Today's press conference with Nick Chester, Jock Clear, Jonathan Eddolls, Ayao Komatsu and Rob Smedley.
Nick, it's been a great last couple of races for Renault and it looks like you've pretty much secured P4 in the Championship. That was your stated aim at the start of the year, but just talk us through how satisfied you've been with the development curve of this year's car?
Nick Chester: Well firstly, it has been a pretty tight fight, we've had a fight all year and the last couple of races have been pretty good for us. We've developed the car pretty hard all year. We knew we were going to have to and that it would be a tight fight. But it's pleasing and I think if we have another couple of decent races towards the end of the year - Brazil and Abu Dhabi - then we'll be about there.
Q: These past couple of races, as we said, have been good. Have you made a step forward that has allowed you to be that competitive on every track or has it been track specific?
NC: It's been a bit track specific. We know that there are some tracks that are better for us than others. We're a little bit better in slow-speed corners than high-speed corners but also we have been working the development to try to bring the car on through the year.
Q: Thank you. Jock, it's been a fantastic battle between yourselves and Ferrari this year but there can only be one winner. Where in your opinion did it start to slip away from Sebastian Vettel?
Jock Clear: Yeah, it has been a fantastic battle and that's why we do this sport. It's seasons like this that you just relish, Obviously when you are on the wrong end of it, it is frustrating. But specifically, we haven't really looked back at what point, as you put it, things slipped away from us. The fact is a season is season and the points we score in Abu Dhabi are just as important as the points you score in Australia, and to win a championship you need to put together a full season and we haven't done as good a job in that respect as our direct competitors and we are aware of that. We look back over the season, we look at the strengths of what is probably the strongest Ferrari season for 10 years and we build on those strengths. I think the win in Austin is a testament to the fact that the team does come back and does fight back and we did understand some of the issues we uncovered in the second third of the season. The fact is that over the course of 21 races you have to score more points than the opposition. We haven't done that for Seb, we're still in the hunt for the Constructors' obviously and it's going to be a tough battle here and hopefully to Abu Dhabi.
Q: Sebastian has been performing under a lot of pressure this year. How difficult do you think it's been for him?
JC: It's difficult to say really. The fact is drivers of his caliber relish the pressure. That's again what I think, the top athletes pit themselves against the best and the pressure is the pressure. That's part of the job. I think he has enjoyed the season. There have been highs and lows. I think he said recently that losing the championship in 2009 he found more frustrating. I think on the whole, he has come to this battle willing to take risks, willing to give it his all and we're part of that. We've all done our part this year to the ups and downs. I think from Seb's point of view it just gives him more strength to come back next year and say 'this is unfinished business'.
Q: Thank you. Ayao, coming to you, Mexico aside, which was a bit of a blip for the team, it's been a positive and consistent season fro Haas. In what areas have you improved the car since Melbourne?
Ayao Komatsu: I think most of... all the areas. This is only the third year for us but this is also only the first year that we actually decided to develop the car throughout the season. The first year was all about operation. The second year we managed to focus a bit more on performance but third year we really focused on performance and improving the cars throughout the season. Of course last year we stopped development early to focus on this year, so that paid off. We are very happy with our baseline and how the team is operating, especially considering it is only our third season.
Q: So looking forward, there is a bit of a reset with the new aero rules. How are you guys dealing with that transition and how confident are you of retaining P5 in 2019?
AK: I think we are dealing with it as well as we can be. Obviously when the regulations changed from '16 to '17 that was a big change for us, that was going from first to second year. We were pretty aware of the challenge but we managed it. This year our understanding of the car, at least from an aerodynamics point of view, is reasonable, so yeah, I'm confident that our aero guys will do a good job again for next year. But if you ask me how confident am I to retain P5, of course it's a competition, so we've got to do a better job than other people. So it's not easy, I'm under no illusion and then going into our fourth again we need to look at ourselves, improving in every single department to have a chance of retaining fifth. So a huge challenge, but a challenge we will love to attack with our full capability.
Q: Thank you. Jonathan, we've talked about Haas' development curve, we've talked Renault's, can we talk to you about Honda? Specifically, where have they added performance and reliability over the year?
Jonathan Eddolls: Yeah, I think with Honda, honestly it was surprise at how good they were at the start of the year, given everything that we had seen in the press. They'd had a fairly... not a bad picture painted of them, but the expectation were lower than we experienced and they were already at a reasonable level. Through the year there have been two really big updates, the Spec 2 for Canada and then the Spec 3 fairly recently. The Spec 3 in particular saw a really big improvement in power, especially in qualifying, and that has really helped in some of the races and will help us for the next two races. Reliability has actually been relatively good. I think if you look at the number of PU penalties we have taken, it's very high, and it doesn't look like Honda has had such good reliability. However, many of those we have elected to take ourselves just to get Pus in the pool when we have had a bad qualifying for instance. Reliability has come on a long way and power is now looking good.
Q: Certainly is. Now while we're talking progress, can we talk drivers as well, specifically Pierre Gasly? What has impressed you about him and in what areas have you seen him progress this year?
JE: Well, firstly he is very confident in his ability. He is a very fast driver and I think that confidence has grown throughout the year. Some the areas he has improved the most: tyres management. He was good already at the start of the year. As we know these Pirelli tyres are very difficult to understand in all of the conditions. Every race is different, every race presents a different challenge - graining, blistering, overheating. I think that's one of the areas he's worked on and developed the most. He's still had a couple of races recently where it's shown that we haven't fully understood the tyres but the good thing with him is he's happy to sit down after the race and go through everything - he's massively keen to learn. The most recent races, he's shown that in tyres management he has made big steps there. I think also his ability to track the grip in qualifying. Maybe at the start of the year, let's say it was a surprise to him how much the grip would come up through qualifying and it can be quite difficult to track that run to run, but that's another area that he has improved a lot.
Q: Thanks. Rob, some big news from you in recent days, you are going to leave Williams at the end of the year. Can you share with us why you are going to do that?
Rob Smedley: Well, I don't know if it's big news, but it's news I guess, on a quiet week. I think I joined Williams at a time when they were evolving from having a torrid time of it let's say - the new regulations in 2014 and the part that I was going to play in the journey was to take on the vehicle science, the vehicle performance side of it, the race operations and to try to help out in that area and I think that if you look back at 2012, 2013 and from that point on, from 2014, with the huge effort that all of the guys that work in that department, we have been able to grow it, we've been able to improve it, and hopefully I leave it in better shape than it was. It's a good group now, they've got good knowledge, good methodologies, we brought a lot of science into the way we use tyres, into the way we use the car in general, so that the team can go ahead and pretty much exploit any car that's given to them, the race operations itself, the way the mechanics work. Hopefully it is in better shape than it was. It's kind of time for a new challenge for me now, I think. Williams has got it's own challenge in front it to come from where it is at the minute. I'm going to go away and take another challenge somewhere else. I'm going to spend some time at home - that's first and foremost the thing I'm going to do. I'm going to spend some time with my family who have supported me for a long time. I've got to do that. I have no choice in that. But I'm very, very grateful that I can do that and spend some time being a normal husband, a normal dad and not going away every two weeks and not working until 9 or 10 in the office every night, so I'll enjoy that to begin with and then we'll go from there.
Q: Well, where do you go from there. Do you want to stay in Formula 1?
RS: Yeah, I definitely want to stay in Formula 1. Formula 1 is my passion. It's been all my working life that I've been in Formula 1 and it's still the pinnacle of motorsport. There are other series that are snapping at its heels but it's still got a lot to offer. Formula 1, we're working on it all the time, it's not the complete package. It has so much more potential than what you actually see. So yeah, I do want to stay in Formula 1 on the technical side. I'm lucky, because I'm already talking to people and that's a fortunate position to be in and we'll just see where everything takes us.
Q: And just a final word on Williams? You know the team well, so what steps do you think the team needs to take next to regain performance and respectability in Formula 1?
RS: There's never one magic bullet is there. I think in all areas really, you can never stop learning and improving. I think it would be a mistake to pinpoint one area and say that has to be the sole concentration or that's the sole problem; it's not. As with anything that's not quite working as well as it should be, or as efficiently as it should be, with any business, with any organisation, it's never one thing. What Williams need to do now... they've got strong leadership and Claire is at the front of that leadership and I think what they need to do at that leadership level, is they need a recovery plan and that has to attack all areas of the business. It has to be technical, but it has to be all the support structure of the business as well. There are areas that need modernisation, there are areas that need change and there are areas you should recognise that are strong compared to other Formula q1 teams but are not supported in other ways. It's a long road, they're a talented bunch there, there are some really good technical people, some really good engineers and a good management group and the trick now is they have to pull together and start to go in one direction.
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