FIA Friday press conference - Sao Paulo
(Part One): Otmar SZAFNAUER (Aston Martin), Andreas SEIDL (McLaren)
(Part Two): Mario ISOLA (Pirelli), Toyoharu TANABE (Honda)
Q: It’s been a busy week for everybody in the pitlane with the freight delays from Mexico. Just tell us a little bit about how tough it’s been for the teams.
Otmar Szafnauer: I’m probably not the best to ask because we were lucky to get our freight really early. I think we were one of the first to get the freight so we weren’t impacted but looking up and down the pitlane, yeah, it’s frantic. The second leg of a triple-header and getting your freight late is never good.
Andreas Seidl: Yeah, on our side we were heavily affected by the delay, so we got pretty much everything we needed to build the cars, the monocoques and the power units yesterday after lunch, so it was a very intense afternoon and the first part of the night but the team did a great job. I think we were done by around midnight so the crew still had a decent rest. Not ideal but at the same time, we are racers, we are used to building cars – after crashes for example – in an emergency, in quite a short amount of time, so very happy with the job the team did. The cars were running fine today so I don’t expect any impact from this on the rest of the weekend.
Q: Thank you. Andreas, if we stay with you, yesterday, the Ferrari drivers were telling us that McLaren will have the quicker car this weekend. What’s your reading on the situation?
AS: There’s a bit of a trend that we’re talking each other up at the moment, race weekend by race weekend. From our point of view, we expect a rather difficult weekend here because I think there’s some characteristics of the track, especially the middle sector, with these slow and medium-speed long corners which do not really play to the strength of our car. So, we have to see how it goes. A lot can happen again this weekend. It’s a sprint weekend as well. Weather conditions permanently changing at the moment, so we simply have to focus on ourselves, extract the maximum again and hopefully that’s enough to challenge for good points again with both cars.
Q: Well, Andreas, let’s throw it further forward. Two new tracks coming up in Qatar and Jeddah. What do you know of those tracks and what do you see of the lay of the land there?
AS: In terms of competitiveness, it’s so difficult to say this year. As we have seen the entire season there’s so much that plays around there. Each track we’re going to, not just the track characteristics but the ambient conditions, the tyre selection as well. As always, we have the model of the different tracks we’re going to, that are new ones. We’re feeding our simulations with these models some weeks and months ago. We have both drivers in the simulator, preparing these tracks and hopefully we are well-prepared and in a position to fight for this P3 up to Abu Dhabi.
Q: Daniel said yesterday that he thinks it will go down to the wire. Do you?
AS: Well, that’s obviously the objective or the target. I think if you look at our season so far, we can be very happy. We made, in terms of points scoring, average points scoring per race, a big step forward again compared to last year. We’re a lot closer again to Red Bull and Mercedes in terms of lap-times – but at the same time we are up against – yes – a very strong Ferrari team, which is not unexpected that they’re coming back strong after the difficult year they had last year. They have the infrastructure, they have the people, the experience, two good drivers. It will be an intense battle but we will give it all up to Abu Dhabi. Obviously, we’ll try to fight until the last lap.
Q: And you mentioned it a minute ago, but this is the third and final sprint weekend of the season. What happens after this in terms of next year? With the Sprint. What actually – if anything – needs tweaking? What do you think?
AS: Yeah, I think the agreement with the FIA, Formula 1 and the teams is that we complete now, this weekend, the third one this year and then sit together in the different working groups, in order to analyse how these weekends went and see if there’s tweaks or changes required when we do the six weekends next year. From our point of view, I think it doesn’t need big tweaks or big changes. We are pretty happy with the format as it has been run this year. So far it worked out quite good for us in Silverstone and in Monza – so let’s hope to have another good one this week here, and then looking forward to the challenge also next year.
Q: Otmar, coming to you, on the subject of the Sprint, do you think it needs any tweaking?
OS: Well, perhaps a little bit. We should look at the timing of the weekends. We stay really late on Friday, for example, and come in early on Saturday, so if we just look at the entire weekend to make it a little bit easier on the crews, and if it doesn’t take away from the fans, we should tweak it a bit – but in general I think for the most part we’ll leave it as it is.
Q: We’ll come onto the on-track performance of Aston Martin in a minute – but there are many rumours in the paddock linking you with a switch to the Alpine team. What’s the situation?
OS: I too read those rumours a couple of days ago and I was as surprised as anybody else but I just want to say that it’s always humbling and flattering for people to say, “oh if Alpine are reorganising”, I think Laurent Rossi said that in Mexico, and for the media to speculate that I could be wanted there. It’s always nice to be wanted.
Q: Where do these rumours come from, do you think?
OS: I don’t know. The first I saw was AutoHebdo and not being French I don’t know who they are but you know… and then I think it was translated into English from what my colleagues in the press office tell me.
Q: And has your boss Lawrence Stroll asked for a clarification?
OS: Asked me for a clarification? No, he wasn’t in Mexico and he isn’t here. He wasn’t feeling well. I’m sure I’ll catch up with him during the weekend but no, we haven’t talked about rumours. There’s lots of stuff that goes on in the media that we don’t talk about.
Q: Let’s move on to car performance. How did it go in FP1 this morning? Do you think the car will be as strong here as it was in Mexico?
OS: Yeah, It could very well be in that region. We had a good session, I don’t think we got the cleanest laps in, especially when we put the Soft tyre on, so there’s some learnings that we can do after our runs, modify the car a bit and see how we go in qualifying later.
Q: Sebastian Vettel said yesterday that his race in Mexico had been, and I’m quoting him, “very smooth”. How hard is it to reproduce that with this car?
OS: Well, Seb had a really good race. Lance was on the backfoot, starting towards the end, so Seb had a good start. He looked after the tyres really well and towards the end when he needed to have the tyre and the car, it was underneath him, so he could push. I think we can recreate it for the rest of the season.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Question is to Otmar. Otmar, in your answers to Tom a couple of minutes ago, and in your statement on Instagram yesterday, you left a bit of room for interpretation. Are you prepared to close down that room by saying that what was written by AutoHebdo was an invention and you’re not talking to and have not talked to anybody from Alpine about running them in the future?
OS: Yes, so I don’t have the ability and the pleasure of reading French, so I’m not sure what they wrote, so hard for me to say, Christian.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Otmar, will you be with Aston Martin next year? Can you say that categorically?
OS: That’s a good question. Look, I’ve been at the team for 12 years, I have no intention of leaving. I love this team. Most of the senior managers, especially through Racing Point, and the senior leadership team was recruited and put there by myself and I have no intention of leaving them. I have been loyal to this team. I have many, many offers in the 12 years I have been working for this team, especially in the days of the bankruptcy and insolvency. I could have left many times, but I am loyal to the employees there.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Sorry Otmar, but we must just continue this one to get a categorical denial from you, please. Are you absolutely not joining Alpine at any stage in the very near future at all, please? Yes or no?
OS: I love the question, Dieter, I love the question, but I learned a long, long time ago that predicting the future is an impossibility and if I could do that I would be in Vegas now.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Changing the subject slightly, I’d like to ask both of you about the calendar for next year and the pressure we’ve got with races. We are currently in a very busy triple-header and we have 23 races next year, a bit of an earlier finish, but there is I think some fear that it could open the door down the line to expanding the calendar to maybe up to 25 races. We know we have Qatar coming back after 2023 for example. What are your thoughts on the calendar size and the burnout it could place on people if we were to reach 25 races going from March to December, potentially from a couple of years’ time?
AS: Well, I think we have made it clear several times, Zak and myself, what we think is the right race calendar in the future. We still feel in favour of less races, and creating quality and exclusivity by that and also then the commercial value. But at the same time it’s obviously great to see that there is such a big interest from different countries and venues in order to host a race. Stefano is doing a sensational job there. We have to accept that we have 23 races next year and it’s our job now as a team in a very inclusive approach, that’s how we do it together with the team members, in order to find solutions to make this intense race calendar sustainable for every single member of the team and that’s what we are focusing on now.
Q: Andreas, what do you think is the ideal number of races?
AS: Yeah, as I said before, I think we have voiced it several times, we still think that 20 races is an ideal calendar and maybe have some of these races, maybe four or five races, in a kind of rotational system so that you have the possibility also to explore new venues, be open for new markets. That’s clearly what is our position.
OS: Well, we this year voted for the second triple-header. I think we all voted to have it. Let’s see how it goes. We’re in the middle of a triple-header now. We had some freight issues and hopefully that won’t repeat itself, but it definitely easy and we will reflect at the end of this year and we will speak to all the mechanics and engineers to see what we can do to make their lives easier when travelling to all the races. But 23 will be difficult, 22 this year isn’t easy, so getting to 25 you really have to look to see how they are spread and what we do so that we don’t put too heavy a burden on the travelling staff.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Otmar, another one for you, but don’t worry there are no future predictions needed, just a simple yes or no, kind of asked the way Dieter wanted to I think. Have you had contact with Alpine about a job?
OS: This year for example there have been many teams that have contacted me and I think it was, I was sitting next to Laurent Rossi when McEvoy asked if Aston Martin were recruiting a CEO to take my job. I knew nothing of that and jokingly Rossi said “if you’re leaving, come talk to us” and that was it. I don’t know if that was what sparked the Auto Hebdo article.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Just to follow up that answer, does that mean you haven’t had any contact with Laurent or anyone at Alpine since that happened about potentially working for them?
OS: Like I said, I’m fully committed to the team I am in. I have been there forever. I have no intention of leaving. I mean forever is 12 years, so maybe not forever, but half my career, and you know, I’ve got to focus on the rest of this season. The season hasn’t quite gone to what we thought it was going to, how it was going to go, so we’ve got to focus on these next races to score as many points as we can and that’s what I will be doing.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) A question to both team principals. I’m not going to ask Andreas where he’s going so obviously the questions aren’t going that direction. Given the fact that you believe that 22 or even 25 races is too much but given the fact that Liberty need to maximise revenues both for your own sakes and also for themselves, would you refer a calendar of 20 grand prix dates with 10 sprint events which would then attract a premium or a 25-race calendar straight?
OS: If the sprint events do produce higher revenue, and that’s only going to happen if the fans, both at the track as well as watching on TV or through social media enjoy it more than the normal qualifying sessions we have now, that’s what we should be doing. We should be following what the fans want. If there’s higher demand for our sport because of it and therefore we can charge a little bit more, we should follow the revenue model that gets us a little bit more money. Andreas mentioned that perhaps 20 races at a higher premium might be the way to go. If we can have less races but not have a decline in revenue I’m all for that. AS: Well, not a lot from my side. In the end we have Stefano in charge of Formula 1 and he is doing a sensational job and we have a lot of trust that he will get that right, short term, medium and long term and I think these questions are much better addressed to him.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Otmar, do you have a contract in place with Aston Martin for next year?
OS: I’m always reticent to disclose contractual details but I can tell you I have a long-term contract in place with Aston.
(Part Two): Mario ISOLA (Pirelli), Toyoharu TANABE (Honda)
Q: Mario, the freight delays coming from Mexico, just tell us a little bit about how it affected Pirelli preparations for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix?
Mario Isola: It affected our preparation because some rims from the teams were in the freight but also some of our equipment. For example, we usually measure the track roughness on Wednesday with a special laser that we have in our equipment and it was not available so basically we had no possibility to measure that, to measure the grip with a grip machine and also the track and air temperature which we collect since – what we call – day zero so the Thursday before the start of the event. Obviously we had to adapt our operation, our people were really available to do everything possible, not to leave anyone without tyres fitted so they stayed here at the track until night, until when they finished but luckily everything is in place now.
Q: And it’s been a busy time for you as well, because en route to Sao Paulo you visited the Circuit Panamericana, didn’t you, with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali. What was the programme there? Just tell us a little bit about that visit.
MI: We just wanted to show that what we tell to the people is real, so when we say that we invest a lot in development, testing and facilities, it’s simply true. And the Circuit Panamericana is an example of… is the biggest test track in Latin America. We have factories here, we have one of our biggest research and development centres, and I was really happy to show to Domenicali the facilities, more than 22 kilometres of track. There is a specific track for wet testing that we also tried to homologate for Formula 1 testing and I visited the facility a few years ago with Charlie Whiting at the time. We have a dry track of 3.5 kilometres. We had a lot of other special tracks for comfort, noise, aquaplaning and so on. It’s really a state of the art facility and it’s just 130 kilometres from São Paulo.
Q: Could we ever see F1 testing at the track one day?
MI: Why not? Why not? The logistics are not easy but you know, here is good weather conditions when in Europe it’s winter so maybe in the future.
Q: And what about this weekend, Mario? The tyres are one step softer than when we last raced in Sao Paulo in 2019. How will that affect strategy and just what information have you had back since FP1 as well?
MI: Yeah, they’re one step softer and we also have different format for the race with the sprint qualifying, so it’s an additional element for the teams to understand. This morning tyres were working quite well. We are expecting that for the soft, a certain level of management is required for rear overheating because this circuit is quite severe on tyres. For the sprint qualifying, I believe that the right tyre is the medium but obviously we have to look at the track conditions. This morning, teams were running very different run plans. For example McLaren used only the medium. Some other teams like Aston Martin used all three compounds. It’s a new format so it’s not like a normal race weekend where FP1, FP2, FP3 are run with more or less the same programme from all the teams. The delta lap time is probably slightly bigger than our expectations. It’s around half a second. This is not affecting qualifying, because this weekend they have to qualify on the soft tyre. There is no strategy behind that because then they can start on the medium or the soft so it’s more open. They have to use just the soft in qualifying and they are free to decide which is the start tyre for the Grand Prix. We had no graining, we had nothing else other than trying to understand the real performance of the tyres, considering that this morning we had a lot of track evolution, that obviously is hiding the real values of the different compounds.
Q: One more from me: can we throw it forward to the Abu Dhabi test after the season finale? What’s the programme for that test?
MI: The programme is that the teams are free to run the mule cars with 18 inch tyres for two days. This is really important for them and for us to understand how the tyres work in an environment that is difficult for us to reproduce during tyre testing. During tyre testing we have one car, two cars maximum, so it’s difficult to understand how they behave in traffic, for example. Don’t forget we are using the new cars, not the 2022 cars that will be different in terms of aero package and obviously with a different slipstream and slipstream effect. And, in addition to that, the teams are also allowed to run one current car for one day with a young driver driving the car, so it will be quite a busy session in Abu Dhabi.
Q: Tanabe-san, tell us a little bit about confidence levels within Honda, coming into this race?
Toyoharu Tanabe: Well, so far our four cars with Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri are performing well towards the end of the season. Always, we don’t have any confidence but we feel a bit confident looking back at our recent, a few races, so we keep pushing as usual and then prepare everything for any type of accident or unexpected situation.
Q: And if we look at the championship battles now, Max, 19 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Racing Honda just one point behind Mercedes, do you feel the momentum is with you now in both of those championships?
TT: I’m very pleased that we are able to challenge both championships from the beginning of the season with good and strong performances. It’s good but it’s not an easy challenge to get the championship but then there are four races left. Maybe you may say only four, but for us it’s a long, long, tough battle, four races.
Q: And what about engine penalties? Yuki obviously served a penalty in Mexico last time out. Can we expect any more engine penalties for your four drivers?
TT: No one knows the future but there is no unexpected accident or unexpected failure. We have no plans to put another PU to our four drivers.
Q: Tanabe-san, we may not see you in this forum again this year so as Honda’s head of engineering, can we just get you to reflect on the last seven years? You must be very pleased with the progress you’ve made since 2015.
TT: Yes, so, since we participated in this hybrid era Formula 1, actually it was tough. Then we had a lot of failures and then a difficult time in terms of reliability, and also performance. And then we learned a lot, from that era and then we put everything together. It was the end of that… every year, actually, every year, and this year, as you know, this is the last season for Honda Formula 1. I can say we are happy but not quite happy because of some issues in terms of performance. Generally, looking back seven years we have grown and then the current results from this season is quite nice.
Q: And with this being Honda’s last season, what’s next for you Tanabe-san?
TT: So, it’s a difficult question for me now, because, as I said, we still have four races and then it’s still a big challenge, a big challenge, so I spent time thinking about those races, so after those four races, I will find out what I will do next.
Q: Would you be tempted to join Red Bull Powertrains?
TT: Can I say? No.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Tanabe-san, given your answer to Tom about not joining Red Bull Powertrains, could we enquire what your plans actually are after Honda leaves Formula 1?
TT: Again, the same answer so at the moment I have no plans. That’s it.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Tanabe-san, how surprised are you to see Mercedes, which used to be such a strong benchmark in terms of power and reliability, change their engines almost every weekend now?
TT: Yes, I’m very surprised they are changing the ICE frequently. So actually, I cannot believe what’s going on and then why. But from the PU manufacturer point of view, it’s kind of a disappointment to get a PU penalty for the driver so actually I have no idea but I’m sorry about that.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Tanabe-san, if my understanding of the power unit changes is correct, about the power unit that you’ve taken from Max’s car, according to the fact that you have only taken one additional power unit and that is potentially a replacement for the Silverstone power unit which was damaged. Could you have gone through the whole season with no more than the allocated quantities?
TT: Current plan, we can manage the PU for the rest of the season for all drivers so yeah, we had some accidents during the season and then lost some PUs but at the moment we have sufficient number of units for all drivers.
Q: And Tanabe-san, without the Silverstone accident for Max Verstappen, could you have got through the season on three?
TT: I believe yes.