and the job done by Zhou this season.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) A question to both of you. We are coming to the end of F1’s toughest triple-header to date, something like 12,000 miles covered or something crazy. Looking at next season we are going to 23 races and there is talk of maybe expanding to 25 in the future. How do you guys feel about that. There are the perks of it in terms of the revenue it brings into F1 and going to new markets. But in terms of the human cost as well and the toll it takes on people? How concerned are you by how much pressure it will put teams under?
FT: First of all, it’s good that we have 23 races next year. Formula 1 has done a fantastic job, with Stefano, and we should be happy about this. Like this year, everything worked well. We are here now in Doha and people are fresh, people are motivated. At least they are Scuderia AlphaTauri, I don’t know how it is at other teams. And once more I say that people should be happy to be able to work in Formula 1 and to take this challenge on. If the calendar increases to 25 races, if this is the case, it’s another story, yes? Because then you have to think about rotation or whatever but it makes everything really complicated. Generally speaking I’m not a big fan of this high number of races because I think Formula 1 will lose a little bit the premium market because if every weekend there is a race people will lose the interest and this what worries me more but not because of the workload, it’s just because people get overloaded with races.
FV: I’m fully aligned with Franz. I think we have to take it as positive first because it means that F1 is doing well and perception of F1 is improving and we have to see the positive side of this. I think also… I love racing. I’m involved in motor racing now for 30 years and I was always thinking about this: that one day I want to be there, that I want to improve in Formula 1 and so on. You know I think you have millions of people who would like to do Formula 1 and it’s a chance and we have to consider it as this. Now, I’m OK also with Franz on the fact that we have to take care that the fans won’t lose the motivation, that is important. But from the team I don’t think it will be a mega issue.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Fréd, I wanted to ask you about Williams’ form this season, as you guys have been the closest competitors in that fight for eighth place. When you look back on this year, there is quite a big points gap now, do you see their victory in the battle for P8 is down to a couple of freak races or do you think over the course of the season they have always been a step ahead of Alfa Romeo?
FV: No I think that something like 13 or 14 times we have finished ahead of Williams in the race and we missed two races, that it was Budapest and Spa, but with their pace, because we were on the sixth and seventh row and around the crash let’s say in Spa because we missed the quali. They scored something like 20 points in these two events and it is like it is. I don’t think about it. I’m just convinced that as a team we have to be much more optimistic. It’s part of the game. We have to be there every single weekend because we know that when you are on the second part of the grid you won’t have so many occasions to score points. It means we have to be always there and consistent and we missed two or three opportunities this season and it’s a shame.
Q: Can you be 100% confident that both of your drivers will drive to the max for the rest of the season as they’re both leaving.
FV: I didn’t consider the point.