Friday team’s FIA press conference
23 September, 2011
Sep.23 (FIA) Full transcript of the team representatives FIA press conference at Marina Bay Circuit, venue of the Singapore Grand Prix, round 14 of the 2011 F1 world championship. Team representatives include: Riad Asmat (Team Lotus), Jean Francois Caubet (Renault Sport F1), Robert Fernley (Force India), Norbert Haug (Mercedes), Gerard Lopez (Lotus Renault) and Sam Michael (Williams).
Q: Bob, first of all, what happened to Paul di Resta today?
Robert Fernley: We had a problem with the brakes, the machining of the brakes and the hydraulics. Paul has a lot of steel, he’ll bounce back tomorrow.
Q: Obviously the performances are improving and Vijay Mallya has emphasised that. The thing is carrying it through to next year. That is the task isn’t it?
RF: Well, I think next year is a completely different programme. What we had to do at the beginning of this year was to take a step backwards in order to understand where we lost our way at the end of 2010 and what you see now is the evolution of all that work coming through. Obviously with the change of regulations with the blown floors next year is a completely different ballpark.
Q: Have you already started work on next year? When are you finishing development on this year’s.
RF: We started work on next year’s some time ago. This is probably the last major upgrade that we will do for the 2011 car.
Q: And the battle with Sauber?
RF: Very hard. They are very competitive. They are not going to give in easily, so we will have to work as hard as we can.
Q: Is that something you look forward to?
RF: Yes, very much so. They are a good team, working hard. I mean all the teams in all fairness in that midfield area are incredibly competitive and we are going to have to work very, very hard to hold onto sixth place. Sam managed to beat us last year by one point. I don’t want to repeat it this year.
Q: Jean Francois, you are heading for a World Championship victory I am sure. That is almost certain, but what are Renault’s feelings about it?
Jean Francois Caubet: I think if we win the championship this year it will be the 10th time in 20 years. We think we did a good choice to sell engines and stop managing a team and I think the long-term strategy we will have with the Red Bull team is a good thing for future of Formula One and Renault.
Q: What is Renault Sport’s position within the Renault group as it were?
JC: Renault Sport is doing only Formula One. We were 200 people last year. We will be 250 next year. It is a key point and the board is pushing Formula One in Renault now for the long term. I think that is good news.
Q: Is that expansion because of the new engine?
JC: Yes, I think we have 25 people coming from Renault mainly to develop the electric side of the V6 but we will have 40 next year and one team is 10 people more.
Q: Riad, a new job as CEO. Tell us about your new job and what it concerns?
Riad Asmat: Well, I guess we have expanded in actually owning a car company as well as an engineering business and ever since certain developments that is the new role. I look into not just the Formula One side of things but the actual road car and engineering business from this point. A bit more work actually.
Q: So you are in charge of everything?
RA: Well, technically!
Q: You are from Malaysia but also Singapore as well. How do you see the Singapore Grand Prix?
RA: I think it is one of the best on the calendar as well. Just having family from Singapore helps. I am assured support in one form or the other. It is just next to Malaysia so we represent Asia to a certain degree and we hope we will be able to push our name, our brand, into the region.
Q: There are rumours of a name change but also a change of location for the team, whatever it might be called. It has been for so long in Norfolk it is difficult to imagine that Team Lotus will be elsewhere.
RA: I’ll take the one question first which is the location. Our home in Norfolk, in Norwich in Hingham, and that is, for sure, never going to change. That will be maintained as one of our parts but as a team that is growing and progressing we need to have a look at how to get more efficiencies out of the team and one of the main areas is to be in the motorsports belt of the UK. It is something we are looking into and when the time is right we will make the necessary announcement. But for sure Hingham is our home.
Q: Will you keep facilities there?
RA: Yes, we bought the place and it is home for us. We will never go away. On your second point?
Q: The name change?
RA: Name change. No decision as yet. We are still Team Lotus as you can see but as my shareholders have mentioned we are open to anything and we will see how it progresses from this point.
Q: Gerard, we hear about new facilities and new investment in the team. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Gerard Lopez: Yes, we essentially wanted to bring the place we are in right now, Enstone, up to the best standards in Formula One and it was missing a couple of things. One was the wind tunnel, which was still only 50 per cent scale. The second one was the driver simulator and then also a couple of logistical areas so we have decided essentially to expand the factory. Improve the wind tunnel up to 60 per cent, which is the maximum allowed and build the new simulator.
Q: Is that really state-of-the-art or even better than anybody else’s?
GL: I think everybody else that is a state-of-the-art team has the 60 per cent tunnel so I think that is matching essentially the best. On the simulator, as far as we know, it is probably going to be one of the very best simulators in the business.
Q: Are there plans for further investment?
GL: We have to invest every day essentially, just because it is a Formula One team so things become obsolete quite quickly. I think we have maxed out in terms of personnel. When we took over there were about 480 people. There are 520 I believe now, so we increase that number. The investments will continue essentially as much as we need to, to try and be where we want to be, which is a top three team in Formula One.
Q: Your third driver is the new GP2 champion Romain Grosjean. What are your plans for him?
GL: It’s a question that I need to take from a different angle, also of a management company that manages his career. I think the plans for a GP 2 winner, especially one that wins it in such a convincing manner, is to be in Formula One. We are going to try and help him sit in a Formula One car next year.
Q: Actually you were in a difficult position until quite recently of having five drivers for two cars potentially.
GL: And more. There’s people that are interested just in case. But right now we have a commitment to Robert (Kubica). He has done amazing things for the team. We know what he is capable of and I think any team would take him if he is capable of delivering the same thing. Our commitment is to try and see if he can come back and we will wonder about anything else afterwards.
Q: Sam, a sad moment for you isn’t it, leaving Williams?
Sam Michael: It’s been a great 11 seasons with them. I think they were such a prestigious name and it has been an honour to work with Frank (Williams) and Patrick (Head). This weekend is the last race and the main thing for me is that we finish everything off properly which we are doing. I leave Williams with a very good relationship with the company. I have nothing but good memories of the place but it is time for a change after so many seasons.
Q: When exactly do you join McLaren?
SM: That’s not decided yet. That is something being discussed privately so it’s not really appropriate to go into that here.
Q: But you’ve got a bit of gardening leave have you?
SM: Well, as I said, I better not discuss that here.
Q: Tell us about the technical challenges of this circuit?
SM: Well it’s a street circuit, so it has very low grip. There is always a lot of oil on the circuit so you always get a lot of progression of lap time during the weekend as the Formula One tyres pick up a lot of the debris and contaminants on the surface. It is similar to Monte Carlo, which is like that as well. The most important thing is slow-speed corners, getting rid of understeer, making sure traction is good. There are no real high-speed corners compared to a normal closed circuit. It’s a maximum downforce track and quite a few kerbs as well around this place. You can do a lot of damage there. Normally quite difficult to overtake around a track like this but with DRS and the tyre situation there should be plenty of overtaking on Sunday.
Q: Is it a little less bumpy than before?
SM: The track itself is. The actual tarmac, but the kerbs are just as big. They are hitting the kerbs even harder now.
Q: We have seen quite a lot of bits and pieces coming off most cars.
SM: That’s right. A lot of that is because they are trying to take more and more kerb as there is lap time in it.
Q: is that something we have seen today or are we going to see that for the rest of the weekend?
SM: Well I think today you will see a lot more of it as the drivers are trying to find out how far they can go and how much damage they can get away with. Then tonight you will repair your car and tell them where you can and can’t drive.
Q: Norbert, Michael Schumacher’s performances over the past couple of grands prix. Two fifth places.
Norbert Haug: Well I think he was excellent in the last two races. He was very good in some of the other ones, probably not at the right position. Our current car is not capable of doing a much better job and I think especially in the races, especially after the starts, nobody overtook more cars than Michael did in the first lap. He is an excellent starter, still a fantastic racer and the more we improve our technical package the more he will deliver. I think we know from Nico (Rosberg) what he is capable of doing so we have a very strong driver combination. I think a lot of people got excited in Monza. It was fantastic to watch and the guys like us who like racing enjoyed it very much. I can understand Martin (Whitmarsh). I had a word with him afterwards. I can understand Lewis (Hamilton) but if they had been in our position they would not have acted differently and I guess 99 per cent of the television viewers enjoyed it. Probably more than that.
Q: Do you expect those sort of performances to continue for the final six races or was that just the two low downforce circuits?
NH: Well it certainly fitted much better to the current package we are having. This race here in Singapore, first of all it is a fantastic event I have to say and hopefully it stays forever on the calendar. It is producing the most spectacular television pictures. It is so unique and we all have to thank the organisers and Bernie (Ecclestone) for making this event happen. But it is a challenging track. It probably looks not such a typical street course but you could see what happened today. The walls are very close. The drivers push to the limits. We discussed that right now so I think there will be a lot of surprises here. For us, it will be challenging. We made a good step between first practice and second practice. We’re heading in the right direction. Hopefully there is a little bit more to come but we honestly cannot expect a Monza or a Spa like performance under normal circumstances. But, having said that, this race will have safety cars probably. You need to be there. There is a chance of rain, whatever, so that can be quite a mix up in the field and we need to be prepared. Michael will deliver. There is no doubt he is as committed as ever. I think we have to see that he was outside of Formula One for three years. The formula changed a lot. There is no testing and so on and so on. He gets more mileage and he gets better and better and I think not a lot of drivers could have done a better job than he did in the last two races. His race speed, if you compare it to Nico, looks very balanced and Nico is – and I think Sam can describe that as well – certainly one of the most talented, most experienced ones. One of the definitely top five drivers and if you can compare yourself after a comeback, after a break of three years, with one of the young superstars, then you are heading in the right direction. For me it is a little strange to say Michael will create surprises because he won everything, he won more than anybody else, but believe me the better our car goes the more he will deliver and he is fully committed. He is an asset to the team, doing a fantastic job, keeping the together, motivating everybody and we are 100 per cent pleased to have him with us.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Joris Fioriti – Agence France Presse) A question to all of you. What do you think of Sebastian Vettel’s performances this year. Don’t you think that his domination harmed the sport a little bit and would you want him in your team?
RF: Let’s take it a step at a time. I think Sebastian has done a fantastic job this year as have Red Bull and it is up to the rest of the teams to challenge them. I don’t think Red Bull should be asked to slow down. We need to get our act together and to be competing with them so hat’s off to them and well done. There have been many, many years when a driver has dominated or a team has dominated so I think you have got to look at the overall package this year of racing and I think it’s been outstanding across the board. I think the show is probably the best it’s been for a long, long time. The fact that one team and one driver has dominated I don’t think has detracted from that. Would I like Sebastian in our car? I think we have got two or three rather good drivers. I am quite happy with what we have thank you.
JC: I hope that when Sebastian will have the title, if it is this grand prix or the nest grand prix, he will push a little bit more as I am sure the race will be more interesting at the end. For Renault, it is difficult to ask the engineer to slow down the engine or blow up the engine. I don’t think so.
RA: Well he has done a fantastic job again. I think it is also the team that has done their part. Again, their domination I refer to Bob’s point. We have seen domination and it is up to us to push ourselves. We are from behind but we hope to achieve some sort of success in the future. On him being a part of our team, I don’t think we can afford it, but we have got a good couple of drivers right now and we are happy with what we have and we will push on from there.
GL: I would concur – not trying to be boring – but I think they have the best car and they have somebody who can use it to the maximum, so he deserves to be where he is. I actually know him quite well for a long time already, so I can pretty much tell you that he deserves to be where he is today. And I will say the same thing as far as the drivers go: we have drivers that we like but he’s a great guy.
SM: I think he’s done a fantastic job for the second year in a row now. It’s not the races when Red Bull are dominant, it’s the ones when they are not that show that he’s really something special. He’s won races when perhaps maybe they shouldn’t have won and he’s managed to drag… although the car’s clearly very good, they haven’t been dominant at every single circuit and some of the races that I’ve seen him win this year have been pretty impressive. So definitely hats off, he’s deserved it.
NH: Sebastian is certainly a very special guy, very talented guy. I’ve known him since his early days in Formula BMW ADAC, the supporting races of DTM. Then he was a Formula Three driver with Paul di Resta. He learned a lot, he’s a very focused guy, a very intelligent guy, a very demanding guy and an absolutely nice chap. We absolutely have to take our hats off to him. He’s great, he deserves every single point he has got, probably more because he was unlucky here and there and he deserves what he has got. I don’t think that the World Championship isn’t interesting; in fact I think that this is one of the most thrilling seasons ever and I’ve been around for quite a while. The Pirellis have done a good job, the DRS has done a good job, there have been lots of surprises. There was Jenson Button being last in Canada for example, and then winning, doing lap times two seconds quicker than anybody else all of a sudden. There was Michael’s performance there, as an example. I could continue for hours. There were lots of surprises in Formula One this year, which nobody would have expected, even the specialists. There was always a certain dominance in Formula One. There were the Williams days, I remember, the McLaren-Mercedes days, the battles with Ferrari and now it’s the Red Bull days with Sebastian and also Mark doing a good job. But for sure, no dominance will last forever. We know that from the past. Everybody else will work very hard. We have a good relationship with Sebastian, friendship, I respect him very much and I think it’s the same the other way around. We are, as I pointed out, very satisfied with the drivers we have. We want to climb up the ladder with the combination that we have, make another step next year and then we will see where we are.
Q: (Mat Coch – pitpass.com) Now that you’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect on the Sky – BBC TV deals, how do you guys see it affecting your businesses in relation to marketing and sponsorship?
RF: I think we need a little bit of time for it to evolve with Sky. I think we’re going to see a different format and a lot more depth and it’s very difficult, at this point, to really appreciate what they are going to do. If you listen to the plans, they are very, very exciting. I understand it from a UK point of view that the free-to-air is challenged a little bit but I think there will be different levels of the sport now and different elements that Sky will bring to it which should be very, very exciting. I think we need to give them a little time. I don’t think it’s fair to judge until we’ve seen the sort of product that they’re coming out with.
NH: I think you need to see things right: it was BBC taking the decision if I’m informed correctly and I think it was a great job from Bernie, from Sky, from everybody else to step in and now we will see what the development will bring, but of course the initiative from the BBC. It was not the commercial rights holder selling non-free-to-air and I think that it is very important to keep that in mind. I can understand the BBC’s position but the basic plan was a different one. It’s a good combination still. I think pay TV…this channel in England is completely different, for example, to Germany. I heard that they have ten million or whatever subscribers so basically you can have a lot of viewers. But I’m not qualified to judge that in detail, but I think it is important to realise how it all started.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Riad, if I understand it correctly, if you finish in the top ten again this year as you did last year, you move up a column which obviously brings certain financial benefits under Concorde. But by the same token, you have more to lose if you change your team’s name, unless you get permission from everybody. How are you going to tackle that juggling act if you do change your team’s name?
RA: I guess there is a process that we all have to go through but as I highlighted, it is a process that we will undertake if and when the decision is made but it’s something that hasn’t happened yet so I can’t comment.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Are you confident that you will get that permission?
RA: I’ve got no motion of doing anything right now in terms of changing the name or anything like that so I can’t comment.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Gerard, on the one side we are hearing about massive investments as we heard about early on; on the other side we’re hearing stories of doom and gloom about bank loans and bankruptcies and all sorts of things: selling the team, Group Lotus wanting to buy the team. Could you clarify these issues please?
GL: It’s been one of the surprises for me in Formula One. The fact that any time we have a new driver, any time we announce something, any time I take a trip to Brazil or Russia or whatever, suppose I’m looking for money for the team. The fact is that we’re involved in a lot of businesses. This one, as a matter of fact, is one that we hope is going to be break-even at some point in time. It’s not but it’s not one that needs to make money for us. We make money somewhere else. I used to answer this giving examples and so on. To be honest, I don’t care any more because if it was reality we wouldn’t be there for a long time. I think the team that we took over had about 480 people. We saved those jobs and added about forty jobs to those. Facts speak for themselves. As I said, I used to get quite angry every time I would pick up something like that. Now it’s almost like crying wolf and nobody cares. The fact is that the facts are there: we are investing, we’re adding sponsors. Our drivers, whenever they get called pay drivers, I actually feel bad for them, not for us because at the end of the day, there is no driver that I think or I hope could bring enough money to actually carry this kind of team forward. I find it disrespectful to those guys. I used to find it disrespectful to us, to be honest with you. Now I don’t any more so now what we do is we get on with the things that we have to do. We make the investments that we have to make and at the end of the day we will see – in terms of results – what will be in the future and hopefully we will be wherever our investments carry us, which is to be one of the top three teams.
Q: (Mat Coch – pitpass.com) Sorry, carrying on from my previous question, at the moment there is about 97 percent of people in the UK that watch Formula One on free-to-air TV. Some numbers that we’ve gathered in the last couple of weeks show that only about seven percent of those viewers are going to be interesting buying a subscription. Does that not hurt your sponsors and their interests in the team and their expectations of their payback?
RF: Probably just coming back onto that is that you’ve been very focused on the UK. It’s a global market. Obviously we want to make sure our fans in the UK are serviced as well as possible, but at the end of the day, it was the BBC that made a decision. Bernie put together a super compromise. There will still be the ability to watch it on BBC and watch every race, but then you’ve got the added value… I’m not so sure your numbers are going to be right when it comes down to the real agenda. I think you will find that a lot of people will switch over.
NH: I’m not a specialist in that market but you need to apply the right facts. Where does the figure of seven percent come from? If I’m informed correctly, you can watch each and every Grand Prix free-to-air, this is still the case, and so maybe it’s an addition, if it’s played in the correct way. We have to wait and see but there was no alternative.
Q: But basically you’re not worried about your sponsorship?
Q: (Chris Lyons – Associated Press) Sam, I know your interest is much more on the sporting side than on the financial side of things, but on a broad principle, Williams going forward in the years to come – not just next year but in the years to come – are they in a situation where they will be able to make decisions on drivers based purely upon what they bring to team in terms of ability or is Williams in that situation now where it’s got to look more towards sponsorship and the financial aspects rather than just pure talent?
SM: If you take the first part of your question about Williams financially, they are obviously entering a lot of different areas of their business such as WHP with the hybrid power system – that’s standing out to be a very… an industry that’s going to open up a lot over the next few years. They already have contracts with major motor manufacturers, so that’s one area that’s quite strong. They’re obviously investing pretty heavily in Qatar. There’s the new Jaguar programme as well. There’s lots of different areas that Williams is diversifying into to ensure… which a lot of other teams have done as well. McLaren is a good example, earlier than Williams, and that will continue to be more and more profitable as years go on. That will help Williams put themselves into a good position. Other teams have done it, there’s nothing to say that Williams can’t either so I can’t see that that will be an issue for them in the future.
With respect to their finances, if you then come to their drivers, if you look at the two drivers this year. We’ve got Rubens who is obviously an experienced guy, a multiple Grand Prix winner. Although Pastor Maldonado is a rookie, he’s GP2 champion and he’s run pretty close to Rubens all year. If you take out the first four or five races, which is entirely normal for any rookie, I would normally say that a rookie needs a couple of years, but you can definitely start to see the signs as to whether the guy is capable or not by mid-season and I would definitely put Pastor Maldonado in that category. And if he wasn’t in that category, he wouldn’t have kept his drive going forward. So I can see the guy having an even stronger year next year when he knows all the circuits, because he’s still on a slope. He’d never turned a lap around here before this evening, so I would say that to say that Williams are taking their decisions on drivers from a financial point of view is not really correct at the moment, because otherwise they wouldn’t be choosing the drivers that they have. I think Williams will make the choices that are best for the company and the best results. That’s what it will come down to.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Question to Norbert and Jean-Francois regarding engines, both at the moment and 2014 onwards. We used to have a situation where there was a maximum number of teams that an engine supplier could supply. In 2014, we could possibly have as many as five manufacturers supplying twelve teams and when you look at it, somehow five into twelve doesn’t work that well, particularly when you’ve got one manufacturer supplying four teams with engines. What do you people think the maximum should be allowed, both from a sporting and a financial, commercial point of view?
NH: For me it should be an open market, that’s it, basically. I hope we’re in a position to have five engine manufacturers, that would be very pleasing for all of us, I think. This is even more competition, but maybe we have less than five, we will see. It doesn’t look bad at the moment. The rules are heading in the right direction; over a five year period there will be lots of cost saving. All us engine manufacturers work very constructively on that point together with Ferrari and Renault, especially Cosworth also and our target is to save thirty percent budget over a five-year period which is challenging but which is achievable. For us, if five teams chose the engine X, then they should do so, it should be a free and open market.
JC: By regulation, today it’s four teams, but I share that same advice, I am pushing for an open market because we are in Formula One and regulations cannot solve all the problems. I think the key point is not how many teams, the key point is which teams because when we are dealing with top teams, it’s not easy to have one or two top teams when you provide the same engine. The problem is more with who and how many teams.