FIA Friday press conference - Saudi Arabia
Andreas SEIDL (McLaren), Marcin BUDKOWSKI (Alpine)
Q: Welcome to you both, question to you both: what are your drivers saying about this Jeddah Corniche Circuit? Marcin?
Marcin Budkowski: Just walked out of the debrief to come here, so I only heard snippets of information but yeah, Fernando said it was a pretty demanding circuit, which we kind of knew after having prepared for this race and walked it last night. But yeah, lots of blind corners, high-speed between walls, so lots of very high attention all the time to make sure we don’t make a mistake because I think a mistake is going to be paid very severely. If you crash, you could damage the car badly or even hurt yourself. So, yeah, we haven’t seen any of this, this morning, which is good – but yeah, certainly a very demanding circuit and one that’s going to produce a good show, I think.
Q: And from a car set-up point of view, whereabouts are you? Can you compare it to another track?
MB: We’ve had information on the track layout, we didn’t really have information on whether it was bumpy or in terms of what the grip would be so we’ve got to run through all of this information, based on what we have learned this morning. So far, so good. I think it’s roughly what we expected. The grip isn’t bad, actually. There was a bit of concern when these new circuits come up and they’re not used in anger by either F1 cars or other cars, that sometimes the oil comes up and it makes it very, very slippery as we’ve seen in Portugal and Istanbul last year. That doesn’t seem to be the case. At least our car has a lot of grip, don’t know about Andreas’s but ours seems to work quite well.
Thank Marcin, Andreas?
Andreas Seidl: Yeah, pretty much the same on our side. I think the drivers were looking forward to the track after what they have seen back home in the simulator and also after the track walk here. Have to say well done to the team back home for preparing the drivers, the team in the simulator and the simulations for this track here. We were straight away in decent shape I would say, from the first run onwards, which is always good. But in the end, still early days. On paper I think it is a track that should suit our car with running a bit less downforce, compared to previous races – but we have to see now, I guess, how the track evolution is as well. But looking forward to the rest of this weekend here on a very exciting track. And a very special track as well.
Q: Andreas, staying with you, can we throw it back to the last few races. It was a tough triple-header for McLaren. How do you explain what happened in those races? Where did the performance go?
AS: Well, first of all, I think it had nothing to do with performance. Whenever we had our incidents, I think we were ahead of at least one car of the Ferraris, for example. We lost more than 30 points with first lap incidents, or with a tyre puncture last time with Lando. In addition to that on the team side there were things we could have done better. That’s how it goes sometimes. It’s part of our learning process as well, as a team. It’s important that we learn from that and improve again. It’s simply important now to focus on these last two races and make sure we get back to scoring the points that are on the table for our car and for the team with Daniel and Lando.
Q: Several people have asked me to ask about Daniel in Qatar. Can you just elaborate on what his issues were in that race?
AS: Yeah, on Daniel’s side, unfortunately we had an issue with having the need to save a lot of fuel in the first half of the race which pretty much compromised his race totally, so he had no chance to get back into the points, despite a strong start. In the end we had a combination of two issues: I think the fuel consumption was higher than we anticipated – which I think was common for a lot of cars, listening to the radio conversations throughout the grid, and then in addition we had a technical issue on the car which gave a too-high fuel consumption reading. And until we understood the issue, we had to save an enormous amount of fuel, which took away any decent performance.
Q: Is that the first time you’d had a problem like that?
AS: Yeah, it’s something we experienced for the first time – but we have understood the problem, together with our colleagues from Mercedes and I’m sure it won't happen again.
Q: OK, and the Constructors’ Championship Andreas. You’re 39.5 points behind Ferrari. What’s your take on the battle now?
AS: Ah, well, obviously seeing this gap now after our bad run in the triple-header, we need to be realistic. At the same time, we are competitors, we will give it our all, as long as it’s theoretically possible. But yeah, obviously we have a high chance of finishing P4. Which, again, from my point of view would be a great result for us. We shouldn't forget which teams are in front of us. It is not a surprise that a team like Ferrari after their exceptional bad year they had last year, is coming back strong. We shouldn’t forget that we are beating, with a good gap, teams like Alpine – full works team – and other teams as well, so the most important thing is again we made a big step forward in terms of the performance, in terms of how we work together as a team. We could score our first victory in quite some time, first pole position, so I’m very happy seeing this development as a team, and that’s positive and that’s key, obviously, on our journey to get back to the front in Formula 1 more often during race weekends – but at the same time we need to be realistic. That takes time. I would say we are still a young team, after the reset we have done two years ago. We have now, let’s say, a stable organisation in place, and now we simply need time to learn together, grow together, and make the next steps.
Q: As you say, Andreas, you made a big step forward this year. How surprised were you by the leap that Ferrai made in the middle of the year?
AS: Not surprised because, I think if you look at the performance ranking, didn’t change very much really compared to the first races of the year. If you look at the qualifying results in Bahrain, Imola or Portimão, we pretty much saw the same as we have seen in the other tracks now at the end of the season in high downforce configuration. I think we simply, let’s say, maximised our points a lot in the first half of the season where Ferrari, from time to time, struggled on the operational side, and we maximised our points especially on the tracks that were suiting our car with a low downforce configuration – but at the same time we lost now a lot of points as described before. In the end, overall, I think P4 – again we still try to fight for this P3 – but if we finish in P4, I think it’s in the end a fair reflection in terms of where we are as a team at the moment, which is a good place to be in, and we simply need to keep working on our journey, on our plan that we have in place, getting infrastructure in place, yeah, keep working together as a team now, with this new organisation, and then I’m confident we can make the next steps in the next years.
Q: Andreas, this is the last time we’ll see you in this forum this season, so when you look back at 2021 as a whole, what is your message to the boys and girls in Woking.
AS: First of all, a big thank you, to every single member of the team again for the great commitment and the hard work everyone has put in during difficult times again. Big thank you also to our colleagues from Mercedes. It was very important to get the Mercedes power unit into our car for this year before we have this big change for next year with completely new technical regulations and gained this experience this year and, yeah, I think everyone can be very proud of what we have achieved this year, this big step forward we made again. And we simply need to keep working hard as one team towards this objective, to make the next steps in the next years and again, I’m very confident we can make these steps. We have everything in place once our infrastructure is finished as well in the next one to two years, to challenge the teams in front of us again.
Q: Marcin, coming back to you. Let’s throw it back to Qatar, a tremendous race for the team there. How satisfying was it to pull such a large gap on AlphaTauri in just one race?
MB: I think the first satisfaction for the team, to be honest, was to see Fernando on the podium. It was our second visit to the podium this year. It was Fernando’s first for quite a few years and well deserved. I think everybody would agree it was long overdue for Fernando, and at a few races this year he deserved a podium and didn't get it through various circumstances. And yeah, we were extremely happy at the bottom of the podium to cheer for him and then you do the math after that. Obviously, that third place, together with Esteban’s fifth, was a great points tally for us. Made even sweeter by the fact that AlphaTauri didn’t score any – so it’s a 25-nil in one race, that’s a pretty good result for the Championship, and certainly that makes us a bit more relaxed and comfortable here – but I think relaxed is the wrong word because, there’s two races to go and who knows? Especially on a circuit like here, the AlphaTauri could do the same to us and maybe we’ll be back to where we were two races ago. Yeah, slightly more comfortable going into the next two races but there’s still some points to score to make sure we finish fifth.
Q: The car was brilliantly fast the last time out. It has fluctuated a bit from race track to race track. Do you understand why you were so good last time out and do you think it will translate to this track here?
MB: We were expecting to be good in Qatar because of some of the circuit characteristics and the reality is, with a midfield that is so close, a tenth or two in one direction or the other actually creates quite big swings in performance between the teams – but I think it’s fair to say we weren’t expecting to be that competitive. The whole weekend started really well and clearly we were much more forward on the grid and in the race that we were expecting to be. I think a combination of preparation, on this new circuit, and the team has done a great job and a great effort in preparing the race, and yeah, we got some things right and some other teams didn’t quite get them right and as a result the difference was quite large and was there to be seen. The great thing for me is that, beyond that preparation, that is between the trackside team and the factory, we then delivered at the track in a quite spectacular way again, which shows that it’s quite promising for next year – because if we do manage to produce a quicker package – which certainly is the objective – then we have what it takes to race it to the highest level.
Q: We’ve seen your drivers working very well together at several races this year. Have you ever experienced such a close working relationship between drivers in your career?
MB: Every driver pairing is different – but certainly this one is fantastic to see. There is a bit of an older brother-younger brother relationship between Fernando and Esteban. Certainly Esteban is looking up to Fernando because of his career and his achievements. Equally, at the beginning of the year he was, y’know, well determined to show Fernando how quick he is, and he did that on a few occasions. I think Fernando gained a lot of respect for Esteban when he saw how quick he could be. So the two, pretty quickly in the season, gauged each other and observed each other – but also they get on really well. The two races where we ended up on the podium, in both races, they helped each other, and almost without any need for the team to underline this. Fernando knew exactly what he was doing in Budapest to help Esteban win this race, and when Fernando jokingly asked Esteban to help him in Qatar, Esteban knew exactly what the race situation was and was very willing to do that. It’s great. It was great to see. We’ve seen that on the track but we see it every day in the debriefs, in all the race preparation. They respect each other, they help each other and they’re working together to get the best results for the team.
Q: And Marcin, looking at the season as a whole now, if you finish fifth, is that a fair reflection of where you are as a team at the moment?
MB: On pure pace I think we’re somewhere between fifth and sixth place, depending on the tracks, so in a way I think we’re probably over-delivering a little bit, the pace of the car, if we do finish fifth. It’s a tricky one, how to assess this, because in one way, it’s the third season in a row we would have finished in fifth position in the Championship and that can be seen – and rightly so – as stagnation if you want; equally we are using pretty much the same engine for the third year, pretty much the same chassis and the same gearbox for the third year in a row. We were planning to use them for two years, it was a conscious strategic decision. We weren’t planning to use them for three but that was the result of Covid and the current regulations being extended by one year. So, with a car that has pretty much the same mechanical basis, if you want, we’ve managed to maintain our position in the Championship, and actually get closer to pole position, closer to the best, if you want. So, that shows that the other areas of the team, if you want, have moved forward, and have progressed. The ones that we haven’t frozen. So that’s quite exciting for next year, because we’re going to develop everything. We’re going to have a brand-new engine, we’re going to have obviously a new chassis and new aero because the rules are changing, and we’ll be starting from scratch and we’ve seen that, with the right opportunities, the team can do a great job in developing the areas we can develop, and then operate the car at the track. The trackside team has proven this year that they can do the job. So yeah, it’s in our hands now to do the best possible package for next year.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) To both team representatives please. The financial regulations are not only complex, they are also new and I guess next year around about March will be the acid test. Do you have any concerns that the FIA may not be able to enforce them properly, 100%, due to their complexities?
AS: To be honest, I’m very happy with the entire process that is in place at the moment, regarding enforcing the budget cap or the financial regulations and at the moment I don’t see any red flags there to be honest.
MB: Yeah, same thing. There’s quite a lot of checks going on. We get regular visits from the FIA. We get regular requests for data and for information. Probably more than we were expecting and they are at very short notice and including surprise visits to the factory and we are very happy about it, because that’s how it should be and that’s how it should be policed. We are lucky enough not to be impacted by the cost cap this year so we are taking it as a learning year to be ready for the following years, but yeah, obviously we are very much in favour of the cost cap. We have been one of the teams that has supported it throughout the process and worked very closely with the FIA to make it as robust and as policeable as possible and we are obviously in favour of it being policed and respected very well because we think it’s the right thing for Formula 1. So, so far, very good.
Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) A question for Marcin. Laurent Rossi did an interview a couple of weeks ago in which he spoke about possible organisational and management changes going into next season for the Alpine team. Obviously you have run with a couple of guys, yourself and Davide, overseeing things this season. Has Laurent said what those changes next year might be and who would be involved in that?
MB: Honestly, we’re still racing. We still have two races to go and I don’t really want to comment on this, especially as it’s probably the most important two months for this team since Renault and now Alpine came back to Formula 1, because this new set of regulations, the cost cap, as we just mentioned, the new technical regulations, the fact that we are having a new engine for next year, it’s a very, very intense period at the factory, both in terms of the development of the car and putting performance on it and actually getting a car in time for testing next year, because, as you do, we have pushed everything to the limit, as far as possible, to gain as much performance as possible, so I think as part of the management of the team my responsibility is to protect the team from any kind of gossip and rumours and let them work in the most serene and quiet way as possible and focus on delivering a car that is as quick as possible. So we’ll talk about it maybe at the end of the year or into next year but at the moment I think my focus is really to protect the team from any kind of distraction.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race, via email) Marcin, looking at the performance of the car over the whole year, how happy are you with way the team has hit its technical and developmental targets and can you give an overview of what you feel have been the strengths and weaknesses of the Alpine package?
MB: It comes back a little bit to what I said earlier. The fact that we froze the engine three years ago certainly made us lose some ground, because our competitors have developed. It was a strategic decision and it was related to preparing the new regulations of the new cars. I think it was the right decision, with the resources that we have. Obviously it was painful, because we see some of our competitors’ progress. And it was the same with the chassis and the gearbox. Maybe they are less differentiating directly through onto the performance but they enable you to change the geometry of the car and evolve it to find more performance. So we suffered from this. Aerodynamically, we have developed the car. With the new regulations we haven’t done the best job, well, the changed regulations from 20 through to ’21. These modifications, the floor mostly, some people have done a better job than us and some people have done a worse job than us, so we have missed a bit our targets. If we hadn’t missed them I think we would be more comfortably in fifth position, but I don’t think we would have been able to challenge these guys but we would have been nudged closer. There are always regrets but there are lots of positives in the way team works. In the last three years you know the team has improved massively. Last year we had lots of issues with the reliability of the car. This year, there are still two races to go, but we have had effectively one DNF, one real DNF, that was related to a car issue. The trackside team has proven very, very good management of the tyres, the strategy, the racing, interaction of the drivers, we’ve mentioned that, so lots of positives to take and lots of positives that are also no visible yet, in the factory, in terms of how we are developing next year’s car, which is full of new technology and new stuff, so you know, it’s frustrating sometimes to see that… we would have liked to make a bit more progress this year, but equally we have done it for a reason and it’s because we have focused for a while now on next year and hopefully that pays off.
Q: And Edd asks about the strengths and weaknesses of the package?
MB: I think I’ve answered that without specifically pointing fingers here and there if you want. It’s the fact that we have frozen some developments has constrained us but there are areas we could have done a better job equally.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Marcin, this is for you. You have recently signed Oscar Piastri as your third driver and presumably you have your eye on him potentially getting a seat in F1 in the future. Esteban is on a long-term contract, three years I believe you announced it as. Fernando has a one-year deal. If Fernando is still driving at the level he is now in the summer of next year and he’s talking about wanting to stay in Formula 1 for another two, three, four years if he can, how are you going to make that decision as to what to do for the future beyond 2022? How will you decide when you can’t compare them directly, who you should pick?
MB: It’s a good question, but it’s not about a direct comparison. Oscar’s announcement, beyond being an announcement as such, if you want, that he will be our reserve driver, comes with an awful lot of other things if you want. Oscar is going to be very involved in the simulator and he is already doing some of this but not as much as we’d like because obviously he is racing in Formula 2 and he still needs to win that championship this year but he is going to be doing a lot of development work, a lot of simulator work, spending time in the factory, very close with the engineers, he’s going to be doing quite a lot of track running as well. Well, he’s going to run in Abu Dhabi for the post-season test this year. The regulations next year imposes to run him at two free practice sessions. We’ll do a bespoke testing programme for him in Formula 1 cars, to make sure he really, really ramps up. We'll develop Oscar a lot, beyond just taking him to the races as our third driver. To come back to your question, how are we going to make that decision, well, let’s see next year first. If the car is quick and Fernando is happy, then we will have one type of discussion. If that’s not the case then we will have a different type of discussion. But certainly we have a great talent with Oscar in the wings and if there is no seat available at Alpine I’m sure we will find a solution for him to drive a Formula 1 car and stay in the Alpine family.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Regarding my previous question, do you both believe that any penalties that are proportionate to, can I call it the crime or breach of the financial regulations that is?
AS: I didn’t get the question fully?
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) If there are penalties, do you believe that the provisions for penalties are proportionate to the sort of breach that you could have? In other words that there is no wiggle room and somebody would say “well, we will breach the regulations because the penalty is only so much”.
AS: To be honest, I am pretty with what is in the regulations at the moment, the provisions that are in. I have full trust in the system that is in place and in the FIA, and that if there is a breach, depending on what the breach is, there is the right penalty for it. Again, we are coming back to what we said before. It’s not a big secret that we are big supporters of these regulations that are in place. It’s really good to see also how detailed the interaction that’s happening at the moment between the teams and the FIA and I am very, very confident that, let’s say, after this period we are in now where we all have to learn also being in these new regulations first time, that we have a system in place that is making sure that we are playing on a level playing field in terms of the budget we spend.
MB: Yeah, I agree with Andreas. The one thing I would add is the regulations, as they are written, don’t specify what the penalty is for what kind of breach. We know it could be financial, which means a fine, or sporting, which could mean anything from points deduction to disqualification from the whole championship. And the reason they are not defined is that as soon as you define a penalty teams start to calculate whether that’s the right thing to do or not. If you know you risk a five-second penalty in a race for track limits or something like this, you are going to make a call whether it’s better to serve your penalty or not serve it and build a gap if you want, if you gain an advantage. That’s things we do on track and there is no reason why teams would not do that in the realms of the financial regulations as well, and that’s exactly what the regulations are trying to prevent. Now, we haven’t seen any breach yet, we haven’t seen any sanction yet, so we will see effectively if it happens, but hopefully it won’t be necessary and everybody will respect them.
Guenther STEINER (Haas), Otmar Szafnauer (Aston Martin)
Q: To you both: what are your drivers, what are the engineers, what’s the team saying about the new track here in Jeddah?
Otmar Szafnauer: Well, I usually start with the same answer that this press conference takes place at the same time we have our debrief so it’s hard for me to give you an answer on what the drivers have said but during the session, they were pleased with the grip level, a bit higher than we anticipated going into the session. Looked like the track was really good fun to drive but for us, anyway, there is some work to be done in between the two sessions to optimise the balance of the car and get the downforce levels right.
Guenther Steiner: Very similar to Otmar. I just listened to one driver and then I had to rush away but as Otmar, said the drivers were positively surprised about the grip level which came along after a few runs and enjoyed the track, it must be fun to drive, you know, once you get used to it then our guys, the engineers going over the data now and seeing where we can make some improvements as well.
Q: Now Guenther, it’s a new, very high-speed track with very little run-off. What advice have you given your drivers coming into the weekend?
GS: I don’t need to give them advice any more. They got it once and they know now what to expect. They know that the worst thing they can do is losing track time so obviously they were both – I wouldn’t say cautious – but at least they took it carefully, a little bit, to make sure they got around it and I think everybody did a little bit like this because there is not, as you say… once you go off, you hit something, there’s nowhere to go so that means session over and they also have to think about the future. We’re coming back here in March next year and the more we learn this year, the better we will be next year, so I think that they take that to heart and I actually didn’t need to tell them anything about that.
Q: Now it’s been nice for Nikita to get a clean start to the weekend. That wasn’t the case in Qatar, obviously, given his limited number of laps there, were you impressed by how he handled the weekend in Doha?
GS: Yeah, absolutely. He drove, I think, 15 laps before going into the race. It’s always… also the confidence level must be low of anybody doing that so he handled it well and he stayed calm about it and made the best out of it, what was there
Q: And what happened to the chassis?
GS: It’s in repair now. It’s just… on the bottom, it’s pretty badly damaged. I’ve seldom seen a chassis damaged like this, going over kerbs. It happened and it’s now back in Europe to be put together again.
Q: And Guenther, can we look at the season as a whole now? Given that you haven’t developed your car, how tough has it been to keep the team motivated in 2021?
GS: I wouldn’t say... It isn’t easy but the further we get on in the season, the better it gets because we can see light at the end of the tunnel, hopefully. At least we know we get a new car, we are in the development game as well next year so I think in the mid-season, just before the summer break it was the toughest period, I would say, for everybody because the results weren’t good, but after that we had a few little highs, they are very small highs but like last weekend or two weekends ago in Doha, Mick, in the race, stayed close to our competitors in front of us. We were as close as we ever were which is pretty good because we know we haven’t done any development and other people have, so some things we are doing right. Hopefully, the car next year is what we expect it to be and we will have fun again.
Q: As you say, you haven’t developed the car but has the team progressed in other ways during this season?
GS: Yeah, because we kept it always like we would fight for points. There was never a giving up situation, that we didn’t try hard. You saw last weekend, when they had to change… take the engine out of Nikita’s car and we got it back in very quickly and everybody worked just as hard as we would if we were fighting for points so that, I think, prepares us for next year and we will be, at least on that side, in a good position.
Q: And Guenther, Robert Shwartzman is going to be testing your car after Abu Dhabi. What do you expect from him, and can we expect closer ties between the team and him going forward?
GS: At the moment it’s a test because it’s a young driver test. We always discussed that young drivers haven’t got the opportunity to test so with Ferrari, we just used… we call it the old car, it’s still the current car for him and just give him a chance. There is no really big expectation. I think my expectation is that he does a day of running, that we don’t have any mechanical issues, that he doesn’t go off or anything and… I think this guy should enjoy it when they go out for the first time in an F1 car on an F1 race track.
Q: Otmar, you guys have enjoyed a good run of late. Sebastian scored in three of the last four races. Lance, sixth last time out. Have you made a set-up breakthrough or has it been more circuit-specific?
OS: Well, I think if we put a weekend together and have a bit of luck and we can do well with the car that we have, a bit of it is circuit-specific. It was the first time we were in Qatar, we had both of them in the points and unfortunately Seb was pushed wide in turn one; I think we could have done a little bit better and Lance drove a fantastic race to sixth. It bodes well for the end of the season. I think, looking forward, we’d like to get both of them in the points here as well as in Abu Dhabi and finish on a strong note going into next year. That’s always useful to finish quite strongly and then have a good, successful winter.
Q: As you say, Lance drove a fantastic race last time out but prior to that he’d had a bit of a tricky run. Was it important for him to get that result before the end of the year?
OS: Yeah, it’s always good to have a strong run and re-confirm that the skills and abilities are there. He is highly skilled and it was great to see him have a good run in Qatar and it was at a track that he’d never been to before and he didn’t put a foot wrong. Had the Ferraris behind him for quite some time at the end and he did a great job to keep them there.
Q: Now Otmar, this is the last time we’re going to see you in this forum this year. So just, looking back at 2021 as a whole, how do you sum it up for Aston Martin?
OS: Well, it was a bit disappointing to start the season less competitive than we’d hoped, due to the late and unilateral aerodynamic changes that were made and thereafter we did the best we could to pull ourselves out of that hole but like everybody else in the midfield, we had to stop developing this year’s car due to the fact that the 2022 regulations are completely different. And once we stopped, all we could do is get the most out of the package that we had and that’s exactly what we’re going to do in the last few races.
Q: Did you get the most out of the package, on balance, this year?
OS: On balance, I think so, yes. We do a lot of work before we get to a Grand Prix in the simulator. The drivers drive it quite a bit, more than once and I think we hit the ground running well, but there are circumstances that are completely out of our control like I said. In the last race, Seb having to go off track to avoid being hit and some accidents and things where we didn’t optimise, but like I said, those things are out of our control.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Otmar, what’s the latest regarding your personal future? Will you still be with Aston Martin next year or could we see you somewhere else on the grid?
OS: Well, like, you know… I’ve answered that before, all that stuff is rumour and conjecture and like I said, I’ve got a contract here at Aston Martin.
Q: (Jon Noble – motorsport.com) Guenther, Dmitry Mazepin has proposed a staff bonus scheme to help encourage personnel to stay with the team next year. What do you think of this idea and is it something you would accept?
GS: I would say… We don’t have people running away. We have about 60 people who are with us from the beginning. At the end of the season, sometimes, every year, a few people leave because they want to move on in their careers, they want to move on from going to all the races, so it’s not something unexpected. On the offer from Dmitry, we are looking into it, how we can make it work with the budget cap, legally and all that stuff and then we see when we get back to him.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Otmar, where do you stand on the Dan Fallowes situation at the moment? I’m sort of hearing that he won’t be able to join you until the end of 2023 or thereabouts. Have you thought about going legal about it?
OS: Well, that’s a process we’re going through now, Dieter, and I have now definitive date to give you, unfortunately.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Otmar, is Lawrence Stroll keen to build his own engine in the not too distant future?
OS: Well, you know, never say never. We have a long term contract, however, with Mercedes and we were happy with the powertrain that we have. They’ve served us well over the years and the plan is to stay with Mercedes.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Otmar, how impressed have you been by Sebastian Vettel’s performances this year in his first season with the team? Do you feel that he’s made good progress through the year, settling in with the team? And off track as well: how important has he been as a voice for a number of very important issues for the wider world beyond Formula 1? We saw in Hungary earlier this year, he was obviously very outspoken about the LGBT laws in that country, this weekend, as well, we have seen him sporting some rainbow coloured trainers as well. How important has he been as a voice for F1 as a whole?
OS: Well, I’ll start with him settling in; he has settled in really well. We’ve learned, as a team, from Sebastian. He and Lance work very well together. They’re a true team pairing which shows on track and he’s helped us understand what it takes and we will hopefully, in the future, give him a car where he can illustrate the skills of old and yeah, he’s done a great job for us. And as far as his voice, he did a karting event here yesterday for ladies and girls where he taught them some karting skills and I think that kind of thing that he does is wonderful for us all. I think he spent hours at Silverstone picking up rubbish and that wasn’t a publicity stunt, he did it because he wanted to collect some of the rubbish from underneath the grandstands, at a place where he was part of the show, so for him to do things like that, I think, is wonderful.
Q: In hindsight, Otmar, how long did it take him to get up to speed? At what point did we start seeing those skills of old, as you referred to it?
OS: Well, if I remember back, it took about four races and I remember speaking to Sergio, and I think I’ve said this before, Sergio was saying look, I too moved teams, he moved from our team to Red Bull. Sergio himself thought it was going to take him about five races to get to grips with a whole new philosophy of car. Seb had the same thing, coming from Ferrari to us, a whole new philosophy, a whole new powertrain. The driveability of the powertrain was different, the steering rack, for example, was different which he didn’t like, which we had to adjust. There are many things, but if I remember back, I think it was about four races to where he got comfortable.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Otmar, you’ve recently recruited an aerodynamicist by the name of Eric Blandin. At the time that your media department confirmed the appointment, they went to great pains to point out that this was an amiable recruitment etc yet I believe that he’s got gardening leave which takes him beyond the six months imposed by the FIA for transfers. So, was this done with Mercedes’ approval, Mercedes’ knowledge, or is this what we call poaching?
OS: Well, it was great to be able to announce Eric and he’s a confident aerodynamicist and we look forward to having him on our team but we must respect the fact that although we buy our power trains and gearbox from Mercedes, we also compete with them, so I think Eric having to serve gardening leave is just normal.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Otmar, if you look at the wider political battles over the last couple of years, last year seemed quite turbulent when we had the brake ducts saga, we had the Concorde agreement. This season, though, have you found things to be much more cordial and peaceful between the teams? We’ve got the back-and-forth between Mercedes and Red Bull but otherwise, politically, it seems a bit more of a serene year for F1.
OS: Yeah, I tend to agree with that. After the start of the season it just settled down and we went racing. There’s nothing wrong with that.
GS: Yeah, for us it was very serene because when you’re last you don’t have any political battles to fight, you know, so pretty simple on that one.