FIA Team Principals press conference – Belgium
Part One: Nikolas TOMBAZIS (FIA), Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), Hywel THOMAS (Mercedes – via Zoom)
Q: Christian, please, can we start with you. And let's kick things off by talking about the 2026 power unit regulations, which have now been confirmed by the FIA. How important are these rules for the future of Formula 1, and for the future of Red Bull Powertrains?
Christian HORNER: Well, obviously extremely important to get clarification of exactly what those rules are going to be for 2026. Whilst it seems a long way away, it's still effectively tomorrow in engine terms, so there's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, going backwards and forwards over these regulations, because it's not just the technical specification, it's the sporting regulations and, of course, the introduction of the financial regs. So, you know, I guess with, like with all these things, compromises need to be found. And we're pleased that regulations are now released, that we know what we're designing an engine to, exactly, with compression ratios fixed and other architecture fixed, which has moved slightly from where discussion started, but I think it's good to have that clarity now, to be cracking on for 2026.
Q: While we’re talking ’26, Hywel, can I bring you in please. As an established manufacturer in Formula 1, what are the changes for ’26 mean for you?
Hywel THOMAS: The changes for ’26 are still quite broad. It's a whole new power unit. We look forward to the challenge and are excited by it. The increase in the electrification of the power unit, the increase in the size of what up until now has been the MGU-K, that's, that's going to be hugely important and very different, and links well to what is going on in the road car environment. And then, of course, to go with that the sort of reduction in output of the combustion engine, but the conversion over to running with sustainable fuel, is going to be another challenge. And that fuel challenge is going to be it's going to be a big part of this regulation set. And very, very important that we are we are approaching those environmental issues at a good time for the sport and for everybody.
Q: And how much of HPP is focusing on 2026 now?
HT: Well, we've got a project team working on 2026. We continue to push very hard in our existing programmes as well. We've got a couple of projects coming to an end such as the Formula E, which means we're able to move some other people over to the 2026 programme, which is exciting. And really, as the one of the things with the current regulations are the regulations between now and 2026. They very much encouraged us to reduce the amount of engineering and the amount of business that is working on the existing product, by reducing things like the dyno hours, so it's a bit of a moveable feast. We've got a good-sized project team already working on it and have done for a little while, as I'm sure everybody has. And as we go forward, we're going to have to move more across because, as Christian says, although 2026 seems a long way away, it's going to very quickly approach.
Q: Nikolas, can we bring you in now? A huge amount of work has gone into these new regulations by the FIA. Can you give us a timeline of how we got to this point?
Nikolas TOMBAZIS: Yes, good morning. This really started in the autumn of 2020. That's when we started having some internal discussions about the direction we wanted to go and set some key objectives. Then, around about January of 2021, we had the first meetings with the top management and the CEOs of the various power unit manufacturers and involved power unit suppliers, and potential newcomers. And we shared objectives with them. And after that, we had a range of meetings and iterations and negotiations. It was quite a long and hard process because all the stakeholders had a slightly different angle and slightly different objectives and to try to find somewhere which could be a good compromise was quite hard. And that work continued until July and round about the end of July, we were ready with some finalised rules to go to the World Council.
Q: On the topic of sustainable fuels, that's certainly one of the most intriguing elements for ’26. How is the development of those fuels going with the manufacturers?
NT: They've been very supportive. And I must also stress, not only the PU manufacturers, but also the various fuel suppliers. They see it as an opportunity to develop those products. We've worked very hard to a) achieve the message that this is fully sustainable part of the fuel but b) also to make them road-relevant and to avoid some of the more exotic components, but have a slightly more tight specification which is related to what these fuel suppliers are going to have on the road cars. And I think, again, that was a discussion that started with the fuel suppliers. Probably the first meeting was in April of 2021. And we finally got to a reasonably converged specification of fuel about a year later. So, that also has been quite a hard negotiation and, and discussion between all involved people.
Q: Christian, if we could come back to you now. We heard yesterday that Audi are coming into Formula 1 in ’26 as a power unit supplier, certainly. Can we get your thoughts on that, please?
CH: Well, I think it's great that there are new manufacturers and there's new interest coming into Formula 1 and Audi’s announcement yesterday is obviously a significant one with a really first class brand. It’s testament to where the sport is, the popularity of the sport that the manufacturers are looking to re-enter Formula 1. And of course, the regulations have played a key aspect in that and the ability for a newcomer to be competitive is fundamental to the introduction of these regulations. So, it's, it's great that Audi confirmed their participation yesterday. And, you know, obviously, there's others that are, are showing interest for the future. So, you know, exciting times for Formula 1, and we look forward to seeing them on the grid in 2026.
Q: And Christian, staying with you. In other news, just wondering your thoughts on Daniel Ricciardo’s future, he's going to be dropped by McLaren at the end of the year, were you surprised by the news? And do you think he still has something to give in Formula 1?
CH: I'm not aware that he's designing an engine for the future. But look, it's obviously a tricky one. I mean, Daniel, the time that he spent with us, he grew up as a junior driver within the Junior Programme winning the Formula 3 Championship. And then obviously, stepping in through Toro Rosso into Red Bull Racing. And what he achieved with us, was phenomenal. You know, third in the World Championship twice, I think, seven victories, and many, many podiums, and it's a great shame to see that he's struggling and hopefully he can find a seat in Formula 1 moving forward. I think Formula 1 would miss him. He's a big character. He's a big personality, and I don't think I don't think we’re seeing the real Daniel Ricciardo at the moment, so it'd be great to see him find his mojo again, and hopefully find a reasonable Seat in Formula 1 for next year.
Q: Hywel, coming back to you. Can we get your reaction to the news that Audi will be entering the sport in ’26 please?
HT: It's clearly very, very exciting. There was a large part of the regulation discussion which was about making sure that we did have a set of regulations that did knock down some of those barriers to entry. So, it's fantastic to have got to the end of that process and realise that we have knocked down those barriers so that we can get some to new entrants. And of course, we'll look forward with, with great excitement to competing against them, because they're going to be formidable characters, and they're going to be a formidable team for us to compete with. And that's what we look forward to, in any competition.
Q: And Hywel, looking at the 2022 season as a whole, it's been a tough one for you guys, no doubt. Can you give us some insight into how you face the challenges of this year at Brixworth?
HT: I think at Brixworth, I think we've probably faced it in a very similar way to the way that the team has in Brackley, which is that you’ve just got to get your head down. You've got to be able to understand where there are opportunities for you. And of course, we know with the PU being frozen from a hardware perspective, there aren't very many opportunities, but you've got to look for those opportunities. And you've got to work hard, you've got to look after your reliability. And just keep your head down and just keep doing the things that you've done well over the previous years that have been successful, and just keep going. That's how we've approached it.
Q: Nikolas, coming back to you. From an FIA standpoint, how important are the ’26 regs going to be in attracting further manufacturers, and guaranteeing the sustainability of the sport going forward?
NT: Well, obviously, even yesterday's news in itself is pretty monumental. And I think it is fantastic to have, immediately after the approval of these rules, confirmation by a major manufacturer, a major brand like that, join the sport. That is, I think, a fantastic addition. It was one of the key objectives in the early days to make regulations that would make that possible. I mean, obviously, each race out on the track starts at three o’clock on Sunday afternoon from the same line. In the technical race, which goes over many years. If the regulations had stayed as they are now, everybody else would be many years behind. And especially with the addition of the financial regulations, it would have been virtually impossible for anybody to ever catch up. And I think that would have put away, put off anybody joining the sport. So, one of the key objectives alongside all the environmental and other messages and cost and so on, close racing, whatever, one of the key objectives was to make it attractive. And I think yesterday's announcement by Audi was a vote of confidence.
Q: The technical directive regarding porpoising has come into effect this weekend at Spa. For those who are unclear, can you tell us, remind us, why there is the need to introduce this rule?
NT: Well, obviously there's been a lot of discussion about this topic. We had concerns about the safety and about the long-term effects of porpoising which is why we felt compelled to make some amendments. And it has to be said, safety is one of the topics that falls squarely into the FIA’s prerogative because it cannot be clouded by competitive positions and so on. I’ve been on the other side of the fence when you are in a team and the only thing you worry about there – I mean, obviously you care about safety – but the only thing you worry about is your competitive position. The championship fight is so intense that always, that prevails, and that's why it cannot be falling into the normal process, in order to introduce changes. So this TD, and some minor rule changes, introduced for Spa effectively introduce the measurement of the porpoising and a stiffer underside of the car, in order to have parity across the grid. And then there's been some… following a lot of negotiations and even the President got involved very closely to this topic and discussed it with all the teams, all the drivers and we've made some compromises and some amendments also for next year
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Hywel, you spoke about the fact that it's a completely new power unit, but I believe that a lot has been carried over, certainly on the ICE side for the new regulations. And then you spoke about lowering the barriers to entry. So the question is, how much can actually be carried over? And then to Christian, have the barriers to entry actually been lowered sufficiently to make it attractive? I know that you're still looking at your programme, but has it been diluted in any way?
HT: In terms of carryover, the lower half… there's a non-competition part of the internal combustion engine. And the regulations in there are pretty tight in terms of some of the dimensions, some of the technologies that can used, some of the materials. And they match pretty closely to what we are currently racing. So, there's a big carryover in those sort of technology areas. But it's not actual carryover, if that makes sense. Because although our componentry is very close to what is now in the regulations, it isn't exactly the same. So, there's very much… the combustion engine is split into a competition half and a non-competition half and the non-competition half is very, very similar, but not quite carryover. I hope that makes sense.
CH: Yeah, I mean, look, obviously as the engine has evolved, it has become, as Hywel was saying, there are large elements of carryover. And of course, that for a newcomer, when you're starting from scratch, is tremendously challenging, because despite perhaps the bottom end of the engine trying to be more prescriptive, there's always performance. Formula 1 engineers, time and time again, show how creative they are in finding performance. So, I think the biggest disadvantage for a newcomer are two aspects: one is that we have to catch up; we have to try and cover the ground of pretty much 10 years of these regulations; of know-how and knowledge that we don't have. And of course, within the budget cap constraints that there are, $10 million for a newcomer is pretty frugal, particularly in engine terms, to be able to catch up the knowledge and know-how, particularly with a with a carryover in, in the ICE technology. I think the other challenge for a newcomer within those financial regulations, again, is establishing your facility because of course, when you're starting from scratch, as Red Bull Powertrains has, you know within 55 weeks, we've created a factory and we've produced our first combustion engine, which is an enormous achievement – but there's still a long, long way to go in terms of manufacturing capacity, etcetera, etcetera. And there are timelines for that to be in place, some of which are a slightly unrealistic, and I think that, as a newcomer, it's a huge burden to try and get ourselves, facility-wise, to a position… we just want out there to be a level playing field, in that we can… we don't want to overshoot what the current incumbents have, but we want to be able to get to a point where we can have the same. And I guess, fundamentally, the safety net that was within the regulations, which I think, you know, something that will need to be revisited over time is, is effectively the safety net. That if a power unit manufacturer, misses the target, what is that allowance to correct that, so that we don't have massive disparity, as we saw at the introduction of the V6 era in 2014. So, you know, all work in progress, all comments that Nikolas is having his ear chewed on, and that the President has been heavily involved in.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) Nikolas, on the porpoising issue: teams appear to have the bouncing under control now and have been for a while and some of them feel it's unnecessary to make any further changes for next year. What's your response to the suggestions the FIA is going over the top in making floor changes that force some redesigns for next season?
NT: Well, first of all, there were even some examples of porpoising yesterday. And we see that generally speaking with increase of performance, there's also a tendency to increase that phenomenon, while at the same time teams are learning more about it and they can control it better. Now, we have to act responsibly in the sport. We see examples of other sports who have ignored the long-term effects of certain conditions they subject the sportsmen under, so we felt we had to take the long-term view on this. And we felt it was… These regulations will continue until 2025, inclusive before we go to new regulations for ‘26. And we felt it was better to act early than to be here discussing the same thing again in one year's time and so on. So, it was the combination of all of these factors, plus, of course, we did compromise, as I said, earlier. The President got heavily involved in all of this compromise and therefore I think we came up with the right solution in the end. But we've got no doubt that some people on one side of the argument would say it was too much, and other people will say to us too little. That's normal.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) A question to Christian but also to Hywel, from the Mercedes point of view. You've talked a little bit, Christian, about what you have been able to build at Red Bull Powertrains so far, but without the concrete 2026 regs how restricted were you with what you were able to prepare? And what does having these 2026 regs unlock in terms of developing and I would just like Hywel’s point of view as well, from an established manufacturer’s perspective?
CH: I mean, the engine we've created has been based on the knowledge that, obviously, has been discussed throughout the technical forums within the power unit. So thankfully it's not totally irrelevant to what the regulations are. And it was important for us to get that first rung on the ladder, so the first ever engine, designed and produced by Red Bull was a, you know, historic moment for the company to see that fire into life just prior to the summer to the summer break. But, of course, now with that clarity of regulations of turbo capacity of compression ratios, of piston specification etc, etc, enables that development, you know, to continue in the timeline that we have between now and 2026, which within a cost cap controlled environment is a significant challenge.
HT: Yes, very similar comments to those made by Christian, to be honest with you. We've been able to do our early development work based on knowledge that we've got from participating in all the discussions up to now. We had the framework document released at the end of last year, which gives us huge clues, technically, and we've participated in the other forums. So, whilst there are changes that have come in at the last minute, and that's always the case, the way you get ahead is to take what you've got and do the best with it. And that's exactly what we've done in I’m sure the same way that all the manufacturers that already knew will have done.
Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsport-magazin.com) The question is for Nikolas. So the ICE is limited by the fuel flow now and with the new regs as well, but the change is that it's not measured by volume or mass anymore. It's measured by energy. Can you explain the thinking behind that and can you explain how it is exactly measured?
NT: Well, first of all, it is more logical to be measured by energy, because as the fuel regulations permit, slightly different chemical compositions, let's say, it is more sensible that, ultimately, how much energy or power can be extracted out of that fuel is the regulating parameter. Now, for each fuel that will be measured through specialised laboratories, out of the perimeter of a grand prix weekend, and each fuel will have an energy content in it and as a result, we know that for example, for Fuel A the mass flow rate will be, saying random numbers, 70 kilos per hour, for example, whereas for Fuel B it may be 70.5 kilos per hour or that sort of thing, and that will be how it will be limited. But essentially, this is logical. I wouldn't say it is of huge importance, but it's a step in the right direction.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) I'm just wondering, now we know about Audi and things like that and the new regulations that are coming in, how difficult will it be for a new manufacturer coming into the new 2026 engine regulations to kind of get up to speed and especially be competitive against the existing suppliers as well? I know, Christian, Red Bull have got their own power train thing coming in for 2026. But I just wonder how difficult will be for a team like Audi?
HT: Clearly, I don't work at Audi so difficult for me to exactly say, but the companies that are coming in… Someone like Audi is not new to making combustion engines, they're not new to making racing engines, and they're not new to electrical racing. So whilst I'm sure there will be a lot of new technology, a lot of differences. They'll have, I'm sure, a very capable engineering team and a very capable operations team to back that up. And yeah, it's going to be tough, but then it'll be tough for all of us. We've all got the same constraints in terms of the cost cap. We've all got the same constraints for physics. And I'm sure the engineering teams of all the groups will be looking at these regulations with a lot of excitement, and with a lot of plans of how they're going to exploit them.
CH: You absolutely shouldn't underestimate the scale of the challenge. I mean, it's massive when you look at the current incumbents that we're competing against, the longevity, the continuity that they've had. Of course, a company like Audi's reputation talks for itself. But the scale and the size of the challenge, as we've seen ourselves at Red Bull, is enormous, especially when you're starting from scratch. It's exciting, because it is a challenge and, you know, you have to believe anything is possible. And of course, the regulations are a key aspect to that, and the timing, you know, thankfully the regulations were delayed 12 months to 2026, otherwise, I don't think you would have seen either potentially Red Bull or Audi participating in the sport, but even 2026… You know, it's 10 past midnight and Cinderella's already buggered off. So, it's tight, but that's Formula 1 and that's some of the creativeness and drive that happens within the teams and, you know, it's going to be exciting to see more power unit manufacturers on the grid for 2026.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Christian, Red Bull chooses to present itself in a certain way with RB7s on ski slopes and drivers racing caravans, but what's the culture decision making process like behind closed doors away from the public eye? And how has that evolved since 2005?
CH: Well, I think the DNA of who we are hasn't really changed. I mean, Red Bull as a brand, it's pretty unique. It's a maverick brand, it’s a challenger brand. It embraces, you know, life, energetically, and through our Formula 1 activities, you know, that DNA runs throughout our team and throughout our business. And, you know, I think we've demonstrated that as a subsidiary of an energy drinks manufacturer that to take on brands like Mercedes, like Ferrari, and other manufacturers over the years, is entirely possible. And so, anybody saying that… You know, when we first came up with the idea of producing our own power unit you’d think we were completely nuts, to even dream of taking on the might of the suppliers and manufacturers that already exist in the sport. But I think in true Red Bull fashion we've embraced that challenge. And it's a people business and it's about getting the right people, the right facilities, the right culture, that share a like-minded vision and drive and ambition and believe that anything is possible. So that is exactly the approach that we are applying within the powertrains business. We've welcomed some great talent into the team and we are continuing to do so. It's exciting. It's slightly nuts, but it's exciting. And I think that you know, the challenge that lies ahead is significant. We're under no illusions about that. But you know, in true Red Bull fashion we're going to attack it and do it our way.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Another question for Christian. We mentioned the floor raises for next year. Red Bull was quite clear in its opposition to the 25 millimetre raise was initially tabled, it's ended up with 15. How happy are you with that? And does it still feel like a bit of an overreaction to the to the issue?
CH: Well, you know, my wife often tells me that size doesn't matter. So I'm not going to get too fussed about 10 millimetres. So, you know, 25 versus 15, we got to live with it and it is what it is. It's inconvenient to be introducing it at this time of time of year. It's incredibly late. But it's the same for everybody. Yeah, it is what it is, you know, we ended up negotiating on a number and we ended up at a number that was agreed.
Part Two: Mike KRACK (Aston Mafrtin), Otmar SZAFNAUER (Alpine), Andreas SEIDL (McLaren)
Q: Andreas, we'll start with you, please. News of Daniel Ricicardo’s departure from McLaren dominated the news agenda coming into the weekend. Please tell us how tough a call was it to drop Daniel?
Andreas SEIDL: Well, it was obviously sad and a sad day on Wednesday, making the announcement. But in the end, I guess, it was no secret that despite all the effort on Daniel’s side, on our side, despite the huge commitment also on both sides, despite having some great highlights together, like the win last year in Monza, we simply didn't manage together to achieve the results that we all had in mind. And that's why we had a lot of conversations, Zak and myself and Daniel in the last several months in order to see where we both stand, and in the end, unfortunately, with the fact that we still didn't get it to work we came to the conclusion that we wanted to make a change for next year and we came to this mutual agreement of an early termination of the contract, which is obviously not the outcome that we all had in mind. It didn't change anything else in terms of the respect I’m personally also having for Daniel, in terms of personality, in terms of the driver he is, but at the same time, it was important to have clarity now for both sides, to have time also for making up our plans for next year. And, we switch the main focus now in these last nine races with commitment on both sides to make sure we finish our time together on a on a high.
Q: Are you comfortable in the knowledge that the team did everything it could to make the relationship with Daniel work?
AS: Yeah, I'm obviously absolutely aware of the responsibility I'm having also in this. In order to perform on track for a driver it needs teamwork between the driver and the team and the fact is we simply didn't get it to work. We have to acknowledge that. But when I look at what we did on the team side as well, the same is valid for Daniel. I think we tried everything. But unfortunately, we reached some our dead end. We didn't know what to try next, which was obviously part of the decision as well.
Q: Well, talking of next, what happens next with regard to drivers.
AS: Yeah, as we said on Wednesday already, for us what’s important now, this week, that we focus on the announcement of Daniel, that we focus on the race weekend as well. We shouldn't forget that there's still an important quali and the race to do here in Spa, which is important for our battle in the Constructors’ Championship. And then regarding the future, that's something we will address from next week onwards.
Q: All right. Thank you, Andreas, I'm sure there'll be more questions for you in just a minute or so. Otmar, we'll come to you now, please. There have been conflicting messages from Oscar Piastri and the team in recent weeks. What are you doing to retain him for next season?
Otmar SZAFNAUER: Well, what we're doing to retain them is going to the CRB on Monday and we'll have the CRB decide which contract that Oscar signed takes precedence. And once we have that ruling, then we'll look forward and see where we go.
Q: How confident are you about Monday?
OS: Very. I've seen both sides of the argument and we're confident that Oscar signed with us back in November. And there are certain things that need to be in the contract and I'm confident they're in there.
Q: Okay, now this driver controversy all stems from Fernando Alonso’s move to Aston Martin. Did his decision catch you by surprise as it did the rest of the world?
OS: Well, there was paddock rumour on Sunday that that could happen. So not that big of a surprise. But the surprising bit was that we went a long way with Fernando and our negotiations with him. And, you know, we had good faith negotiations, we got to the final hurdle and Fernando indicated that he was ready to sign. As it turns out, you know, he was also negotiating with others, which we knew about. He was a free agent, and he was more than welcome to do so. But the only surprising bit was that it was announced Monday morning after on Sunday night he indicated that there was no need to rush, so that was the only surprising bit.
Q: Do you feel let down by Fernando?
OS: No, not at all. Like I said, he's a free agent. There's no obligation on Fernando's part to do anything else other than, you know, what right to do for himself. And, you know, I always say a deal has to be good for both sides. And if he found a deal that was better for him, then, you know, he should pursue it. And we put our best foot forward. Like I said, we had negotiations with him in good faith and we thought we were close to having a deal that was good for both sides. But no, he was a free agent and was free to do what he did.
Q: So you have one seat available for next year? Would the team have Daniel Ricciardo back?
OS: Well, I think the chronology is going to be, we're going to go to the CRB on Monday, I don't know when they'll rule, it will be soon thereafter, and then, once we have all the information in front of us, we'll start looking at who will fill the open seat.
Q: But would you have Daniel back if it came to that?
OS: Can I tell you after Monday? Because I might not even have to think about that!
Q: Otmar, there'll be more from the floor, I'm sure. Now, Mike, if we could come to you. So you have Fernando Alonso with you next year. Were you surprised by how quickly the deal came together?
Mike KRACK: No. Fernando said always thought he was not needing a lot of time to make to make a deal or have negotiations. So, that’s what he confirmed.
Q: What qualities are you expecting him to bring to the team?
MK: Unique qualities that are not very common in the paddock. It’s the combination of speed, hunger and experience. I think the more experienced drivers get, maybe the other two are missing a little bit and I think in this case, we have the combination of the three, and that for us made him the perfect candidate.
Q: You've had a four-time champion at the team, you're getting a two-time champion. Given the team's current stage of development, how important is it for Aston Martin to have that knowledge of victory and experience in the cockpit?
MK: For us to make the next step, it's super important to have a driver of this calibre. Such champions, they push you. They push you to the limit on and off the track. So that is, for us, super, super important, for us to grow as a team as a structure. And from that point of view, it was the ideal candidate.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsport-magazin.com) Otmar, why are you going to the CRB? Is it that you want the driver driving for you who doesn't want to drive for you? Or is it that you want some money back?
OS: Well, I think going to the CRB is the logical next step when you believe you have a valid contract with the driver and he signed something else. This has happened in the past. I just happened to be there when it happened to Jenson Button when he signed for Williams but BAR Honda rightfully took up his took up their option on Jenson. Jenson really wanted to go to Williams, BAR Honda won at the CRB and then had a great relationship with Jenson, culminating in a world championship, albeit that was the year after Honda left but it was still basically the same team.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) A lot has been made about linking a Fernando's departure and Oscar signing for McLaren. Andreas, can you confirm that you'd signed Oscar before you were aware of the fact that Fernando was actually leaving Alpine?
AS: Yeah, Dieter, it’s a nice try, but as I said before, I have no interest to comment on any driver names or scenarios. That's something we will address from next week onwards and then we will announce our plans in due course.
Q: (Edd Straw - The Race) Otmar, obviously you said Oscar signed a contract in November, Oscar said he's not signed for 2023 so can you offer a little bit more detail on what he signed in November? Was it something that was emphatic for 2023? Or was it contingent on certain things that you feel you've delivered? Where's the margin for the two sides of this disagreeing about how binding it is for ‘23?
OS: Well, I rarely like to talk about details of driver contracts but two things I can say: one, there was no ‘by the 31st of July you have to do some things or therefore you can get out’. There's none of. That 31st of July deadline that I read all the time is fictitious. It's not in the contract that he signed and the term of the contract is through 2024 with an option at the end of ‘23. So I'll just say those things, but there's a lot more in it but like I said, I don't really like to talk about specifics.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Otmar, Fernando has clearly cited that one of the motivating factors going to Aston is the room for growth, the potential there. You have an intimate knowledge of both setups so can you sell us on the Alpine dream and presumably why you think he's wrong, and that Alpine has a higher ceiling?
OS: I think Alpine are a bit further down the road with their ambitions to become World Champions. You know, we too, at Alpine are growing, growing significantly. We've put a programme together just before I got there as to the areas that need strengthening in order to vie for a World Championship. It was meant to be in 100 races. I think we're probably 11 races or 12 races into that now. We've made good progress in both strengthening core capabilities as well as the tools that we need to vie for World Championship and we're well on our way into that. We're not quite there yet, it takes time. Some of the people and talents that we need to complement with the already good people that we have there, sometimes it takes time to get them out or wait until their contracts are over but we're well on our way to doing that. And we'll continue to do so.
Q: (Adam Cooper - Motorsport.com) Otmar, after it all kicked off following Hungary you told us that Fernando was on holiday in Greece. He then appeared to troll you by putting pictures on social media, suggesting he was in his home town. On Thursday, he was very keen to tell us that he told Luca, Laurent, his engineers, the mechanics about the Aston move, but he didn't tell you. So what are your thoughts on that? Is your relationship with him a bit shaky? What's going on?
OS: No, not at all. You know me well, Adam, and you know I tell the truth and like it is. When I left Fernando on Sunday, he told me ‘look, don't worry, we've got time, I'm going to be on my boat in Greece, over the holiday.’ So that's all I knew. He invited me for a coffee. He said, ‘if you're in Greece, come to my boat for a coffee’ and I said ‘if I happen to be there, I'll look you up.’ And that's it. So I didn't follow where he was going on holiday but for sure on Sunday, he told me he was going to be on his boat in Greece. Whether that happened or not, I don't know. And the second part of your question was, I think, from what I understand, the announcement was 9am on Monday morning. I think at about 8.30 or 8.45 he called Luca and also called Laurent and with only 15 minutes of notice it's hard to call three people. So yeah, the announcement came before he had a chance to call me but definitely wasn't on Sunday night that we were made aware.
Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) Otmar, another question for you: do you have any regrets, you and Laurent, about the way you've handled this situation with both Alonso and Piastri? On the face of it you seem to have misread Alonso's determination to have a multi-year contract which he's been very clear about. And not realised how serious he was about that. And also at the same time, while negotiating with him, upset Piastri to the extent that he doesn't want to be with you anymore?
OS: No, I'm sure in any situation there lessons learned, regrets, we should look back two years from now and see exactly what's transpired. So now with Fernando, like I said before, he was a free agent, we all knew he was a free agent. We knew he was negotiating with others too and we put in front of him a contract we'd be happy with. And like I say, a deal’s got to be good for both sides so if you go beyond what you're happy with, you shouldn't do it because it's not good for you. So absolutely no regrets with Fernando and you know, good luck to him. He's gotten whatever that was that's important to him. I don't know what that is. You say longevity. Maybe that's what it was, but he obviously found a better deal and that's fine. And on the Oscar side, the only disappointing thing really is that he signed something with us in November. We delivered everything that we were meant to - in addition to that actually, over-delivered and his promise to us was to race with us if we put him in our car so that's what we're pursuing.
Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Otmar, if you have known Oscar’s plans, would you have offered a different kind of deal to Fernando, maybe that second year instead of one plus one?
OS: Fernando was… although he wanted a longer deal, he intimated to me that one plus one was fine so looking back, hindsight is 20-20 but you can only deal with what's in front of you at the time.
Q: (Joost Nederpelt - NU.nl) Question to Otmar about the announcement of Piastri driving for you in 2023, there were no quotes of him in the announcement so that was a really uncommon, so were you already aware at that time that he wasn't willing to drive for you?
OS: I told Oscar, before the announcement was made - he happened to be in the simulator so I went and found him and he smiled and was thankful so we made the release very quickly.
Q: Q: (Laurie Vermeersch – F1only.fr) Otmar, Esteban Ocon said that you would be really happy to see Mick Schumacher on his sides. During the summer break, you said that you got 14 calls from other drivers, was Mick on the list, did Mick call you and on the other hand how important Esteban Ocon’s point of view for you?
OS: Well, we have to have drivers that get on but I think Esteban… you know, I've had him alongside Sergio and now Fernando and Esteban will… he's a professional, he'll drive with whoever's next to him and what's best for the team is what really we have to focus on. Being in Formula 1, we've watched Mick develop, even in Formula 2 he's had some good results as of late and like I said, for us to start really thinking of who that driver’s going to be, we first have to get through the CRB and have good information and complete information as to what we're going to do.
Q: (John Noble – Motorsport.com) To the three of you: after all your experiences of the driver market shenanigans of the summer, has it changed how you'll approach doing driver contracts in the future? And has it changed your perception of whether loyalty exists in Formula 1 beyond the wording of a contract?
AS: I would say not really. As Otmar said before, whenever it’s about going into negotiations with a driver there's different scenarios or situations which you need to consider and in the end, you need to or you try to end up with a compromise, I would say, with a contract both sides are happy with and that can be completely a different outcome each time depending on demand an offer.
OS: There's lessons to be learned for sure so we'll have a good backwards look and like anything we'll analyse and if there's a few things we can do better I'm sure we'll incorporate those in our future dealings.
MK: Yeah, I agree. There's lessons to be learned also from the case of others. I think is a consistent learning process. I think it's important to be acting and not reacting, because then you can get on the backfoot. But from their point of view, all in all, I think you always need to see and learn from what happened year by year.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) To Otmar and Andreas; Otmar, this was asked earlier and you touched upon the Jenson Button situation at Honda. If the CRB rules in your favour, would you want Oscar driving for you next year? And yes, I understand you can't comment on the specifics but your list of candidates for Daniel’s replacement: is it a one person list or is it a multiple person list?
OS: I think Andreas should go first, no?
AS: Yeah, as I said before, unfortunately I don't want to touch on any names or scenarios because it just creates headlines and we made a conscious decision to go with Daniel also out of respect also for Daniel and the decision will be communicated that this weekend is about Daniel and then the race weekend of Spa. We shouldn't forget there’s still a qualify happening and the race tomorrow and then regarding the future, that’s something we will put our attention to from next week onwards.
OS: And for me, like I said before, for us to make a good decision we have to have complete and good information so we're going to wait until the outcome of the CRB and then start looking at it.
Q: (Ian Parkes - New York Times) Otmar, what's the relationship like at the moment now with Oscar? I can imagine it must be a little bit frosty, given his categorically said he doesn't or he will not be driving for you next year. Does he have or is he playing any kind of roll this weekend or he's had been left to one side for the weekend?
OS: He's back in Enstone, he’s driving our simulator, helping with car set-up and we need to prepare Oscar in no different manner than we have in the past so the relationship hasn't wavered and we continue.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Otmar, you said that Fernando indicates to you that he’d be happy with a one plus one through negotiations but he said on Thursday that you weren't involved in negotiations of that deal for next year. Can you clarify what your role was in talks with Fernando?
OS: Yeah, so the negotiations with Fernando began before I joined the team so he was aware that… while we were all aware that his contract was coming to an end, and he started indicating that he would like to stay, stay in Formula 1 and stay with a team so those negotiations started without me being there. But towards the end, I got involved. Yes, towards towards the end I was involved with those talks, I think from Magny Cours (sic, Paul Ricard) onwards.
Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) Otmar and Andreas, please just coming back to the ruthlessness of the driver market this summer break: it has been particularly in that vein this August, and it's led to some comments from fans looking at sort of who was treated rightly or wrongly and whether there was any element of unfairness so Otmar from your point of view, do you feel like Alpine or yourself have been undermined or disrespected on Oscar’s side? And Andreas, for McLaren with Daniel, at what point did you have to get to a point where sentiment didn't come into it anymore? I’m sure you get on very well with Daniel and you want to do right by him but you can't just keep going together if it's just not working.
AS: Yeah, as I said before, obviously it's never an easy situation to be in and it was challenging and it will set in the end to do the announcement but… and it's also clear, and I think everyone understands that there's no live commentary to the outside world, to public of where we are in terms of internal challenges or discussions. The most important thing for me personally is that myself, Zak as well, together with Daniel, we had throughout the several months, a permanent, open and transparent dialogue with Daniel, in order to make sure that we both know where we stand, and that there's no surprises. That's the most important thing from my side and this is what happened and that's why we are also still in a position now to aim for a good finish of our partnership together and that's why we are still in a position as well that I can have a dinner and a beer with Daniel together and it was very important for me and that's why I feel okay about it. Of course, I'm not happy because I'm aware of my responsibility as well that we didn't get it to work. We were all so keen to get it to work. As I said before, there's so much respect within the team, also from my side towards Daniel as a person and as a driver but in the end it didn't work out and that's why we had to make a decision.
OS: Well, with Oscar, we had agreed, like I said, back in November to… you know, both sides agreed on a way forward all the way up until ‘24 but like I said, on the team side to take up an option and ’23. We did everything on our side of the bargain and continue to do so. So that's for you to decide. But we definitely held up our end of the bargain.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans) Otmar. I'm just wanting to get a bit of clarification because obviously if it rules that Oscar has to race for you next year, you clearly want him to race for you that's why you fought so hard to get him to race for you. But you've said that then there will be conversations that have to be had to decide if he's going to race for you. But surely, it's just a case of you want him so you want him to race for you? Are you gonna force him to race for you and then where does that relationship then stand if maybe he wants to go elsewhere?
OS: Yeah, the good news is we've got three races in a row now. And I think we should wait for Monday or Tuesday and then thereafter, look at our situation, having good information and make those decisions and I can come back to you and answer that question. But sitting here right now, it's just hypothetical. And I'd rather wait a day or two, it's not long.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) Otmar, another hypothetical question. You said that Oscar was in the simulator, when you spoke to him. You said he just smiled. Was it that important that he couldn't get out to get a quote, even a one-liner for your PR people? And secondly, when did you first become aware of the fact that he was going to say he's not driving for you? Was it on Twitter? Was it in the simulator? Where was it?
OS: Yeah, so it wasn't in the simulator. Things happened very quickly, as you know, Dieter, and we too reacted quickly. And, you know, didn't want to go back and forth with his management, which is why we put the release out. And what was the second part? Yeah, so we heard through social media.
Q: (Adam Cooper Motorsport.com) Another question for Otmar. Back in March, the team announced that you would release Oscar to be a reserved driver for McLaren if needed, to give him an opportunity and so on. Is there any suspicion in your mind that that arrangement is where this all started? And in retrospect, was that a mistake? And can you or maybe Andreas clarify: was there a reserve driver contract with McLaren involved in that? Or was it an informal arrangement and you would sort it out if needed?
OS: Yeah, so both McLaren and Mercedes came to us and asked for Oscar services if they needed him. You know, we had first right of refusal. So if we both needed him to step in, as a reserve and remember this is at a time when were just coming off of COVID and there's more probability that a reserve driver steps in, as we was we saw happen in recent times. So, you know, out of goodwill to both McLaren and Mercedes, we offered up Oscar as a reserve driver, and selfishly, if he did drive for one of those teams, to prepare himself even more for us in the future. I mean, our relationship was all about preparing Oscar for the future. And that's what we did. And we looked at it as well, if there's an opportunity, you know, you have three times the probability of getting in a car this year, we should take that and if we can get a race or two under his belt, we'd be better off because he'd be driving for us in the future. So that's the reason we did it.
Q: Andreas. Anything you want to add?
AS: Just about the reserve driver agreement. It's not a secret that we don't have our own reserve driver. And that's why each year we see if there's any possibility to find a reserve driver-sharing agreement with different teams. As you know, we have one in place with Mercedes. And we were very happy obviously, as well, when I got in touch with Laurent at the time to see if there's any will to have the services available as well for Oscar, which Alpine agreed to and that was obviously positive for us, but again, towards the future, no interest in making any comments.