Today's press conference with Toto Wolff, Mattia Binotto, Andrew Green and Toyoharu Tanabe.
Gentlemen, welcome. I'd like to start by taking a moment to reflect on this being the 1000th world championship race for Formula 1, and to ask each of you why you got involved in Formula 1? What triggered your passion for this great sport? Andrew, perhaps we could start with you.
Andrew Green: So, this is my, not quite 500th, but close... 1991 I think was my first race and I was not quite out of college, maybe two years out of college and for me it was the Sunday afternoons sitting down watching those guys racing wheel-to-wheel that really gave me the buzz. That's why I went to college to study engineering; that's where I wanted to be. At the time my passion was also cricket. One of the guys I used to play cricket with was Rory Byrne. He was the one who inspired me to write off to all the chiefs and offer my services for free. And that's how I got into F1 and motorsport all those years ago.
Thank you. Toto?
Toto Wolff: Less holistic. I was interested in racing cars when I made my driving licence actually but didn't follow Formula 1 at all, although Austria had a great history of Formula 1 racing drivers. But I somehow got into the sport by the finance side. The passion for racing cars in general and then the business side of Formula 1, that encapsulates everything that the business covers around motor racing that somehow attracted me, a few years ago only.
Thank you, Toto. Mattia?
Mattia Binotto: On my side, since I was a child I was watching the races with my grandfather. He was a fantastic, passionate [supporter] of motorsport, but especially of Ferrari. When, as myself, living in Switzerland, you were looking at the red cars, they are something special for Italy, so it was something important for me. So it was since I was a child really a dream, of being part of F1 but even more being part of Ferrari. And to this it might feel even like a mission - try to preserve what is the heritage of this sport and Ferrari.
Thanks, and Tanabe-san?
Toyoharu Tanabe: Since I was a child I'm very interested in the car. Then, in Japan, we actually didn't have a lot of racing in that era. But then Honda started Formula 1 as their second era. Then I joined Honda and then after joining Honda I asked my boss: 'I want to work in Formula 1'. And now I'm working for Formula 1.
Mission accomplished. Thank you all. A few more questions. Tanabe-san, if we can stay with you: it's been a very solid start for Honda so far in 2019. How satisfied are you and can you close the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes?
TT: So far, we have started this season with a reasonable performance and reasonable results. But reasonable means not fantastic yet and you see clearly you see there is still a big gap between the top runners and us. So we really need to push to improve our performance, to compete with our competitors here. But we understand it is not to improve our performance immediately but we'll keep pushing through the year.
What do you think is the performance gap between yourselves and Ferrari and Mercedes?
TT: I don't tell you specific number but you see the gap at the track.
Thank you. Andrew if I could come to you, please. How do you assess Racing Point's start to the season and what sort of progress are you making with the car?
AG: It's been a difficult start. I think the competition is incredibly tight in the midfield this year - tighter than I've known it for a long time. I think we're just slightly behind. We're not a long way behind but I think our weaknesses were probably exposed in the first couple of races. We've got a plan to obviously bring us back to our target level of performance, it's going to take some time, but I think we have to remember that the car was originally conceived in the mid to late part of last year, when the team was in serious trouble. We were really struggling at that point. We had to make quite a few decisions about the car and the architecture of the car back then, not really knowing what was going to happen with the team, whether there was even going to be a team. We are still getting out of that. It will still take some time. We're in a much better place now, but improvements take time. It takes time to build the infrastructure up to where we need it to be. It's easy now to say that we have the bills paid at the end of each month, which we never used to be able to say, so it's one less thing to worry about. But there are more things to think about, as far as the performance of the car, where we're going in the future, which is something we're thinking about a lot, where the regulations are going and where we're going to go in the future. There's a lot to think about now.
And a quick word on Lance Stroll as well. It's his first season with the team. How is he bedding in, what are your first impressions?
AG: First impressions are really good. We saw it at the end of last year when he tested for us post-Abu Dhabi. We could see the talent was there; he's got some raw talent. We saw it in the simulator as well. He's done a huge amount of work off-season with us. His dedication is incredible. His enthusiasm is incredible. He's fitted into the team I think really well, really well, and I think he's got a bright future ahead of him.
Mattia, losing the Bahrain Grand Prix must have been very tough on everybody in the team but particularly Charles Leclerc. What did you say to him? How could you comfort him after the race?
MB: Losing was tough but even more probably frustrating but giving us even more boost for the following races and for here in China. To Charles, what I told him, I think he did a great race, he did a great quali a great race but more than that, I think he has been fantastic on the post-race comments, showing that he's really a mature driver. So, simply telling him good job but we're more happy with what you did after the race and during the entire weekend. And that's enough. Because then I think all of us are simply looking ahead at the next challenge.
Was there any reoccurrence of the problem during the test session in Bahrain after the race?
MB: No, not during the testing, so that's a problem that occurs only once during the race. Never at the bench, never during testing, never in practices. Ten laps or 12 laps to the end of the race, whatever it was. I think on reliability, you need to be strong, on quality, you need to be strong, but it may always happen and I think it was really unlucky the way it happened. We changed all our units here in China for precaution, even on the other car, so even on Seb's. Not because the one of Seb got the issues so far, but I think at the moment it's the best way to protect ourselves with the issue we have. And then we try somehow to understand and verify the quality of all the units we have installed.
And just a quick word if we may on Mick Schumacher who was testing one of your cars in that Bahrain test. How do you assess his performance?
MB: To assess the performance, I think it is very difficult because first, the weather conditions were very bad on that day and because at the end I think that the objective was not really to assess the performance. It was his very first day on an F1 car; more important for him still in the learning phase, day-by-day, is facing a completely new challenge in his F2 season. I think what was certainly positive was the way he approached the exercise, the approach to the day of testing, never pushing to the limit, trying to improve run-by-run, learning the car, learning the team, and I think in that respect he did a very good job: very well focussed, concentrated and tried to do the proper job and learn. I think that's the most you may expect on such a day.
Did you see any similar character traits with his father?
MB: The very first time I saw him after many years in Maranello, when he came back. If you looked at him, I don't think he's looking very similar to Michael but the way he's behaving is very similar, and the way he's approaches the exercise and the way he's interested in the car, discussing it with the technicians. So even in Maranello, you are looking after him, but he's always in the workshop looking at the car, speaking with the mechanics, and I think that's very similar to his father.
Toto, you're leading both of the World Championships but what do you feel is the reality in terms of performance at the moment?
TW: It's nice to lead the two championships, obviously you'd rather lead than not lead, but we have seen two very different grands prix. We had a very high level of performance in Melbourne, compared to Ferrari, and not a great level in the second level in Bahrain - but it was not only compared to Ferrari, also you benchmark yourself to the other teams and I think that was a race where we didn't perform as we should have done - but we've always said there was one race that was the race over the winter: who comes out of the blocks best; and then there will be the development race throughout the season, and this is certainly a challenging situation for us, as it will be for all the other teams and good for the sport, I think, that you can't really predict who's going to win the race on Sunday.
And a quick word on Valtteri Bottas. He's leading the World Championship. Are you seeing anything different from him this season, compared to previous?
TW: It's this mania depression of Formula One that people are being written up and written down and after Melbourne he was the reinvented superstar and World Championship contender and after the next race again it was not the case. I think we just need to let them go on with the Championship. He has started the weekend well today. I think it's the same Valtteri we have seen in the last years. He has all that he needs to compete on a high level, to fight for race victories and eventually championships. I see the same guy.
Questions From The Floor
(Stuart Codling - Autosport) Question for Toto. Lewis said yesterday that, if Ferrari have established an advantage on the engine side, it will be much more difficult to catch up than if they'd established an advantage on the aero side. Could you elucidate a little bit on that? Is it a factor of the tightness of the regulatory box or the inherent risks of pushing engine development?
TW: First of all, what needs to be said - because when I read articles it's always not accurately reflected - if somebody does a good job, he does a good job, and that's fact. And whether he has a good engine and out-performs all the others, or he has a decent amount of downforce and goes quicker around the corners, that is irrelevant. It is always about the performance of the package. As we have seen, Ferrari operating in Bahrain, they were superior to all the other teams and there was massive engine power on the straight - but it's not always engine power. Obviously drag levels are playing an important role in the calculation. This is something we need to evaluate. This morning there was a frightening lap of Sebastian again, in straightline speed - but it is what it is, we have to stretch ourselves and fight and extract performance out of the chassis and extract performance out of the power unit and certainly see. Having a benchmark like that helps and motivates.