FIA Team Principals press conference - French Grand Prix
PART ONE - TEAM REPRESENTATIVES
James KEY (McLaren), Jan MONCHAUX (Alfa Romeo), Mario ISOLA (Pirelli)
Q: James, we're going to start with you, tell us about the new parts you're running this weekend in France. What are the drivers saying about them? And is that backed up by the data?
JAMES KEY: The new parts are kind of a logical progression from the last big step that we introduced, which was Barcelona. Bodywork may look very different, but actually, it's along similar themes. So, it's all kind of an evolution, I would say, of where we've been. I think we got some really, really good feedback yesterday. I think it takes about one event to really dial-in something of that magnitude because its floors and other things as well. But the data backs up that it seems to be doing what we broadly expected. We've now got to set-up around it, which we’ll spend a bit of time this morning doing, and driver feedback was pretty positive. I think doing the back-to-back with Lando allowed him to really see the differences , and report the differences he could feel. Conditions, morning to afternoon, were pretty similar. And he came back with some really useful data on that, and then obviously run it all the way through to get the mileage and early feedback. So, so far, so good.
Q: Now, in terms of developments, you've said recently, we know exactly what we need to do with this car. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that? What do you mean?
JK: Ha! I think we all know what we want to do with our cars. It's just the difficult bit is doing it. I think probably the better way to describe that is we can see what we need to do with the car. I think when you look at competitor analysis, you've here the driver feedback. Of course, we've got a tonne of data surrounding our car as well. We can understand where the deficiencies lie and link the driver comments to what the car is doing and where its strengths lie as well for that matter. But obviously, we attack the deficiencies as our primary goal. And we can see and sense what we need to do next. And probably, what the advantages is for… we’ve got two teams that have dominated this year, we can kind-of sense what it is they've got right from a set of characteristics and a certain type of performance. The performance you see from Red Bull and Ferrari is actually quite different but it results in a similar level of competitiveness. I think with a lot of analysis – and I think every team does it – you can get a sense of what you need to try and achieve and, taking where we are now, and with this update proving a few things as well, we can see where we need to head. Writing a brief for that is the easy part. Getting there, of course, is what we're all trying to do, day in, day out.
Q: And so, we're halfway through the season: when you sum up how it's gone so far, it’s been fluctuating fortunes, the highs have been very high: Lando, on the podium in Imola – but why has this car been perhaps less versatile than you'd have hoped?
JK: Yeah, it's been a rollercoaster ride we didn't expect and obviously we were not enjoying… you know, when we hit the more difficult circuits. I think, to be honest, there's actually been a range of things there. So, certainly the car has been stronger at some events than others: strong in Monaco, Australia, Imola, as you said, very strong there. Weak at others: we had a very difficult Canada. I'm dismissing the first race because there were other problems associated with that. And sort-of average at other places. So, I think some of it is a learning process but I suppose the versatility, in terms of consistency really, isn't quite there. Having said that – so very honest about where we are with the car – there's been a few other setbacks as well. We had, for example, in Austria, an extremely difficult, unexpectedly difficult, first session, which was really the only session we had before we had to go into qualifying. I think without that, we could have gotten a little bit better. We had an issue in qualifying as well, unfortunately, we had the same in Canada: we had an issue in qualifying, which stopped Lando from progressing. So, although the car definitely needs to improve and become more consistent, there's been other things as well, which has affected our season. And we've definitely left points on the table this year: there's been more potential than some of the recent events have shown, I think.
Q: Quick word on the drivers if we could. Lando Norris seems to have been very consistent. Do you see him having taken another step forward this year?
JK: Yeah. Lando is still in an early stage in his career in many respects. He’s worked at McLaren, as an F1 driver, as long as I have, which is three years. So, I think he's still progressing, taking steps all the time and do an absolutely tremendous job for us. I think the great thing with him is he's so consistent. One race to the next, he's able to push the limits of the car, find the set-up he needs, feedback very, very well, which is, which is great. And he’s doing a splendid job for us. So, yeah, really, really happy with how Lando’s developing.
Q: And Daniel?
JK: Daniel is contributing just as much, certainly with the feedback. And they have a very kind of similar feeling with the car. So, it's always good to get that correlation point from both drivers. When you get to the limit… of course you’re talking about finer detail. And every driver has different types of sensitivity. Every driver has a limitation over a given lap. And so the feedback on the really hard-pushed, ragged-edge kind of feeling they have is slightly different. But the big picture is very similar, and they're giving us consistent feedback. So, Daniel's giving us as good a feedback as Lando is.
Q: But are his issues similar to last year, or are they different?
TK: I think… I would say they're probably a bit different. And I mean, the car is completely different. And, you know, we’re not recreating some of the peaky kind of performances that we found with last year's car. You know, when it was strong, it was very strong, but then we had events where it really struggled a bit. So, we haven't quite got the sort of the peaky-ness, I suppose, with the feeling of the car. Equally we know we've got certain weaknesses, I think every team has, and they will affect one driver slightly differently to another. And we're working with both our drivers to address the weaknesses that they’re pointing out that are unique to them, as well as the whole car.
Q: Jan, coming to you, we're talking drivers, so why don't we start at that point with Alfa Romeo. You've had two new pedallers this year. How have they impressed you?
Jan MONCHAUX: Good morning. They’ve impressed us massively. I mean, with Valtteri, we knew what we would get. And he fully confirmed that: his professionalism, his input he brought, but also the kind of positive attitude he had internally, which was also a massive boost for the team. So, there are no big surprises and he delivers. I mean, we know he's a great qualifier, even if he had here and there a few difficult weekends. And in the race, he usually doesn’t do many mistakes. So, we know we have a very strong reference driver there. And Zhou is for me, he is a surprise of the season. I mean, we have a short memory, but if you would read back some of the comments of journalists last winter, they were quite sceptical, to remain diplomatic. And he's a great driver. He's learning a lot, he is very focused, he's been impressive in the race from the onset, in terms of his overtaking capabilities. He is quite impressive for a rookie: he doesn't damage the car. I mean, he was involved in two accidents but apart from that, he is usually neat, and in qualifying he's been consistently progressing. There is still room for improvement. Luckily, we have a reference driver, so he knows also where to work on. But Zhou is earlier where we wanted him to be than we originally expected. So, he is a very, very good surprise for us and I think for F1 in general.
Q: So, happy with the drivers. What about the car? Has the C42’s performance been where you were hoping it would be prior to the start of the season?
JM:I thought I would be driving for the Championship so no, not necessarily! No, more seriously, we are reasonably happy with the car. Like every team we have a reference, he’s always running on the front, so we know where there's room for improvement and we are working on it. So, all-in-all, we are… let's say I can't use a word to easily… we are, let's say, satisfied with the basis, but it's also about the development during the season. Our competitors are not sleeping, so it’s about also bringing updates and bringing updates all within the cost cap, which is quite an interesting exercise. Where we probably have suffered most is in general is reliability, where we had a few setbacks, which is something which has highest priority for us to sort out, and make sure we can give a car for both driver so they can run all the session and also brings a car home on Sunday – because we left a lot of points on the tracks this season and that's pretty annoying.
Q: I remember, at the pre-season shakedown in Barcelona, you guys were suffering badly with the porpoising? Can you tell us a little bit about how you've managed to overcome that?
JM: Like, I guess every team: looking into the data and doing a few tests and manoeuvring ourself with a car in an area where the problem would not be there, or almost not be there. So, it's… I think, when you are in a team is relatively straightforward what to do to not enter that, that behaviour of your car. And we've been, through all the work we've been doing on the floor side, in the setup, we've been able to quickly get out of the difficult zone. But yeah, shakedown and Barcelona test was tough, yeah.
Q: Where do you see your battle for the remainder of this season? Do you think you can close on the guys in front? Or is it consolidating where you are? What's the plan?
JM: I would hope we can spoil the party of the orange and yellow or blue guys, and be there to also have a word to say up until the end of the season. I mean, we're only halftime. It's a matter of now being consistent, bringing updates. I think from the pure pace of the car, we can go and challenge these guys. But the midfield is so tight, you can easily end up in the back of Q2 or even not past Q1: four-tenths is really, really tight, so it's going to need a flawless exercise for the rest of the season if we really want to go and challenge the higher position.
Q: Mario, thank you for waiting, coming to you. Now let's talk about this weekend first of all. This is a very hard circuit for tyres: temperatures, long corners. What's the situation after practice yesterday? What are the teams saying?
Mario ISOLA: Looking at the results from yesterday, there is nothing unexpected, other than the very high temperature obviously. These are affecting the level of degradation. So, I believe that it's probably a two-stop race for tomorrow. But the tyres are performing quite well. We didn't see any graining, any blister, any effect on tyres. Teams know they have to manage the temperature: that is the main element that is contributing to degradation. And that's all.
Q: And looking at the first half of the season as a whole. There have been some spectacular races. How big a role do you think the tyres have played in that?
MI: I'm happy with that result. That was the main target for us, to give drivers a tyre where they are able to push on for the duration of the stint. Obviously, it’s not just the tyres, it’s the car package that is working well. If you don't lose downforce when you follow another car, that's a big helper for the tyres. But I believe the new 18-inch tyres are designed in the right way and able to achieve the targets. So, we have already in mind some upgrades for next year. But considering it is the first year with a completely new product I'm quite happy with the result and the show.
Q: Can we talk about those upgrades for next year? Because there was a tyre test after Austria involving four teams. How did it go? And can you share any of those planned updates?
MI: Yeah, the test was positive. We almost finalised the new construction both front and rear for next year. We have to consider that the cars are improving the performance. So, we have always to follow with the construction of the tyres in order to avoid an increase of pressure that is too high. As I said already, we are working to design a stronger front tyre because the feedback in general for these cars is that they have more understeer in low-speed corners. That was unfortunately not visible with the mule cars last year. So, we have to rebalance a little bit the front with the rear: the rear is very strong, the traction is good, so, we were not planning to change massively the rear tyre. We have some ideas on the new compounds. As I said, the test was positive. We were a bit worried for the first day because there was a chance of rain and obviously that was not ideal for us. But at the end it was raining just at the end of the afternoon and the track was still in good condition. Now we have Budapest, we have one day with Red Bull in Monza after the race and we are going to finalise the construction for next year, in the in-event test in the second half of the season, the idea is to finalise also the compounds.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jon Noble – motorsport.com) James and Jan, the floor changes that have been put forward for next year on safety grounds have divided opinion among teams. From a technical perspective, can you give an indication of how much kind of extra work it's going to take to design a car around it, is it? Is it a big step-change and requires you to go back to the start almost? Or is it something that can be moulded into projects at this late stage?
JK: We've got to find out what those changes are at this point. There's obviously been some discussion on the porpoising issue. And the FIA have raised a concern over driver welfare and safety, which is, you know, definitely the correct approach. So, we're very supportive of this: I don’t think you can row-back on a safety issue. I know there's a bit of concern from some teams. As a team that hasn't particularly suffered from porpoising, we're still in favour of it, because we think it's the right thing to do. So, I think we've the sorts of things that have been proposed, they’re big enough to have to put fresh research on to it. Not everything is going to carry-over in terms of your aerodynamic knowledge: there will be a few impacts on packaging, and that sort of thing but I don't… personally, I don't see it as a radical change enough to where you've got to step back and think: we've got to re-lay on the car out now because, all of these things require something different. So, I think there's going to be a similar thread to what we've learned this year. But there will be a bit of fresh research based on things that we’ve already established. Floor height, for example, if that changes, it's going to be broadly the same floor – just a bit higher. So ‘what does that mean for us?’ – rather than something totally unfamiliar.
JM: From our side in general, we were welcoming the effort of the FIA to improve, in general the safety. We are questioning this particular topic. We'll follow what the FIA will finally decide. So we haven't really started effectively to put resource on it, because our discussions are in the background. As James said, it's not going to be a departure. The issue, as the technical directors see it, is that you will have to spend resources you potentially didn’t want to, or didn’t plan to put on this, because even if it's not a departure, let’s call it a blank sheet of paper. You will have to spend more effort, make sure you're not missing anything, because 25mm, if it’s really 25mm will play a role. So that's the thing that is more, for the technical director, painful – because we are also working with the cost cap. We have a vision, how strategically to approach the development over the next few years. And it's quite evident, we need some firm stability in the rules. Because if every six months, we are changing the boundary constraint, it just makes our life quite complicated and to be able to roll-out the strategy we have, which is linked to the budget cap as well… the ex-aerodynamicist I am is not too worried about that change. If it comes, it's something we’ll get on top of– it just requires extra resource, which potentially we would spend on something else.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To James and Jan as a follow up to that. Two parts: first, when ideally would you have known about these changes? When would you ideally have wanted to factor them into the initial development? And from what you've said there, do you think that there is scope for these numbers that have been put forward on the FIA on floor edge in the future, do you think that they might be a bit lower than were initially tabled? Could it be a bit less severe than what's initially been proposed so far?
JM: I personally had no crystal ball. I read the noise in the background: will it be 25, will it be 10, will it be zero? Honestly, I can't be bothered. At some point it will come with a final decision and we'll just stick to it. It's not yet too late. But we can't afford waiting another four or six weeks. I would prefer those changes would be for ’24. But if it comes for ’23 I think now, just before the shutdown is kind-of the latest, that is acceptable. Because after the shut down, I suppose most of the teams will be flat-out on their ’23 car development and such an intrusive change would upset a lot of development plans, I suppose. So, it’s just about right – but if we could have no change, we would prefer it.
JK: Yeah, I'm aligned with Jan on timing. I think this is about as late as you'd want to get. There are long lead times, gearboxes, for example, that sort of thing, which begin to mature quite heavily at this time of year and anything around that area, of course, the throat height is part of that, or any implications of the aerodynamics, which suggests that your suspension should be laid out slightly differently, and that sort of thing, it's pretty late to be understanding that. So yeah, the sooner we know the final numbers, the better. And, as Jan has said, we'll just take the numbers and run with them. When you'd really like to know, with this sort of thing, I guess something of this magnitude, probably something like April or something like that is when you can begin to factor it into your earlier plans for a new car. But I guess that was probably too early to really know where this porpoising phenomenon was heading given that, you know, some cars were really suffering from it other others a lot less so at that point. But, yeah, I think I think the sooner the better, such that we can crack on with it.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) A question for Jan. With regard to Zhou's Silverstone crash, can you tell us a bit about the roll hoop, what forces were involved, what lessons you've learned, how closely you're working with the FIA on formulating stricter tests for next year? And maybe if James can give a view as well?
JM: So, the analysis is still ongoing, we're working since the first day with the FIA to try to reconstruct the accident and assess as best as we can, because it's not an easy task, the force involved. As yet the internal investigation are not completely finished, so I won't disclose anything. And if someone will disclose something, it's going to be the FIA. In between, the FIA has asked all the teams to provide feedback, imposing several load cases on their respective roll hoops to understand potentially where some inherent… where there's room for improvement in effect. Without going too far in the details, the load case that are being imposed by the rules, so you have some vectors where you need to apply a force on the front and on the on the rear of your roll hoop are potentially not the most adequate for the kind of accident we had where, where effectively you have a car sliding, so subjected to forces that are quite flat-ish, if you want, and not so much a kind of vertical impact. So there might be here changes in the future. But I believe the FIA will come back before the shutdown with some new recommendations, additional tests, we'll be waiting. We have to see what they will draw out from the feedback of all the teams.
Q: James anything to add?
JK: Not really. Clearly the analysis is ongoing as Jan said. I appreciate it's very complicated to try and derive load cases from this, but certainly the FIA are working hard to help the teams derive a new test. That was a pretty scary situation with a unique set of conditions and anything like that will always draw fresh conclusions from a safety point of view and that's exactly what the teams and the FIA are discussing further for next year. So, I suspect, as was mentioned, we'll get some form of additional lateral loading tests or something like this, which we have to pass for ’23.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Mario a question for you on pit stops, which have slowed down a bit with the heavy cars, heavier tyres as well. Technically, with the tyres for the season were there any changes you had to make with pit stops in mind, things such as the lower profile of the tyre, did you have to make any adjustments to the drums or anything like that and tyres to help the pit stops?
MI: No, not really, because the additional weight on the tyre is coming mainly from the rim and there is a little we can do tyre-wise to compensate for that. I believe we did a good job together with the teams to design the wheel core in a way that is helping the mechanics to do the pit stops properly. At the beginning it was not really easy but now the situation is stabilised.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) James, looking at the upgrade, it seems like you've traded off a little bit of that sort of sidepod undercut and around the side in favour of a bit more downwash. Is that a fair characterisation and can you explain kind of why you've gone a little bit more in that direction? Also, it seems like they've been a few areas of sort of aero inconsistency you've been battling this year. Are there any signs this upgrade will tackle some of those or is that a longer project?
JK: Yeah, to be honest, we've had a downwashing bodywork on plan for a while. We potentially could have launched with that but for various reasons we didn't at the time, and there's several reasons for that, which I won't go into. But yes, it was good to see that some other teams that approached it in a similar way to what we were originally thinking and we've got to the point now where we felt we could introduce it. There's definitely sort of a trend, I suppose, of some of these flatter-sided sidepods – Ferrari really came in with the most extreme example of that – and then what you do at the back is still a little bit open, but the downwashing direction seems to be a good compromise for that. So yes, that's where we got to. It's been on plan for a while. And it's good to see that it kind of tended to do what we expected it to do. And aero consistency-wise, I think certainly the car is doing what it should do. So we haven't got, let's say, mis-correlations going on with our car at the moment. It's really a case of just continuing to chip away at the consistency of it rather than its correlation, trying to smooth out the bumps in the aero map and progress with developments in that way, which I think is probably at this stage as a regulations, a challenge that many teams face at the moment.
Q: (Carlo Platella – FormulaPassion.it) For James and Jan, considering the strong limitations of the budget cap, are you considering to carry over the current chassis for the next year? Or do you need to operate structural modifications to close the gap to the front?
JK: There are certainly going to be elements of carryover to next year. Because we're in this cost gap now. McLaren are out working at the cap, which is actually a pretty tough place to be because you've definitely got a hard limit to how much you can do. And up until recently where there was a little bit of increase for the inflationary pressures that we're all under, particularly if you're at the cap limit, it was getting tough, you know, for this year, and it still is in many respects. So yes, there's going to be, I think for us, definitely elements of carryover. But the second year of regulations, you probably don't want to pin down too much at this stage. We're still all very much learning I think at the moment. So elements of carryover, yes, but I wouldn't, I wouldn't say we're going to carry over the entire chassis necessarily.
JM: We are not necessarily in the same situations as James. We are operating with a budget but not at the budget cap limit. So for us the equation is slightly different. Seeing also that we are a rather small team, we will have to have potentially a slightly more aggressive carryover strategy than some of the bigger outfits simply, because in the winter you can't end up redoing, with the force we have, redoing everything. That would be that would force us to outsource and that would probably end up being too expensive and jeopardise our development budget during the season. So we are going to carry over some elements. Check the cars in February and then you will find out which ones, but they are going to be pretty visible I suppose.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) A question for James regarding the updates, Lando said yesterday that the porpoising he had was potentially a positive sign. I guess he meant you're going in the right direction, you’ve found a bit of downforce. Do you agree with that assessment? Or is that a bit too simplistic?
JK: I think it does simplify it a bit. Obviously the porpoising phenomenon is made up of many, many factors. But certainly what we found is as floor loading has increased, so the propensity to porpoise has increased as well. And, you know, we got a little bit more with the Barcelona step that we made with the new floor and this new floor has generated a further step. We can attenuate that in certain ways, and we're not suffering from it significantly, but it's slightly more prominent. So, you could give an indicator that it's doing what you've probably thought it should do, but it's certainly not a property you're looking to build into it obviously.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) To James and Jan, you’ve both brought updates at various stages of the season but Haas has run an unchanged car all year and is still delivering the same results it was at the start of the season. Has that given you some food for thought and maybe you think differently about the benefits of exploiting a car and better understanding it rather than constantly updating and changing?
JM: He should have said that. Yes or no. I mean, I'm not at Haas. I don't know how they develop. I don't know what the hit rate is in the wind tunnel. But effectively, if you're sitting on a good chunk of performance, you want to bring it as soon as possible to the track. Certainly with the budget cap we tend to work into maybe slightly larger packages in terms of performance than in the past, because you can't afford doing a completely new floor for 30 milliseconds. But I would be very surprised – and even if in the technique they would say ‘no, no, we can wait’ that a team principal knowing he's got three tenths in his pocket would say ‘no, don't bring it’. I can't really say. For us, it's quite clear: once we have reached a clear threshold of cost to performance, then we try to bring it to the track. What the others are doing, you have to ask them. Simone or Guenther are probably going to give you all the details you want.
JK: Yeah, I agree with Jan. I think you save a lot of money by not developing the car, but that's obviously not what we're here for. So I think probably Haas started with a good baseline car and I guess have tuned it and worked on it. There's definitely something to say for making the most of these cars, I think to get the maximum potential is a lot more intense than perhaps what we were used to in past years where it was kind of a little bit more obvious, less sensitive to set up, for example. And then these cars… Maximising the potential of ‘22 cars is just as much a challenge as developing them in many respects. But I agree with Jan, if you've got tenths of lap time ready to go, then clearly you need to bring it to the track.
PART TWO - TEAM REPRESENTATIVES
Laurent ROSSI (Alpine), Jost CAPITO (Williams), Andrew SHOVLIN (Mercedes)
Q: Laurent, let's start with you. Your home Grand Prix, Paul Ricard looking spectacular. Just how important is this weekend for your team?
Laurent ROSSI: Well, there's obviously a lot of attention and a willingness to do well from the team, in front of friends and family. But at the risk of disappointing you, at the end of the day it's a race we treat like any other. When we enter the pit, we forget it’s our home race and we try and do our best in the event.
Q: Well, let's talk a little bit about performance. Can you just summarise what went on yesterday and what you're hoping for the rest of the weekend at your home Grand Prix?
LR: Well, yesterday, there's no doubt we were a bit disappointed with the way the car was behaving. It's consistent behaviour across the two sides of the garage, which seems to indicate we have something missing, the car is very understeery. So we'll try a couple of things today to improve the situation and to get back into what we believe should be the natural position of our car which is top 10. So we don't insult the future and our chances tomorrow. So that's the goal for today.
Q: Now, looking at the bigger picture, you've scored points at every race this year, bar one, which was Imola. In the context of the 100-race plan, which you introduced last year, is the performance level where you wanted it to be this season?
LR: I'd say yes. We are P4, tied with McLaren, so P5 technically speaking. The car is much faster, it's a much better tool to work with. So it's obviously progress, which is the most important thing. The gap with P4 is almost zero. Last year was out of reach. So we’re moving up, which is what we wanted. Now we need to address the glitches from the car, from the team. Sometimes obviously, we made mistakes for sure. And try to have the two cars systematically in the same area at the end of the race and not one in good position and the other a bit further, which will consolidate the fourth position but yeah, so far, so good
Q: Can we talk driver contracts now? Esteban locked in for next year. What's the situation with Fernando's contract?
LR: Well, Fernando, this contract is over this year, so obviously we are discussing with him, we are building scenarios for him and Oscar as I'm sure you would ask me. And the idea is that the two of them are worthy drivers, and we would love them to drive next year.
Q: So do you think both will be on the grid next year?
LR: I think so.
Q: Can you give us any more detail about where?
LR: I don't think so!
Q: Funny, you should say that! All right, Laurent, Thank you, we'll hear more from you in a minute. Jost, coming to you now. Let's talk upgrades. First of all, both drivers have got them this weekend? Are they saying the same things about them?
Jost CAPITO: Mainly, yes. But as you know, Alex has much more experience now, because it's his third race with the upgrade and for Nicky it's completely new. So he has to get used to the upgrade. But the behaviour of the car is the same. So they report the same behaviour of the car.
Q: Now, there were high expectations for the upgrades. Now that you've understood them, particularly with Alex, how much of a step forward do you feel you've made?
JC: We feel we’ve made a reasonable step forward. You know, it's a different aero concept. So of course then you first take a step back and then develop it and we've seen that there is quite a lot of potential in that concept and we are already better than where we have been with the old concept.
Q: Now, let's talk a little bit more about Alex, because he said recently that he's rediscovered his confidence behind the wheel. Have you seen a change in him just in the time that you've worked with him?
JC: I think the car now with the upgrade delivers more confidence to the driver. And it's more stable, so for sure that improves his confidence. But you know, he was one year not in the car. He was strong right away getting back in the car. And you know, you have to develop the relationship with the driver, the engineers, the team, and that takes a couple of races and I think now we are a well-operating team and Alex feels very at home with Williams.
Q: Now you’ve worked with many great drivers, and I'm going to remind people of your time at Sauber back in the day as well. How impressed have you been with Alex, and in the context of all the drivers you've worked with, of course, which includes Kimi Räikkönen.
JC: I've been very impressed with Alex. Alex is a very nice guy and very well behaved outside the cockpit and when he closes his visor he becomes a real fighter. And then we develop him and say you can be also a bit more fighter outside the car, when you talk to the engineers be a bit more tough with them. And I think now, as the relationship with the driver and the engineers gets closer, this also gets much better. But we are very impressed with him. And as I mentioned before, I think the year out of the car made him very well understand how the dynamics of a driver and the team works as he has seen the team working with the drivers from the outside, and I think that helps him a lot.
Q: Can we talk young drivers? You gave Nyck de Vries a run out in Barcelona in FP1. What are your plans for the other FP1 session that you have to do this year? And are there any plans to give Logan Sargeant a go?
JC: I think that would be obvious. We haven't announced yet. Our young driver academy is working very well. We had three good results recently. Logan won the last two races and he set the car on pole yesterday, so I think he deserves to get into the car. All right.
Q: Andrew, thank you for waiting. We're talking. I just mentioned Nyck de Vries there. So can we just start talking about the job he did yesterday in FP1. How impressed were you?
Andrew SHOVLIN: Well, we've run Nyck a number of times, not always so publicly, but at places like Abu Dhabi and we've always been impressed with him. But the nice thing is he understands that the priorities of, you know, don't make mistakes, certainly don't crash, focus on the test programme, the learning that we need, and then third, worry about being quick. And he's able to do one and two very easily and then a good a good bit of bit of number three. So he was fast, very useful for the work that we wanted out of him. And he's also always thinking about how can I improve more? What do I need to learn? But he's a very, very accomplished driver, considering his relatively little experience in f1. So every time he's got in the car for us he has impressed,
Q: How involved did Lewis Hamilton get during that FP1 yesterday?
AS: Lewis was on the intercom, following the session. I think it's a very strange and new experience for Lewis to be watching someone else drive the car, so maybe it'll take a while for him to get used to it. But he's plugged in with Toto chatting through the session. And you know, Lewis as well was very impressed with the job that Nyck did.
Q: And on George's side of the garage, what are the plans for an FP1? Do you know a race that you might do that and who might drive?
AS: Well, at the moment, the logical candidate is for Nyck to drive. And we're looking later in the year, it depends a bit on what we're doing in terms of updates, where we might be doing a Pirelli tyre test, but we're looking at probably into the flyaway part of the year.
Q: OK, let's talk performance here. Given the characteristics of the Paul Ricard circuit, what were the team's expectations levels coming into the race weekend and have you met them?
AS: Well, I mean, in terms of performance, we brought a small update, but not one that's going to see us leapfrog any teams. The big question for us was: does the circuit suit us more than Austria or less than Silverstone? And if you look at yesterday, the positives were that the car wasn't bouncing. I think we're now at the better end of that. There was effectively none. We're able to run the car where we want to run it. Single-lap pace – we'd certainly say Max's is out of reach, it looks like Charles is well out of reach. But we could be able to fight for a second row today if we do a good job. George had a better session and Lewis. Lewis missing FP1 is one thing, but then the balance wasn't where he wanted it in FP2 and in that situation it's quite difficult to recover. And then we didn't do a great job of getting a good length of long running. But you know, we're still looking to be I think a podium contender rather than a win contender, but every weekend we're learning and that's the exciting thing at the moment for us is just understanding the rules better and better.
Q: Well, there's been a furious amount of work to understand this car and to improve it. So as we head into the second half of the season, where do you draw the line with it and focus on next year?
AS: Yeah, I mean, in Formula 1 you never actually draw a line. It's a gradual blend of resource into W13 drifting downwards and 14 drifting up. We're going to need some clarity on the regulations, whether they're going to change before you'd make a really big shift. But every team will have started some work on next year. The difference for us was the early part of the year was very tough, it wasn't making a lot of sense and it was really firefighting. We're just starting to get to a stage now where we can get back to what we would call the business-as-usual development. And that's actually quite exciting. There's a lot of happy people at the factory now that we're sort of getting into a phase that's starting to make sense to us. And we're just using these. We need to score points, we need to fight in the championships but the big one is we've got to learn to know what we want to do for next year and to try and get the car back to the front.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) To all three of you, the current proposal for the floor changes for next year has obviously caused some divided opinion in the paddock, from each of your team's perspective, what complications, changes, does it cause, both from a technical perspective and financial perspective if they went through at current measurements?
AS: From a financial perspective, it's practically nil, really. The challenge is going to be the same for all teams. What we would like is clarity: are they going to change, if so let's get on with it and agree it? Our stance with the FIA has always been that … we know as a team, we need to fix our problems ourselves and we set that as an objective from day one and we're pretty confident that we can achieve that objective. So that's why I said for us, the big thing is we just want clarity on it. But the reality is that these cars will always run close to the ground, they'll always be banging on the road and whilst you can mitigate that and improve it, if we want to actually change it fundamentally, then it will need a change to the regulations.
JC: I think, as Andrew said, the clarity is the most important (thing). For us we see an impact on the financials as we would have to start the development that we were not planning to, as our car is according to the regulations now, and we didn't have to do too many changes. On the other hand, we would like to have the regulations being more simple instead of being more complicated, not only for the teams, but also for the FIA to police and to do the appropriate checks. I think that's our main objective.
LR: Yeah, I think Andrew said it best. We need clarity, and Jost echoed that as well: as long as we have clarity on what we want to do and where we're heading, that's fine. We just don't want to change all the time to address particular problems of one team or another. It needs to be the same for everyone and as early as possible, we can anticipate. That's all.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To follow up to that to two all three, the numbers that have currently been proposed by the FIA, so the 25 millimetres on the floor edge and the diffuser throat, the most vocal opponents to this are saying that this constitutes a fundamental design change for the cars for next year. Do you agree with that? Would you rather have that number lower? Or if it's going to change does it not really matter whether it's that number or reduced?
LR: I think at the moment, I'd like to refrain from commenting because it's a little bit up in the air so we need to figure out… first we need to understand where we stand ourselves before we comment on that. We feel like we could absorb it. They will be also premature for me to say that instead of my team so I'll probably say we'll need to give it a time.
JC: Yeah, that's the same for us.
AS: Some teams wanted change, some wanted no change and I think the compromise was just coming from teams that thought there will be a change but we want it to be as minimal as possible. But as we said, as teams, we can probably all mitigate this but if we want to actually get the cars running in a different way, these regulations will always have a car that wants to run very flat on the road. There have been a few notable accidents this year where the car bottoming on the plank as part of that - a driver loses control, goes over a curb - and it's been the car hitting the ground that's actually caused them to land in the barrier at speed. So that's the bit that… the safety argument, I think, is as much about that as about the comfort.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Andrew, a lot of people have compared your current season with McLaren’s in 2009 when Lewis basically started at the back of the grid, by the end of the year, he had four poles and a couple of wins. Obviously, you were Brawn that year, do you see any parallels and in the ways that motivating in that case proved that a team can turn its season around quite spectacularly?
AS: Yeah, as you say, my perspective on that was from the other end; we started brilliantly, didn't have the resources to keep up and were struggling to get near the podium by the end of the year. There may well be parallels. If you looked at the situation with McLaren back then the car that they launched wasn't really equivalent to the capability within the team. When they started to understand what they had to do with the regulations, the development rate was really impressive. And a parallel might be that within our team, we're just starting to really get back the enjoyment for that engineering challenge and the development challenge. It always takes time between… there's a lag between your understanding and your learning and actually bringing bits to the track that make it quicker but the atmosphere is one of a team that's determined to get back to the front. Our goal remains to be the fastest car; whether we can achieve that this year or is that going to take us ‘till next year I don't know, but we're all fighting very hard for that.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Andrew, another question for you about pit stops. We've seen them slow down this year with the heavier cars and the heavier wheels as well. Technically, how much has changed in terms of the approach to pit stops? Have you had to introduce new equipment and things like that? And how important has it been to get consistency instead of outright speed? And ideally, you'd like both, but we're not saying these ridiculous…
AS: Well, we prioritise consistency over speed. We're not the fastest pit stops at the moment, and we haven't been consistent enough recently. One of the challenges we've actually faced has just been the working time within these regulations. It means that getting the cars together is a priority. Until this weekend, we couldn't fire up even until four o'clock on a Thursday and you've also got to do the scanning. And one of the big issues was actually getting all of that work into the weekend and one of the first things to drop is pitstop practice. So it's an area that we're working on. It's not the thing that's holding us back at the moment - that's the car - but it's always a parallel project. But yeah, of course, the weight of the wheels, they are very heavy now, they're cumbersome and that inevitably has caused every team to slow down a bit.
Q: (Carlo Platella – FormulaPassion.it) Andrew, after Williams switched to the downwash bodywork, Mercedes is now the only team with the slim sidepod concept. Do you still believe in this aerodynamic philosophy or maybe your struggles are not related to the sidepod?
AS: We don't think that just changing our side pod will change our competitiveness. We're certainly not of that mind, nor are we wedded to saying this is how the Mercedes car must look, so from the very early part of the year we're looking at other teams bodyworks and certainly with a view to next year, looking up and down the grid to see ideas. And it may be that we don't just take another team's idea. We're looking at combinations of different concepts. But it's a gradual process, but I think fundamentally our car isn't going to change appearance massively this season. But I'd be surprised if next year's car looks the same.
Q: (Mat Coch – Speedcafe.com) Laurent, going back to driver contracts, you spoke confidently when you said that both Fernando and Oscar will be on the grid next year or you thought they'll both be on the grid next year. Given that you've one available seat within Alpine and the two drivers vying for it, what gives you such confidence to say that you believe that they'll both be on the grid and given I’m Australian, specifically with Oscar?
LR: It's quite a precise question! Well because we are working on scenarios for both of them to drive and scenarios that are very plausible, very sensible, and that we imagine would satisfy both drivers. That's why. I can’t say more.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) It's a follow-up on drivers to Laurent and Jost. With Oscar, for example, would you, Laurent, be willing to release Oscar entirely from Alpine or would you want to keep him contractually longer-term and therefore only loan him out? Then Jost, for Williams’ options, would a short-term arrangement like that appeal if Oscar was available on loan? Or would you rather focus on say, Logan, for example? He's clearly got a lot of potential, he's part of the William stable, you could make him a Williams driver longer-term a bit easier, I assume.
LR: Yeah, I'd be open to loan Oscar out to a team as long as I get him back. We've invested heavily in Oscar, we believe in him and that’s why he's our reserve driver. He's a very promising talent. We would love to fulfil this talent in the team. So a loan, like many other drivers, starting in another team, to learn the tricks and then coming back to us will be a good scenario, yeah.
JC: I think we've got various options, as you mentioned. And that's the options we are thinking about as well. And we will finally go for what we believe is the best for the team. But it's too early to get into details, because we're not there yet.
Q: Jost, just to confirm, you would consider a loan from another team?
JC: I think if that was the best for us, then we would consider that. If it's not the best, if we have another, better solution, we will go for the better solution.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) Andrew, the debate over the floor changes for next year has got quite political and Red Bull are convinced it's lobbying from your side to get a car that better suits the new regulation and stuff. Do you think it's possible in this debate for the discussion to be finalised on pure technical terms or do you think it’s inevitable that we're going to end up in a political situation with teams vying for their own competitive benefits?
AS: It’s difficult. I mean, the reality is that, you know, we are working to solve our problems on our own and I think we've made good progress on that. You can understand the conundrum of teams that don't want the regulations to change. We don't know, as Mercedes, that a regulation change will suit us. And if you think back to 2020 into 2021, we didn't know that regulation change was going to hurt a low ride height car like ours, and barely affect a high ride height car. So we're certainly not at the position of saying regulation changes are definitely going to be in favour of Mercedes. Our stance would be that if we want to solve some of the fundamental issues, you're not going to do that leaving the rules alone. But when that rule came in, in 2020, on safety grounds, Red Bull were not opposing it, Ferrari were not opposing it, from a viewpoint of the governance, but importantly, Mercedes weren't opposing that change. You know, it happened, it didn't suit us. But it did come in and it happened.
Q; (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Jost, about Logan and his performance so far. He's always looked a very interesting prospect, someone with a lot of potential, but he seems to have really built momentum very quickly in Formula 2. He's arguably the most encouraging and interesting prospect there. Has he surprised you with that rate of progress and how he has put himself in title contention? And if he does go on to win the title, has he given you a bit of an unexpected headache about what to do with him next year because he wouldn't be able to do a second season in Formula 2?
JC: It would be a great headache wouldn’t it! I’ve had worse ones. Of course we are impressed. You know, it's his first season in F2. We didn't put any pressure on him. So as I said, he has the time to develop and he's really impressed us with how fast he has got to grips with the car, about the tyre management and getting results. How he got the pole yesterday was really impressive. He will be in a Formula 1 car in the future, I'm absolutely convinced.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Following up with Jost and also Laurent as well. You guys have both got drivers in your young driver academy in Formula 2, Formula 3. How tricky is it when you're looking at the calendars, it doesn't finish until so late, when you're looking at their future plans and particularly F1 graduation? Does it make it a bit of a headache there?
JC: When you say you need for Logan, for example, he needs the super licence points. And for that he has to finish in the top five in the championship. In the moment, it looks good. But you know, you can always get the other way pretty quickly. So it's quite tricky to take early decisions on something on a Formula 2 driver as long as the season is not over. So that's part of the decision making, of course,
LR: Yeah, we're trying to change a bit the way we look at it, by having a rationalised approach to our roster, so having less drivers necessarily in F2, perhaps more into the younger categories. So you have like a constant stream of possible drivers, first. And then second there are plenty of options for them to be in a waiting seat. Reserve, of course, is one, we are going to have LMDH soon available. So we feel like we can manage this pipeline of drivers a bit better thanwe've done in the very recent past where you have had a flurry of good talent and not enough seats. So that's what we're trying to do.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Laurent, I know you said earlier that this race is just another race, but how disappointing is it for you and your bosses that it's not going to happen next year? Is there anything that the Renault group can do to try and encourage Formula 1 to come back to France at another venue sometime in the future?
LR: It's a race like any other in terms of like the way we compete. Of course it's an important race. I mean, we would love to perform well. I don't know that it is not on the calendar next year. But yes, I would be very disappointed. And I'm not talking about it as the manager of a French team, or even as a French citizen. It's more like, I think France is a racing stronghold. It's been giving a lot to the sport. It has a big audience, a big fan base. I think it would be a little bit kind of unfair, I would say, to remove a big milestone like the French Grand Prix from the calendar. I think it would be odd but I'm hoping that it will stay.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Laurent, picking up on LMDH. Fernando obviously has raced at Le Mans, won at Le Mans, loves the race. Is any sort of tie up there for him to potentially move into sports cars in the future? Is that part of your discussions with him at the moment?
LR: Yes, yes. It's always been part of the discussion. Last year, even when we're discussing for the renewal for this year, we talked about the fact that Fernando is a legend of the sport, but also a legend of the Renault group. For us, he is the champion, and is always going to have a seat in LMDH. The day he switches it will be welcome, it’s his team. So obviously this is part of the discussion. We actually made that decision also thinking about him in the first place.