FIA Team Principals press conference - Japan
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES - Part One: Franz TOST (AlphaTauri) Mike KRACK (Aston Martin), Otmar SZAFNAUER (Alpine)
Q: Otmar, please can we start with you? Some very exciting news has just broken. Pierre Gasly is joining Alpine as of 2023. Let's talk about that. First of all, why Pierre?
Otmar SZAFNAUER: Well, we had, as everyone knows, we had a seat available around the summer break, and then we started looking around as to who would be a best fit, and we had some criteria to work to. And the three things we wanted was naturally speed: a fast driver; one with experience and also youth at the same time. Adding all three things up, there aren’t many people that have all that and Pierre definitely does. We thought he was a great fit for us. So, we put him on our shortlist, and then went about getting it done.
Q: How soon after Fernando Alonso announced his departure did you start talking to Pierre?
OS: It was maybe a week or so. Not even. I mean, shortlist first. When it looked like Oscar wasn't 100% certain with some of the contractual issues that we had, then we started working on a shortlist of who else it could be, and Pierre was on it.
Q: And how do you feel Pierre is going to complement Esteban Ocon?
OS: They've known each other for a very long time, and they've raced together. And I think it'll be, you know… they're about equally experienced, they're both very fast, both ambitious. So I think they'll work well together.
Q: Now, you mentioned Oscar a minute ago, but where does the deal with Pierre Gasly leave the likes of Jack Doohan. Will we see Jack doing some FP1s before the end of the year, for example?
OS: Yeah, we haven't quite decided that but Jack is part of our programme. And he's close to the team and there'll be a future for Jack with the team and that will soon be sorted. But we focused on this first.
Q: And Otmar, how much of a relief is it to have everything sorted?
OS: It's great going forward. This is for next year. So, we still have this year to focus on, which we need to do. We need to do a good job. But it's good to know that next year is sorted, and then we can get on with this year, and also prepare for next.
Q: Franz, could we come to you next, please because you are losing Pierre, and you're gaining Nyck de Vries. First, why have you chosen Nyck as Pierre's replacement?
Franz TOST: Because he's fast. I know his history. I saw him in karting, he won, I think it was 2010 and ’11, the European and the World Championship in karting, and then he was really successful. In all the categories where he raced. He won in Formula Renault, he won in GP3, he won in Formula 2 and also he won the Formula E World Championship, and therefore I think he is a very high-skilled driver, and he deserves to be in Formula 1, and we are really looking forward to having him in our car.
Q: How much of an influence did his superb debut at Monza last month have on your decision?
FT: This had a great influence because it showed his potential. He drove a fantastic race, did not make any mistakes. And therefore, it was an easy decision to take him.
Q: And what is the plan with Nyck, between now and the start of next year? Could we see him do some FP1s for you prior to the end of the season?
FT: I don't think so because he still has a contract with another team. I hope that we can see him in Abu Dhabi in the Young Driver Test.
Q: And a quick word on Pierre. He’s raced for your team for four and a half years. How do you sum up his contribution and how much will you miss him?
FT: We will miss him a lot because Pierre put a lot of effort into the team and he brought the team forward. We had a very successful time together, not only the win in Monza but also his podium finishes in São Paulo or in Baku, and he's a good character. He is a fast driver. He is very professional. And I can only say thank you to him for his superb job with us and wish him a successful future.
Q: Mike, thanks for waiting. Can we start with Nyck de Vries before we come on to all matters Aston Martin, Nyck drove in FP1 for you at Monza. Tell us, tell Franz what sort of a job he did, and what stood out for you.
Mike KRACK: He did what we expected from him, and what could have been expected. I'm quite happy for Nyck that he has secured a job. He's not only a very good driver, but also a very nice guy. So, I can only congratulate Nyck and also Franz for this signing. When he worked with us, it was very professional, very easy to work together. And in this one session, it was the same as when he did the race for Williams. So, without any mistakes, he did what we asked him to do. And yeah, all in all, very good.
Q: Let's bring it on to Aston Martin now. You come to Suzuka on the back of a strong weekend in Singapore. P6, P8 in the race there. You've jumped ahead of Haas and AlphaTauri in the Constructors' Championship in the process. How good is the car now? And how confident are you of maintaining that form here at Suzuka?
MK: Well, the car has improved, obviously. but Singapore is also a little bit special. There's not many high-speed corners and we have seen we have had weaknesses in these kinds of areas. So, I would be surprised if we can repeat the same performance here. But we will try as much as we can. And we need to be realistic because, yes, we have jumped in the Constructors’, but it could also jump the other way around very quickly. Double DNF, or anything such with a good result of Franz’s drivers or Haas, then we are back very quickly back in the previous situation. So, we need to work hard, try to do as much as we can. I mean, on Sunday, there's a chance of rain, so maybe there is also a chance for us and then try to fight as much as we can until the end of the season. And then we see what comes out.
Q: What are the biggest lessons you've learned with this 2022 car?
MK: How long would you have? No, I think at the end of the day, the basics of Formula 1 are still the same. So, you know, you have to have strong aerodynamics, you have to be on the maximum with everything. You have to provide good feedback to the drivers, and you have to have good drivers. So, all in all, it's always the same. And if you lack in one area, it's difficult. If you're lacking two or three, then it's getting more difficult. So, we need to try and improve on that and do better in the future.
Q: Final one from me, about Sebastian Vettel. He put in a very determined drive last weekend. Have you seen any change in his approach or what he's delivering in the car since he announced his retirement?
MK: Not at all. Maybe even more focused than before. He was the kind of guy, when he made his decision, he said, he will give you everything until the end. And we don't speak farewell, we don't do a party until it is the moment to stop. So, from that point of view, it is all business as usual. And we don't really speak about stopping or whatever. We speak about Suzuka, then we will speak about Texas, and then, come Abu Dhabi, we will speak about what comes after. I heard that he wants to come back to Suzuka next year. So let's see.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) It's a question to Franz. You just said ‘we took Nyck because he's fast’ – but at the same time, he also has knowledge from different teams. He has a lot of experience in the simulator, how important are those factors to you? And secondly, they expect him to guide the team a little bit in that regard, as Pierre Gasly maybe could with his experience? Or do you expect that more from Yuki, who will be the driver with more Formula 1 experience next year? More than his teammate.
FT: We will see. The guidance of the team depends also on the performance of the car. If we have a good car, it's easy for both drivers. If we have problems in the car, then I think that it will not be so easy to sort out everything, because Nyck hasn't so much Formula 1 experience, Yuki is still in a learning process – but I think that Yuki next year should be matured enough to give technical guidance. Nevertheless, I expect a lot from Nyck because he has experience from the racing categories where he won races and championships and therefore once more if the car works, I think that we will have a successful year.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) For Otmar, after what happened with Fernando and Oscar, obviously, whoever you signed was going to be just numerically the third choice driver, but how much of a statement is it that instead of taking one of the easily available free agents on the driver market, you worked to get Pierre, given he was under contract with another team and therefore that meant a slightly more complicated process?
OS: Yeah, Pierre, like I said, we put him on the shortlist. And one of the reasons was that he was going to become available in ’24, not for ‘23. And then it became quite evident to us that, like I said before, he's got youth, experience and speed. And that's difficult to say for a lot of drivers that are still within Formula 1. Even, you know, the other two that you mentioned, didn't have those things. So, we're fortunate to secure Pierre and look forward to working with them.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Question for Otmar. It's no secret that Esteban and Pierre have had a complicated personal relationship over the years. When Pierre’s name first came up, a lot of people in the paddock dismissed him as a possibility because of that. Did you dismiss that worry from the start? Have you sat down with both of them, talked it through. Is it something that you're going to have to keep an eye on?
OS: Yeah, I mean, we made an informed decision. And that means talking to the entire team, including Esteban beforehand, to make sure that if we did make a decision, it's a team sport and we have to be able to work together and optimise. And Esteban was very supportive, Pierre as well. They're professionals and they have no issue working together. And hopefully, the friendship will rekindle. They were friends at one point, but from a professional perspective, they're both very happy to work with each other.
Q: (Daan De Geus – Fomule1.nl magazine) Question for Franz – a bit of a two-part question if you don’t mind. First, eight years ago, you ran Max Verstappen here in FP1 at Suzuka. Were there any indications at the time of the kind of potential he had, and the kind of World Champion he would be. And two, has Max put in a good word for Nyck with you?
FT: Okay, Max Verstappen in those days, we brought here. It was FP1. And, you know, this was the programme for the year after, 2014 if I remember, right. And this was coming out from the time schedule. You can't plan all these things in advance. But when we decided in those days that Max will race for us, the grand prix here in Suzuka was the first possibility to sit him into the car. And, as we know, it worked well. And regarding now, the other FP1s, we will see. Currently it's not planned to do an FP1 session with Nyck, as I mentioned before, and I think that we will do another F1 session with Liam Lawson, in America or in Mexico.
Q: And it was a two part question, Franz. Did Max Verstappen put in a good word for Nyck de Vries?
FT: No, this was not necessary. The right fit from Nyck, put in the argumentation.
Q: You mentioned Liam Lawson there. When you were thinking of a replacement for Pierre Gasly next year, who on the young driver programme did you consider?
FT: All the Red Bull young drivers were taken into consideration. There’s Liam Lawson, there’s [Ayumu] Iwasa, there’s [Dennis] Hauger in Formula 2, then [Isack] Hadjar in Formula 3, but they all still miss experience. They need to do another year or two in their categories and then we will see what the future will bring.
Q: (Jamie Klein – Motorsport.com) Another one for Franz. Just want to expand a bit on Yuki and his potential role as team leader for next year. You said he's still in a learning process. So, just what does he still need to work on? And what are you expecting from him next year in terms of making another big step? And how crucial is it for his long-term future as well that he does that?
FT: Yuki is making good steps but of course, he has to work a little bit on his discipline but I'm very confident that Yuki will come up with a really good performance. He showed us yesterday, here in Suzuka, because he was out the first time with the Formula 1 car and he has fantastic natural speed, and all the other components we will get under control. Therefore, I'm convinced that Yuki will have a successful future, that next year together with Nyck, we will have a strong team.
Q: Franz, you mentioned Yuki’s discipline. Are you talking in the car or outside the car?
FT: In and outside.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Another question for Otmar. Couple of weeks ago you had that test in Budapest with Jack, Antonio [Giovinazzi] and Nyck. It was pretty clear at the time that Pierre was coming. So what was the point of that exercise? What did you learn? And we've heard Mike on Nyck, so what did you learn about Nyck from that day?
OS: Well, you know, those tests, Adam, are planned well in advance of the test actually happening and, it wasn't quite clear about Pierre, although he was, like I said, on our shortlist there, he was still contracted. So, we ran the three in Budapest to assess their ability, and they all did a great job. And yes, we definitely learned from the Budapest test. Nyck did a great job. Very professional. You know, like Franz said, he deserves a spot in Formula 1. He was quick straightaway and gave very good feedback. And yeah, congratulations to both Nyck and AlphaTauri.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Otmar, you looked at, obviously, a few options on your shortlist. Can you just tell us whether or not you seriously considered Daniel Ricardo? Did you have any conversations there? You obviously didn't go with him, so why was a reunion with him not considered?
OS: Well, you know, at the beginning we discussed with a few drivers, including Daniel and, you know, Pierre meets the criteria that I said to a tee – he's experienced fast and young. So, when it became evident that Pierre was a possibility we made our shortlist even shorter.
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) Franz, at the beginning, you said that Monza was important to see the job that Nyck could do without much preparation, etc. But was he on the radar? Was he on the list even before Monza? So were the talks ongoing just to get a bit of a timeline or was Monza had a real eye-opener, the real turnaround point?
FT: Monza was important, but it was not an eye opener, yeah, because Nyck was on the radar also before and the special circumstances that other drivers left the teams then that Red Bull also decided not to race with Pierre Gasly from 2024 onwards, this is what they announced, all these components together brought us to the decision that Nyck DeVries is the best possibility and that he will fit quite well to the team.
Q: (Mat Coch – Speedcafe.com) Otmar, you mentioned that you've got a plan about around Jack and obviously, if you've got Pierre on a multi-year deal and I understand that Esteban is signed up for a little while as well, it sort of leaves Jack in a bit of an Oscar Piastri situation, where he's probably going to be ready at a time when you don't have any seats for him in Formula 1. What are the considerations for his future? Is a loan programme, like you were thinking about with Oscar, on the table?
OS: Well, now that we've secured both drivers for next year and the year after we'll, we'll start thinking more seriously of our young driver programme and what to do there. But, you know, Jack's immediate focus needs to be on winning the F2 championship next year, and we'll support him through that process and help him along the way and, you know, give him some time in a car as well to prepare him for Formula 1. But yeah, we'll start looking at that, you know, now that we've gotten through this step.
Q: Otmar, is Oscar Piastri is going to be doing any FP1s for you guys?
OS: Did you ask that before? No? OK, I thought somebody did. Unsure yet.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Franz, it is rare for the team to go outside the Red Bull family to pick up a driver. In the Toro Rosso days the purpose was clear – as well as trying to be as successful as you could you were a training ground for Red Bull Racing. Now in the AlphaTauri era, you often get referred to as a sister team rather than a junior team. In your view, what's the purpose for AlphaTauri if you're not just a training ground for Red Bull?
FT: The purpose for AlphaTauri is to be an ambassador for [the] AlphaTauri [brand] and, of course, still to educate drivers for Red Bull Racing. And as I mentioned before, there are a couple of young drivers coming up and we will see then how good they perform in the categories where they are racing. And if they are good enough to join us then in the future.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Otmar, can you tell us a bit about the negotiations with Red Bull to get Pierre’s release? Obviously, it took several weeks. And given the history between Renault and Red Bull – it's been a bit tricky over the years – did that make things more complicated? And also, was there a point when it was clear that [Colton] Herta wasn't getting a licence and before Nyck obviously had his great debut at Monza, was there a point where it looked like you couldn't get Pierre because AlphaTauri didn't have the drive that they wanted?
OS: Well, there are a few elements of all that, but what I can tell you is that it was really straightforward working with both Franz and Helmut and Christian in securing Pierre’s future. They're very correct and true to their word and did exactly what they said they were going to do and it was a pleasure working with them.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) A question for Mike, please, just to get you on your toes. Obviously, Nyck coming into Formula 1 is an example of a Formula 2 champion who didn't get that immediate graduation into Formula 1 but showed patience and got the chance in the end. You've signed Felipe onto the new young driver programme for Aston Martin. What lessons can he take from drivers like Nyck that you just have to basically work hard, have the right attributes, be patient and even if the door doesn't open right away it can open in the end?
MK: Yeah, you said it – patience. One thing you always have when you look at drivers is that very often if they are not winning F2 in the first year or F3 in the first year, they quickly get to be drawn into a drawer [marked] second best, which I think especially in the case of Nyck is not a fair judgement. Yeah, we looked at Felipe. We were quite impressed by the maturity of his racing. He was not hot headed in many, many races, brought it home and was one of the few not affiliated to a junior programme, to an academy. They went their own way and this is quite impressive. And yeah, to even choose, maybe not one of the famous teams for his third year I think shows the kind of self-confidence they were having. And they brought it home and for us that was very impressive. So, I think Felipe and his environment are very professional, they have a very good understanding of the scene, and they will have the required patience for Felipe to get into F1.
Q: What is the plan with Felipe going forward?
MK: Well, Felipe will do FP1 in Abu Dhabi for us. Felipe will also do the young driver test after that, and then we will see what will happen for next year. We are in discussions about the programme that we're going to do. So, yeah, it is open at the moment. As I said it’s in discussion, but clearly the goal has to be to develop him and bring him to the level that he can jump in at the time.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Franz, could you tell us a bit about the Colton Herta situation? How far did you get before the licence became an obvious problem? And as I said to Otmar, was there a point where you knew you couldn’t get Herta and Nyck hadn't really become the clear option where you thought you might have to hang on to Pierre?
FT: Of course, there were some talks with Herta but as he doesn't have a Super Licence. And when the FIA said that they will not provide him with a Super Licence, it was clear that he is not anymore option for Scuderia AlphaTauri, although it would have been good from the marketing side, because to have an American driver with this good name I think would have pushed us forward in the American market. Because as I mentioned before, we are an ambassador for AlphaTauri, and therefore, this would have been a good possibility from the marketing side, but it didn't work and then we looked for another option.
Q: (Daan De Geus – Fomule1.nl magazine) Franz, you've always had the philosophy that new drivers need three years to really learn Formula 1 and really get to grips with it. Do you think that applies as well to Nyck, who is a little bit older maybe but also has, you know, more experience from different racing series?
FT: I expect that this learning period for Nyck will be reduced to a couple of tests. That means I expect him to be very competitive from the first race onwards in 2023.
Part Two: Dave ROBSON (Williams), Ayao KOMATSU (Haas), Mike ELLIOTT (Mercedes)
Q: Ayao, can we start with you, please. And before we talk technical, can we just get your thoughts on what it's like for you to be racing at home after three years away?
Ayao KOMATSU: It's really amazing. You know, we always get a passionate crowd here. Everybody's really looking forward to it. It’s so friendly, they know so much about the sport, drivers, teams. And then like, yeah, okay, this year it couldn't happen, but these local kids coming on the Thursday pit walk, preparing things for everyone in the team, learning English to speak to the mechanics, etc, it's just an amazing place to come. So yeah, really great that we're back here.
Q: And what does Suzuka mean to you? Is this where the dream of working in Formula 1 started?
AK: Yeah, sure. When I was a kid, F1 was popular, with McLaren-Honda. That was the time of Senna versus Prost. So the first time I saw it on TV was Senna versus Prost in the chicane, right. And then following year, with Prost in Ferrari and then Senna in McLaren, the Turn 1 incident, so they were both championship deciders. And that was like, ‘wow, this is something I want to do’. So absolutely, this is where my idea of wanting to do Formula 1 started.
Q: Did you come and watch any of those early races in person here at the track?
AK: No, because I lived in Tokyo and my family had nothing to do with motor sport, so I didn't actually think about it. All I wanted was ‘I want to work there’, so I just needed to see what I needed to do. So instead of coming here, I went to England.
Q: Let's bring it on to what's happened so far this weekend for you guys at Haas. It was an unfortunate start for Mick Schumacher, with the crash at the end of FP1. Just how much damage was there to his car?
AK: It was quite a bit more – suspensions, floor, wings, but there was a bit of damage on the chassis as well so we just took the safe path and they changed the chassis. So that's why Mick didn’t run in FP2. But everything is done. The boys did an amazing job, rebuilding the car in five hours. So everything's ready to go.
Q: Tell us a little bit about Mick’s development this year. How much has he benefited from having Kevin alongside him in the team?
AK: Quite a lot. You know, when Kevin came back in Bahrain testing, he was a different person to two years ago. He is so open, so cherishing the challenge, and he's very, you know, open to sharing information as well, so Mick benefited quite a lot from having a reference. And then he was always close to scoring points, but he couldn't get there. But once he got them in Silverstone, that was a huge step. So yeah, he improved a lot this year.
Q: And in terms of car performance, what can we expect from you guys this weekend? A one lap pace similar to Singapore?
AK: I think most of the circuits we go to, if we get it right, we are always knocking on the door of the top 10. So if we do it right, definitely points are possibilities. Our target is always trying to score points with both drivers. So that's what we're going for.
Q: And what about this battle for P7 in the Constructors' Championship? How do you see it? Who's got the faster car of the three teams involved in that?
AK: I don't know. I think it really depends on the circuit and how much we get out of the car. And like I said, I think if we do a good job, both from the factory side and the track side, we can always aim for a top-10 finish and they even if you are P9, P10 there’s three points there and then you’re only three points behind Aston Martin, so all to play for. So, that's definitely what we're trying to achieve – P7.
Q: Dave, can we come to you now? And can we start by getting your thoughts on being back at Suzuka, what the circuit means to you and also the technical challenge it provides?
Dave ROBSON: Yeah, it's great to be back in Japan and at Suzuka particularly. It’s a great race and a great event. It’s always good to be here, to see the locals and to revel in the atmosphere. And then on top of that the circuit is brilliant. I think we all like coming here. The drivers love it. Even in the wet yesterday they both really enjoyed it. And as you say, it does provide a good challenge for the drivers and for us in terms of how we set the car up.
Q: Ayao has just told us about his first memories of the races he saw here, Senna and Prost, what was it for you?
DR: Blimey, that's a good question. I think it was a little bit after that. I don't remember the first race I saw here if I'm honest. But I remember the one we won here though.
Q: Always remember the winners. We've just heard from Franz Tost a minute ago about Nyck de Vries. He says that Nyck’s race at Monza for you guys was very influential in their decision to take him. Can we just get your thoughts on the job that Nyck did at the Italian Grand Prix?
DR: Yeah, he did a great job. Obviously we knew a little bit about him and he'd been in the car before. We knew what we needed to do to get him up to speed, but still, jumping in at that short notice he did a great job. I guess he was a little bit fortunate that it was a track that suited the car pretty well and we had a good day the day before. But I mean, he just jumped in and he drove just like a real, proper race driver would you know. He took his opportunity, got the balance of risk and reward absolutely spot on. And he was just a pleasure to work with. And yeah, he did a great job.
Q: What impressed you the most about him that weekend?
DR: His ability just to jump in the car, especially having driven a different one the day before, and just immediately find the braking points, know exactly where the lap time was. His feedback after just a couple of laps on what he wanted from the car and some ideas on how to achieve it was really impressive. So yeah, he just drove really well, but he knows how to work the whole team and get a good result from it.
Q: Let's talk about Singapore now. Ultimately disappointing for the team, but first of all the job that Alex Albon did after the troubles he's had leading up to the race?
DR: Yeah, so again, he just jumped in back where he left off a few weeks before really, no seriously ill effects from what he went through. So he was straight back on it. Again, he knew what he needed from the car. We couldn't quite deliver it as he wanted in Singapore but yeah, good to have him back in.
Q: Do you think you'll be more competitive in the dry here?
DR: I think we'll be more competitive here than we were in Singapore, irrespective of whether it's wet or dry here. We had a solid day yesterday. And yeah, we're looking forward to getting out in the dry today. I think the car will be okay.
Q: Mike, can we start by talking about Suzuka your memories of this place and what sort of technical challenge you feel it provides?
Mike ELLIOTT: Well, like Dave said, memories of the races long ago are probably dim and distant for me. Funnily enough, Japan's a circuit… I've never been to Suzuka before. All the racing I did when I was at McLaren, it used to be that Suzuka was at the end of the year and as an aerodynamicist, your season was pretty much over by then. So this is my first time here which seems a bit strange but it's an interesting place to come to. I think it's brilliant to see the fans, the way they dress up, that sort of enthusiasm, I think that's fantastic. It's obviously a proper challenging circuit, some proper high speed corners, there's gravel to go into, I think it's a proper challenge for the drivers and a bit like some of the other circuits we go to… sort of Barcelona and Silverstone. It's a circuit where you've got to have a good car, you've got to have a car with high efficiency and the driver has got to really push the limits.
Q: Now talking of drivers, I'd like to get your thoughts on Nyck de Vries, as well. You've worked with him for a number of years and he drove Lewis Hamilton's car in FP1 back at the French Grand Prix. What impressed you about Nyck?
ME: I think most of my time is spent where Nyck is actually stood with Toto chatting and so what you get is a really nice guy, but a guy that's sort of very knowledgeable, who understands the sport, understands engineering in the car. I think for us as a team, it would be a shame to see him go somewhere else but at the same time really pleased for him, really pleased. He's got this opportunity because it's nice to see a driver with the talent he's got getting that opportunity.
Q: And what impressed you when he drove Lewis's car?
ME: I guess I'm going to have to give similar answers to the ones Dave gave, which is he just gets in the car and he gets on with it. He doesn't make mistakes. He quickly gets to a point where he's getting the best out of the car, the feedback he's giving is good. You know, all the things you'd be looking for from a young driver.
Q: Well, let's bring it on to you guys and this weekend. Progress looked pretty good in the wet, particularly yesterday afternoon. How positive were the drivers feeling after the second session?
ME: Today is a sort of a game of two halves, I mean yesterday, sorry. FP1, we didn't look very strong. I don't think we were on track at the best of times and so we needed to have a good session in FP2. Going into that session, there's some things we wanted to understand about how we get the best of the car in wet conditions so we ran more soft tyres than others around and I think we have to factor that into the times that we set. Obviously nice to finish P1 and P2 but I think realistically, the sort of advantage that we looked like we might have came down to the running of an extra set of new tyres. I think it’s always at the moment for us what's really important is the learning. I think we learned a lot yesterday and that's what I took away.
Q: And do you think the car will be quick in the dry here? Is it going to be one of the ones that suits the car?
ME: I think it's a circuit… if you sort of go through the year now, I think we're predicting which circuit is going to be good and the which circuits are not so good for us. I'd put this one in the upper end and I think we're hopeful we'll have a decent car in the dry. Now whether we can challenge for pole position and a win, that's maybe a different matter. But you know, that's what we're aiming for.
Q: In terms of lap time, Mike, can you tell us how much you've improved the W13. This year? If you brought the car you had in Bahrain to this racetrack this weekend, how much slower do you think it would be?
ME: I think that's a really difficult question to answer, because I think you can look at the theoretical performance you've added to the car but if you look at where we were back at the beginning of the season with the car bouncing around all over the place, it's very difficult to put a number to that. I think if we were in that position here, we'd be probably off the back of the grid. I think the whole of the grid has moved forward considerably.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Ayao, you talked a little bit about Mick earlier. When we spoke to him at the start of this weekend, reflecting on his season so far, he picked out the Canadian Grand Prix weekend as from that point onwards, he felt he understood the car better, things just clicked a little bit more. We can see that in his results and performances. What have you seen as the change there? Was it noticeable behind the scenes that he seemed to understand how to drive the car and what he needed to do a bit better?
AK: Yeah, I think definitely, yeah, understanding the car better. Also the mental side, like I said, Silverstone, you know, he scored his first points in F1. That was huge pressure off him and he followed up with that performance in Spielberg, so the confidence is there. And then the understanding of the car; he's a very hard worker, he always sits with his engineers trying to understand what he's done wrong, where he can improve on Friday night, in between FP1 and FP2. So he's always working hard. So finally in a season-and-a-half, you know, since his debut, it started paying off. And then that gives him confidence and that's the positive cycle. And in Singapore, for instance, a track he hasn't been to before, on Friday he really struggled and then FP1, FP2, he couldn't put it together. But again, what shows his character, is that in FP3, OK, it wasn't dry, but he was on there. And then qualifying: OK, he couldn't quite make Q3, that's because Friday, he was on the back foot but the qualifying P13 from how he started was good. And then lots of times his best race stint or best long run is the final stint on Sunday. So what we're trying to do now is really trying to bring that forward in the weekend, get more representative FP1 running, get FP2 high fuel run to be almost as good as that. You cannot have your best run, the final run of the final stint of the race but he's running all the time and I'm very happy to see him progress. So again, it was a setback yesterday but you know, seeing what happened in Singapore, I'm sure he will bounce back today. Looking forward to that.
Q: (Jamie Klein – Motorsport.com) Mike, just briefly on next year's Mercedes. Can you just give us an update on where you are with the development and in terms of how much pace, how much lap time relative to the other top teams you think you're going to need to recover to get back to title contention for next year?
ME: Obviously, we're well into next year's car at the moment. I think in terms of trying to predict what sort of lap time you need to find it's quite difficult. I think there are races this year (when) we've been very close. In fact, our race performance has been pretty decent at a number of races, and there have been races where we're somewhere away. And I think what we've been trying to do is to understand that and I think we do understand that now. We know what we need to put right. So you're then looking to say once you put that right, how much performance do you need to find and I’m obviously not going to give you a number because that would be giving a lot away, but I think it's within the bounds of what's possible to find so I think we've got to work diligently, work hard over the winter, but hopefully we can get ourselves back into position where we're fighting right at the front.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Mike again, one of Lewis's underappreciated contributions I think, during the Mercedes domination was the work ethic and what he did behind the scenes. Can you just talk a little bit about how that has manifested itself this year when he hasn't been able to just, as some people think, turn up at the race weekend, get in the fastest car and win?
ME: I think, to be fair, both our drivers have been brilliant this year. We've not given them the car that they need to fight and particularly for Lewis, seven times world champion, to not have been in that position, to be winning races every weekend and fighting for championships has been hard. I think Lewis pushes the team. I think he does a really good job of giving us feedback. He works really hard. His work ethic has not changed at all this year. He's here, late in the evenings, working with us, trying to get the most from the car and I think that's just an encouragement to everybody else in the team to see the input he's putting in. Lewis also spoke to the factory probably nearly two weeks ago and stood up and spoke to them and he was brilliant. I guess what you expect from a character like Lewis: properly leading, properly bringing energy to the team. I think that's what we need going into difficult winter.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Mike just touched a little bit on George there as well. One of the things that we've heard from George is his earnestness, his drive and he obviously learned a lot from working at Mercedes and from Lewis when he was in the junior categories. What kind of character is George? How much does he drive the team? I think he's described himself as being quite pushy but hopefully in a good way.
ME: Well, I think you expect racing drivers to be pushy. They have a limited career and they want to win. And I think I wouldn't describe George as over pushy. I think he's working really hard with the team. I think what's been really nice has been to see him grow. You sit down next to a seven time World Champion at the table and bringing your contributions has got to be tough at the beginning but I think George has had a big part to play in the team and I think he's doing a really good job.
Q: On this topic, Dave, can I bring you in on this and tell us about the input that Alex Albon has had at Williams?
DR: Yeah, well, he's obviously had a very positive input on the team. It was a shame to lose George and all of the input that he'd had but Alex has jumped in, he's got experience of what quick cars feel like and he's fitted in very well. And he strikes that right balance as well, I think, between understanding what's possible, but at the same time pushing and motivating everybody. So he's a great influence and he works hard and really pushes us along.
Q: Do you see many similarities between Alex and George?
DR: In terms of what they're trying to achieve, then yes, of course, they're very similar, similarly motivated and they want to achieve the same thing. In terms of their personality traits, then they're quite different. And Alex, I think can come across as being very quiet and mild mannered, and very friendly. And he is, but at the same time he is pushing hard. So I think the way their enthusiasm manifests itself is a little bit different and inevitably, that takes a little bit of time to get used to and as we understand each other. But yeah, there's enough similarities there that Alex can push us along and pick up where George left off.
Q: What kind of a driver would you like to see alongside Alex next year because of course, Williams and Haas are now the two teams with drives open?
DR: Yeah, well, we need someone who will push Alex along. And we'll be fighting with him every race. Ideally someone who is after similar traits from the car but we'll see where we go but yeah, all we want to do is have two competitive cars pushing each other into Q2, Q3 and beyond.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Dave, just on the driver's side, it emerged earlier this year when the Alpine driver contractual situation was going on that there was at least an intention for Williams to have Oscar Piastri on loan, hopefully. And then Jost talked a bit about Nyck de Vries being an option. Obviously, those two things aren't happening. Is there any kind of destabilising effect within the team on that or at this stage of the season - not to say it doesn't matter that you don't know who your driver is for next year - but how does that play out for you?
DR: Well, it's not really destabilising for us. I think here at the track we're very much focused on the here and now. And when Nyck jumped in the car in Monza, we were able to just switch focus and concentrate on that. So we don't take - say the group of engineers here - we don't take too much notice during the weekend of what the speculation is for next year. Yes, there's preparations going on in the background but really, Jost and his team are dealing with that and our job is just to concentrate on the weekend in hand and pushing this car on and then setting the specs for next year's car, irrespective of who drives it.
Q: We have a demanding calendar that has been announced for next year: 24 races. How are you guys going to deal with it with your engineers? Are we going to start seeing some rotation? Or is it going to vary from team to team?
DR: Yeah, it's going to be interesting. It's new ground for all of us. And there are pros and cons to rotating some of the key engineering positions. I obviously can't speak for the other teams but I think we will probably see different approaches. We have introduced some rotation, so you will hear different voices talking to the drivers at different races. We've been doing that for the last season and a half in preparation for an extended calendar. And I think with the calendar it’s not just the number of races, it's the way they're packed in. So it's very difficult. If you travel to all the races, then you spend very little time in the factory and that's not very helpful for developing the car. So yeah, I think rotation is probably going to be important for the long term future of the engineering team and the mechanics so I think we will have to get into some rotation, it's just a matter of how we do it, what's the most efficient way.
AK: Yeah, quite similar to what Dave said. You know it’s so important to have integration between trackside people and factory-based people as well. If we don't rotate, trackside people don't see if factory and then communication becomes an issue. And we’ve started a little bit already this year in certain positions, and then we see the benefit already. So we're going to continue to improve on that as well so more of that, but also at the same time it's contingency, you know, it's not very realistic to think that 24 events, if you don't have any backup personnel, and they can do all 24 races without any illness or whatever so it's important, both in terms of having that contingency in place so that when something unexpected does happen, we don't drop the performance at the trackside, but also at the same time just improve communication between trackside and factory and it's positive. So yeah, we definitely looked into a slightly different model next year.
ME: I guess similar answers, really. I think what's important is finding that right balance between having people that are fresh and are able to do their job to the best they can do it but also having the continuity you need across engineers. So I think there will be a level of rotation that needs to be put in place and it'll be different across different roles and probably trying to match that to the needs of the individuals as well. Because I think that will be important.
Q: How important is it for the drivers to have the same engineer dealing with them in their ear but also in the engineering office? I mean one port of call if you like?
ME: I guess that's really a question for the drivers but I think it is important. I think with the technology we've got around us, it's not like the race engineers couldn't be involved, they’d just be involved from the factory, for instance, and then at least you're not doing the flights etc and the jet lag you get coming to places like this. So I think there's a balance you can strike. I suspect most of the drivers - I'd be interested in what these guys views are - probably want their own race engineers because they're used to dealing with them, there's a relationship that happens between the engineer and the driver, which means that you're picking up on all the signals that are not spoken, you're able to pick up on the body language and use that to your advantage. And I think if you're working with a complete stranger, that's difficult. And I think it'll be dependent on the team to work out how they get around that and that's probably going to mean that whoever the driver’s dealing with is not a new face. It's somebody they are used to working with.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Ayao, Kevin gave the team a big lift, when he came in at the start of the season, did really well. As the team has struggled to replicate those results, do you still see Kevin as getting 100% out the car every session? Or do you need Mick to be at a slightly higher level because if you have the other driver’s always there, then would Kevin be raising his game as well, making sure that he's getting the most out of it all the time?
AK: Yeah, like I said, Kevin, when he came back, he was very fresh and very enjoying the new opportunity. And he was doing really well. And he still does very well but of course, we need two drivers to push each other like Dave said. You don't want one driver always three tenths of his teammate. We do need is a competitor inside the team and Mick has stepped up, since like you mentioned, Montreal, Silverstone, from that kind of time. So that's really great. So it's good for Mick to have reference in Kevin, but then also Kevin in Zandvoort, he hasn't raced there for 12 years and Mick is on it straightaway. So again, Mick actually gave reference to Kevin so we really want both drivers to push each other and bring the team forward and it's happening. So, again, we continue to go in that way.