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Azerbaijan GP: Friday Press Conference

NEWS STORY
26/04/2019

Today's press conference with Toto Wolff, Otmar Szafnauer, Christian Horner, Cyril Abiteboul and Claire Williams.

Q: Claire, if we can start with you and the incident in FP1. What's your reaction, and what's the state of the car?
Claire Williams: I knew you were going to start with me! My reaction is probably not a surprising one, I'm pretty annoyed. However, we have had it explained to us, the circumstances around the manhole and what's happened. I don't necessarily believe it's probably anybody's fault, but still it's pretty disappointing for us. It just seems like it's one thing after another for our team at the moment. However, it's happened, we've got to repair the damage. Our chassis is cracked so we have got to revert to chassis three, the floor is a write-off, and we've got some other small bits of damage around the car. The guys are obviously working pretty hard to make sure that we deploy chassis three; we clearly won't get out for P2 and George will just have to get all his learnings in tomorrow.

Q: As you touched on, it's been a difficult season for Williams so far, but you drafted Patrick Head back into the fold on a short-term consultancy basis. What impact has he had so far, and what's the plan going forwards to turn around your fortunes?
CW: Ahead of this weekend I was kind of feeling there was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and then this happens this morning, but I'm not going to worry too much about that. It's one of those things. So Patrick coming in, obviously for us is a great thing. He's acting as a guide for our team of engineers at the moment, just making sure that they're doing everything that they should be doing. We haven't had the best year, clearly everybody has seen that. It started with not getting our chassis to testing, and we've had to really play catch up off the back of that. So we are now in a position where we have all our race quantities, we have the quality on those race quantities that we needed, and now we're looking to bring the upgrades that have literally been sitting on a shelf as we've cleared the backlog out of manufacturing. So there is some light at the end of the tunnel, I think China demonstrated that we've brought a little bit of performance to the car, but we're still far too far behind the ninth-placed team at the moment. We're doing a lot of work back at Williams. If anyone thinks that we're just hoping for a miracle or that things will just go our way at some point, that's not the case - a lot of work has been going on to make sure that we put ourselves in the right position. Obviously Patrick is playing a role in that as well.

Q: Otmar, if we could come to you next. Baku's been a pretty good hunting ground for you in the past, and you've scored points in each of the three races this year. What are your expectations looking ahead to this weekend?
Otmar Szafnauer: Well, we hope that we're a bit more competitive here than we have been in the first three races, but we've managed to score points in every one, which is good. We want to continue that trend and maybe pick up a little bit more than we have in the first three.

Q: The mid-field battle's once again a closely fought affair. What have you made of that battle and how hard is it going to be for you guys to get on top?
OS: Well, I believe this year it's even tighter than years past, and for us to get on top means we have to do everything right. And you know the margins are smaller, so pit stops have to be quick and precise, the drivers have to do a great job in qualifying and the race, you know it's just all the details you have to get right if the margins are that tight - the little details matter all the more.

Q: And you've had fresh investment in the team this year. Can you talk a little bit about the developments that are coming and the updates that we can expect from Racing Point?
OS: Well, that's the other thing. You know we had a big regulation change, so the way I view this year and probably next as well is it's going to be a development race. The fact that we have funding now to bring the developments to the car as quickly as our internal procedures will allow is a big benefit. We won't be hampered by not having the funds to actually buy the components. So that will be a benefit, but the real issue is bringing developments to the car that make a performance enhancement, a performance difference, and that's what we're focusing on doing.

Q: Christian, if we could come to you next. Honda have brought an updated engine to Azerbaijan this weekend. How impressed have you been with their reliability and performance so far, and how encouraged are you about what to expect for the rest of the year?
Christian Horner: Well so far, the engine's run absolutely problem-free throughout testing, throughout all the races to date. This engine's been introduced based on an issue they saw with the Toro Rosso engine, but it also enables us to run slightly more aggressive modes in the race as as well. It's been hugely impressive, the effort and quality of stuff that's been coming through from Honda.

Q: Red Bull took four wins last year. How optimistic are you that you can add to that tally this year?
CH: Trying to specify an amount of wins is always going to be extremely difficult; our goal is to converge to the where the current benchmark is, which is currently Mercedes. I think we're doing that. Obviously we grabbed some opportunistic opportunities last year, and by the end of the year we had a car that was genuinely capable of winning on merit of its own and wasn't circuit-specific. The whole team's focussed very hard on getting development through on the chassis, obviously engine bits are coming through as well. It's a long season, we're at race three, so we've done three races and we're on race four obviously now and we're confident that hopefully we can continue to close that gap to Mercedes and Ferrari ahead.

Q: Just a quick word on Pierre - it's obviously been a difficult start to life at Red Bull, but he seems to be getting more comfortable with the car. Where is he struggling in particular, and what can the team do to help him get on top of those issues?
CH: He had a tough pre-season, two incidents in the pre-season put him on the back foot and also probably confidence wise as well, but each grand prix we've been through so far he's got stronger and stronger. I think China he'll take a bit of confidence from, getting the fastest lap at the end of the race there as well. And yeah, I think just more seat time is extremely beneficial to him, and as we come back to circuits that he's more and more familiar with I think we'll see him make significant further progress.

Q: Cyril, if we could come to you. Renault were really positive ahead of this season; it's then been a difficult few races for you. How would you assess how the opening three races have gone?
Cyril Abiteboul: I think it's fair to say that it's not exactly the start of the season we were willing to have, that we've been working for. I think that it's important also to take a bit of distance of the emotions and of the constant drama we are living for in Formula One. We are already sitting P4 into the championship. It's a tight championship, but we are already sitting P4 with only two cars finishing out of the six cars that have started the season so far. So if with two cars we are capable of doing P4, that's already an encouragement. Last year we had to do everything extremely right to be able to secure that position, so I think it does say something about the step that we've done. It's not enough, it's never enough for sure. As a starting point we clearly need to improve the reliability of the engine; as you know over the winter we have been very vocal about the expectation but also about the ambition in terms of power gain on the engine. I think we've accomplished that, but in order to secure that we had to on a number of occasions to fast-track some of the internal processes because it's a Catch-22. You're running against time, and sometimes also running against limitations in resources, and clearly every single time we could, we biased our internal processes towards performance. So we are paying a little bit for that, but I hope that it's short term pain for long term gain. On the chassis side, I'm extremely positive about the rate of development, which is stronger than it's ever been, which is saying something about also the new Renault that we are starting to see in action.

Q: And just a quick word on Daniel Ricciardo, he had a tough couple of opening races but got on the board. How much of a relief was it to see him score points in China?
CA: It's always good to score his first points, you know, and the sooner the better. But I think more important, he now has a car in which he has more confidence. In the first race in Melbourne we finally had the capacity to understand what he wanted. We've made changes, we prioritised the changes that he wanted to have, in particular on the systems that are related to drivers, so that he has more confidence in the car. Not exactly yet to the level of competitivity that we want, but so that he can attack and wait for the upgrades to come and hopefully pay some dividends.

Q: Toto, thanks for waiting, and welcome back to the press conference again. I think that probably shows how successful Mercedes have been this year. When you look back on those opening three races, how pleased are you with what's gone on, and how much confidence does that give you going forward?
Toto Wolff: First of all, it's always nice to be here. It was a great start of the season; we had a difficult Barcelona testing where we started to understand how to set up the car toward the end of the test only, and then we came to Melbourne and we had a very positive surprise. That was met with a little bit more scepticism then in the second race, where clearly the Ferrari package was the quickest on track. Charles, I think it's clear, would have won the race if it wouldn't have been for reliability, but reliability is part of the equation and part of performance. We came back in China very strong, and that is very pleasing, but three races out of 21 is very early and we mustn't be carried away with a great start.

Q: And a word on Lewis Hamilton, who was back to his dominant ways in China. How impressed have you been with him this year and the way that he continually re-motivates himself?
TW: It's always impressive to look at sportsmen who have been very successful in the past, been setting benchmarks that they're always able to start a new season very motivated and very energised. Certainly the Lewis that I have seen is in a great place, he's eager to perform at the highest level, and that is good for him and good for the team.

Check out our Friday gallery from Baku, here.

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