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Singapore GP: Friday Press Conference Part 2

NEWS STORY
15/09/2017

Q: Zak, let's start with you. After much deliberation, you've separated from Honda. What was the tipping point, and what sacrifices do you have to make now?

Zak Brown: Well, let me start James, and then I'll come back and answer that question. I want to thank a lot of people because this has been quite a public process and involved a lot of people and required a lot of cooperation to get the outcome that I think was best for the sport. So, starting with the McLaren fans, they've been unbelievably supportive as we've been through a difficult three years and looking forward to next year. We're very excited to be partnering with Renault and all the work that Cyril and his team have put in and then it took the collaboration of Christian, to my right, Toro Rosso and Red Bull, and then last but not least Honda's been a great partner. Obviously, we haven't had the on-track results that we'd hoped for but they certainly gave it everything they've got. We felt it was time to move on, and then the FIA and Ross and Chase. So, there was a lot of people that had to come together to make this happen. Ultimately we knew... I don't think there was a specific tipping point other than we knew we were in trouble in pre-season testing and we needed to improve upon our 2016 results. So, we knew we were in trouble then. We've spent quite a bit of time, most of it has been in the public domain, trying to find ways to get Honda competitive with us, and we ultimately couldn't get there in the end - but great that they're staying in the sport. Just want to thank everyone for their assistance. I think everyone's going to be excited for Australia next year.

Q: So, does this mean Fernando Alonso will be staying with the team next year?
ZB: Well, we're going to turn our attention to Fernando now. We've been speaking a lot, he's been waiting to see what technical solution we came up with. He won his two championships with Renault. He's very happy with the racing team, we're very happy with him, so I think in the not too distant future we should be able to get something done and that'll be the last big piece of the puzzle. Then I've got to find us some sponsorship with our commercial team and get ready for next year.

Q: Cyril, coming to you, we've heard from Honda and Toro Rosso in part one of this press conference, their side of the story, we've now just heard from McLaren. Tell us about the Renault side. The engine swap and Carlos Sainz coming to you.
Cyril Abiteboul: Well, as mentioned by Zak, it's been a fairly long and complex process for the number of parties that this was involving but I think that the solution reached is one that is good for all parties. It's in particular one that manages to keep Honda in the sport, and I think it's very important to keep diversity of manufacturers involved. As far as we're concerned, it was not an easy decision. We know that we are making a competitor stronger. We know that very well. Having said that, the activity of Renault in Formula One, since 40 years that we are in Formula One is in particular articulated around what we are doing on the engine side: we are a car maker; the engine is at the core of the automotive. That's what we have always been doing. We have been a works team on and off, we are currently 'on' - but it doesn't remove anything to our engine activity that must be sustainable. In relation to that, what we want to do is to supply aspiration teams, great teams, great drivers. We've done 13 years with Williams with five championships, 12 years with Red Bull Racing, four championships as constructors, so we really look forward to the start of this new association with McLaren.

Q: Can you confirm exactly which teams you'll be supplying with engines from 2019 onwards?
CA: Before 2019 there is 2018. And 2018 it is very clear those two gentlemen on my right, and one thing I must stress is they will get equity, and perfect parity of treatment between the Renault works team, McLaren and Red Bull...

ZB: You said we were going to get better stuff!

CA: Oh yeah! Sorry! This is a public one! So, this is something that matters. And in relation to 2019, obviously with McLaren today we are announcing a three-year partnership until 2020 and the rest, obviously, is a bit of speculation at this point in time with Red Bull Racing.

Q: OK, Christian, coming to you, what is Red Bull's plan for engines form 2019 onwards? I understand that you alluded to this on TV earlier today.
Christian Horner: No, I think what you are referring to, I was asked a question about Porsche coming in Formula One and I answered that very clearly that we have an existing relationship with an OEM that don't make Formula One engines and obviously, that will continue. We are absolutely delighted for Toro Rosso with their Honda announcement. I think it's great news for Toro Rosso, it's great news for Honda, it's great that they're continuing with Formula One. Obviously, it's facilitated that Zak has managed to get the Renault engine that he was craving and Carlos Sainz gets to further his career obviously in Cyril's team while also remaining part of the Red Bull family. So, I think you have a rare occasion in Formula One where everybody's happy.

Q: Does any of this make your job more difficult in securing the long-term commitment to Red Bull Racing of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo?
CH: Well, both of our drivers are currently under contract at least for next year and it's down to us to produce a good car, be competitive and then, of course, why would the drivers want to be anywhere else? We're obviously not short of options on drivers but obviously, our preference is absolutely to retain the two that we have in the car at the moment.

Q: And just a final quick through from you, very strong performance today, particularly in FP2. Daniel was in here yesterday and he said he thought he might have a chance of winning this race. Does everything you've seen today - short runs, long runs - give you a bit of encouragement on that front.
CH: I think both guys have had a strong day today, particularly Daniel this evening had a strong session - but we didn't really see Ferrari's true hand, particularly on the short runs, and Mercedes always hold a bit up their sleeves - but it's been certainly a positive day. I think Daniel's invigorated by his new haircut that he turned up with the other day and obviously been using that air conditioning to good effect.

Questions From The Floor

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) Cyril, you described 2019 as 'speculation' just then but have you told Red Bull already that you don't want to supply them in 2019 - and if you have, how do you intend to... are you confident you'll be able to stick with that given the undertakings you have to Formula One Management?
CA: Well, obviously Red Bull is well aware of the situation and right now we really want to focus on what's certain - and what is certain is 2018. Any other year or situation will be looked at vis--vis different undertakings that we have with FIA. All manufacturers have got some obligation to supply, so the situation is fairly straight forward. I think that it's more on the Red Bull camp to define what's best for them medium- to long-term.

Q: (Chris Medland - Racer) Zak, if I could just ask you, in the Renault press releases they talk about their mid-term goals and challenging for championships in 2020. This is a three year deal - do you see this as a short-term fix for McLaren - and is there any fear of Red Bull picking up a Honda power unit that has turned things around in the future?
ZB: No, this is not a short-term fix. At the end of the day no-one knows yet what the engine rules are in 2021, so I think it's hard for anybody to look beyond 2020 because we don't know what '21 looks like. We think we've got a long-term partnership, the foundation for it. Renault's got a great history in the sport, won a lot of championships with Red Bull, won a lot of championships themselves, so we're very happy where we are: we think we'll be very competitive together.

Any fear or Red Bull-Honda?
ZB: We've got great competition on both sides of me right now and Ferrari and Mercedes. I think probably what we're most concerned about is not a Red Bull-Honda combination or any combination out there. We need to get budgets under control. I think the reason you see the gaps in the field now is the gaps in budgets between the top two teams and everyone else is way too big. The gaps seem to be getting bigger I think that's something that Formula One is going to address. That's probably where our biggest concern is: making sure we get a more level playing field. So, many teams can win races, '21 onwards.

Q: (Dan Knutson - Auto Action / Speed Sport) Cyril, Red Bull and McLaren build very good chassis. You'll all have equal engines next year - what are you going to do to match them?
CA: Build a very good chassis! How? Well, frankly, if we are in Formula One it is not just to make up figures. It's not just to participate. We are here with ambition at some point in order to challenge top team. Those two teams are top teams but there are two others in Mercedes and Ferrari. So, the problem is not just McLaren, it's all teams that we must be able to fight against by 2020. In relation to that we are recruiting, we are investing, we are hiring obviously young drivers, we are finding new sponsors, we improve the commercial side of the business. We now have a sustainable association with McLaren, so all of these elements are playing a role in that target to be at the top by 2020.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Zak, you spoke about the inequitable budgets and pay outs and whatever else in Formula One. Your team and Christian's team are two of the four teams that actually receive preferential payments and bonuses from Formula One management. You say you need to get budgets under control - that would tend to indicate that you're talking about a budget cap of some type or other, as well as an equitable payment structure. All three of you, do you believe that budget caps should be introduced - and how do you feel about the figure of $150million that's been discussed at the moment - excluding drivers, management and engines?
ZB: Speaking for McLaren, we're a fan of budget caps. We think it's important. Most other sports have it and it will equal the playing field. And we recognise that means, as you mentioned, we're one of the four teams that get special payments, that might mean some compromise - but we feel if the sport is healthier ultimately that will benefit all of us. We're a great racing team. There's lots of great racing teams and we want to race and have the same chance as everyone else. The $150million number that we here, that sounds in the right ballpark. You get into a lot of detail: how do you handle CapEx, executive salaries, overhead etcetera, etcetera, so it's quite complex - but the concept of the budget cap, yes, and the number of $150million seems to be in the right ballpark.

Q: Christian, do you and Red Bull's owner Mr Mateschitz see things in the same way?
CH: I think we see things slightly differently. We're fully in favour of reducing costs. I think the problem if you just introduce a budget cap with current regulations is that we'll end up employing teams of accountants to find smart ways of circumventing the current set of rules. So, I think the biggest cost driver are the technical regulations - and I think FIA, FOM need to get those under control: to get the chassis-side under control, to clean up the cars - they're starting to look far too messy in terms of all the appendages that are growing on them. And, of course, a key part of that also is the engine. We're sitting here today with enormous engine bills because of the technology that are involved in these power units. The manufacturer obviously is bearing the brunt of the research and development costs of those engines that one has to question, what is the actual road relevance of? So I think there needs to be an absolute root and branch review of the regulations. I think once that is done, then you can potentially look at a budget cap - because it becomes a far softer mechanism than if you introduce the budget cap tomorrow, then with race teams incorporated as part of larger OEMs it would be almost impossible to effectively police the allocation of resource and spend and facilities, etcetera.

Cyril?
CA: Pretty much the view of both McLaren and Red Bull. I would tend to agree that if there is any form of cap or cost control mechanism through the regulation it should also encompass the engine - but not just the cost of supply but also the cost to develop the engine. That's something we fell short so far. It's complex - but I understand something that Ross Brawn and Liberty are taking very, very seriously and will come up with some proposal in the near future.

Check out our Friday gallery from Singapore, here.

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