[Whiting] and the FIA to come up with a proposal that meets that requirements, that gives us a level of safety in the choices made and also to provide something interesting for the fans. That’s ongoing but it looks positive, what we’ve seen so far. Then 2017, obviously we don’t know whether we will be here or not but the idea of going to wider, 420 width tyres, was something we feel is a good idea.
Franz TOST: I wasn’t involved in the meeting; therefore it’s difficult to evaluate the contents. What I miss is the discussion how we can come down with the costs and how we will find a way to create an interesting – apart from the technical side for the future – but we will see then the 2017 regulation is being discussed and then we will see what will come the result.
And Cyril, what did you glean from it about 2017?
Cyril ABITEBOUL: Well, 2017 seems a bit far away. But we’ll get back to that a bit later. I think it was an interesting meeting, as always. Formula One is a very sophisticated and complex environment, so it’s very difficult to agree on one single set of measures that can address the issues. I think to a certain degree everyone agrees on what has to be done, what has to be delivered by Formula One in the future. So I think it’s good that we share a vision. It’s very much how we get from where we are today to that vision that is now the topic for discussion.
OK, I’m sure that others will come back this point later in the session, but let’s just move on to individual questions. Franz if we could start with you. Obviously today the running was a bit truncated by the weather but in the first session and the beginning of the second, it looked like your two drivers, Verstappen and Sainz, were up to speed very quickly, with Verstappen setting the second fastest time this morning. How impressed were you with what they did?
FT: I think we have the ingredients together that both cars have to be in qualifying three and we have to finish in the points. We have a good car, a competitive car. Both drivers do a very good job. The team is also improving. Therefore I don’t see why we should not score a lot of points, so I’m quite optimistic.
Well, the car obviously looked good in Spain as well. Is the car more consistent? Because that is certainly is something you needed coming from last year, right?
FT: The car is more consistent. The car is more controllable, especially under braking and in acceleration. The car is easier to drive as was the case in the years before and as a result of this of course the drivers have a good chance to get the most out of the car without making any mistakes.
Paul, coming to you, we didn’t get the chance to see the revised supersoft tyres today, they stayed in their blankets in the second half of FP2. Obviously they are going to be run at the next few races. A bit frustrated by that and how do you expect it go here over the next couple of days?
PH: Well, it was probably more frustration for the teams. The only thing we gained was the resurfacing. It doesn’t seem to have changed very much. It’s a very low-impact circuit from our point of view, so we don’t envisage any issues.
Going back to the meeting last week. One of the things that was proposed was that the teams should be able to tell you which two tyre compounds they want you to bring for them for grand prix weekends. How do you feel about that suggestion and also the whole notion of making the cars, as Toto said, five to six seconds a lap faster?
PH: Well, it touches on what I’ve already mentioned that we’ve taken on board those comments and we’re working on a solution with the FIA that meets that requirement but also guarantees that we have a level of security over the choices made but also giving the sport itself some interesting elements. So, we’re confident and I think from initial discussions we’re on a good road to finding a solution for that. Going quicker? It depends on how you achieve that. Wider tyres would certainly help that. From a tyremakers point of view you’d want to know how you can contest that. We have limitations on testing today and if the cars are going to change dramatically you wouldn’t really want to end up in Jerez in February, in the winter trying to find out if it’s going to be workable solution or not. The principal is fine, there needs to be a little bit of work I’m sure done on the practicalities.
Thank you. Robert, you were one of the ones proposing this free tyre choice idea, what do you like about the concept?
RF: I like the fact that it brings the decision-making down to the teams and I think it will bring variability in terms of the racing tactics of what goes on and I’m really pleased that Pirelli have embraced the idea and are coming up with a solution that will give them the safety as well as the team a little bit more choice.
On a Force India-specific note, what’s the latest on your revised 2015 package? What’s the forecast on when it’s going to be out and the latest forecast on the performance gain it’s going to give you?
RF: Well, they’re encouraged by performance gain, I think that’s [what] I’m getting through from the engineers. Hopefully it’s still on target for us for Austria. I would like to think we could do it for the race but it’s most likely going to be the test.
Cyril, coming to you and going back to the Strategy Group meeting, one of the things that was voted was not to have a fifth engine this season, what’s your reaction to that?
CA: Obviously I regret it, because that’s something that would have facilitated a bit the situation of our two customer teams given the different reliability issues we’ve had so far this season. Having said that, we knew the rules, it’s four engines for everyone, so that’s what we have to comply with. The only comment I would make is that we don’t that as something that is a huge penalty. I know there is a lot of frustration but ten places penalty – maybe I should not say that because maybe the FIA will make it worse in the future – but ten places penalty in tracks when you can overtake, assuming you have the power, the right set-up and so on, basically a car that out of place at the start can quite easily make it during the race, which are long races. So, I’m sorry for my customer teams but I don’t think it’s a big game changer to the championship.
Monaco is always an important race for Renault on a number of levels, what sort of shape are you in this weekend?
CA: Honestly, we want an easy weekend. We want a trouble-free weekend. I’m not going to say that we have more power, more performance because it would be an unfair misrepresentation. Right now what we want to have under control is the particular reliability crisis that we suffered for the start of the season and then be back to resume the performance plan that we had on the shelf for the remainder of the season.
Toto, obviously Nico got some momentum into his championship with the win in Spain last time out. Lewis Hamilton said he’s very keen to take pole and win here after two years of being on the wrong side of things from Nico. How does the rivalry look from inside the team? How’s this heading towards Saturday’s final runs in Q3 and the race on Sunday?
TW: The rivalry has always been intense on track and we’ve seen it from the start of the day. They were both out there in anger, pretty competitive lap times straight from the beginning. And it’s good for the team because it pushes the team, it pushes the two to new levels, competing against each other, so for Thursday, we can be pretty satisfied.
Obviously the news this weekend is the new contract with Lewis Hamilton. Why did you chose to declare… to announce that it is a three year term and are the values that are circulating around in the media vaguely accurate as to the value of the contract?
TW: You know the discussions around the contract have been out there for quite a while. We had the terms already a couple of weeks ago and declaring that it was a three year term seemed reasonable to us, in order to show that it’s a long term relationship and stability is important for us. On the figures out there, I can’t really comment. The only thing I can say is that there have been lots of nonsense out there as well.
Christian, congratulations first of all on your marriage. Here in Monaco, Daniel Ricciardo has said that this weekend should see Red Bull Racing’s best result of the season. Do you share his optimism?
CH: Well, first of all thank you, I’m technically on honeymoon with all of you! Daniel Ricciardo, he’s always excelled at this circuit, always in the lower categories as well. Of course the power unit plays a smaller role at this circuit of all the circuits that we go to in the year, so hopefully, as Cyril’s pointed out, if we can have a reliable troublefree weekend… already in free practice, both drivers have fared pretty decently so far.
There’s been some pressure from your director, Dr Marko, on Daniil Kvyat recently. What’s your view on what Kvyat’s done so far and what he needs to do?
CH: I think… Helmut’s comments… I’ll come back to that in a minute. He’s always called things as they are and I think that Daniil Kvyat’s had a tough run so far. Things haven’t gone cleanly on his side of the garage, he’s had some good races and he’s had some times that he’s struggled with. But he’s young, he’s developing all the time. We can see a great deal of potential in him, you can see it even in that last wet run at the end of P2. He’s going to mature and develop. Helmut’s always had a habit of calling things as they are. I recall going back to Mark Webber’s time… After this race in 2010 we went to Turkey. As we know, Mark and Helmut didn’t always see eye to eye and they (Mark and Sebastian) had that crash in Turkey. We ended up back in my office and it was an opportunity, I said to Mark, to get everything out, address your issues with Helmut. And I said to Helmut before the meeting, whatever he says, take it on the chin and agree. And so Mark went through all the issues that he had, told him what had pissed him off about Helmut, blah, blah blah, and Helmut took it on board and said ‘yes, OK, I agree, OK’ and then he said ‘anyway, the next race in Valencia is very important to us and you’ve always been shit in Valencia!’ And Mark, thankfully, saw the funny side but it explains some of the straight talking that Helmut tends to have.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) Question for Mr Tost, Mr Horner and Mr Wolff. How do you rate P2 this morning by a driver who never drove here before? How should we evaluate it?
CH: I thought it was super. For a guy that can’t rent a hire car yet, I mean it’s enormously impressive. 17 years of age… I think the two Toro Rosso drivers actually have done a wonderful job this year and, you know, I think it’s one of the positive stories in Formula One at the moment is those two young rookies that Red Bull have given a chance. They’re here on merit and it shows that the junior programme is most definitely working.
And Toto? You were in a bit of a tug-of-love with Red Bull over his services. Are you beginning to regret you missed out?
TW: No, I think it was clear that what Vestappen was offered was a deal he had to go for. You can see that, in the right car, with the right team-mate, they push each other. It’s two of the best boys, young boys, out there. And clearly for Max, finishing P2 on a track he has never been to, in these conditions, is good – but as Christian said, I wouldn’t underestimate Carlos’ performances either. I think it shows, if you have two team-mates who compete on a similar level, they push each other and the rivalry is very good – but obviously Franz will know much more about it.
Franz, do you want to add a bit more?
FT: Yeah, we all know that Max is very, very high-skilled driver, therefore Red Bull took him into the programme and bought him into Toro Rosso, and what I was impressed, how he achieved this really, really good time in P1. He went out in the morning and from run to run he improved his lap time without making any mistake. No locking, nothing. His car control and his feedback during the run was really, really extraordinary. I’m really, really happy he is in the team and I’m convinced he will show some other great runs – hopefully in qualifying, because this counts – and also in the race. I think that we will have some success with him also this year – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him – earlier or later – within the first five.
Q: (Pierre Van Vliet – F1i Magazine) Question for Cyril. What is the deadline for Renault to decide about its future in Formula One, knowing that your current contract runs to the end of 2016, if I’m right?
CA: Yeah, we have contracts that run with those two gentlemen until the end of 2016. I guess the deadline is 31st December 2016. No, joke apart. We have no deadline, no rush. I think right now the deadline and the big target is to get engine under control, both from reliability and performance perspectives. Once this is done we can secure some longer-term stuff. And I’m sure right now this is a concern for our customer – will we be capable of dealing with the regulation, with dealing with the trouble that we have right now? So, I think this is a concern for them, this is a concern also for us, so this is what we have to address in priority before thinking about anything else.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Christian, I’d like to come back to something you said, and also something you said Toto, namely that you can’t really discuss the Strategy Group and you can’t really talk about things. Autosport and F1 Racing have just started a fan survey, they’ve had 25,000 responses in 24 hours – which tells me that there’s an awful lot of fans out there that actually want to be heard. Yet, this 21st Century sport with 500million followers is actually living up to 15th Century Masonic Society levels of secrecy. Is this really the way to go forward?
Toto, do you want to start?
CH: Are you in the Masons?
TW: What are the Masons?
CH: I couldn’t tell you that…
TW: You know, whatever we discuss in the Strategy Group, bizarrely ends up in the media ten minutes later – or even earlier – during the discussions. Sometimes we need to make up our mind in there and discuss. We don’t have always the same opinion but it’s a matter of pushing the sport forward. And for the sake of the sport. And whatever solutions we come up with, it’s all shit. We are discussing making the cars faster, five or six seconds, wider tyres, more spectacular cars, more g-forces, the things we have mentioned before and the topic of refuelling. The only thing I can read after the meeting is that refuelling doesn’t make any sense. Interestingly, you asked the drivers yesterday on the very same podium and they all love it. So I think we must stop talking the sport down. I’ve mentioned that a couple of times in here. And one of the rules we have established – and Bob is new to the group so maybe we have to reemphasise this is that we shouldn’t talk the sport down. We should push the sport up. We need all of you, plus us, to re-emphasise on the good points, on the attractive bits of the sport and try to make it better. It’s not always an easy exercise.
RF: Well, to a certain degree I agree with Toto. I think that the problem I have is that I don’t think the Strategy Group is fit for purpose and we should be looking at something where we have a clear programme that delivers results. We’ve have 18 months or two years of Strategy Group work with nothing coming out of it. I think we need to look at the system in a better way. In days gone by, with Max and Bernie in charge, there would be none of that. We would know exactly where we’re going. I don’t think you should have the teams making decisions on where Formula One should go. The teams should be told where Formula One is going.
OK. Maybe offer that one to you Christian – because you did say, didn’t you, at one point before the meeting that it should be taken out of the teams?
CH: Well yeah. I mean it’s rather predictable. Bob’s going to ask for more money, Toto’s going to not want to change anything and we want to change engines. So every team has got its own agenda and it’s going to fight its own corner. I think that the sport is governed by the FIA and it’s promoted by FOM. It’s those guys that need to get together and say ‘what do we want Formula One to be?’ Yes, we want it to go quicker, we want cars to be more aggressive to drive – but you’re never going to keep everybody happy. I think that Bernie and Jean need to get together and say “this is what we want the product to be, this is how it needs to be governed,” and then give us the entry form and see if we want to enter or not. Because I think putting it in the team’s environment to try and agree a set of regulations – you’re never going to get everybody on the same piece of paper.
Cyril, you were nodding…
CA: I think it’s right – except the bit on the engine – I fully agree with what Christian just said, obviously. I think it needs a very strong leadership with a very small group of people. I have to say that I was invited to that Strategy Group and I obviously enjoyed that for Renault because Renault is spending a lot of money in the sport. I mean we were as an observer. But one thing that struck me is that there is actually lot of people in this Strategy Group. One comment about the transparency – I don’t think this type of meeting would be broadcasted or communicated on in other sports, so I don’t think that we are that old-fashioned in that respect. And again, also people underestimate the complexity of Formula One and the knock-on effect of every single thing that you change. The things that you are doing something for one positive and actually the knock-on effects are huge. And sometimes I think it’s good that you trust us and Formula One Management in general, that we are doing the right things in general. We are in the same boat, we should not criticise each other.
Franz – do you have anything to add to this?
FT: Well, first of all I think the contents of a strategy meeting discussion should not be immediately published because it’s just a discussion. It’s not that anything has been decided so far and once a decision has been made, of course this has to be announced and therefore it’s not necessary to write and talk about everything what is being taken into consideration. I think that the Strategy Group itself, as Christian mentioned before, with this constellation, never will come up with a proper solution. It should be Bernie and Jean together, they should decide what we have to do. They even should not ask the teams because the teams never will come up with an agreement.
And final word on this from Paul.
PH: I think Christian and Franz put that very well. That in any sport it shouldn’t be the competitors that are involved in deciding changes. As Christian said, defining between the FIA and FOM how the sport is going to be, and then the teams can decide whether they want to adhere to those guidelines. So, I’m fully with the two points made by Franz and Christian.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Question for Franz. You seem to be… obviously you know all about Max’s potential but he even seemed to surprise you today with his drive. You say he could finish top five before the end of the season. How long to you think is realistic before he’s challenging for a podium?
FT: Depends how many cars not finishing in front of us. The smaller, the better the chance he will be on the podium. We must be realistic. There are teams and cars in front of us. They have double of the budget than us. They have fantastic, good competitive package and it’s not easy to compete against them – but nevertheless we have two drivers and, as I have explained before, we have also a car which is quite competitive and once – maybe special whether conditions, maybe it’s raining or whatever – will help us to bring one of the drivers to the podium.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Autosport) Just getting back to the previous question regarding the Strategy Group. Bearing in mind some of the comments that we’ve just heard, is it time now to disband that group because it’s had its day, it’s had its time, it’s had its opportunity and quite clearly it just isn’t working?
RF: Well, I don’t think it every had its day. End of story.
TW: You need… this is a professional sport. It’s a global platform. It needs to have a proper governance. And I think if we wish for dictatorship, I can see us sitting here in two years and complaining that it’s going in the wrong direction. It is always tricky to find the right government. You vote for one government, you wish for the other one to rule, and the other way around.
CH: I think it’s difficult. It’s a forum where strategic things are discussed about the future. It’s not a decision-making forum. That should go either up to the Formula One Commission or down to the working groups. I think, you know, it’s difficult. If you pick up on Bob’s comments, then yeah, the only thing the Strategy Group has unanimously agreed on and implemented this year is the fact that the drivers should wear the same crash helmet for the entire season. Is that a success of the group? Not really. Is it a worthwhile forum? I think it is – but I think the structure of how regulations are implemented, that’s what we need to look at. As I say, I think the promoter, he’s promoting the show, he’s got to sell a product and that product’s got to be appealing to the fans. And he needs to be listening to the 25,000 people writing in. The people around the world: what do they want? What do they want Formula One to be? And then as teams, as competitors, we have to abide by a set of regulations that the FIA should write. Sporting and technical. And at that point you have a choice: whether you want to be in or be out. But every year, the entry form comes out and we all sign on the dotted line.
FT: Formula One is entertainment. What the fans want to see: they want to see entertaining races; they want to see overtaking manoeuvres and so on. If, for example, one, two, three cars or whatever are one-and-a-half, two seconds ahead of the rest of the field, this cannot be in the interests neither of the other teams not – and this is more important – of the fans. The fans want to see fights. If this is not the case. If this we cannot deliver, then let me say, the responsible people should sit around the table and say, “look, we have to chance the regulation in this way, that we can improve the show,” or whatever. This doesn’t happen because we are discussing too much and we have too many useless meetings.
Paul – presumably you have data on the number of overtakes now compared to the times when there was refuelling, for example, in the background, that kind of stuff?
PH: Yeah, of course. I think if you talk enough to enough people, you’re just going in circles. That’s always the case in most forms of business. So, there’s a clear need for direction and strategy. Coming from a sponsors point of view, we obviously would like to see what the plans are going forward to grow in markets where our business is important – so in Asia, in the USA, Latin America is always very important, even Russia. We look forward always to understanding the results of these meeting groups to see what impact it could have on the sport and the interests of the sport worldwide. So, as long as the direction of the sport is clear, we’re happy. But clear there is a number of people not so happy clear, we’re happy. But clear there is a number of people not so happy at the moment and they maybe need a change.
Q: (Daniel Johnson – The Telegraph) Christian and Toto, on the subject of surveys, the drivers are launching their own through the GPDA. How do you view that? Do you take it as a sign that the strategy group seems to have not been able to agree much more than helmets not changing? That the drivers feel the need to step in to this space where they haven’t really before, especially not from a GPDA point of view?
CH: Well, I’m not sure that it’s the drivers’ specialist area. The GPDA was essential set up as a safety group, to look at circuit safety, drivers’ safety, drivers’ protection. It’s great that they feel that they want to engage with the fans. I’m sure they’ll be willing to put a lot more time in and get out there and meet them.
TW: I think that Alex was very innovative always and pushing this, and having the idea of a survey is a great thing. It’s going to give us additional input, maybe some interesting findings, that it’s not that easy to actually draw the right conclusions. But the drivers are the essential part of the show so for them to be involved and get engaged is a good thing.
Q: (Joe van Burik – NU. NL) Question for the front row: there was no driving for 60 minutes in the second practice session because of the rain, this while many concerns are voiced about declining viewership and spectator numbers. Isn’t this a strange situation then?
RF: I think it’s very unfortunate from the point of view of all the fans that are here and obviously for the TV companies but it’s also very difficult from a team point of view. There’s a high risk of incident in Monaco and it’s unlikely that we’re going to have any rain on Saturday or Sunday. I think you tend to push the limits a little bit too far sometimes. There’s nothing to learn, particularly, if it’s a dry Saturday and Sunday, in going out in the wet and there’s everything to lose, so while my sympathies are hugely there with the fans and the TV companies to fill the time, there is a reason why that’s done, because the drivers want to be out on every lap that they possibly can be, and as a team we want to be out on every lap so it’s not done in any way to be negative to the show.
TW: Bob said pretty much everything. There is a risk of putting the car in the wall and that makes things complicated for the weekend. The forecast at the moment is much better than what we saw today and it’s Thursday afternoon. Maybe the real impact for spectators and fans starts Saturday.
CH: Well, we’ve only got four engines so if we’ve had a few more engines maybe we’d do a few more laps. No, I think Bob’s point… you have to make a decision. The first thing is ask the spares guy how many spares we’ve got: not many, OK, so we’re not going to do many laps then in conditions like this, particularly as the forecast is hopefully to get better for the rest of the weekend. It’s a tactic towards your Grand Prix weekend unfortunately.
Q: (Sebastian Scott – racedepartment.com) Paul, you don’t know if you’re going to be here in 2017. Would you welcome a tyre war with rival tyre manufacturers or even multiple tyre manufacturers, or would you prefer to offer teams four compounds a race?
PH: Well, we don’t write the rules for Formula One. We’re involved in over 250 championships of which about 90 are open competition, so it depends what the sport wants and then you’ve got to understand the rules, what the cost implications would be so you can’t really have an answer until you know the parameters. At the moment the tender will be for a single supplier so 2017, I might be here or I might be sat on a boat having some champagne and watching it. Probably better to be sat on the boat actually. Yeah, it’s a phase that you go through with various championships so there would be a phase of where the FIA will evaluate the technical competences of people who want to supply and then there’s an aspect that is the important bit which is the commercial aspect with the promoter. So there’s a timetable set out and we will obviously know before the end of the year.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Toto, based on the numbers that are going around about Lewis’s stipend for the next three years, by my estimation he will be earning about five times as much as Dieter Zetsche for working ten per cent of the time. Will he really sell fifty times as many cars as your CEO?
TW: Dieter, I can’t even comment on that question. This is a market and in that market you have a value or you don’t. Lewis is one of the best racing drivers out there, maybe the best at the moment and he has a huge value for the brand and fundamentally this is what drives his value and this is a classical win-win situation for the team and for himself.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Autosport) Just following on to the question to Paul earlier about a tyre war; to the four team principals, is that something that would appeal to you, to have a choice of tyre manufacturer? Fernando Alonso spoke very strongly in favour of it, bearing in mind he recalls the Michelin-Bridgestone days of the early 2000s.
FT: I just hope that no tyre war will come, that means no other tyre manufacturer, because this means that two teams will get the good tyres and the rest will just get this crap, because like it was before, when Michelin was in, it was Renault therefore Alonso has good memories and Bridgestone with Ferrari, therefore Michael was so successful, one of the reasons, yeah? If this comes back, it’s the same story: the two tyre manufacturers, two teams which get good tyres; three tyre manufacturers three teams and the rest just get what the others don’t like. That means the complete competition would drive in a completely different direction. Then we would have, after now the power unit Formula One, we would have the tyre Formula One. Once the power units are stabilised, we open the next problem.
CH: I think Franz summed it up splendidly, that one make tyre is equality for all of the teams. I think that in the times of tyre wars then of course effort does have to go behind your leading charge and it will drive costs up immeasurably as you have to develop your car around a specific tyre so I think it’s been one of the successes in having a sole tyre and I think that that’s one of the reasons for example that Red Bull has been able to achieve the success that it’s been able to achieve as an independent team, which we perhaps would never have been able to enjoy in the event that there was open competition with tyre manufacturers aligned to automotive manufacturers, which is of course is where their core income comes from.
TW: We (Franz and I) are both Austrians therefore we use the same words.
RF: Yeah, I think putting on the positive side of what Formula One has done well and I think the single tyre choice is one of the things that it has done very well and we shouldn’t change.
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday) Question for Cyril, Christian and possibly Franz: it’s now pretty obvious you’re not going to get any more than four engines. You’ve openly said that you’re going to expect to take more than four engines; when do you expect to take the first grid penalties? Will it be done strategically? And how will you handle it through the year?
CH: I think it’s inevitable that we’re not going to do the rest of the season on one power unit so hopefully it will do another couple of races and then of course you try and introduce your additional engines strategically – you may not have the choice to do that. But we’ll deal with it as and when it arrives and of course if you replace the whole engine, that’s a different scenario to replacing just the combustion part of the engine for example, so different penalties for different elements of the engine that you have to replace.
CA: Nothing to add, that’s exactly what we unfortunately have to take into account when we elaborate one plan when we elaborate an engine allocation plan. We try to mitigate the damage to our customer teams from a sporting perspective. It will happen, maybe twice per car unfortunately. Now we have to deal with that just like an extra parameter, just like an extra constraint.
FT: Everything has been explained by Christian and by Cyril. We wait and see how long the different parts are reliable and then we have to go for it anyway. I just hope that it’s not here for Monaco and for Budapest. The rest, I’m quite open.