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Belgian GP Friday Press Conference - Part 1

NEWS STORY
24/08/2018

Part 1 of today's press conference with Cyril Abiteboul, Gil de Ferran and Christian Horner.

Cyril, we had Daniel Ricciardo in here yesterday explaining his decision to join Renault. When did you start talks with Daniel and just how did that deal come about from a Renault point of view.
Cyril Abiteboul: Obviously, we have known Daniel since a while for the collaboration we naturally have on the engine side with Red Bull since 12 years. We've had random discussions - jokes - with Daniel since a while. It would be hard to put an exact date on the first joke about this type of switch. But I'd say that's it's a while since we've expressed our interest in him, the fact that we liked him, his style, his skills, his talent, his leadership and the fact that there could be an opportunity for him at Renault. We've always been clear with what we are, what we are not yet, that we are still in the making. That if he was interested in a turnkey organisation, in a turnkey team with a turnkey car that would not be with us - but if he was interested in a project in construction where he could play a role, we would be interested. So, you know, that's where we left it and we accepted also since day one it would take him a bit of time to digest and to consider because it was an important decision, you know such a switch is complex. It's complex in life and in the career of a driver, which is short - but it's also complex in the life of a team, both for all organisations involved. So, we accepted that. We accepted he would be sort-of making and controlling the timing and obviously we had to look at alternative options in parallel in case it would not happen. And yeah, I think he sort of digested the proposal and eventually made his decision.

It seemed to come quite late. Daniel said it was over a 48-hour period that he finally made his call. Did it come as a surprise to you as well when he finally gave you the news?
CA: Yeah, it came both as a surprise but also as a relief because it's positive news. It's great news for Renault, for the team - but it's also news that carrying not just lots of... not just emotions but also responsibility and some obligation to deliver. To deliver cars that are in-line with his expectations, with his talent. We were already obliged to our shareholders, to our sponsors, to our fans, towards the legacy of Renault. Now we are also obliged towards him, and we want this charismatic driver finds what he's come to find and to look for with our organisation. So, we just have a bit more pressure - but it's healthy pressure.

Christian, it's basically the same question to you. When Daniel turned around and said he was leaving Red Bull, he said that that came over a short period, that he made the final decision. Did it catch you out?
Christian Horner: I suppose the whole process with Daniel has dragged on this year. Y'know, we started talking really in February, initially aiming to have something done by Australia and then obviously, that got postponed until after Monaco, and then Monaco got postponed. The whole process has been fairly drawn out. Obviously in recent weeks, Dietrich Mateschitz was involved in the discussions with him in the discussions from Barcelona, in Austria and all indications were that he was going to stay. Certainly, that was the intent from the team's point of view. Obviously, Daniel, when he called on the Thursday, when he landed in the US, having had everything in front of him that he wanted and had required, financially, technically, duration etcetera, etcetera, there was something in him that he still felt he wanted a change. Certainly, that's how he's explained it to us and that he felt the timing was right to do something different. So, of course it was a surprise. We'd expected if he were to leave it would be a for a Mercedes or a Ferrari - but that's obviously his decision and we fully respect that. We've had ten great years. Red Bull invested in him as a junior in Formula Renault. He then went on to win the [British] Formula 3 Championship. I remember going watch him at Silverstone in Formula 3 and seeing even at that stage his talent was very clear. He then obviously graduated through the Renault World Series into Formula One with HRT and from there into Toro Rosso and then from there was selected to partner Sebastian Vettel when Mark Webber retired. We've seen him grow during that time, evolve as a personality and as a driver. He's been a pleasure to have in the team at Red Bull Racing the last five years. He's driven some great races. He's a big character. We've given him a platform to express that and we wish him well for the next journey in his career.

Gil, welcome to the press conference. Fernando was sitting next to Daniel yesterday and spoke a lot about his decision to move on, so we're going to look to the future. You ran Lando Norris in your car this morning. It's unusual for McLaren to run a different driver in FP1, so why that decision?
Gil de Ferran: We've I think been investing in Lando for a fair few years now. We're trying to give him as much exposure as possible. This was an opportunity for him to drive the car at a grand prix weekend, which is a different situation, more people on the track and a lot of track evolution and also a completely different level of downforce - so I think we keep walking the development road.

Looking to the future from a personal point of view, you've now been in the role for couple of months. What are your priorities at McLaren?
GdF: Look, to your point, I've been here two or three months. It feels like a lifetime already! It's been many long hours and I took the first phase of this appointment to really assess what goes on in the team and try to get to know the people better and understand what everybody else does in the team. And one of the things that is clear to me is that there's a lot of talent within the team, up and down the organisation, so I guess my main priority is really to unlock that talent and hopefully turn that into better results.

Questions From The Floor

(Christian Menath - Motorsport-Magazin.com) There's been a lot of confusion about Fernando. He said that he had an offer from Red Bull Racing to race for you next season. Can you clarify that please?
CH: Just to be totally clear, there was no offer to Fernando Alonso for next year. Fernando is a fantastic driver, he's a great talent in Formula One. He's obviously chosen his path. We had an enquiry from Flavio Briatore, and from Liberty Media, but the position within Red Bull has always been very clear that we invest in youth and have a talent pool through the Red Bull Junior Programme. And as has been the case with Sebastian Vettel, Kvyat, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, we're always going to draw upon the talent pool that we have. We have offered Fernando a contract in the past, but that was back in 2007.

(Livio Oricchio - Globoesporte.com) Christian, what was the criteria to choose Gasly instead of Carlos Sainz Jr? And also, the same question I did yesterday to Max - if you see the numbers of both Toro Rosso drivers concerning the engine combustion internal MGU-K, MGU-H, they are over the limit for long and we still have nine races to go. Are you confident that Honda will solve all of these problems from the middle of the season to the next one, and also provide performance?
CH: To deal with the first part of your question, we selected Pierre Gasly based on what we see performance-wise the job he's doing within Toro Rosso. Obviously we'd selected Max Verstappen prior to that having had the choice of either Carlos or Max at the time. To allow Carlos' career to continue to develop we effectively leased him out to Renault to continue that career development. We had the option to bring him back, but faced with the options that we had and looking at relative performances that we chose, Pierre Gasly was the right guy to fill the seat and graduate into Red Bull Racing. Therefore we released Carlos immediately to pursue other options in Formula One. He had an offer on the table from McLaren that we didn't want to in any way impede, make sure that he was free to be able to take that up, and it's great to see that he's now in a good team like McLaren. Regarding Honda, obviously the changes that you talk about - some of which are tactical, not purely based on reliability, in a development phase - they are pushing hard; we have confidence in what we see, in the investment that we see going into the programme, in the quality of personnel that are involved in the programme. Things are very much moving in the right direction; only time will tell, but I think that you'll see inevitably more changes again this year, but it's all part of a development process for 2019 and beyond.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines, Racefans.net) Cyril, after Hungary with the Force India situation you expressed concern that its salvation could turn it into a Mercedes B-team or satellite team type situation, yet I believe that you signed your approval for the team to get its money, et cetera. So what changed your mind? Have you had assurances that this won't happen, or what was the situation?
CA: No, to be extremely clear we did not change our mind in the sense that we never wanted to cause any more difficulty for Force India. We are already at ten teams, which I think is the minimum for a sustainable Formula One. If you look at also, by the way, opportunities for young drivers obviously more teams would be better than less teams - or at least more cars - so clearly we would not want to have caused anything bad for Force India. Having said that, it is true that we have seeked reassurance from the commercial rights holder that in future it will not be a requirement to be part of a group of teams in order to be able to fight for championships or to fight for wins. That's definitely our ambition, to be in that position, but we don't have right now the capacity or the strategy to form any particular alliance such that we would have a junior team or a partner team. We have a partnership with the gentleman on my left on the engine side, which could be expanded with more technology, but that's not really something that we want should be imposed on us as a model in order to be successful. So that's the sort of clarity that we are seeking from the commercial rights holder, that could not be obviously obtained through some new regulations in the interim of time necessary for Force India way forward and survival, but particularly in the context of the work on the budget cap and the restriction on resources, that debate, that discussion, is going to become even more important. We've had discussions, I believe that we share the same vision as Ross Brawn, as Chase Carey, for the future of the sport, we don't have any guarantee, but we understand that we see the world in the same way.

(Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Christian, you said that Liberty approached you after Daniel's decision was made known. Are you suggesting that Liberty were somehow trying to place Fernando with you, or were taking an active role in trying to change his mind to stay in the sport?
CH: There was just an enquiry as to whether we would consider Fernando. Which you can understand from a promoter's point of view: Fernando Alonso is a great asset to Formula One; if he could be in a competitive car I'm sure they would prefer him staying than pursuing his triple crown. I wouldn't expect them to do anything different.

Check out our Friday gallery from Spa, here.

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