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Belgian GP: Friday Press Conference Part 1

NEWS STORY
25/08/2017

Cyril, it seems that in terms of patterns of performance, Nico generally qualifies well but finishes behind his qualifying position - couple of exceptions to that but in general that has been the picture - whereas for Jolyon the opposite is the case. Can you shed any light on that?

Cyril Abiteboul: Well, I think indeed we started the season with generally a good pace on Saturday that we were not managing to convert on Sunday. So at this point in time and as we were waiting for some big developments that came further into the season we sort of trade some quali performance for some race performance by playing mainly with set-ups - by playing mainly with set-ups, stiffness and so on and so forth - which we did, which we achieved, which delivered some points. Then at some point, in Silverstone, we managed to bring that big development I was referring to. So that pattern that you are referring that you sort of underperform on Sunday compared to Saturday is not so true anymore. We will have to see here if that pattern, if that step that we made in performance both on Saturday and on Sunday in Silverstone and as confirmed in Budapest, which are two very different tracks, is confirmed here or not. When it comes to driver difference, no I can't... I think that indeed, Jo doesn't necessarily have the sort of pace as Nico on Saturday. Clearly, Nico is an amazing qualifier. Maybe he is one of the best of the grid. It doesn't always... it's not always visible because he didn't maybe have the car to demonstrate that but it is really amazing what he's capable of doing and Jo maybe doesn't have that pace on Saturday but was managing to extract more from the car on Sunday. We'll see. The short answer to your question is that the car is improving. The car is now fourth in terms of pace after the top three teams, which is clearly where we wanted to be at this point of the season. Obviously the championship position is slightly different so that's what we need to focus on.

Comprehensive answer; thanks very much for that. On Robert Kubica, everything was built up to the Hungary test. Things gained their own momentum; he did well. So what happens next?
CA: What happens next: good question. That was a test. Frankly, we said that we wanted to be extremely methodical and analytic about the way we were approaching things with Robert. It's not a PR exercise; it's not a coup. It's something we are taking very seriously and we are trying to leave the emotion on the side. We don't have all the answers that we potentially wanted to get from that test, after his test. In relation to that, Formula One is very restrictive in terms of tests you can do, so in a perfect world we would want to do more of this type of test to see if he can race again at the level that he and we could have wanted. It may or may not be possible. We will see.

Thank you. Christian, coming to you: performance today, it looked like you were in touch. Last year you were front-row qualifiers and got a podium. Do you think that's possible again this year, and also could you explain why you went for such a radically different selection of tyres for your two drivers compared to Ferrari and Mercedes? It's not usually such a radical difference among the frontrunners?
Christian Horner: Firstly, today: it's been a relatively sensible day. We've been looking at different set-ups and configurations and fourth and sixth in the second session is reasonably encouraging, particularly at this type of circuit. I'm sure the others have still got a little bit up their sleeves for tomorrow, if it's dry. But hopefully we can consolidate where we are and be competitive on Sunday afternoon. Regarding the tyre choice: you obviously don't see what others are doing before you submit your choice so our engineering team felt that this is the best way to attack the weekend. As we often see, you start off with a different hand of tyres but by the time you've gone through the practice sessions it always seems to converge by the time you get to qualifying anyway. What on paper looks quite racy at the beginning of the weekend, by the time you've gone through the practice sessions tends to even itself out. I think by the time we end up in qualifying we won't be too far out of kilter and obviously we quite like the ultrasoft tyre.

Clearly. Can we explore what Red Bull's attitude now is to the young driver programme. You've produced some great drivers over the last decade - world champions, race winners - but it's not so easy to see where the next candidates for Formula One apprenticeship are coming from. In the meantime, your rivals such as Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari have stepped up on that side and all have exciting candidates on the doorstep ready to go. Is it still a priority for you and Red Bull?
CH: Very much so. We still have Pierre Gasly, who won his first last weekend in Japan. We have Nico Kari in GP3, we have Dan Ticktum in Formula Renault and Verschoor and Verhagen. I think there are periods of stellar drivers that seem to come through the sport. For me if I look outside of Formula One at the moment, there seems to be a bit of a gap. There are a couple strong drivers in F2, there are a couple of strong drivers in GP3, but there seems to be a bit of a void. We're going to grass roots, we're looking at karting, we're supporting some youngsters even in karting at the moment. But talents like Max Verstappen or Sebastian Vettel or Daniel Ricciardo don't come along every season.

OK. Guenther, a question to you on drivers as well: you have confirmed both of your current drivers for next year, not taking either of Ferrari's development drivers, Giovinazzi or Leclerc. Can you give us the thinking on that?
Guenther Steiner: Our drivers have got a contract when we signed them. Romain two years ago now, he had a three-year contract and Kevin last year has a two-year contract, so it's quite clear what we are doing. There is no reasoning or nothing behind it. We, at the time, wanted the best drivers available on the market to get as much points as possible and that's why we did it and there is no other reason behind it.

OK, that's the drivers sorted out. When you look ahead to season three, where else do you think you need to strengthen the team personnel in order to move forward?
GS: I think everywhere a little bit. It's not like there's one void [to fill] to grow the team. We are still very small, I think the smallest one, we have got not more than 200 people at the moment. We need to strengthen it everywhere. That's what we are doing. We are now already looking for people for next year because it takes quite a long time to get good people, but we will increase again by 10 or 15 per cent - nothing compared with the big teams, how they grow - but that is what we are doing and that is what we want to continue to do. But we keep on getting... I wouldn't say bigger, we try to get better without getting bigger, which is very difficult, but at least we try to stay efficient because that is where we want to be.

Questions From The Floor

Q: (Pierre Van Vliet - F1i.com) A question for Cyril about the Robert Kubica situation. You are telling is that you have some questions with no answers yet. What are they? And after the Budapest test - 142 laps in the heat and the lap times he did - he seems to be ready, no?
CA: Well, obviously we have access to some information that the public, the media don't have access to and I feel that is privy information to the team and Robert and I would not want to speak without his control. But no, you know, there are various things to do to come back into a racing car at this level, a car that is extremely different from the car that he's been driving six or seven years ago, as well the car that he drove in the test that he has done in Le Castellet, which was a car from 2012, much lighter, less downforce. So without going into too much detail, you could see what it could involve to go one step further. The problem, as I said, is we are restricted in our ability to test and to reproduce this test. And addition to that, testing in isolation, private test, one car, in control on the amount, without rain, without the first-lap action you can always encounter. All of that needs to be factored into the decision of pursuing or not pursuing, so as I said I don't want to go further than this, I don't want to create speculation and I don't want to put in the team that the team would have some obligation to go further because there is an interest, a willingness from the public to see Robert back. We would all like Robert to be back, but it has to make sense.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Guenther, I see from the internet that your sporting director, either former, ex-, present or whatever, Dave O'Neill, has started his own company, together with one of Christian's former employers Kenny Handkammer. Could you confirm that? Is he still with you? Is he leaving? And what are you going to do about replacing him if that is the case?
GS: He's leaving. He's not here but he is coming to a few more races. I don't know about Kenny Handkammer, and Christian I think doesn't know any more. But Dave is leaving because for family reasons he relocated to the United States. I don't know any details about his company but he's free to do that. We have got a good relationship. He helped a lot in bringing us to where we are. But for family reasons he had to relocate to the US and that doesn't work for us. So he will be around for a few more races and then he will be gone.

And a replacement?
GS: Replacement: we have got plans in place and we will announce them when there are ready to be announced.

Q: (Jerome Pugmire - Associated Press) A question for Cyril. Do you have a date in mind when you will take a decision with regard to Robert and can you say when that is?
CA: Deciding on Robert is deciding our line-up the second part of our line-up for next year. It's well reported that Nico has a multi-year contract when Jo has a one-year contract. So obviously we have one driver to decide for next year. So we have also the restrictions I was referring to on Robert and we'll also need to consistent with the timing of deciding for a second driver and as the market is starting to sort of go, with the different announcements this week of Ferrari and McLaren, and I expect there will be some other announcements at some points, because usually these things do not go in isolation, so we cannot just be sitting on our work and making up our plans and our timing ourselves. It has to follow the timing of all the drivers.

Q: (Louis Dekker - NOS) A question for Christian. The orange army will invade the country again like last year, especially on Sunday. Is it realistic to dream of a Max victory?
CH: Everybody is free to dream, but realism and dreams are sometimes a little bit different. It's fantastic to see the support for a driver that there is here in Spa. It's a sellout crowd, everything is absolutely rammed and to see so much orange around the place for Max is quite phenomenal and obviously last year was quite disappointing for all those fans that turned up when his race was effectively over within 50 or 60 metres and we're hoping that it will last a little bit longer this year. He's had a lot of bad luck so far this season and where better place for it change but than here at what is effectively his home grand prix.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) A question for Cyril about engines. There has been a lot of talk about McLaren talking to Renault about an engine supply, about Toro Rosso talking to Honda. Can you give an update, because it seems that neither of those two avenues have gone very far? And also, how many teams could Renault actually supply engine with next season, because I think Christian said three is the maximum?
CA: Well, the situation is that we have multi-year contracts with Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, so frankly we are open to discussions. I can confirm that there has been discussion with McLaren. But as you mentioned at the end, right now there is a restriction in the regulation, if we wanted to supply more than three teams first. And in addition to that, I don't think it would be reasonable to believe that we could supply more than three without degrading the level of service, the quality of the service for the other teams, so we've had discussions. Frankly, again, we have contracts in place. We value the relationship with Red Bull. It's a longstanding relationship and we would like to carry this relationship until it's term in 2020 but if there is something to be done, why not, but right now understand that things are very quiet and certainly we are not necessarily proactively pushing for anything.

Check out our Friday gallery from Spa, here.

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