Today's press conference with Frederic Vasseur, Laurent Mekies, Zak Brown, Cyril Abiteboul and Claire Williams.
Q: I'd like to start with the three Frenchmen on the panel, and ask you about your home grand prix. What does it mean to be racing at home this weekend and what are your first memories of Paul Ricard?
Frederic Vasseur: The first memory of Paul Ricard is '90 or something like this, in Formula Renault. It was during the French Grand Prix and we were at the back of the grid. But it was a good first one, for the first memory at Paul Ricard. For the French Grand Prix, for sure the approach is a bit different. We have more solicitation but we have to stay focused on the race and to consider the race as another one.
Q: And Cyril, home race for you and the team?
Cyril Abiteboul: Deja on avait decide de la faire en Francais cette conference de presse. On en a marre de parler en Anglais un permanence. On est majoritairement Francais, donc on la fait en Francais.
Sorry, switching back to English... The French Grand Prix: well, it's obviously nice to be back here. As far as I'm concerned I don't have direct memories of racing, because when I started it was Magny Cours. My first memory and first attendance in Paul Ricard was for some testing and for the launch of the Renault F1 car, the Mild Seven blue car, whenever it was, 2004 maybe, we'll have to check, It was crazy the amount of testing we were doing here. As for this weekend, it's good to be here. As far as I'm concerned I don't see it as extra pressure, but more emotion, more opportunity to see some faces that are just smiling and cheering for a result. I know there has been a lot of negativity about the last edition and they are taking that extremely seriously, I'm talking about the traffic situation. We know that there is a limitation with the geography, which is a fantastic place, but it has its own limitation. But unfortunately I think it's putting under silence some great activities that they are doing, I'm thinking in particular about the 10,000 kids that were running into the paddock yesterday and it's fantastic and so energetic for everyone to see at first so much activity you have in Formula One. We are talking a lot about not doing enough for young people, the young generation in Formula One and for once there is a promoter doing something about it and I think we need to give a match to that.
Q: Thank you Cyril, and Laurent?
Laurent Mekies: For me, the first memory here is when my parents took me here back in '88. Cyril was talking about the kids earlier so we went there yesterday to speak to some of the schools the organisers have brought here and it's great to be able to pass that on. It actually started here, with my parents, in the grandstand. Then, apart from that, for us it's technically a more complicated track compared to Canada, but nevertheless we will try to step up at this kind of track where it has been a bit more difficult for us so far.
Q: Thank you. Fred, if I can come back to you. It's been a tough few races for Alfa Romeo. What have been the issues with the car and how confident are you of finding a solution?
FV: For sure the last two or three events were a bit more difficult but sometimes it's so tight that it's related to the small details. I think in Monaco we were always in the top 10 in the free practice. We made some mistakes in quali, and then we disappeared and we had to start from the back. We have to be probably more efficient on the weekend in terms of exploitation because for sure we did a step back during the last two or three races but the expectation is still to score points and to score points with two cars and to be back in the fight in the midfield.
Q: And a quick progress report on Antonio Giovinazzi. He picked up the Trofeo Bandini last weekend in Italy. How do you sum up his progress so far.
FV: If you have look at the last race in Montreal and Monaco before he is matching Kimi in quali and in the free practice that he is stepping up. For sure in Montreal, Monaco and then at Paul Ricard that he has also to discover the track and it's not an easy one. But now that we are back in Europe that he knows the next tracks and he has the experience of the first races and he will be into the pace.
Q: Cyril, really solid result for the team in Canada, with both cars in the points. Nico Hulkenberg was in here yesterday and he said that level of performance has always been in the car but that it has been masked by ‘human errors'. Would you agree with that?
CA: Oh yeah, 100 per cent. At the same time it's good to be able to put Montreal, but for me what was more exceptional and needed to stop is what we were doing before. There was nothing exceptional with Montreal, it's what is expected, it's what is planned; it's what we are capable of doing. It's more bad races that stopped in Montreal. It's not that it was a good race. There have been human errors everywhere. There's not one single area of the team or one single department that was to blame, and therefore why no sanction? I know that we are in a world where people are expecting quick sanctions. I don't buy into that. I don't believe that. In particular when mistakes and problems were coming from different area we've managed to stay together, to stay focused, to keep our head down, and obviously to get that performance in Montreal. But obviously it has to repeat. It can't be an isolated one that event.
Q: You've brought some upgrades here. How were they performing in FP1?
CA: It's a bit early to say, in particular because FP1 is always masked by a lot of track evolution. We know that some of the tarmac has been re-surfaced, so it will be interesting to see, and very important also for the decisions we make in terms of set-up, in which direction the track is actually evolving. There is nothing very alarming. There is nothing particularly exciting either but more work to be done and analysis is going on.
Q: You're now only two points behind McLaren in the Constructors' Championship. What are your goals for the rest of the season?
CA: The goals for the rest of the season are not changing. It's a clear P4 that we said we would want to deliver. So that's that same as last year but a bit further away from the midfield but a bit closer to the top teams. We know it's going to take a couple of seasons to reduce and hopefully bridge the gap to the top teams. You can't pretend it's going to happen in one season or in one winter. To answer your question: trying to beat McLaren. Clearly they have done a step this winter, they have a good car. They also have a good engine. I expect more fights with them, but that's interesting. We are super happy to be fighting with McLaren. McLaren is a very aspirational brand, they are a carmaker, so very excited to be racing against them.
Q: Thank you Cyril. Zak, perhaps we should come to you. A clear P4 is the goal fro Renault. How confident are you of holding onto it?
Zak Brown: Well, we're going to give it everything we've got. It's a very tough midfield. Renault is very strong, but so are three, four other teams and it's very close. You can see by one good race weekend, this early in the year, I think Renault went from, I think, they were eighth to fifth, two points behind. So, we know that some others can have some good weekends like that and we can have some bad weekends and the order will get mixed up pretty quickly. So we are going to keep giving it all we got. We do have a pretty good car; we do have a good engine. We've got two very good drivers. The team is executing very well very pleased with that. And yeah, I think it's going to be an exciting race in the midfield.
Q: It's going to be a development race until the end of the season. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your car and how easy is it going to be to develop it?
ZB: It's faster in some corners and slower in some other corners. Everyone obviously kind of understands their car and the areas in which they need to develop. I think we have a good understanding of where we need to improve our car and that's exactly the areas that we're looking to develop. And as you say, it's going to be a development race. There are just a few tenths between that P4 and P9, so I think development is going to critical to success this year, and execution.
Q: Lando said recently that it has been an up and down season for him. How would you assess his first seven races in Formula One?
ZB: I think he's done a very good job. He's been very fast. He's not made the rookie mistakes. He's learned each weekend. Carlos is a very good benchmark for him. He has very high expectations, as you would expect. So I think in his eyes, he's had some ups and downs, but from our point of view, he's doing everything that we hoped he would do and he's been very impressive.
Q: Claire, for the second consecutive race Nicholas Latifi has been in the car in FP1. I just wanted to ask you how he is developing?
Claire Williams: Yeah, he's doing a great job for us. Anyone that knows Nicholas, he has a really lovely way about him. First and foremost it's great to have him as part of our team. He's taking part in several FP1 sessions for us. He took Robert's car in Canada and it was George's turn to step out today for him to take over. He's doing a great job. He's great at integrating himself into the team and knowing and understanding what's required of him when he gets into the car. Friday's are obviously for understanding the new parts that we're bringing to every race, and he's just going through the work that needs to be done with the engineers.
Q: I wanted to ask you about how you are developing the car, because it was great to see George Russell raving Magnussen and Albon in Canada. What have you got in the pipeline to help maintain this progress?
CW: Yeah, it's great, we're racing for P15! Obviously no one is happy about that at Williams, but I think we have to take the positives out of that, you know, the fact that we started this season qualifying 19th and 20th and invariably finishing in 19th and 20th as well. We've had great reliability, so invariably those numbers have been a bit higher, when other cars have dropped out. But George has finished ahead of several cars over the past few races and that's been really great to see. Obviously so much work has been put in behind the scenes at the factory to bring new test items to every race. We've brought some considerable new items over the past few races to address the weaknesses we have. Clearly that's a work in progress and we've got to make greater strides forward and hopefully prior to shutdown we're going to have a more substantial package to bring to the car, once we've got that through manufacturing etc. So it will be good to see where that takes us. We're only early days in this season so far, but it's nice to see the incremental gains coming at each and every race and we've just got to keep on that pathway.
Check out our Friday gallery from Le Castellet, here.