FIA Friday press conference - Styria
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Toyoharu TANABE (Honda), Guenther STEINER (Haas), Frédéric VASSEUR (Alfa Romeo)
Q: Question to all three of you: we’ve had calendar announcements this morning with races confirmed at Mugello and Sochi in September. I would love to get your thoughts on that first of all. Fred, perhaps we could start with you?
Frédéric Vasseur: I think it is good news. We are going in the right direction, to add more and more races. Thanks to Formula 1 to take care of this. I think it’s a great job and, step-by-step, we are building-up a nice calendar.
Guenther Steiner: Yeah, the same as Fred. It’s fantastic the job is done because it must be very difficult to get events organised at the moment. I think they do a great job, so at least we get a substantial calendar together, what it seems to be like. Now they’ve got a few more and then we should have a nice season. It’s very good for us. It’s very good for the fans and for Formula 1 in general. So, very good and I hope they keep on pushing to have a few more and then we should be good.
Toyoharu Tanabe: Yes, I agree with them. Yes it’s good for all Formula 1 fans and then manufacturers and teams. I would like to say thank you for the people working very hard to establish this schedule and I hope we can go there to have a Formula 1 race.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Question for Tanabe-san. We saw both Red Bull cars were hit with power unit problems during the race last weekend. Could you expand a bit of what the issue was? Was it an issue on the Red Bull side or the Honda side. Are there any concerns of it emerging again this weekend? We know Austria’s quite a difficult race for the cars in terms of cooling in particular.
TT: The two incidents were not related. On the Max car we had a mechanical trouble problem which led to an electronic problem on the PU but that’s not related to the PU in the end. On Alex’s car we saw some unusual data after he ran over the gravel and then it accelerated and then exceeded our limit, so we stopped the car. We had a very short period between the last race and today. We applied very simple and basic, primitive counter-measure. We changed all related electronic parts on the car, on the PU. We are still investigating the very detail but it looks, the various reasons, related to this problem. From the P1 running, the car runs OK. We will keep watching and then monitor. During the long run and also the race.
Q: (Erik van Haren – De Telegraaf) Do you think Honda is able to match the power of the Mercedes engine this year? And what’s the difference between the upgraded Honda engine in Austria and the first one in testing?
TT: I think it’s a little bit difficult to tell the difference between PU power in the four PU manufacturers. Many functions related to the speed and lap time. We think we need to work a little bit more hard to catch up the top runner. The difference between Australia and here, the first race this year, mainly we cannot work on the big change because of the shutdown. Mainly reliability and minor changes. We had time to apply some things, even limited time. So, how can I say? Kind of housekeeping work. That’s it.
Q: (Laurence Edmondson – ESPN) Another power unit question but to Guenther and Fred. We saw that all the Ferrari-powered cars seemed to be a little bit slower on the straight than their rivals. Is that something that you noticed, and have you had an explanation from Ferrari as to why the power has gone down compared to last year?
GS: Obviously it became apparent that there is a speed-deficit on the straights and we are slower than last year. All Ferrari-powered cars, I think we can say that openly. I think people are working hard to find out what it is, as Tanabe-san said, it’s very difficult to judge other people’s performance of the engine, you know? Because you don’t have any data, you’ve got just speed data but the speed of the car eventually, a drag level and so on. For sure we’re working hard to find out why, in qualifying, here in Austria, we were faster, and for sure the same as Fred is doing – not that I need to speak for Fred because he can do that himself. In the race I think it was less prominent, the difference. We didn’t have a good race, obviously, but I think there still needs to be work going into it and do see what is what here actually. And then we can find a conclusion and move on and sort out if there is a problem.
Q: Fred, let’s get your thoughts?
FV: I’m OK with Guenther. The situation is known and now we have to work on all sides. I trust Ferrari to be able to be able to recover as much as possible. My job – and it’s not in my hands, our job is to push on the chassis side and on the driver and to do a good job. The race pace was decent but we were able to match the cars in front of us. The deficit was a bit more important in quali.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Question for Tanabe-san. Can you just talk through exactly what you’re able to do between races to identify faults like you had least weekend? There isn’t much time, so how do you action staff in the UK and Japan to perform your analysis?
TT: As soon as we got the logging data, we analysed the data at the track, and then later we checked the car, and then, especially for Alex’s car, we removed the parts from the PU and there’s some shipped to Sakura R&D in Japan and some shipped to Milton Keynes and then we run those parts from the suspect PU, run on dyno and recreate very similar conditions as race. Then we analyse that data again.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Mid-Day) Question to all three, mostly to Guenther and Fred. There’s been a lot of talk about the biosphere and the bubble and Charles having gone back to Monaco and Valtteri having gone back also to Monaco. Do you know exactly what you are and aren’t allowed to do in maintaining this biosphere? And Tanabe-san, you’ve got, as an engine supplier, you’ve got staff working across different teams. How do you make sure you keep the bubble and biosphere intact?
FV: The rule is clear, we were allowed to go back to the factory for serious reasons. I don’t want to comment for the Charles story or Valtteri but the rule is clear that you have to perform the test again before going back to the track. I did one, two days ago, and another one this morning. I think it’s the safest place in the world. Everybody did tonnes of tests and I think that the rule is respected by everybody.
Q: Guenther, your take on it?
GS: Yeah, as Fred said, it’s a very safe place here, you know? There is clear rules that when you come in here, you need to be tested, so I don’t know what happened with Charles and Valtteri but maybe it’s a story on social media – but if they get checked in the beginning I think that’s OK and it’s quite clear what you have to do and what not to do here. So, we all know that and what I’ve seen, all the people working in F1 are very disciplined. I think we try our best. For sure mistakes happen – always – but nobody’s trying to undermine the issue intentionally or try to be smart about it. I feel very safe here. If any of us get it here, I will be very surprised.
Q: Tanabe-san, is it complicated by you supplying multiple teams?
TT: Yes. It is a little bit difficult for us to work separately but for our members to be safe, also teams safe, we completely follow the FIA direction, also team direction. Maybe the same as this conference, we use web meeting as much as we can and then we communicate between the two teams’ members. So far it’s worked well but definitely we keep working on our safety. That’s very important for us and then Formula 1.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Question for Fred. I just wanted to know if there are any future plans for Robert Kubica in terms of his practice outings this year? We saw him make his first appearance of the season today. What more is he going to be doing in terms of FP1 sessions through this season?
FV: We plan to do four or five sessions during the season but the issue with the new calendar is that we have also to reschedule everything. He is racing in DTM also, it means we have to find solutions but we will do it. I think it’s a great added value for the team in terms of understanding of the car and he’s bringing a nice contribution.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Good-day Gentleman. Obviously the budget cap has been reduced substantially now to $145million but given that a driver is a performance differentiator, or is accepted as being one, would you like to see driver salaries, either capped and/or included in the budget cap? That’s to the two team principals.
GS: I have nothing against a driver cap or a driver salary cap, whatever you want to call it. I don’t see a problem for us in it because we are so far off it, whatever it will be. So, I’m not pushing it or anything but I think at some stage it will be a good idea to put it in the budget cap, because, as you said, it’s a performance differentiator. So for sure if you spend a lot of money on a driver then you cannot do other things. That should level the playing field even more and I think the salaries would adjust by themselves and they would end up lower than they are now. So, I think, I’m not faced with the problem, to be high in salaries because we are not even at the budget cap, so in the end, any of these proposals, I will be OK with it, so long as the amount is within some reason.
FV: I’m OK with Guenther. The only point is that it would be a bit strange to exclude the highest salary of the team and not to include the drivers. If we are taking this direction we have to include everybody into the cost cap.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To all three please, but mainly the two team principals. We’re straight back into a ‘normal’ grand prix weekend schedule. We didn’t have the opportunity in the end to try a reverse grid qualifying race for the second part of the double header. I just wanted to know what you make of it being an identical format the second week in a row. Do you think this was a missed opportunity to try to do something different?
FV: Spielberg would have been difficult because to base the classification on the result of race one would have been a bit difficult because you can have the temptation to stop the race if you are not into the points. But I think I was positive for this for the rest of the season, for Silverstone and if we have to do another development later into the season I think it was a good opportunity. It’s also part of the skill of the drivers to be able to overtake but let’s see for the future. But we have tons of things to sort out this season.
Q: Guenther, missed opportunity?
GS: Yes, I agree. In my opinion we should have done it and as Fred said it would have been difficult as it was the first race but we could have used the standing from last year’s World Championship to start the qualifying race, or something like this. There would be other opportunities to do that, how to start that one. Hopefully it comes back on the agenda that we do this. And as I’ve always said, if it doesn’t work we need to brave enough to say it didn’t work and go back to what we know from, before. Sometimes trying helps because there is not a lot we can lose. Again, I hope it comes back and we try it and then we know and we are not sitting here speculating whether it is a missed opportunity or not. It worked or it didn’t and we move one and come up with the next good idea if this didn’t work.
TT: I have no comment.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines/racefans.net) A question for Tanabe-san. The way that I understand it at the moment, Honda is committed to Formula 1 until the end of 2021. Is there any talk about extending that commitment? Has any decision been taken in Japan about possibly remaining in Formula 1 after that period?
TT: I’m not involved in the contract scene very much but I just heard that the discussion is underway. I haven’t heard any result yet. That’s the current status.
Q: Tanabe-san, how does the freezing of the power unit development affect you and your plans for 2021 and beyond?
TT: The freezing is not what we want. But that decision is, I think, the right reaction and the right decision for all of the manufacturers and teams considering this social situation. I think people need to work very hard on how to optimize, how to use the PU with kind of the same spec. We need to spend more time on that kind of simulation or analysing.
Q: Guenther, coming to you. Frustrating weekend for the team last weekend. Has team owner Gene Haas set the team any goals for this season?
GS: No. it’s very difficult to set goals in a season like this. I think that went out of the window at the start of the season, when we didn’t know if we were starting. With the shutdown it’s just that the financial situation has changed. We obviously have less income and so on. You cannot put a goal on a season like this – he knows that. I think we try to do our best and make him happy. It’s very difficult in the moment, as we saw last weekend, a frustrating weekend. But you never give up. You keep on working and everybody is working hard to make the situation better within our means.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines/racefans.net) A question for the two team principals. Jean Todt said last week that there were Concorde Agreement discussions happening. A) Were you two involved and invited, and B) How do you see the progress on the Concorde Agreement please?
FV: Yeah, the discussions are ongoing. For sure, we stop a little bit the discussions during the COVID system and the new regulation answer, but now we are back to the topic and I hope we will have be able to finalise an agreement in the next few weeks.
GS: As Fred says, the discussions have started again. To answer one of Dieter’s questions, we were involved in the beginning on the Concorde Agreement, obviously a lesser amount than the big teams as they have more things to sort out but otherwise FOM was trying to be as fair as possible with all 10 teams.
Q: One last question from me to Fred. More points for Antonio last weekend. Little bit disappointed not to see you cutting his hair after the race, as you did last year. What’s the bet with him for 2020?
FV: He did it for me.
GS: He wants it for him the hair; that’s what he wants!
FV: I think he did a good second part of the season last year and he didn’t race the two years before and we have to keep it in mind. He did a strong second part of the season and it was a good start to 2020. Now, we have to keep the same pace and the same path for the next few races but it’s not just a matter to score points on the first one, but we have to be consistent and it will be the target for everybody in the team, including Antonio.
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES - Otmar SZAFNAUER (Racing Point), Mario ISOLA (Pirelli), Claire WILLIAMS (Williams)
Q: A quick question from me to start. We’ve had calendar announcements from Formula 1 with confirmation of races at Mugello and Sochi. I’d love to get your reaction on that please?
Claire Williams: Firstly, I think Formula 1, the FIA, everybody has done an extraordinary job to bring us all back racing and to do it so safely. I imagine it’s incredibly hard work trying to co-ordinate where we are going racing after these initial eight races that have been confirmed, so to hear that more races have been put on the calendar is great news. Clearly we want to go racing as much as possible in the safest possible way. Russia we know. Mugello is an unknown – I think we used to go testing there many, many moons ago. Yeah, we’re looking forward it. I think it will give the engineers a challenge. But I think it’s fantastic that F1 is putting all these new races on the calendar.
Mario Isola: Yeah, I fully agree with Claire. It’s great to be back, it’s great to have a calendar now made of 10 races. Mugello is a circuit that we know, because we raced there with other series. It’s quite hard on tyres, so we need to be well prepared for this circuit. In mid-September it’s also possible to have high temperatures. Last time we went there with a Formula 1 car was 2012, so a long time ago. But happy to have a second race in Italy. We are Italians so we like the idea to have a second race in Italy. I hope it will be a great race and a great celebration of this very nice circuit.
Q: First time since 2006 that we’ll have two races in Italy. And Otmar, please?
Otmar Szafnauer: There isn’t much else to say. I agree with Claire and Mario. It’s wonderful to see two more races added and I think that’s testament to the hard work that was done to make sure that we can race safely. We’ve shown that in the first weekend and with the second weekend coming up now and if we stick to the protocols that have been put in place then it looks like we can race safely and that will mean many more races after Russia as well.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) A question to Otmar. You have Checo under contract until 2022 and presumably Lance is on a long-term commitment as well. So, are you at this point in a position to provide a firm no towards being able to offer Sebastian Vettel a drive for 2021?
OS: Well, like I’ve said before, it’s flattering that everyone this that a four-time world champion would come to our team, but maybe that’s because the car is a bit quicker now. You’re absolutely right, we have long contracts with both our drivers, so it would only be logical that we don’t have space.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines/racefans.net) A driver is generally accepted as being a performance differentiator. Given that we differentiate performance via the budget cap on aero etc, how do you feel about including driver salaries within the budget cap or alternatively having a capo on a driver’s salary? And do you believe that any form of cap would possibly chase away the superstars from the sport?
OS: I’m definitely in favour of including the driver salaries within the cap because it forces teams to make those decisions. Do you spend your money on a driver or do you take one that doesn’t cost you so much and spend it elsewhere on performance. To answer your first questions, Dieter, I’m in favour of having the salaries within the budget cap. Your second one is a hypothetical one as to if that happens will the superstars go do something else? I believe that even having the driver salaries within the cap their salaries would still be higher than what they would get at other racing series.
CW: I would tend to agree with Otmar. As you say, Dieter, drivers are performance differentiators and in order to get a much more equitable playing field in this sport, as the financial regulations are there to do, then I think it’s absolutely critical that anyone who is performance related should be part of that cost cap. I wholeheartedly agree with it. And again, as Otmar said, I think that the likelihood of drivers being discouraged from participating in our sport would probably be minimal, just simply because this is the highest echelon of motorsport and it’s a destination where drivers want to be racing.
Q: On the subject of drivers, George said yesterday that his future is in your hands. What are your plans for him?
CW: I feel quite a lot of pressure, George’s future being in my hands. George is on a three-year contract with the team, he’s in his second year and he’s done a fantastic job for Williams. Everybody knows how difficult it was for all of us last year, not least for George, and he always held his head up high and he always went out there with an incredibly positive outlook, even in moments that were difficult for him and we’re incredibly appreciative of that at Williams. George is a great talent. He’s clearly got huge ambitions and we want to be able to give him the machinery that he can get out there and score points with, but at the moment we’ve got two driver contracted to the team for 2021 and I’m reluctant to say anything else on the matter.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Claire, I just wondered if you could give an update on the team’s look for a possible investor or buyer. You said in the announcement a couple of months ago there was a three to four-month window you were looking at. Are there any updates you can give at this point?
CW: Only to say that we are happy with the process and how it is going so far. We have received a number of interesting potential investors and we are talking to those at the moment and they are of a high quality, which we are delighted about and we continue to go through that process at the moment. As you said, at the start of it we anticipated that it would taker three to four months and we’re still on that timeline at the moment.
Q: (Abishek Takle – Mid-day) Question to Claire and Otmar. As team principals, in terms of maintaining this biosphere, what exactly are you allowed and not allowed to do between races when it comes to travel and things like that, and activities away from the track? And for Mario, as a supplier, how difficult is it for you with people working across multiple teams to maintain the biosphere?
OS: We’ve been pretty strict and discipline is what you need in order to maintain the biosphere. For example, we’re all in the same hotel and when we get back to the hotel our team are not allowed to go out in the town fort dinner for example, we have to eat dinner together within the hotel. We travel in little groups as well and those groups stay together at the track too. When we’re here in the paddock we make sure we stay within our team and we don’t have interaction with others. I think it’s important to have that vigilance and if we do that and follow the protocol then I’m very confident that we’ll all stay safe.
CW: We’ve followed the same protocols that Otmar has outlined. We haven’t been able to all be in the same hotel as one team but the team has remained in its bubble and we have been very careful to ensure that those guidelines are being adhered to by all our team personnel. It’s not easy, when everyone is away. It’s hard and you want to be able to go out, but we want to be able to do the right thing by our sport. A lot of people have put a lot of hard work in behind the scenes to make sure that is safe to go racing again and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardise that. So we have stayed within our bubble away from the race track, not going out, and obviously we have followed all the guidelines that have been put in place while we’re here. I think that Formula 1 has done a fantastic job in the first week that we have been away. I know that there have been north of 4,000 tests that have taken place and not one has returned back as a positive. That is testimony to all the hard work that everybody is putting in in order to make sure that we respect the protocols that have been put in place.
MI: We instituted similar protocols to the teams, the difference is that we have people everywhere across the teams. That is why we… at the beginning we decided to keep a Pirelli bubble rather than allocating engineers inside a team bubble and thanks to the co-operation of the teams we now have an area that is dedicated to Pirelli. It is not easy to work like that because obviously without any access to the garage our engineers have no possibility to check the tyres and to take data and measurements but it is necessary so we are happy to continue with this approach for as long as it is necessary to do that. We have to give a clear indication to our personnel but also to rely on individual responsibility because obviously that is the main point, strict protocols and procedures but explaining how important it is to follow these procedures, not just telling them you have to stay in your room at the hotel and that’s all, but to make them aware of the risks and consequences if they behave in not the way we want.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Claire, if I can just follow up Luke’s earlier question. You mentioned you were talking to a number of potential investors. When you initially announced this, you talked about anything was on the table including the potential sale of the team. I wondered if any of the parameters have changed, whether you’re now talking more about an investment than an outright sale?
CW: No, the parameters haven’t changed, Alan, and obviously, as everybody knows, Williams is a listed company, we have to operate as per the takeover code and panel and their guidelines, that they dictate and that’s why the strategic review process is as it is. We are looking for either investment into the team, the disbursement of a minority or a majority shareholder or core sales. We’re still thinking along any of those lines. The options are available to us and it will be the board’s decision as to the best option that’s put on the table.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To all three of you, but starting with the two team principals: we’ve obviously not got a reverse grid qualifying race this weekend. Just wanted to know if you feel that this has been a missed opportunity and what do you think the reasons are for having an identical second weekend at the same track?
OS: Well, we discussed the reverse grid qualifying. As you saw, even last weekend, this track can be really hard on brakes. We saw, perhaps, some brake failures and unfortunately, to have a reverse grid and then go into parc fermé and then have another race, our car, for example, wouldn’t have been able to do that, to have a short race and then with the same car finish a race. I think those types of decisions have to be made early enough, before the design process starts, such that you can design the car for those parameters. And as far as was it a missed opportunity? I think the weather will show us that although the same track, we’re going to have two different races here.
CW: For somebody who for many years has always been espousing the real DNA of our sport, funnily enough I was fairly in favour of the reverse grid, but maybe that would come as no surprise. I would have loved to have seen a Williams line up on pole. But you know, it does go against, I think, the true DNA of our sport and I’m not a person that actually thinks that Formula 1 needs these kind of gimmicky things, I suppose, if I can call them that, to make the sport more exciting. I think that the sport is incredibly exciting. I think invariably, pretty much every race we go to delivers some incredibly exciting racing and I think Austria, the first race that we’ve been to last weekend, did exactly that and I’m sure, as Otmar just said, with the weather conditions that we’re anticipating over the next 24 hours, I think it could be a very different race that we’ll have on Sunday as well. I’m sure the fans at home are just delighted that we’re all back racing and that we’re giving them something to watch, some sport to watch on a Saturday and Sunday afternoons and we just need to put on a good show, and I’m sure that we will.
MI: Yes, I think it’s not very easy to take the right decision or to consider that a missed opportunity. I remember when we were in lockdown a number of proposals had been discussed on how to make the second race at the same circuit more interesting, or creating some unpredictability. That was one of the proposals on the table. Another one is what we are going to implement at Silverstone, for example, with the different compound choices. So any idea is good. Then we have to consider the pros and cons and come to a final decision, so I don’t think it’s a missed opportunity, it’s just a decision that was taken, involving the majority of the people.
Q: Mario, staying with you, it’s the first races for the 18 inch Formula 2 tyres last weekend. What feedback did you get from the teams and the drivers?
MI: It was a very positive weekend, talking about Formula 2. We had great racing. Comments from drivers were positive. The 18 inch tyres are different compared to what they are used to drive but I believe that was a great start. Last year we had some indication during the development that was a very good product so happy to have these 18-inch tyres in Formula 2. We have the possibility to collect useful data also for F1 in 2022. Obviously we are talking about two completely different championships and cars but it’s nice to see this product in a real race environment and not during a test, it’s totally different so it’s good information for us.
Q: (Laurence Edmondson – ESPN) Another question to Claire: since the start of the year, we’ve seen ROKIT disappear as your title sponsorship. Can you give any more details on exactly how that relationship broke down and has it left any shortfall in income that will actually impact the performance and any updates coming to the car this year?
CW: As you would probably imagine, for legal reasons I can’t go into any further detail around the termination of our ROKIT sponsorship except to say that we terminated it and yet we fulfilled all of our contractual obligations with ROKIT. Unfortunately, it was a fantastic partnership for us at the beginning and we’re incredibly disappointed that we’re in this situation but it is what it is and we have to move on. We have some very clever people at Williams that manage our money and we’ve managed to secure the funding in order to keep us racing this year so that doesn’t change. So it has no impact on what we are able to do this season, whether that be with regards to the upgrades that we had planned etc. But apart from that, I’m afraid I can’t say a whole lot more.
Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Question for both team principals: we’ve had some more races on the calendar added today but we don’t have a full schedule confirmed yet. Obviously that’s where it’s got to be at the moment but is there anything from a sporting perspective that you find difficult or challenging from the basis that you started the season not knowing how many points you’re actually racing for?
OS: Yeah, for sure it’s difficult to plan. I’ll give you an example: we’re working hard on upgrading this car and it would be really nice to know the entire schedule so you can plan your upgrades, as one example. But I think, also, having triple headers… I remember a couple of years back we had one and I think all the teams complained at that point. It was too difficult and now it seems like they’re coming thick and fast. We have to get through this period, I think it’s great that we’re adding races even if it is a triple header we’ll figure out how to do it and like Claire said earlier, I think the racing was fantastic in the first one that we had and I believe that we’ll have some great racing throughout the year, even at the newer circuits that we haven’t been to for a while.
CW: Yeah, I would just be echoing everything that Otmar said, I suppose. The only thing that I would add is that clearly we’ve got challenges with the new schedule. We’ve got racetracks that we don’t know, that we haven’t been to. We can’t necessarily plan because we don’t know what races are coming down the line later on in the season. We’ve got a rough estimate that we’re working to but that obviously could change. But I suppose for us, the most important thing, and certainly when we had come back from Australia and we didn’t know what a potential season could look like, the very fact that we are going racing, the very fact that F1 are working so hard to put as many races on the calendar as possible, is really all the focus, certainly at Williams, for a team like ours that is so wholly reliant on that prize fund money, we need as many races on the calendar as possible, to just make sure that that prize fund pot doesn’t get depressed even further than it has already been over having lost the first - however many - eight races at the beginning of this year, yes, there are challenges but we’re prepared to meet them and do our best to work against those challenges in order to ensure that we have as many races on the schedule as possible this season.
Q: Mario, on this topic, how much notice does Pirelli need prior to an event?
MI: We made a schedule to agree with the FIA and FOM the time we need in terms of weeks. It is not easy for us to produce and deliver the tyres in time but obviously with this idea to have a fixed allocation, we are a bit more flexible. We can start the production even if we don’t know the calendar exactly so having a stock of tyres that is available we speed up also the delivery of the tyres, we try to give our contribution to make it possible, but as you can imagine, it’s a challenge.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racefans/racefans.net) To the two team principals: last week Jean Todt said that they were visiting the Concorde Agreement discussions last weekend. How involved have the two of you been in terms of the Concorde Agreement recently and how hopeful are you that it will all be signed fairly soon, so that Formula 1 has a direction for next year?
CW: I think prior to Australia and corona taking over, I think that we had reached a fairly – certainly at Williams, anyway – a fairly good point with the Concorde negotiations but corona has obviously put a pause on those discussions, but I know that F1 are looking to put those up now sooner rather than later and clearly to get that signed would be beneficial for the sport as a whole but certainly for our team, particularly, based on the situation that Williams is in at the moment, so we’re looking forward to picking it up and moving it forward and closing it out sooner rather than later, as I said.
OS: Recently there hasn’t been much activity around Concorde, not a lot of work, but I anticipate that will change in the near future.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport.com) Claire, there were reports recently that Toto Wolff has a five per cent shareholder in Williams, which is a bit confusing because in 2016 it was communicated that he sold off all his remaining shares and he has cut his final ties to Williams. Can you clarify if those reports are correct and if yes, where does this shareholding originate from?
CW: So the reports weren’t correct. Toto, as everybody knows, bought a shareholding a long time back now, back in 2010 from Frank and Patrick. He then, obviously, subsequently joined Mercedes and as part of that move he obviously had to divest his shareholding. Brad Hollinger, who is one of our minority shareholders at Williams and a non-exec director, bought the majority of those shares from Toto but has not completed on that remaining five per cent so they have returned to Toto’s hands. Toto has not bought new shares in the business in the recent past or the near past. It was just an issue with a transaction.
Q: (Philip Horton – Motorsportweek.com, via email) Claire, how pleasing was it to be back racing again last weekend. Can you be confident that this isn’t specific to one track and when are you planning to bringing your next updates?
CW: I’m smiling under my mask at that question! Last weekend was a lovely turning point for the team and I know I mustn’t get carried away, I know it was race one, but we have talked for so many months now about the work that we have been doing at the team, behind the scenes, to bring about that change in performance. It’s been an incredibly difficult two years for everybody at Williams, to keep turning up, I have to congratulated the team both here and at the factory, because everybody has put in so much effort and everybody particularly coming racing, it’s been incredibly difficult to keep turning up, knowing that we wouldn’t get out of Q1, that there was no chance of scoring points etc and so it was really wonderful to show the world that we have delivered on our promises of bringing progress to our team and to be able to close that gap to P8/P9. We have a long way to go still but it certainly felt like exoneration on Sunday, that we had shown that we had made a step forward. We’ve got work still to do, as I said, but it just feels wonderful to go racing again. That’s why Williams is in this sport, to race and to do that on Sunday was wonderful, as I said, and I hope that we continue to do that over the balance of this season.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) For the two team principals on the COVID protocol: we know how important these races are for both Formula 1 and the teams financially, to get the season done. We’ve seen what appeared to have been some breaches of the COVID protocol. I wondered how concerned either of you are that this bubble may not hold up because of the actions of individuals?
OS: That is a concern of mine. I make sure our team and we have other team members as well – we brought our health and safety officer, for example, to the first race to make sure that there are no breaches at all in our team. It’s a difficult thing to do when you have 80 people to look after and you just have to make sure that we communicate with them, they understand the risks, they understand the reason for the protocols and once you have a good understanding yourself it’s a lot easier to adhere to the protocols. First and foremost, I try to do that with our team but secondly, I think the FIA should look further and make sure that everybody is doing it. We saw, for example, in some of the support race paddocks, they’re not quite as vigilant as we are and then come into our paddock and… We all have to stay vigilant because, like you say, if there is an outbreak here and we have to miss races, that would be disastrous.
CW: Yeah, I don’t want to necessarily comment on any particular breaches. I don’t think it’s my place to do so. All I can say is that in what Otmar has said, we are doing the best that we can in our team to ensure that everybody within Williams adheres to the protocols that have been put in place and respects the guidelines.