FIA Team Principals press conference - Monaco
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES - PART ONE
Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), James VOWLES (Williams), Guenther STEINER (Haas)
Q: James, given how FP1 ended a little bit earlier, what can you tell us about Alex Albon’s car? How much damage?
James VOWLES: I think quite a bit of damage. It’s both front and rear corner, rear wing, beam wing I think as well, probably, bodywork may be unscathed – I didn’t have time to look at it before I came here – but it’s a feature of Monaco really, you’ve got to start pushing and find the limit. Just in this particularly occasion, it really is just a question of kilometres an hour – about 2km/h more than the previous lap in and lost the rear end.
Q: Big job for the mechanics. Do you think he’ll make it out in FP2?
JV: I’m pretty confident we’ll make it back out again, yeah.
Q: This is a confidence track. We hear drivers say that; we hear engineers say that. How much of a setback is this for Alex?
JV: Where you really suffer is when you miss most of the session as a result of it – or don’t fully understand why even that happened – but here on the data I think he’ll look at it and understand fairly clearly what happened in that circumstance. And as long as you can contain it and understand what went wrong, I don’t think it’ll be a setback particularly at all. The biggest item is clearly… no team, I don’t think, is flush with spares, especially these rear wings, the first time it’s appeared on the car. So you’re just going to be short on stock at some stage.
Q: Now, Monaco sometimes throws up the opportunity for one of the smaller teams. Do you still believe that?
JV: I think we have to be realistic. We’ve got at least four very, very competitive teams in front. And today, if you look at the top four, they were separated by milliseconds. You've got Alonso coming back to the fore, you’ve got Ferrari right there and Mercedes, pretty much there or thereabouts with Max as always in the mix. So, we have to be honest and be realistic with ourselves, you need a tremendous amount of an odd result, weather perhaps that would come away and that doesn't look to be the case this weekend. But I'm still optimistic that we have a car and we have a team that can fight for a point at the back, against Haas, against all the others. And that's really the main thing out of it. You can get enough attrition here at this race, you can get enough circumstance to fall your way in order to score a point.
Q: James, let's look bigger picture now. You've been at the team for five months. Are you clear on the future direction of Williams now?
JV: I'm hoping it hasn't been that long. I'm trying to think… I think it's been a bit less than that. But on direction, though, either way, clear on where we're going. We're in a good state in terms of getting what we need to in terms of technical structure in place. There's nothing to talk about yet but there will be I hope within the next few months. There's reorganisation going on all the time behind the scenes and pressure points really trying to squeeze the team and understand where we have strengths and where we have weaknesses. And that's an ongoing process that will be the work of years rather than months.
Q: Well, what about personnel? Because every team is recruiting. So, how do you make Williams attractive to the best engineers? What's your proposition?
JV: I think the main thing is this: we're in a position that we can break what we have in existence, and rebuild it from the foundations, ground-up, into a solid mechanism. We have finance, we have investment that's available to us, as do a lot of teams. But irrespective, that is available to us at the moment. And we have the willingness and desire to even compromise this year and next as needed and as required in order to make sure that we make the jump back forward of the field. And that's a tougher decision if you're racing for fifth, or sixth in the Championship. Much easier when you're Williams. And then you have the legacy you have. It doesn't take long to walk around the Experience Centre there and look at all the Championship cars to realise the legacy this team comes with.
Q: Final one for me. Monaco is the fifth street circuit of the season, one of which was a sprint weekend. So it's been very intense for everybody but specifically talking about Logan Sargeant. How difficult an introduction has this been for Logan, given so many street tracks?
JV: I think I probably didn't realise before the start of the season, just how many of these circuits are quite different to the norm – because also you'd argue Australia, never seen it even before, seen it in a sim and that’s about it. And that's a tough track to get to grips with very quickly. And as you said, by the time you do Saudi, Baku, Miami, and here, that's a mix of tracks that each of them have their own characteristics, but you can't really learn the limits of the car in those sort of circumstances. Much easier to do so in a Barcelona or Silverstone, somewhere where you can play with the car a little bit more without too much risk. I think he's got the right approach. If you see here, he's just building up, session on session, which is the right way of approaching Monaco. And you see the odd lap from him that really shows the talent and the performance he has. It's bringing that all together now with the experience in the car.
Q: Christian, can we come to you now? As James says it looks very tight at the top but after FP1 what is your assessment of the pecking order?
Christian HORNER: Well, you can see that there's quite a few cars in the mix. Ferrari looks strong, as we expected. Fernando again, you can see he's revved up for the weekend. The Mercedes looks competitive. So, I think it's going to be tight. I mean, Monaco is unlike any other circuit. So it's a unique challenge,
Q: It's unlike any other circuit. But what is it about this track, or maybe your car, that means you are perhaps a little bit more vulnerable here?
CH: I think that our car’s strengths aren't highlighted here in the slow-speed nature of the circuit. I think it's more medium- to higher-speed corners, where the car’s really excelled this year. But it’s the same challenge for everybody. And I think that there's things that we can do. Neither driver was particularly happy with the set-up in the car, I think set-up-wise, we'll refine quite a bit for the next session, and then we'll see how the circuit rubbers-in and, and that changes the car balance as well.
Q: You've been favourite for every Grand Prix this year, do you still feel the favourite coming into this one?
CH: It’s inevitable when you've had a start to the season, like we've had that, that you've got that mantra. But you know, we'll just approach this race like any other, that we try and get the best out of every session, every Qualifying, every race and just take it one session and one day at a time – but I've got no doubts or illusions that the challenge is going to be much greater this weekend.
Q: And in terms of the intra-team battle at Red Bull between Max and Checo, who do you feel has the momentum at the moment?
CH: Well, look, they're both in great shape. And, you know, the four 1-2 finishes, five victories that we've achieved so far, this year have been phenomenal. And it’s three-two on count back with the two drivers. So, they're both at the top of their game. And, yeah, it's a great situation, great dynamic for the team to have.
Q: If you're being impartial for a moment. How important is it for Checo to win this one, and get the momentum back on his side of the garage?
CH: They're all important, aren't they? I mean, he did a great job here last year. And strategically, we were sharp on the pit-wall in changeable conditions. And we might get some of that on Sunday, you just never know. So, I think for both drivers is a confidence circuit. It’s a matter of being at one with a car, having the confidence to run close to the barriers and eke every bit of performance out. And the majority of the weekend is dictated by tomorrow afternoon in Quali.
Q: Now, news from Tokyo earlier in the week. What is your reaction to the news that Honda are committing to Formula 1 again, from 2026?
CH: I think it's positive for Honda, it’s positive for Formula 1. They're a great brand. And have got a great legacy in the sport. We’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy, and will do so for another two and a half years, a great relationship and supply with them. Obviously, they announced their withdrawal in 2020. And that forced us to make a decision, long term-wise as to what strategically was the best route forward for us. And so, we created Red Bull Powertrains, they agreed to become a technical supplier to Red Bull Powertrains, and we've enjoyed a great working relationship. But of course, now we're off on our own journey as an engine manufacturer, with the partnership with Ford. And that's exciting for us for the future. But, you know, Honda, from ’26 will become a competitor, but I think it's positive for Formula 1, it’s positive for them to remain in the sport.
Q: Given the conversations you had with Honda back in 2020. Are you surprised to see them coming back?
CH: Well, for me, it demonstrates that the combustion engine isn't dead yet. That there's still life in combustion, because obviously when they withdrew, it was because of electrification. And I think perhaps with sustainable fuels and zero emissions and the route that Formula is going for 2026, combustion became relevant to them again, whereas it was something that was very much off their agenda. And so who knows? Maybe we'll get to back to V8 and V10s that are fully sustainable. Wouldn't that be fantastic.
Q: Guenther, thank you for waiting. Let's talk about on-track performance first. Monaco is so particular, so unique. How well has your car adapted to this track so far?
Guenther STEINER: I think we went out, it was pretty OK, but we know what we need to do better. I mean, they came up after FP1 to make some changes, we knew maybe we have to go that direction. So pretty good FP1 but I think it's a little bit too early to say how well we have performed in FP1, and we just have to wait FP2 and FP3 and then Qualifying.
Q: We didn't see Nico go back out after his little mishap. Why was that? How much damage is there to his car?
GS: There's not a lot of damage. It was damaged but it was not… he had to put on the old tyres from his first run and it was nothing really to learn. So, we were just waiting to out for the start, to simulate the start, and then obviously with the red flag, we can’t do that. But the car was ready to go out but we needed to change some parts afterwards, they have changed them now so we’ll be ready for FP2.
Q: Now Guenther, you’re celebrating this weekend, not just your number one slot on the Sunday Times bestseller list. 150 races for Haas this weekend, what a place to celebrate.
GS: Yeah, what a place to celebrate and also to think how quick time goes. It’s incredible. It all seemed to start just a few months ago but we are eight years old now. But it’s a good thing. We are still the youngest team and we’ve got already 150 grands prix. That is something as well. Formula 1 is not easy and I think all the teams which are here are to be respected because it’s a tough place. It’s a tough crowd at the moment – but it’s a good crowd, so if 150 grands prix, you are the youngest one, it is not a bad thing.
Q: What objectives did you and Gene set the team, back in 2016 – and have you met them?
GS: To be around after 150 grands prix I guess! And we have achieved them because we are here today.
Q: On the car, Kevin told us yesterday that it’s benign, that it has no vices. What does that mean for you going forward? How confident are you for the remainder of this season?
GS: We found out that our car is performing but, as James said before, team five to team 10, it’s so close together, and you never know at each circuit who is going to be best. Some cars are better for fast circuits, some for slower circuits and every time we need to find out when we get there, not how good our car is; we need to find out how good the other five teams we are competing with are. So, I mean, you can leave Red Bull alone, they are doing their own race, that’s what everybody says, but somebody will catch them, but the six teams, I say now at the end, because we are from five to 10, are very close together and always it’s like: ‘hey, we go to every race track and see what the other ones are doing. We know where we are, roughly, but that doesn’t mean we know where we end up in the pecking order, because the other ones can do a better job than us.
Q: And what sort of an impact has Nico Hülkenberg had – not just on the team but on Kevin Magnussen? Do you feel Kevin has had to raise his game this year?
GS: Difficult. That’s a better question for Kevin than for me – but I think he puts an effort in and for him it’s good to have a benchmark. That’s what I think. Nico is doing a good job. I am quite surprised when he came in, how quick he was, at the speed he is at, at the moment, because a lot of people said after three years, as not a full time driver, it will take half a year to get back into it. I think it didn’t take him half a year – and if it did, what can we expect in the second half of the season? I think it’s a good thing for Kevin. He has a benchmark, and he needs to get there, and he’s loving it. If Nico’s in front of him, he’s not getting angry or anything, he tries to beat him, and that is what we want. We want to have a healthy competition within the team.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Question for Christian, Max said yesterday that it was almost a shame that Honda pulled out, which prompted Red Bull to set-up its own power division, because now it means you’re committed down one path and can’t get back with Honda. What’s your reaction to Max saying that’s a shame?
CH: It was certainly an expensive decision but look, I think for us, for the long term prospects of Red Bull, we’ve outgrown being a customer and, for us to have the power unit on site, on campus, integrated fully with chassis and the synergies that creates, with engine and chassis engineers sitting next to each other, I think for us, for the long term, the advantages are significant. And we would not have made that jump had it not been for Honda’s withdrawal, so in many respects, Honda, we should be grateful for giving us that push to create our own engine facility and the jobs that it’s created and provided and then, of course, the partnership that we have with Ford that’s particularly exciting for the future. And the commitment, obviously, from Red Bull and the shareholders to the project. Would we have made the same decision knowing what Honda’s decision is today? Absolutely not. But we’ve made it and we’re committed to it and the more we’ve got involved, the more benefit we see to the group long term.
Q: You say you'd outgrown being a customer? Did you feel like a customer with Honda?
CH: Well, customer is when you pay for something, as you well know. Nothing in life is for free…
Q: Explain the relationship you had with Honda?
CH: That we pay for an engine and we receive a service. So, the relationship with Honda has been phenomenal and we've been treated as a partner as well as a customer. And having experienced different relationships with different engine manufacturers, to have the ability to specify certain parameters within the engine and fully integrate it with your chassis team, that's something that's completely new for us, something we experienced to a degree with Honda, but now are taking to a new level for the 2026 season. And it's exciting, you know, taking on a new challenge, a start-up company taking on some iconic brands in Formula 1 as a power unit manufacturer. It's an enormous challenge, but one that we're relishing.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) For Guenther and James, please. Obviously, we're just talking about being a works partner, neither of your two teams, certainly at the moment, have a works deal for ’26. Is there a risk of that group of teams becoming a bit of an underclass, as even if you have the best power unit supplier, the works team that has that engine is always going to have the better performance opportunity? So is there a risk that that becomes a ceiling on the ultimate performance of the team? No matter how much you progress yourself over the years, there's always going to be that slightly lower ceiling than at least one of your rivals?
JV: I mean, I've experienced both now over the last six months. Definitely what Christian is saying is correct. The closer you are linked with your engine manufacturer, the more you can do the layout of the back of the car the way you need it to be. So your compromise between aerodynamic cooling, performance versus power generation, that compromise can be set by yourself, and you understand all of the targets. Clearly in a relationship, and we are a customer with Mercedes, that's a lot more difficult. However, there are regulations in place now that are very good, that mean that the power unit we're being supplied is the same power unit as elsewhere. That wasn't the case many years ago. So I have confidence at least that the power it's generating is good. So now we're into the integration side and where we are. Now, we're still in a situation where we take the gearbox, so effectively the casing, the cassette, from Mercedes, and that means that the integration for a lot of it has already been thought about and done to a certain extent. So, now the real question is, can you, with that package, be competitive, fighting for a world championship? I think what Aston have shown you is that you can take that and you can run with it, albeit Aston are going their own way. But I don't think it limits you necessarily in a stable set of regulations. I think on that… the first get go into 2026, potentially there it becomes a little bit difficult, but the learning will kick in shortly after that.
GS: Yeah, I mean, I just want to say what James has said there with Aston Martin, you can see that they are fighting, with their supplier of the power unit and I think the gearbox, so there is a chance to do it. I don't see it desperately. On the other side, I think that the best solution is like Christian is having – make it all in house, because car manufacturers, they come and go, you know. We have seen teams which were works teams and all of a sudden they have nothing and they need to take two steps backwards. So it all comes with ups and downs and in the end, what is the ideal thing, like Red Bull has done, but we cannot do that and we need to find ways around to get the best out of other things. With the budget cap in place and with the rules in place, again as James said, the power units have got the same power, like the manufacturer cars, you still have got a chance. Can you be world champion? I think if you do a very good job, maybe in five or 10 you can be, but we all knew that for the budget cap bill to really get into place it needs a few years. So it could be either way. I do not have a definitive answer, but I wouldn't go in there and say ‘no, if you're not the manufacturer team, you cannot win the championship or go to the podium’, because we have got the proof out there that it can be done. We've got it now.
Q: (Ed Spencer – Total-Motorsport) A question to Christian. Mercedes have bought plenty of new upgrades. What was your reaction to them when you first saw them in the pits?
CH: Well, to be honest, I haven't had an in depth look at the upgrades. Obviously, visually, they look a bit different. But sometimes the visual things actually have the least performance impact. It’s what's usually underneath the skin or the finer detail that has the biggest impact. So obviously they've bought a significant amount of parts, so they've obviously committed a significant part of their budget cap to this upgrade, and it's up to a team how and how when it applies it.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Monaco's event has taken a few steps to modernise this year, things like just TV direction and I think some sponsorship changes were made as part of the new contract. But how do you feel what Monaco has done means? Does it need to do a little bit more to maybe get with the times? Is it one of these weekends that you kind of deal with, with some of the headaches logistically, for example, just because it is Monaco and all of its history?
CH: It's a unique event. If anybody came up with this track now and presented it, there's no way we'd race here. We race here because it's Monaco, because of the history, the legacy, the backdrop, everything, the glamour. You know, that Monaco is a crucially important part of the Grand Prix calendar and a hugely valuable one. And it's always exciting to come to this venue. The same points apply to all races, but some just have that extra value attached to them and certainly Monaco has that. Now of course facilities have changed dramatically. I mean, when you look at the pits now to compared to where they were 10 years ago, or certainly 20 years ago, everything has improved. The only thing that hasn't changed too much, obviously, is the circuit and the cars are so big now that the prospect of an overtake is virtually impossible under normal running conditions. So I think, not for the immediacy, but I think for the long-term viability of this venue… You know, nothing stands still forever, everything has to keep evolving. It'd be great to look at was it possible to introduce some genuine overtaking opportunities around the circuit or to adapt the circuit over a period of time.
JV: I think Christian summed it up well. We have to remember this is the 80th Monaco Grand Prix and there’s a reason behind that, which is that it's an exceptional event. If you just go outside and look around and see the amount of people that are drawn to this event, there's a reason behind it. It is one of the crown jewels of our season. It's completely different. Christian pointed out the cars are potentially too big now. But it has its place, certainly in the short term, that any of us can see within this room. And it provides a completely different experience to say, Miami. That's a good thing. I'm not sure we want everything to be exactly the same. The only element is to that point: we just need to think about what this looks like in 10 years’ time and what the adaptability needs to be to suit it.
GS: Yeah, that's not a lot to add to what Christian and James said, but I think times have changed. I think in the old days, this was the only outstanding circuit compared to the other ones. It was a street circuit in the city and everything. Now we have got a few of them and some good ones. So, as it was said here before, we need in the mid to long-term, Monaco needs to come up with stuff that we want to come back here, because there is a lot of alternatives out there. There is Vegas coming. We have got Singapore at night. There is a lot of interesting things, which maybe 10 or 15 or 20 years ago weren’t here. So everybody needs to keep up with the times so that we come back or that the people want us to come back, because it's not what we want, it is what our fans want.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) For all three of you. We've got a change of Pirelli construction coming in a few races. Any thoughts on that happening in the middle of the season? Will it affect your cars one way or the other or have any impact on the pecking order?
GS: Yeah, there is a change coming. I think we didn't have a choice on it. So I think we're just going deal with it. We got the data, we were told they tested them, and they are better, and there shouldn't be a lot of difference. But the proof is in the pudding. And when we try them, we will find out what they really are. But in the moment, I cannot say more than that. But we need to trust Pirelli. They were surprised by how much we improved our performance and the downforce and the loads on the tyres. And they needed to take a step for safety reasons. That’s what they did and I'm pretty sure it will work. For sure, in the beginning, the first race maybe, we need to adapt it and we will complain about it, but we will get over it and just deal with it.
JV: Summed up well. But fundamentally, the change is happening because Pirelli, and it's their domain of expertise, believe it's required. So that's fine. We're completely in support with that. It will have, exactly as Guenther said, some grumbles associated with it, I'm sure, but ultimately, the pecking order won't change dramatically and we'll have a safer product. CH: Nothing to add.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) There's been a lot of effort put in by teams and Formula 1 to change the environmental footprint on the sport, how much Formula 1 affects the environment. The events of last weekend: I just wonder if enough is being done to analyse how much the environment affects Formula 1, the other way round, and whether Formula 1 needs to perhaps do more to consider the things that may affect the sport in the future?
JV: I think there's some good…. So, for example, in the last F1 Commission, a significant chunk of it was spent on our side talking about sustainability and the investment we all want to make as teams in a sustainable environment, which includes, potentially, solar panel farms and elsewhere. So, at the moment, if you compare to just three years ago, I would say, teams are completely aware now that we have a responsibility on our shoulders as well, to the extent that you're talking about in understanding how the environment then changes what we're doing in terms of racing? Formula 1 have a good vision on what the medium and long-term looks like and in their analysis we trust to a certain extent, but the main thing I would suggest is the pathway we are on is one where we are recognising, at least, that environment around us and the sensibility changes – and as I said this is not small amounts of money that teams are talking about investing in this direction now.
CH: Yeah, look, I think Formula 1 is taking sustainability hugely seriously, with an awful lot of individual activities going on between the different teams, and collectively as a group now… Your question alluded to, you know, what could we have done to, to avoid or protect against, I mean, that, effectively, is an act of God. I don't think, you know, the region had seen floods like that in in decades. And it was shocking for us to see, you know, the effect that it was having, and, you know, absolutely the right decision was made to cancel the event, because it was, you know, horrifying to see how much it was affecting the local area. Obviously, our sister team, based up the road, AlphaTauri, many employees of theirs were directly affected by the events, so yeah, horrible to see and another reminder that, you know, climate change is very real.
GS: Yeah, not a lot to add to Christian and James here, but we are more than… or in Maranello as well and some of our people who are affected then you just realise what is happening. But the good thing is, as they both said, going forward we are looking after it. You know, should we have done something 20 years ago? Sure, sitting here now, we should say yes, but I think it's never too late and Formula 1 started very well a few years ago and a lot of teams contribute to making things better. And I think we get to where we want to get to. The plans, we have said I think everybody's working towards them. And as James said in the last F1 Commission there was quite a bit of talk because everybody takes it seriously. I think we just need to keep on working and inform what we are doing.
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) It's for Christian, another one on Honda. In let's say the past year has to mean any scenario in which it would have been possible for Powertrains and Honda to join forces on the longer term. And secondly, the combination Honda and Aston Martin, what’s the potential you see there also with people like Dan Fallows and the new factory being almost ready?
CH: I mean, we've had a lot of discussion with Honda as a valued partner over the last few years and originally the deal was that they were going to be totally out of the sport by the end of 2022 and we'd be responsible for assembling the engines ourselves. And we managed to convince Honda to remain and to continue to assemble those engines to the end of 2025. We then had discussions in the autumn and heading into the winter of last year, about, you know, was there potentially any link-up regarding the electrification, because combustion was still something that they were not keen to continue with then. But, to be honest with you, there were too many compromises, probably on both sides, that would be needed to be made to enable that to happen. So that's when we decided to take up the option with Ford and make our commitment. And then the second part of your question about the coexistence I think of Aston Martin and Honda, I mean, Honda are a great partner to have, I'm sure that the team at Silverstone will enjoy working with them. But again, that's still two-and-a-half years away. Aston Martin, we were the sandwich between…. or the filling in the sandwich between Aston Martin and Honda the last time when Aston were our title partner. So obviously, I think they found a way of overcoming whatever differences they have as automotive manufacturers and I think for Formula 1 it’s positive that the Honda brand remains in the sport.
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES - PART TWO
Laurent MEKIES (Ferrari), Alessandro ALUNNI BRAVI (Alfa Romeo), Otmar SZAFNAUER (Alpine)
Q: Alessandro, why don't I start with you? The team had high hopes prior to this race last year, and it came away disappointed. After FP1, are you are you more confident going into the rest of this year's race weekend?
Alessandro ALUNNI BRAVI: First of all, FP1 has been a good session for us. Valtteri, especially, was comfortable with the balance of the car. We didn’t introduce, yes, this new package that we will test with both cars in FP2. But you know, it's just the first session. And of course, we need to see how the track will evolve and if we will be able to follow the track evolution with our car and the benefit that this package will bring. So, difficult to say, but for the moment that good first start, nothing more.
Q: How much risk is associated with bringing new parts to Monaco? Because anything can happen here and usually does.
AAB: When you need to recover, you need to take risk. It’s very simple. We expected to bring the upgrades in Imola, we know that we will be able to have a full assessment of the new package in Barcelona, but we need to start to verify if the correlation with the wind tunnel and the track is correct, and if the direction that we expect is the right one. So we need to take a risk. It will be a first step and then in Barcelona, hopefully we will exploit all the package.
Q: Even without these new parts, do you feel you'd be making progress with this car, Valtteri getting the first Q3 of the season in Miami last time out? Was that track specific or had you genuinely made progress over one lap?
AAB: we learned quite a lot in Miami and we did a step. We moved forward to Q3, the first of the season was important, also for the motivation of the team. But we have learned quite a lot in understanding the car. But of course, we cannot look at a single race. Each race, we need to deliver a better job. We need to progress, because all the others are not waiting and there will be a battle until the very last Grand Prix. And this will be depending on the capacity to bring upgrades and the speed to develop the car.
Q: What have you learned about this year's car? Because so far in the five races this year, it's been quite inconsistent, hasn't it?
AAB: I think it's not just for us, this characteristic. We have seen many teams that have ups and downs so far. It has been, of course, depending on some track characteristic, but also I think that with the new tyres this year, especially us, as a team, we struggled to understand correctly how to, you know, make them work. So there are many factors, but of course, each race we learn a little bit more and there will be, I think, a convergence towards the end of the season in terms of performance, but it will be super tight in the championship, especially, you know, in the field where we are. Of course now in the last race we have seen Alpine doing a step. We’ll try to do the same step here and in Barcelona, but that will be not the end of our fight.
Q: Can we talk about your drivers now – the intra team battle between Valtteri and Zhou? It is three two in Valtteri’s favour in Qualifying. But it definitely feels at least that Zhou has taken a step forward this year. Is that how you see it?
AAB: He did. He did a step, of course. We have also seen last year, you know, an improvement during the season. It was difficult to assess, because our car lost performance in the second part of the season, but he was progressing well. This year he is more mature, he has a better understanding of the car. And don't forget that now all tracks are not new for him. Last year, we have most of the season where he needs to not just learn how to work with the team, but also to learn the tracks in an F1 car. This year I think he is doing the right job but of course we expect that he will make further progress.
Q: Okay, Alessandro, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much. Now, Otmar, let's come to you now. A good haul of points with both cars in Miami last time out after FP1. How confident are you of repeating that here?
Otmar SZAFNAUER: Well, we too brought some upgrades and unfortunately I was unable to listen to the entire debrief before coming here. But the drivers aren't happy yet with the balance. So that means there's a little bit more to come. And you know, in Monaco it takes time to get your confidence, to get the lap just right, make sure you build up to it and I think we're in that phase. We’ve got another free practice to build up some more and then overnight add some more performance to the car and see what we can do in Qualifying. But Esteban in P8 is pretty good already and Pierre was somewhere just behind him, a couple of tenths.
Q: What characteristics of this track and your car should help you this weekend?
OS: Well, you know, we brought a Monaco-specific rear wing here. You know, it's about downforce here and slow-speed corners and driver confidence. So, I think with those three things we hopefully will be okay.
Q: And on the topic of driver confidence, is Pierre now fully confident with the car?
OS: He's getting there. We missed Imola, so that that's another race that he doesn't have under his belt. But is he 100%? He's probably 99.5 percent. He's nearly there. But, you know, it takes time. It takes time when drivers switch teams. I've seen it in the past and yeah, he is nearly there.
Q: Now, you've already said that you've got upgrades here and that suggests that the team at Enstone is working hard and delivering those new parts. And on the back of that, I did want to get your thoughts on some comments that the team's CEO Laurent Rossi made in Miami last time out, in which he used words like ‘dilettantes’ and ‘amateurish’ to describe the team. What was your reaction to those comments?
OS: Well look, in the first races that we had a couple of good ones, like we said, up and down, and a couple of them that should have gone better. And when we make mistakes, or when team members make mistakes, we have to make sure we understand the root cause of those mistakes, and then put countermeasures in place so that we never do them again. You know, there are two aspects to Formula 1 racing, one of which is the racing part – we have 1,000 people that work at Enstone and 350 in Viry, and of those 100 travel to the races here, so there's extracting every bit of the underlying performance of the car, that's one element of it. But there's also the underlying performance of the car. And that happens at Enstone, like you mentioned. And we're working hard to make sure that we deliver on improving this year's car the best we can. I think we did a good job last year of in-season improvements. We have to do the same and over the winter, again, underlying pace of the car, I think we're not happy because we're not Red Bull. However, within our immediate competition, we made gains on both Ferrari and Mercedes, and the outlier this year is Aston, going from seventh to be the second, third fastest car. So, we hit most of our targets, not all of them over the winter, and for us to hit all of them we have to do some make some changes within the organisation and those are those changes are coming.
Q: But were you surprised that Laurent went public in his criticism of the team?
OS: Well, I mean, I read it just like you did. So I didn't have an idea beforehand.
Q: Have changes been made at Enstone as a result of those comments?
OS: Changes were in progress already. It just takes time. We all know it's a huge team effort and we have very, very talented engineers that work really hard within the regulations, you know. We're capped on ATRs, we're capped on how much time we can spend in the tunnel or in CFD. So, it's not a matter of working harder or working more, like it was in the past. You know, I remember the days of Brawn when I was there, we were running three tunnels. You can't run three tunnels anymore. So it's not a matter of quantity. It's a matter of quality, and getting the right quality takes time, and that's people. So we've got the plans in place, we're talking to the right people. It just takes time.
Q: All right Otmar, thank you very much for that. Laurent, coming to you now. Now both of your drivers were quick in FP1 and of course Charles has been quick on street circuits for a long time, and those two poles in Baku earlier in the year. How much of an opportunity does Monaco provide Ferrari this weekend?
Laurent MEKIES: Well, at first it's the beginning of a long weekend, no? So we need to keep our feet on the ground. Is it an opportunity? Yes, it is, mainly because, as you have seen, we didn't have everything it takes to win on the other tracks so far this season, so therefore here is an opportunity because of how specific the layout is, because of the very slow-speed nature of the track and it seems that our car is performing a little bit better in these sorts of very slow-speed conditions. If you add to that the fact that in Qualifying, we have been performing a little bit better than in the race. And knowing how important Qualifying is around here, it gives us a little bit more scope to close the gap with the guys in front. Is it enough to talk about wins? it's far too early in the weekend and I think we just need to make sure that everybody stay concentrated on going step after step and extracting everything we can. It's a very, very long weekend again.
Q: Now Carlos has been quick, obviously we’ve seen that but I did want to ask you about Charles specifically You’ve worked with many great drivers in Formula 1. What is it that Charles does on a street track that stands out?
LM: If you ask him, I don’t think he will answer to you because he wants to keep that for himself but more seriously, I think when it comes to raw talent, when you think about Charles, you think about raw talent, you think about the pure talent, and this is probably the sort of track where these guys are expressing themselves the best, mainly because you need to drive as close as you can from the 100%. 101% you are in the wall and therefore it’s down to your capabilities to get as close as you can from that 100% without doing the 101%, and in these sort of conditions, this is where you see the drivers with incredible talent expressing themselves a little bit better, perhaps compared to other tracks where you can actually afford to go over the limit and then you are just on the next lap, then you adjust again and everybody seems to converge towards a tighter performance.
Q: Now both of these guys have said that their teams have brought upgrades to this race. Ferrari hasn't. Can you just explain the decision not to bring anything here and to bring a bigger package to Barcelona next weekend?
LM: Well, I don't think the difference is as dramatic as that actually, because as Otmar mentioned, we've done the same. We've brought here a high downforce rear wing for the specificities of the layout, so it's more downforce for the very slow-speed corners in which all the lap time will be done here. We obviously have carried over the stuff that was planned for Imola to here, so there is actually quite a few small new things on the car. I think in terms of approach, Fred has made very clear that we will more so go for the continuous improvements approach, as opposed to betting everything on a given package or another one. Yes, there are more substantial things that are coming to Barcelona, but I think in general, it will be about trying to bring everything we can race-in, race-out, until the end of the season.
Q: Final one for me: two races ago, we got the news that you will be moving to AlphaTauri as team principal. You're still at Ferrari, you're still wearing red. How much longer will we see you in red?
LM: Well, the truth is the decision has not been made yet, so until that point… As you say, I'm wearing red and as a result I'm committed 100% to Ferrari and to represent Ferrari in these sort of conditions.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Any thoughts on the change of Pirelli construction in the middle of the season? Will it affect the pecking order? Will it affect your cars one way or the other?
LM: Pirelli has all the data and I think if they saw something in the data, mainly the car performance that is pushing them to make that step, I think we have to be supportive. Will it be a change in the pecking order? Probably nothing that somebody can plan, but can we change a fraction here or a fraction there between one team or another, it's possible. Is it still the right thing to do? Yes, it is, because safety has to be the first parameter and again, they really do have all the data for that.
AAB: Of course, we are also supportive. I think that we have seen that this year all the cars need to support the strongest strain (sic) so it was the right decision and we have all the data. It seems these tyres go in the right direction, the same compound but a different casing. So we need to change the tyre specification. We don't see any alteration of the pecking order of the championship of course. We fully trust in the work of Pirelli and the FIA, so no drama.
OS: Yeah, similar for us. We're supportive of the change, especially if it's in the right direction and it seems like it will be so yeah, no issue.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Otmar, just getting back to Laurent's comments, within them, he did say that the buck stops with you, the team is your responsibility. Whilst effectively an obvious comment to make because you are the team principal, there was the inference within it that your position is under threat effectively. Do you feel under any added pressure given Laurent's comments? And regardless of your answer, what do you feel you have to do personally, to help the team improve now?
OS: Well, you know, I spent the first… I've been there just over a year now and I spent the first six, seven, eight months assessing deeply as to the team, the structure, how it operates, how it functions, the good, the bad, the indifferent, and I have a good understanding. I've been doing this for 25 years at a very senior level and I know what it takes to move a team from, say, last to fourth or mid-grid to second. So, I have an understanding and the plans are in place. Added pressure? Look, it's Formula 1. We put pressure on ourselves if we're not winning, we all do, so I think everybody in this room. We don't have a Red Bull here. Red Bull are happy and the rest of us are working hard to catch up.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) A follow up question for you Otmar: Laurent Rossi's job as CEO of Alpine road cars and the Formula 1 team. Zak Brown is CEO just of a Formula 1 team, Toto Wolff is separate. Under that structure, where Lauren Rossi covers both, do you feel you have enough autonomy to make absolutely the changes you need to deliver his expectations?
OS: Well, the structure is a little bit different than what I'm used to in the past. From a technical perspective we do make the decisions and we need to be able to put the tools in place, the right people in place in order for success. And we're working on that.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) For all three. At the Honda announcement, Aston Martin repeatedly said that teams who have a works engine deal will have a particular advantage when the 2026 engine rules come in. Do you agree with that? Is it something that you would agree with and Laurent for you, obviously, it's going to change next year so it'd be good to get your thoughts, especially, on that also.
LM: I think at first it's great news for Formula 1, that more people want to join and it's good news for these set of regulations, good news for the sport. So I think it's a great step. Yes, having a works PU is an advantage. Yes, I'm sure it is. Needless to say, with the amount of integrations of work that there is between the chassis side and the PU side, of course, it's always going to be an advantage. Does that stop you from operating at a very high level if you don't have one? Some people are proving that it's possible to do a very good job without that sort of deal. So I don't think it's going to be more important in the future than it is already today. I think the level of complexity of the PUs is already sky high today and if anything, we are doing steps in the regulations to decrease that complexity tomorrow and hopefully, it will give us an even more compact field.
AAB: Of course, the situation is different from team to team. Being as we have been so far an independent team, to change our start our status to become a works team can bring benefit. But of course, we don't see only the performance of the PU. We are more than happy with the Ferrari engine, that is one of the top engines, if not the top engine so it's not a matter of pure performance, it’s the approach that changes when you become a works team. And of course this needs to involve not only the engineering but all the structure of the team. Of course, for us will be an important and strategic step although we are more than happy to work with Ferrari that have been instrumental for our growth in the last five years.
OS: Well, for sure if you have a works, or if you’re a works team with a PU, it's easier to make trade off decisions between the chassis side and the PU side to ensure that your total package is more competitive. So that's the advantage, working closely together without the PU manufacturing, having any other considerations, or on the other side, a team or a chassis team wanting the PU manufacturer to make changes for them that they say no to. I've been in that situation before, where we've asked for concessions to help on the chassis side and we haven't gotten them. There is that little advantage, but having said that, there are teams that have won without having a PU manufacturer that were theirs.
Q: (Luke Smith - The Athletic) Monaco's made a few steps to modernise this year under its new contracts but one of the big issues is still the quality of racing and the lack of overtaking, particularly in this era of such wide cars. As Monaco looks into the future, particularly when we have these glamorous events – Miami, Vegas - is it important that it does look at maybe how it can make changes to make the racing spectacle also match the off track festivities?
OS: Well, I've never thought of it that way but yeah, if you could do that well, it would also add a little bit to Monaco. It's no secret that we're all working towards Saturday because oftentimes what you do on Saturday you end up with on Sunday and if that can change then I think it will just add.
AAB: Of course, we have seen that ow there is a different level around work with the new circuits and I think that everybody needs to raise the bar, and every track needs to improve not only the circuit itself but all the facilities around. I think we need to work to improve the show for everybody and this involves all the circuit. And I think that Monaco is doing the maximum. They're going to the right direction but each year we needed to do a step and to improve. It’s a non-stopping process.
LM: I think you want to separate the infrastructure and the layout. I think as Alessandro said , on the infrastructure side, I think we have seen great progress here over the years. I’m sure you will remember how it was a few years ago, and now feels like a very comfortable place to work compared to what it was so I think you're right. We will expect tracks to bring improvements as Monaco is doing and it's very impressive to see how much effort has been put into it. In terms of layout, personally accepting that overtaking is very difficult and as Otmar says, that we only concentrate pretty much on Saturday here, I think it's part of what makes this place unique. And personally I will probably refrain from touching the track layout, also for historical reasons and keeping very high character places like this one.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Otmar, following up Luke's question about Monaco and how different it is, all the magic of it. We wouldn't be talking to you on a Friday normally, back in the day, because this would have been the day that everyone got over the parties the night before. I just wondered whether you think maybe a little bit of that magic has been lost or whether it's easier as a team boss to have everything like all the other races and practice on Friday.
OS: The magic of the Indian Empress on a Thursday night! I personally like this format better, that is the same at every Grand Prix but yeah, Monaco is special. We enjoy coming here. It was even more difficult before all the infrastructure changes that were made. I think in the old days having the garages up in the parking structure wasn't easy. So I think we've made good progress here. Me personally, I like the Friday, Saturday, Sunday a bit better.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Laurent, AlphaTauri have said they came up with the announcement about the management structure because they wanted to get ahead of the media but Fred Vasseur has called the timing of the announcement a bit aggressive. Are you happy with how it was handled and how the news broke?
LM: Well, first, I'm now wearing the red shirt, so it's not something I'm going to come up with very much details. What is fair to say is that the reason why there is still discussion is probably also because people needed more time to talk to each other. That's what they are doing now. I'm confident that gives them a little bit of time, and we'll find a solution that will make all parties comfortable.
Q: (David Schneider – Hershey Shiga Global Sports) Laurent, being in the management of Ferrari right now, you’re overseeing the Ferrari Academy, the young drivers programme? Do you think it fundamentally differs in terms of philosophy to the Red Bull drivers academy? And if so, how would you contribute to further develop the Red Bull young drivers Academy?
LM: Well, at first, I'm not going to comment on Red Bull’s Academy. I can comment on Ferrari’s academy. Certainly, it's the Academy for us, it’s a project that is extremely important. We have been putting a huge amount of energy in the last few years into it. You can see on the grid, not only in F1, but also in F2 and F3 that nowadays most of the drivers are already contracted with some of the teams’ academies from very early on. So it becomes a strategic topic. And it's probably also fair to say that Red Bull started first with a huge amount of success to develop these academies and after that each team has been having their own interpretations to try and catch up.
Q: (Ian Parkes - New York Times) Laurent, I appreciate you're still a man in red. You're not quite back at AlphaTauri yet but what for you was the attraction in wanting to become a team principal? Why did you feel that you needed to make the move from Ferrari and not aid the Fred Vasseur era?
LM: I'm sure you will understand that this is probably where I stop in the level of details I can give you, at least for now. I think it's very important that we are all very competitive people and please believe me that when we come to a racetrack with a given shirt, we only think to that team and to that race weekend. And that's how we have agreed to go forward for the time being and therefore I think your questions will be for a little bit later.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Laurent, a question on Carlos and his development this season. He said last year he struggled to gel with the car so much and obviously you worked with him across both seasons. Have you seen a step forward from Carlos this season? Do you feel he’s a bit more comfortable with where things are at right now?
LM: Well, you know, I think what is probably fair to say is that we are not going anymore through the same phase we had last year at the beginning of the seasons. And therefore the starting point is a better one in terms of confidence and in terms of how he can play with the car and how he can adapt the car to what he needs. So I think altogether it will take him to a higher point compared to others to where it was last year.