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Hungary GP Friday Press Conference


Today's press conference with Otmar Szafnauer, Mario Isola and Toto Wolff.

Q: Otmar, in that very seat yesterday Esteban Ocon was telling us that there's been a lot of interest in him for 2019. What can you tell us about his future?
Otmar Szafnauer: Well, I'm glad there's interest, he's a great driver and glad we chose him a couple of years ago and have helped him to progress to the point where others are interested. Just happy to say he's our driver.

And in 2019?
OS: In truth, we haven't decided yet. If I was to say this or that, I'd probably be proven wrong. Because that hasn't been decided. He's got a contract with us, so for us to... for him to go elsewhere we'd have to agree to that.

And a few words on Sergio Perez's future as well...
OS: Sergio, every year about this time we start talking to him about what he wants to do in the future. I don't think it's a secret that he goes year-by-year with us but that year-by-year has been five years now. Again, we like Sergio, the combination is great. I know a couple of years ago, maybe even last year, we had some issues but those have been resolved and they work really well together now. And as you can see, they're very close in the points table, maybe one point apart. I think we've got a great driver line-up and long may it continue.

Q: Now Otmar, you've mentioned the financial constraints your team operates under and Perez has mentioned it as well just this week. While Force India has always been excellent at performing under such constraints, is the situation now a little bit more critical?
OS: We're used to operating under such constraints. I think the situation's critical because the midfield's gotten very competitive. Where last year probably at this time we enjoyed a bit of a gap to our midfield competitors, that doesn't exist anymore and, depending on what racetrack we go to, some of our competitors are a bit quicker than we are, and at other ones we are a bit quicker than they are. So, it's going to be a big fight in the midfield. If you have financial constraints - which I believe our constraints are great than some of our midfield competitors - it makes it harder. But we're here to do the best we can and we'll continue to push and try to get two points finishes and we're still focussing on getting fourth again.

Q: Mario, there's a test here at the Hungaroring next week. What's on the agenda for Pirelli?
Mario Isola: We are developing our construction for 2019 and also we are planning to test some compounds. I'm talking about the second Toro Rosso car that is dedicated to our tyre testing. Obviously, teams are testing to check their own development. This is useful data for us to understand how our tyres are working. We had a test in Silverstone just after the race with the three cars and we collected quite a lot of data. We were very lucky because the weather conditions in Silverstone were very stable and sunny. So, we ran the test and I believe we have a new product of next year.

Q: The FIA published the tyre tender for 2020 onwards very recently. What are your thoughts on that?
MI: I'm analysing the document because it is... not complicated but I would say it is different to previous tenders because there are a lot of technical conditions in it. So, we are analysing the numbers that are in the tender. Obviously, we need some time to go that. It's interesting, with the introduction of 18-inch tyres from 2021 and no more blankets. So, on the technical side, it is a challenge for sure.

Q: Toto, quick progress report, if we could, from FP1. Your cars only fifth and sixth, what conclusions should be drawn?
Toto Wolff: Before we talk about this race weekend and FP1 session, I don't want to go just back to business as usual because we are Mercedes and Ferrari are our great friends and at this stage I want to use the opportunity to say that we are feeling with Ferrari and feeling with the family and friends of Sergio and we as well are badly shocked by the events. He was a friend and ally. A great rival and competitor and will be dearly missed.

Coming back to the session that you mentioned. It is very early days. Hungary is always very different to all the other tracks. The heat is just kicking in and through the sessions now we need to learn how to set the car up, and understand how the tyres perform and then eventually, hopefully, be ready tomorrow afternoon.

Q: Driver contracts are done. How important is that stability for the team?
TW: The driver contracts were done a long time ago. At least it feels that way within Mercedes. Even though we didn't have any signature and therefore nothing to announce. It felt that way since the early stages of the season. There weren't any stumbling blocks to be negotiated, in so far as I don't think there was any insecurity on the drivers' side or our side about whether this would come together. Now it's out in the open, we don't get the questions any more from you guys - and that makes it a bit easier.

Q: I'm going to ask you another question about stability then. You've made some senior management changes recently. Why do you feel the need to make then now?
TW: Like in any company, you will have a situation where talent grows, develops and eventually comes up and, a few years ago, we identified that we don't want to create bottlenecks for this upcoming talent and eventually lose them because they don't see any opportunity any more in the team. The amazing thing we achieved with Aldo [Costa] and Mark Ellis was to identify, mentor and develop that talent. And we had a clear plan with them to eventually put them in positions where they would succeed these great engineers. And that is happening as we speak, over time, over the next 12 months. Mark and Aldo are going to step aside a little bit and this new, young generation of leaders will be coming up. But both of them will stay within the family in roles to be identified - or roles to be discussed in detail. Mark wants to take it a little bit easier. This is a sport that is all-consuming if you give it everything. Aldo wants to spend some time with the family but still be part of the Mercedes family. I'm very proud that we have achieved that transition and were the first team to kind of do that in a structured way.

Questions From The Floor

Q: (Jonathan McEvoy - The Daily Mail) To Toto. I was wondering how you see Lewis' mood. His mindset at the moment. He said this is the hardest race he's been involved in. I don't here, I mean this season and the Ferrari rivalry. That a). And b) his remarks about Sky. Would you rather your driver was going home after a race and watching that - or would you expect him to be out celebrating with some mates?
TW: The most important is that we give everybody his freedom to organise his time the way he feels, or she feels is right. And be non-judgemental. This is how I try to be within the team. We're all different. Lewis is a four-time World Champion. He knows pretty well how to extract the maximum performance out of himself and, in so far, I think whatever he does after the race, whatever he feels like doing, is the right thing for him. And, he's in a good frame of mind. We are all pushing very hard in this championship. The hardest we've done in the past because with Red Bull and Ferrari we have two competitors that we recognise as great organisations and in so far, I think his behaviour, the way he deals with it, is very authentic. He wears his heart on the sleeve. He gives you guys great content - because it polarises - and for me this is just fine.

Q: (Scott Mitchell - Autosport) Toto, last couple of years Force India has obviously been a good friend for you with Esteban and the opportunity that he's had there. With the situation that the team's in at the moment, do you see that as a viable option for next season, even or Esteban or another Mercedes junior in the form of George Russell?
TW: We are still very much friends. Otmar walks the dog and comes for breakfast in Oxford, in my place. So... that hasn't changed. Force India is a team that we aligned with and we have a lot of exchange going on. It has been a great harbour and a great development place for some of the young drivers. They have taken decisions with us that at the time were courageous - like when Esteban was on nobody's radar, Otmar and his guys took the decision to take him onboard and today everybody wants to have Esteban in the car. They are a good group of racers that punch above their weight. The way Otmar and his team have dealt with their liquidity struggles is amazing. Competing against some of the works teams and we just recognise that.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines, Toto, it's no secret that Mercedes has nurtured Esteban through his junior career and also holds his contract, in fact he said so yesterday. Under what circumstances would you let him race with a foreign engine?
TW: I think that... We have picked Esteban up when Gravity fell apart and the first team that he was actually associated with was Renault. We at the time had just started our junior programme and it just felt right with Pascal and Esteban to give them a go. To date we are trying to set them a path that eventually will make them very successful long term; put then a position to be world champions maybe one day. But with Valtteri and Lewis we have a line-up that is stable, that works for us, and at that stage there is no opportunity within Mercedes and if he has an opportunity somewhere else to be successful as a racing driver and another team or constructor to be successful with Esteban, we wouldn't want to stand in the way.

Check out our Friday gallery from the Hungaroring, here.


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