Today's press conference with Andreas Seidl, Toto Wolff, Otmar Szafnauer and Christian Horner.
Andreas, we've seen some strong performances by McLaren in recent races. How comfortable are you in P4 in the Constructors' Championship, 43 points ahead of Renault?
Andreas Seidl: Yeah... well, I wouldn't say 'comfortable'! It's obviously good to be in that position; it's good to see how we perform as a team, still getting better and better, still bringing more parts to the track as well for this year - but at the same time it's not something we get carried away with. The targets we are having are a lot higher, so for me it's a lot more important... of course we want to score this P4 this year but it's a lot more important to get everything in place, let's say, in the next weeks, months, which we think is important to make the next step also.
Well, let's talk about that step Andreas, because you've already announced Mercedes power units in 2021 but also a change in design philosophy for the 2020 car. Can you explain why you're doing that, given the progress you've made this season? Can you stitch those two things together for us?
AS: First of all, regarding the Mercedes decision, I think we have communicated everything regarding that. Obviously, it was an important milestone, also for myself, to have clarity here as quickly as possible, so very happy to have the World Championship-winning powertrain in the back of our car from 2021 onwards. At the same time, this is 2021, so our focus is on next year, on 2020. The reality is that we are still more than a second down compared to these guys next to me, so this means, even with the regulations staying the same, we still see a lot of stuff we want to tackle with next year's car, which means we also have to do some bigger changes also, in terms of car concept. James Key is working hard on that, together with the entire team back home. I'm very happy with the progress that I'm seeing there and the target is clear for next year: we want to somehow jump in between these... let's say a position in terms of lap time also where we are right now and where these guys are, and hopefully we can make that step for next year.
Otmar, it's pretty congested where you are in the Constructors' table at the minute. You're currently lying P7 but only ten points behind Renault in P5. Looking at these last four races, do you think you have the car to take P5?
Otmar Szafnauer: Well, we hope that we do, and we've made some significant upgrades recently to the car and we're still understanding it a little bit. Our drivers and team are up for the fight. It's not going to be easy. We are ten points behind not ten ahead, which makes it doubly difficult but we'll do all we can to finish fifth, if that's possible.
And a quick word on Lance Stroll if we may. We saw a strong performance from him in Japan, out-qualifying Checo Pérez for only the second time this year. Do you feel he's finally turned a corner?
OS: Lance is a very intelligent and good racer and he's been learning all year, so I'm not sure it's turning a corner but he's getting better and better. And apart from the little mishap we had, here he looked pretty strong in FP1 as well but that came to an abrupt end at Turn 16. But we've got two good drivers. Sergio's been with us for a long time, he knows the team, he's great on a Sunday; Lance is learning and hopefully between the two of them we can make up that ten-point deficit that we talked about.
Christian, how confident are you coming into this weekend. Max Verstappen has won this race for the last two years, what chance a third?
Christian Horner: I think you'd have to look at season in isolation, and I think at the moment Ferrari are very much the benchmark in terms of outright, one-lap pace, and qualifying is so important here because it's pretty difficult to follow closely other cars. Obviously, Mercedes' form has been phenomenal across all types of circuit this year. I think coming here it's a bigger challenge than we've faced previously. And, of course, on top of that, we've got some variable weather around on Saturday and Sunday. I think it looking pretty tight if you looked at the first session though, looking at the relative competitiveness of the cars. So, it looks like it could be a fantastic battle over the next couple of days.
You were third and fourth in FP1. Quick word on Alex Albon who has out-scored Max Verstappen 48-31 in the five races that they've done together as team-mates. His race performances have been very strong, he's now starting to maximise the car in qualifying. Can you just sum-up his progress.
CH: Yeah, I think he's doing a very good job. You have to remember this is his first season in Formula One. He's up against an incredibly tough team-mate in Max and he hasn't had the benefit of a bunch of testing or anything like that, so I think he's equipped himself and adapted well. His feedback shows a very strong understanding of the car - and as he gains confidence on circuits he's visiting for the first time, he's certainly impressed the whole team with his attitude, his application and his performance so far.
Re-sign him for 2020?
CH: It's still early days. I think the privileged position that we're in as Red Bull with the ownership of two teams is that we don't have to make any firm decision about who partners Max until the end of the year. They're all under contract to Red Bull, all of the drivers, so we'll take our time to make sure we make all the evaluations in readiness for next year.
While we're talking about the future, can you provide us with some clarity about the team's long term future with Honda? What are the plans?
CH: I think it's very similar to everybody else at the moment: there is no Concorde Agreement in place; there's a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes but there's no team with any commitment to Formula One past the end of 2020. And so I think Honda, wisely, are waiting to see how the technical regulations, the sporting regulations pan out, and the commitment of the teams to the relevant Concorde Agreement, so, yeah, I think we're in a relatively similar position to the other teams around me.
Toto, so you clinched the Constructors' Championship in Japan, great weekend for the team. Now that you've had a few weeks to reflect, where does this Constructors' Championship rank in comparison to the other five?
Toto Wolff: This year has been very different, because first of all the loss of Niki is overshadowing everything we do. He was such an important part of the team and with us at every single race and there's still this big void - and you could feel that when we won the Championship in Japan, that he was missing. On the pure sporting side, obviously we set ourselves this unbelievable objective of trying to win six double-championships in a row, which was not done before and I think achieving that is really something that we can be proud of. But, having said that, we are always sceptical about our own performances and, if Ferrari wouldn't have dropped the ball in Sochi, and wouldn't have dropped the ball in Suzuka at the start, it would have gone much further than Japan, and for this very reason, it's nice to have locked it in, and have it between our two drivers for the Drivers' World Championship but it doesn't feel as if we have been really the dominant force in those last few races. And I see the positives in that - because it helps you to not get carried away with this fantastic achievement of six titles.
While we're talking about performance, your last pole position was back in Germany. Is that stat an accurate reflection of performance, or have you missed some opportunities?
TW: No, I think it's an accurate reflection of performance and you can see that the Ferrari on a Saturday is almost unbeatable. They are able to up their game from Friday to Saturday and once all the power kicks in that they have available, it's very difficult to compensate for the loss in straight line. But I don't want to diminish their performance with the rest of the chassis either. They just seem to have the strongest car on Saturday. And when it comes to racing on Sunday, the Red Bull and the Mercedes are maybe a tiny bit more competitive at some of the races. Not the high-speed tracks that we've seen - but all of the others. We seem to be crawling back a little bit.
And the Drivers' Championship is now a straight fight between your guys. Are the orders from the boss going to be a little bit different this weekend?
TW: Well, Japan was a very complicated race for us in terms of strategies. I think we have an obligation to do our best, to give them a car that is reliable and fast for them to fight it out on track, give them equal opportunity, and if you look at the points, the probability is probably much better on Lewis' side to win the Championship, but nevertheless, we don't want to interfere in their fight and will do our best to stay neutral as we've always been.
Questions From The Floor
(Dan Knutson - Auto Action / Speed Sport) Otmar, regarding the protest you filed against Renault in Japan, was that an issue you'd been looking at for a few races, or is it something you've been looking at for a long time?
OS: Well, we started looking at it after Silverstone. We, ourselves, had some issues with our brake bias actually failing, with I think resulted in Checo I think running into Hülkenberg at the restart after the Safety Car. That's when we started looking at making our system a little bit more robust. As I'm sure everyone does, we started looking at our competitors to see what they do better than we do, and that's when we noticed that Renault had the system that we really wanted. So it started in Silverstone. We then wrote to the FIA asking if we could do the same, and the FIA wrote back saying we can't. So that's how that all came about.
Check out our Friday gallery from Mexico City, here.