Today's press conference with Zak Brown, Christian Horner, Frederic Vasseur and Toto Wolff.
Zak, if we could start with you, please. there's been a lot of McLaren news in recent days, most of it financial, so can you tell us what's going on?
Zak Brown: Yeah, we've had some great. We've had Mr Latifi, who had invested in McLaren Group, which is fantastic. We're a very fast-growing company, both our automotive business, of course our Formula 1 and racing efforts, as well as our applied technologies business, so great to have Mr Latifi as part of our shareholder group. And then, announced this morning, is a new partnership with FxPro, which is going to be sponsoring our team and there are a couple more yet to come out this weekend, so it has been a good week.
What impact will Mr Latifi's shareholding have on the racing team specifically?
ZB: Ultimately his investment goes into McLaren Group, so the board and the shareholder will ultimately decide where they want to invest that money. I presume it will ultimately be sprinkled into all three business in some way, shape or form and Formula 1 obviously has a big thirst for expenditure to try to keep up with the teams here to the left of me that have a larger budget, so I'm sure some will go towards investing in our racing team but also developing our road car and our technology business.
And what will it mean for the drivers in the F1 team. Will there be pressure to put Nicholas Latifi, son of new shareholder Michael, in the car in the future?
ZB: No, it's never been a discussion. He's doing quite well in Formula 2. At McLaren we're always looking for the best drivers we can get. He's doing a good job but it's never been part of the conversation.
Thank you. Christian, there was a lot of pre-race hype surrounding Red Bull, and it seems justified after the first free practice session, with your cars first and second. How do you view this weekend, do you view it as your biggest chance so far?
Christian Horner: Firstly, it's only Thursday morning, so it doesn't mean too much, but what we can say is that the circuit is very quick this year. The re-surfacing has definitely improved lap time and the cars are circulation close to 1.5s faster than this time last year, so that's encouraging. Both drivers seem reasonably comfortable in the car. But as we've seen, Saturday has been our weakness throughout the season. We've always had a strong race car, but Saturday is where we've tended to struggle, at the business end of qualifying. But hopefully with the shorter straights here and with this circuit layout, it offers us our best qualifying chance of the season.
You've got a lot on your plate, looking ahead, with both an engine and a driver still to decide upon for 2019. Are they interlinked? Does the identity of next year's engine impact on your ability to keep Daniel Ricciardo?
CH: No, not really. Daniel is fully aware that we are wanting to make the best choices for the future regarding the power unit, to put us in the most competitive position we can possibly be in, and of course that is absolutely in his interest. So, during the next month or so engine things will probably pretty much come to a head and then drivers will inevitably follow on from that.
Drivers do tend to think shorter term than race team though, don't they?
CH: Yes and no. I think Daniel has been with Red Bull for a long time now. He's aware of the capability of the group and the team and he is very comfortable in the team. So once the engine scenario is sorted I think things will move reasonably quickly.
In percentage terms, how confident are you of keeping him?
CH: It's always difficult to put a number on these things. But we're very, very happy with Daniel. He does a great job in the team, he's a popular member of the team and there is a desire for us to retain him for next year.
Sixty per cent?
CH: That's your number.
OK, thank you Christian. While we're talking about drivers, perhaps let's move on to Fred. You've worked with a lot of young drivers in your career, so tell us a little bit about Charles Leclerc. How impressed have you been by him this year?
Frederic Vasseur: For sure, he is doing a very good start of the season, but it is very difficult also to compare from 2018 to 2006 or '07 and you don't have to do this kind of exercise. He is on the learning curve for sure. If you have a look at the start of the season he struggled a little bit on the first two events and then he made a good step from Shanghai or Baku, but still a lot to do. I think he is very focused on the next events and he avoids to be focused on the future and that is a good thing.
You mention China there, did he change something on the car or did he change his driving style, because that seems to be the breakthrough race for him?
FV: From an external point of view you have a big change after China, but it was not really the case. A small mistake at one stage of the race could change completely the situation. He did a very good first stint in China before the spin and I think the pace was already there. In Melbourne he did also a good race. The method is just to put everything together at the same stage. There is a huge step between Formula 2 and Formula 1 and step by step he is managing the situation.
We haven't spoken to you in this forum previously this year. Can you tell us a bit about the car, the C37? How good is it and the improvements from last year to this year, is it solely the engine? How pleased are you with the chassis?
FV: I hope it's not only the engine, thanks! No, the fact is we're pushing like hell, but for sure the process is a long one. We have a huge inertia on the system, on the chassis side, it's very difficult to recruit and when we identify someone they don't want to give the green light - thanks to you - but step by step we are improving. I think on the chassis side we made a good step also, not only on the engine, but it will take time. But we know exactly what we want to achieve.
Toto, Monaco was your bogey track last year. Have you seen enough evidence this morning that you've overcome the problems from last year? How's it going?
Toto Wolff: Thursday morning was very good for us last year too. In terms of pure lap time we were the fastest car out there. But we started the weekend in a tricky place - the set-up didn't make a lot of sense, but the lap time was quick - so we got a little bit lost through the weekend. We know what happened. But the fundamental issue, that you can see certain cars perform circuits, remains and this hasn't been one of our top circuits in the past.
The drivers said yesterday that you are better prepared for this race this year. What have you done differently?
TW: We have understood what happened last year in terms of set-up. We have improved our simulation tools and I think we know our weaknesses. We will be trying to put the car in a place where we can extract the maximum performance it is able to deliver around Monaco.
Lewis said yesterday that he is not in a hurry to sign his new contract. Is that feeling mutual?
TW: It's a funny situation because we have been discussing for a long time. We get together and sort things out and then get busy in our daily operation jobs - us on the team side and Lewis on his preparation. It shows that we have great confidence in each other; nobody is pressuring each other. We haven't set a fixed date where we want to announce but I can tell you that I don't see a reason why this shouldn't be happening.
When will it become a priority for you?
TW: It is in the process of just closing. There is a bit of an email ping-pong on details. I don't want to set a date because then you will be asking me why, why hasn't it been done, but maybe we choose one of the nice grands prix in the future, in the next couple of months.
Questions From The Floor
(Scott Mitchell - Autosport) Toto and Christian, Ferrari is an immediate competitor for your respective teams. There have been some rumblings in the background leading up to this race about the processes they may or may not be engaging in on the energy recovery side. I just wanted to know your respective understandings are of the situation, and how happy you are with the actions that appears to have been met by the FIA this weekend?
CH: We're not an engine supplier, so maybe Toto can answer more on the engine specifics but there have obviously been some rumours that no doubt you guys are cottoning onto as well. I'm sure that the FIA have all the competence to be able to able to measure, administer and look at the car that's presented for scrutineering and during a grand prix weekend, and of course it's the team's obligation to ensure that that happens. I think the FIA are probably the best people to point that question at.
TW: Yes, Christian is absolutely right. We have legality topics come up regularly. Some are more controversial but it's the daily business of the FIA to check what the teams do. It is the obligation of the teams to comply with the regulations and this is an ongoing process. I have great confidence with whatever issues are coming up, be it on the engine or the chassis, the FIA has been on top of it a lot. And as far as I understand this is a process that's taking place as we speak and we will see what the outcome is.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines / racefans.net) Fred, on that topic, it's no secret that you obviously get your power unit and energy storage etcetera from Ferrari. I believe that from FP1 this morning, Ferrari have had an additional piece of hardware built into their car at the FIA's insistence to check whether they are running anything. Have you had to add anything to your car at all?
FV: No. I'm not aware this kind of thing, that we have just to deal with the engine we have into the car, and I trust Ferrari on this point. I don't care about the situation.
(Jerome Pugmire - AP) Question for Toto. Lewis was saying yesterday that he's in no hurry to sign. Today you're saying there's no date set. Seems to be a bit of confusion about when this is going to happen. Is it a case that Lewis can decide when he wants?
TW: No. This is, as I said, a pretty normal procedure, that you talk to each other and you negotiate in a completely normal procedure, similar to what happens in some of the other teams. I mean, Daniel's and Christian's situation is maybe similar. This is work in progress and we see no hurry to pressurise each other into signing a document that will eventually anyway happen. I don't know what he said yesterday but we've had very good conversations and there is no desire for him to leave the team and we have no desire for us to lose him.
Zak, this might be a question that we could put in your direction as well regarding Fernando Alonso.
ZB: Well, I think our situation is the same as everyone's. It's a little early in the season. Of course, we're all talking to our drivers, probably talking to each other's drivers to a certain extent up and down the pitlane. I think that we're now back in Europe, it's usually around the summer time that things start really taking shape as far as our conversations with Fernando. Just like last year, we decided to wait ‘til about the summertime and I think Fernando will let us know what he wants to do here pretty soon.
Check out our Thursday gallery from Monaco, here.