FIA team principals press conference - Singapore
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES: Zak BROWN (McLaren), Guenther STEINER (Haas), Toto WOLFF (Mercedes), Alessandro ALUNNI BRAVI (Alfa Romeo)
Q: Alessandro, perhaps we could start with you after the news that you announced yesterday, confirmed your 2024 driver line-up. So, first of all, can you just tell us why you decided to stick with Zhou for another year?
Alessandro ALUNNI BRAVI: I think we are being consistent with what we said from the beginning of the season. We are in a transition period as a team, in a full transformation process and we want to have stability in our driver line-up. Of course, we need to have all the conditions for Zhou to remain, and also I think we have an open and transparent discussion in the last few months – but our aim was always to keep working with him for another year. We think that he can do another step and improvement, like he did from last year to this season, so we expect him to be more comfortable with the team, to do another step in terms of speed and consistency. For us, it was the very best choice to keep our driver line-up.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about the step that he’s made from last year to this.
AAB: I think that we have seen in Qualifying, being able to match Valtteri’s performance on several occasions. I think he still needs to improve the approach to the weekend because we want him to be more aggressive from lap one in the FP1 session, and so to really maximise all his potential throughout the weekend. And of course we need to be more consistent from circuit to circuit – but we need to help him, because our car also has not been so consistent this year and we need to work hard together to improve every area, and to improve as a team, and also on the drivers’ side.
Q: So, consistency is important for him, but do you see him in other areas as Valtteri’s equal now?
AAB: I think there is confidence where he needs to improve more. Of course, so far, he was always following Valtteri, also in technical decisions. This year, he made a step and is able to have his own approach, also on the technical side. I think he needs to be more confident, he needs to rely on his personal feeling on the car and not to follow always Valtteri. This is a step that he partially did this year but we expect more also on this side.
Q: Let’s bring it on to the here-and-now. You were back in the points in Monza. Just how confident are you that you can repeat that here in Singapore?
AAB: It’s difficult to judge: we are only on Friday but we are confident we did a good job in Monza to recover from a very difficult start on Friday and Saturday. And we know that our race pace is better than our qualifying performance. We have tested in Monza a new front suspension that we think can bring more benefits here in Singapore. We introduce a new floor and a completely new aero package. A big step for us. Of course, also for this one, we will see more benefits in Suzuka, but we always say that we take a little bit more than other teams, two or three races to maximise any new package – so we wanted to implement immediately here the floor. So, we are confident we can do a step, but of course we need to do a proper Qualifying session. This has been our weakness point so far. If we will be able to have both cars in Q2, I think we can fight for points.
Q: Toto, coming to you now. Max Verstappen thinks Red Bull could struggle this weekend. If that is the case, do you think Mercedes are in the mix for victory?
Toto WOLFF: I think I don’t want to predict something and then not meet our own expectations. It’s about delivering a solid job leading up to Qualifying, and in the past we’ve got some really good Singapores, and then we’ve got worse Singapores. It’s going to be very close between, I think, four or five teams in the front.
Q: As you say, the team’s fortunes have fluctuated here in the past. You’ve won races but other weekends haven’t been straightforward. What is it about this track?
TW: It is different to all the other ones. I think tyre overheating plays a massive role: you can get it right in Qualifying but then suffer tremendously in the race, extracting that peak grip performance in that lap. And, if you’re just a millimetre out of the window when somebody’s in, then you’re just being beaten.
Q: And what about your car in high-downforce trim? Do you feel you’re in better shape this weekend than you were in Monza?
TW: I wouldn’t want to talk about high downforce and low downforce, because it’s more nuanced like this. Certainly, looking at the past races, we were better when it was about high downforce, rather than the top speed circuits – like Monza and Spa. But it’s a fight every time you come to one of those races, it’s a fight, starting from the get-go and that’s why you can’t just predict we’re going to be good here.
Q: George was in here yesterday, and he was telling us how straightforward his contract negotiations were with you. But one thing he couldn't tell us is why two years. Why did you settle on two years for a contract extension?
TW: With George, we have such a long-standing relationship, since his junior days, and there is no reason why it’s another ten years. We’ll see next time around.
Q: Well, how about Lewis. How straightforward were the negotiations with him?
TW: Well, with Lewis, the negotiations with Lewis are always different because we talk when we see each other and then sometimes we both disappear into different parts of the world, and then it’s tricky – but we were pretty clear with the main terms before the summer, and then obviously you just need to put them in a contract with lawyers. That can be more tricky.
Q: Does the deal get harder with him over the years – or does it get easier? How much copy and paste is there?
TW: Well, Lewis is a very competitive person, in the car and outside. He has a good commercial brain and now he is into the last phase of his Formula 1 driving career, there are other things that need to be evaluated. But it’s always been… as long as both want to work, he wants to be in the car and we obviously want to have him with us, there’s no reason… we’re always going to come to some agreement.
Q: Final one from me, you said you weren’t going to start on 2024 until you fully understood this car. Are you now at that point?
TW: Well, I’d wish that was the case, but this is still for us a little bit of a surprise box. Every learning that we have this year is going to be valuable next year – but obviously nobody is working on the current cars anymore.
Q: Guenther, if we could come to you now, Kevin said yesterday that Monza was the weakest that the team has been this year. Do you fully understand the issues that you were having there?
Guenther STEINER: Yeah, I think we understand not fully the issues a little bit. As Toto said, this car is still always a surprise. I think we know why we were in Monza where we didn't want to be and obviously we are working hard to get out of that hole – but it’s not only Monza. I mean, Monza, obviously it highlighted more because it’s a high-speed track and that is our worst place always to be on the high-speed tracks. So, low downforce, we are just weaker than we are normally – and we are not very strong when we are at our best. It’s just that we struggle this year a little bit. I mean, we started off, it was OK and then couldn’t gain any… couldn’t make any progress, performance-wise. We just couldn’t find any performance. Therefore, we didn't bring upgrades because there was nothing to be upgraded because what we found wasn't any better. So, we had to make a complete U-turn and go a different direction. And that’s what we did: we decided before the summer break to do that. And now we bring something for Austin, a big upgrade. For us, a big upgrade. To also go in the direction we want to go… or we are going next year, not ‘we want to go’, we are already going that way. And just to learn as much as possible, and hopefully bring some performance for the last five races. We need to see what it does but also to understand where we are going next year a little bit better, because what we have got now, we just don't know what the car is doing from weekend to weekend.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about that upgrade? I mean, there's talk of it being a B-spec car. Just how extensive are the changes going to be?
GS: I wouldn't call it a B-spec because we don't touch the suspension or the gearbox, nothing like this. We go with the bodywork style like almost all the other teams have got. At least seven of them have got. So, we go that direction and just start a little bit afresh with the concept, which will hopefully get some performance out over time, which we couldn't get with this concept we have got now, we couldn't find any performance anymore.
Q: Well, just bringing it back to the here-and-now, here in Singapore. If low downforce is your Achilles Heel, how much more competitive can you be at a high downforce track like this?
GS: Difficult to say. I think it's a little bit better on the high downforce, our car, but it's always also difficult to say how good are the other ones. Everybody made progress, so we have to wait a little bit because FP1, the track is improving a lot, or improved a lot over the hour we run. You know, there's a lot of things, we wait a little bit that prediction where we are at – but it can’t be much worse than Monza!
Q: Final one from me. No upgrades on the car here – but we are seeing a central console in the garage which is new. Can you just tell us the thinking behind that?
GS: Yeah. The other garage setup was pretty old and we just decided this year to make a new one and also it goes hand-in-hand. We will send the garage, when everything is complete by sea freight. It’s better, it’s cheaper and sustainability. It takes about two, three tonnes out of the air freight.
Q: OK, thank you very much. Zak, coming to you now. You have your biggest upgrade package since the Austrian Grand Prix here. What are the first impressions from Lando?
ZB: First impressions are good, but they are early impressions. The track has still got to rubber in and we now need to look at the data but I think the first session was what we'd hoped for and we'll see how the weekend plays out.
Q: What are you hoping for? Do you think you can make as big a jump with this upgrade as you did with the Austria upgrade?
ZB: Well, we were starting from a pretty low point coming into Austria, so that was probably compounded in a positive way on the size of upgrade, but no we're confident this will be a nice step forward. It's pretty tight where we are. So we just want to keep making incremental gains and trying to close the gap.
Q: Let's talk about that gap. You’re 102 points behind Aston Martin in the Constructors' Championship. What are your goals for these last eight races? Is that gap closable?
ZB: It's going to be a tall order. We're going to certainly try. All we can do is the best that we can. We dug ourselves a pretty big hole at the start of the season. I think definitely since Austria we’ve been a much more performing team. Time will tell I think. We'll need a couple big results to close the gap. But we're going to give it all we got.
Q: Zak, can we just talk drivers briefly. Lando was stirring it a little bit in Monza, I thought, when he said he would like to be Max Verstappen’s team-mate. Can we get your thoughts on that?
ZB: I think he was just responding to a question he was asked. I think everyone else is stirring it. I think they’re good buddies. I think if you ask any racing driver if they want to race another competitor, I think you’ll always get an answer of ‘oh, I’d love to be Lewis’ team-mate, or Max’s team-mate or Fernando’s team-mate’, so I think everyone has picked up a question he has answered and stirred it a little bit and that’s Formula 1. But that's alright. He's in a good place.
Q: Is Max Welcome at McLaren?
ZB: It's the first time I've been asked that question! I think anytime you have a driver of that calibre, if there's an open seat, of course, but we're very happy with our two racing drivers.
Q: Final one from me, about Oscar, who had a very impressive weekend at Monza. Can you just compare the Oscar Piastri of today to the one that started his Grand Prix career nine months ago?
ZB: He's just maturing quickly. He’s got a great head on his shoulders. He's getting more and more competitive. He's doing everything that we'd hoped he would do. And he's a pleasure to work with. I think the combination of Lando and Oscar is a pretty awesome driver line-up. So very happy with our two drivers.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Braydon – Sky Sports F1 Juniors) Now, arguably the most critical part of every F1 race is the pit stops. And every team is trying to be slightly quicker than each other. But how often does the team practice pit stops? And do you guys ever check up on any of the other teams to see how they're doing? Or maybe take some tips?
AAB: Strange to start with us, because we are not the quickest one. Maybe the slowest. But you know, it's not just a matter of practice, it’s also a matter of equipment. You know, how much it is important, for instance, the wheel guns or the front and rear jack and to have all the state-of-the-art equipment. And this is, for instance, for our team, the next step that we will do next year to improve our performance. So it's part human being, and so preparation of the team, the correct procedures, and of course training, but it’s also a matter of equipment. So as in Formula 1, it’s not always, you know, one side or one factor, it’s a combination of technique and of course, the people.
ZB: Yeah, we're practising all the time, all the teams are, whether that's on the Thursday, race day morning, or even just during the sessions, and back at the factory. And then I don't think there's anything that the teams don't look out for in what other teams are doing. But as Alessandro said, it's not just the human being, it's the equipment, and it's the drivers who have got to pull into the right spot. So it's something that we're constantly working on.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) To Zak and Toto. There's been lots of rumblings all season about the cost cap, but in the end, everyone was given the all clear. Were you surprised that was the outcome? Do you have complete faith in the robustness of the policing? And do you think into ’23 things could get more complicated once TD45 comes into force?
TW: At the end, the result was that all teams got the certificate of compliance and in that respect, that's good. Good to know. It seems everybody has been checked thoroughly. And all possible, you know, ideas in the background have disappeared because they got the carte blanche, or the ones that were maybe suspected to not have passed it. So, I think we just need to get on with the rest now.
ZB: Yeah, I agree with what Toto says. I guess the one build I would have is that [with] TD45, there was a reason why that was put in place. And so hopefully that will close any additional loopholes. So yeah, everyone passed this year, which is good for Formula 1. Formula 1 teams try to be as clever as possible. And hopefully, TD45 is something that will close any loopholes that may have still been existing. I think the cost cap was always going to be a bit of a learn-as-you-go.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Alex Palou isn't here this weekend. Are you surprised that he's not here? How does it change the team's weekend? And also, his not being here, does that alter your legal case with him?
ZB: Well, we only need a reserve driver if we need a reserve driver. So it's very much business as usual. There shouldn't be any issues with it. I'll drive! I've got my helmet. I don't have a Super Licence, I don't think. And the legal case I can't really comment on. There is a legal case and that's in London and we'll see that through and then in due course, what happened, will all play out.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Toto, a question for you. You mentioned the long-running relationship with George. You've spoken about that first meeting where he turned up with his ill-fitting suit and the PowerPoint presentation he gave you. What are some of the thoughts from that session? What really struck you about him, as I think he was 16 at the time, to now see him become a Mercedes Grand Prix winner?
TW: So it was a funny situation, because he came in in his sharp suit and I expected him to say, well, you know, what do I need to do in order to be part of the Mercedes junior team? And that's actually not the question he asked. He said he is running with the Volkswagen engine in Formula 3 and he feels good about it because it's an English team and that's why he wants to stay and whether it would limit his chance to actually be part of the programme in the future. And it was so straightforward that I liked it. And then obviously the famous PowerPoint presentation on why betting on him was the right thing to do. For a 16-year-old, that was pretty impressive.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) Alessandro, with the driver choice for next year, obviously Theo Pourchaire won't be stepping up into F1 with the team, but it does look like he's going to win the F2 title. He's only 20 years old, he's been part of the Sauber family for a while. If he can't get into F1 now with all of those factors, then when and how can you get into F1 In the future, because we've obviously seen some F2 champions that do have to wait before they can step up?
TW: He's a lawyer.
AAB: We are ready to make a deal. Of course, first of all, as I said, we keep him as a part of our drivers’ line-up. He will be the reserve driver next year. We are discussing together which will be the best racing programme for him to be ready to jump into the F1 car. No doors are closed for him in the future. We just felt that will be the best choice for the team, to keep our driver line-up also for next year and this doesn't exclude any opportunity for him in the future. We have seen with Felipe Drugovich - maybe we have seen in the past that is not… with Piastri as well - that after one year in Formula 2, if there is not actual chance to be a race driver, this doesn't exclude the possibility for the team to appoint in the future. We just need to look at what is the best programme for him. We want him to stay close to the F1 team because this year we asked him to be fully focused in Formula 2 and he's doing well. I think and I hope that he will win the championship in Abu Dhabi. Maybe we can also see for him which will be the best to be ready and to be prepared. Let's imagine that, compared to other teams, we don't have an old car like Aston Martin, like McLaren, or Mercedes to do a proper testing programme for a driver - and this is a big limitation - maybe this will be available for him next year. We are discussing internally; of course budget-wise this is something that for a team is quite expensive but we want to see all the opportunities but for a driver like him, the doors are open. We just need to see the best programme to be ready.
Q: What about this year with Theo? Is he going to get a run out in an F1 car this year?
AAB: Yeah, he will be doing FP1 sessions. We are looking at the best options. As you know, the second part of the season we have still a sprint format weekend or new circuits like Qatar and Las Vegas, so opportunities are quite few but we think that we are targeting Mexico and Abu Dhabi. So we will decide in the next few weeks the best programme for him.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) It looks increasingly likely that the Andretti project will get a green light from the FIA in the coming weeks. It then moves on to the CRH for evaluation and a decision. Now it looks like it's closer to becoming reality. What are your thoughts on that? If you had a formal role in the process, what would you say to Stefano? And secondly, are you resigned to the fact that you'll start with the 200 million dilution fee or would you still want to see that adjusted?
ZB: We've not… well, I've not heard anything new recently. It's not been spoken about so I think our view’s unchanged and (we’re) just going to wait and see how the process plays out. I think the one thing I would say is the value of a Formula 1 team and an entry, from what it was five years ago is… the sport is worth substantially more so I think that that element needs to be discussed. But beyond that, I'm not sitting on any new information that I hadn’t heard months ago and just going to wait and see what the FIA and Formula 1 do.
GS: Yeah, I haven't heard anything that it was accepted or not accepted. I don't know and I'm sure Stefano knows how to deal with this in our best interest. We put our faith in FOM to deal with it and as Zak said, the teams are worth now a lot more than when we’re deciding the Concorde agreement in 2020, where some teams we're struggling to stay in business, and were worth basically nothing, so the market has changed, but in the end, I don't have any news about it so I just wait to hear and then F1 will do the deal for us.
TW: I think why Formula 1, and the team. have survived in the last years is because we all stuck together: the FIA, FOM and the 10 teams. We need to protect the sport, we are holding this sensitive sport that's growing at the moment in our hands and that's why the right decisions need to be taken, all of us together when it comes to - let's say - a mindset and then obviously the FIA and FOM, when it comes to these decisions, because it's out of the teams’ hands. But I would hope that Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Stefano will take the right decisions for Formula 1.
AAB: I fully agree with all the other comments. Of course, as for us, we think that any new team must bring an added value to the entire F1 community and so it needs to be a solid project, not just for five years’ period, but must be a really long term project. We are a strong foundation and of course, it needs to recognise any new entry, the value and all the investment that has been done by the current teams. And as Zak and Toto mentioned, the worth of the current teams has grown up significantly in the past few years. We need to protect our business but we rely on the FIA and FOM to take the right decision. We will be ready to welcome any new teams that has this kind of characteristic. But we need first to also understand what is the best for the entire F1 community with a long term perspective.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Toto after the last race you received a bit of criticism for your comments about Max and his record. I just wanted to know, do you have any regrets about what you said or do you stand by what you said?
TW: Well, obviously when you look at the comments, in the circumstances you can think was it the most intelligent thing that I could have said and maybe not? But it's always been my mindset. It is something that I've taken from Niki. You know, Niki gave his trophies away to get a free car wash. You won't find a lot of memorabilia in my places either because those numbers never mattered for the two of us. Formula 1 is a meritocracy and I said it often during this year that only the best will win World Championships and you need to recognise what a great job is being done there and at the end they will take another big trophy and that is something that's the most valuable: the best person in the best car wins the World Championship.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Toto and Zak, by association, your driver and your team are represented or by association with Massa’s legal case. I just wondered if you think any good can come for Formula 1 if this keeps going and progressing in courts and just keeps on pushing on?
TW: Well, interesting to follow. Clearly not something that anybody saw coming. The rules are pretty clear in Formula 1. Is there a civil case behind it? It will certainly set a precedent, whatever it is. Yeah, we're looking from the sidelines with curiosity.
ZB: Yeah, it was obviously well before my time. I was actually at the race and yeah, we've not been contacted. I've not been asked about it. It's the first time I've been asked about it so it doesn't really involve today's McLaren. So (I’m) a little surprised that it's come up now. Not sure what's triggered it now but we'll just wait and see if it develops further.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Any thoughts on the situation that Helmut’s got himself into in the last couple of weeks? And was it a valuable lesson for all of you in terms of being ultra-careful what you say in public to the media?
ZB: I think you have to be very careful what you say to anybody. Yeah, probably - not probably - it was not a great comment. We can understand why people were offended by it. I didn't hear it myself, I've only read it but yeah, you have to be very respectful of everyone and not make comments that can be viewed inappropriately.
GS: Yeah, I agree with Zak. Stereotyping, these days, doesn't work anymore. We need to be careful what you say. Sometimes it’s very difficult to do, because what you say you don't mean it and then you shouldn't say it, obviously, if you're aware of it. I didn't hear it as well because I could understand it in German how it was said, so I just read it and in translation maybe it sounds different. But I think it is what it is and I think they're dealing with it and I was surprised to hear that Mexico was in South America.
TW: Yeah, we're laughing about South America but it's a topic that's not at all funny and it's not only what has been said but it's the mindset that you can even come up with these things and that hasn't got any place in Formula 1, that's not something that should have been said in the past, and certainly not now or in the future. We all know that we need more diversity in Formula 1, more inclusion, and the team's do their best to create an environment where this is possible. And obviously statements like this don't shine the light on Formula 1 that Formula 1 deserves for all of their activities.
AAB: Yeah, I fully agree. And for me, it's very important that as a Formula 1, as a community, we need to be respectful. We started a path all together going towards diversity, inclusion and this must be factual. We don't need just to have a strategy in place, we need to have behaviours that show to people how we value this in Formula 1 and we need to be careful how to comment on things. I'm Italian, so I know that sometimes we have been facing the same comments as Italians. I think that everyone must be respected. We are all working hard, we are all trying to prove that we can do a good job here in Formula 1 at any level, from drivers to people. We just need to show really inclusion and to show that Formula 1 is an open community where everybody can find his place, or her place.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) A question to Toto just to follow up. Something you said in your answer about the thing that Felipe is doing, the legal case. You mentioned the possibility it could set a precedent. Obviously, with what happened to Lewis in 2021, that was the final race of the season. It was something that directly influenced the outcome of the World Championship, and it was something that was out of everybody's control and related to something that happened with the management of the race. So is that the kind of thing that could be reopened because you as a team made a conscious decision not to pursue that when you had the opportunity to do so in the days after Abu Dhabi?
TW: And the FIA commented on the 2021 race with a clear statement. So that's why we're looking at it with interest.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) A question for all four of you, Singapore is one of the most glamorous locations on the F1 calendar. We've got Vegas coming up, obviously, which should probably be another level. How important to F1’s identity is this glamour image? It has been such a rich part of its history. And do you see it as being a big thing moving forward to double down on?
AAB: You know, I've always said that I'm in favour of such glamorous venues. For me, the Formula 1 trajectory is the correct one. Las Vegas, Singapore, we need to have these kind of tracks that can combine drama on track, can combine glamour outside. Of course, FOM is doing a really good job in order to make our sport bigger and more popular. And I would say the selection of the venues, the next venues, is crucial, you know, to keep following this path. So I really welcome, not just Singapore or night races, but everything that can bring a fresher approach, can bring something sparkling to Formula 1. We have room to keep in the calendar the traditional circuits, also for 2025. But I think we don't need to be, you know, close to news or to change things that can improve our worth.
TW: Yeah, Singapore is great. I mean, the night race was invented here, isn’t it. And it shows the interest, also, of our partners. We are flat out with events and presentations. And it shows that it hasn't stopped. In Singapore, every time we come back, it is one of the most important events in Formula 1.
GS: Yeah, I think Singapore is very, very nice. And the glamour is good for Formula 1. But I think the best in Formula 1 is next year, by having 24 races, they're all different between them, you know. Because if you would have 24 Las Vegas, or 24 Singapore, people would get just used to it and it wouldn’t be glamour anymore. We've got historic race courses, we've got night races, we have got.,. you can take the pick of it. And I think the change in it attracts people to watch it because every race has got its particularity. And it's interesting because of one another reason. So I think the mix of the races is good. And for sure having Singapore, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo as the glamour events is very good.
ZB: Yeah, just what everyone has said, but what Guenther said – the diversity of all these races, I think, is great, you know. You've got all these different countries and the culture of these countries come out. So Singapore is certainly very glamorous, first night race, it's fantastic. But I think all the races on the calendar are great and unique in their own way.