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Austrian GP: Friday Press Conference Pt 1

NEWS STORY
03/07/2020

Today's press conference with Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Zak Brown.

Q: (Raphaelle Peltier - AFP) This is for everyone. How are your teams adjusting to the new normal and new rules in the paddock?
Christian Horner: It's certainly very different. The PPE that's required is different to what we're used to. The paddock is very quiet and we're in our own team bubbles as well. So, it's a lot more focused just within your own team, but focus very quickly is placed on the cars and trying to improve them and make them go quicker. Once you get over the discomfort and inconvenience of the P{PE it's business as usual I would say on the everyday problems you have with racing cars.

Toto Wolff: I have been for quite some time in Austria and all this set up here seems very weird in a country where there are no cases anymore, or at least around here. I understand that in the UK it's very different. I hope that based on my experience in Austria that this is the start and it's good that we are racing again. Even though it's weird that we are sitting 10 metres apart wearing surgical masks on our noses but if that is the thing we need to do in order to get racing then that's OK. Obviously the work in the garage is impacted but nevertheless it's about lap timer and all of us are in the same position so it's a little bit about improvising and getting the job done.

Zak Brown: It's definitely a weird situation. I don't think any of us have been here before. That being said Formula 1 teams are used to rules and regulations so I think that we can adapt very quickly to the new circumstances. I've got to say, the FIA, Formula 1 and the circuit and the government and everyone that has gone on to contribute to putting on the event has done a very good job, because it certainly feels like a very safe environment. Hopefully we can get back to normal racing soon, but for the time being this is certainly better than sitting at home.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Christian, we know that Red Bull planned to protest Mercedses' DAS system in Australia. Has anything changed in your thoughts about that between Melbourne and now? Are you still planning a protest and for Toto are you completely confident in the legality of the system?
CH: First of all, it's a very clever system and so all credit to the ingenuity behind it. I think the fundamental question for us is does it comply with the regulations in what is a fundamentally grey area. So we do want clarity on it because it does have an impact regarding the rest of this year. It's something that's been outlawed for next year but the question is: is it right for next year. So they're the questions that we'll be asking of the FIA through the necessary channels.

Toto, your thoughts...
TW: Yes, I respect Christian's position. I mean a clarification is always good. We think we are on the right side. There was a lot of talking and exchange with the FIA, that is the reason why we have it on the car. So we will both bring our arguments forward and then, let's see.

Q: (Chris Medland - Racer) I've got a question to follow up to Christian. Just wondering if you have your own version of DAS ready to go if you get clarity on whether it's completely legal for this season.
CH: It's a very complicated system, so obviously a lot of work has gone into it. We've certainly looked at it and like any component, it has to earn its place on the car for the penalty that it carries, whether that be weight or packaging etc. It's certainly something that, subject to a clarification, would be under evaluation for the rest of this year.

Q: (Christian Hollman - DPA, via email) Toto, how far are you along in contract talks with Lewis and Valtteri? What is your timeframe for your decision for your driver pairing for next year? And on what will you base your decision?
TW: I think simply based on the fact that we haven't seen each other a lot, we have been keeping the discussion up, we are in a position of trust with both of the drivers. You could say that in Formula 1 it doesn't mean a lot - but it does in our team. I guess that we will do the next steps soon but I don't want to commit to any timing because I don't want to answer questions every single race weekend about why the contracts are not done. There is no urgency in the matter. All of us want to do it and when the time is right, we will announce it.

Q: (Julien Billiotte - AutoHebdo) Question to all three gentlemen. Charles seemed quite off the pace this morning and Mattia has already admitted that there will be a new aero package for the team in Hungary. Do you think they are really starting the season on the back foot or they are bluffing?
ZB: I think it's too early to really know. We've done a little bit of winter testing and one FP1 session, so I think it would be premature to draw any real conclusions as to their real pace.

TW: Yeah, I would pretty much... nothing to add to Hannibal Lecter's answer!

What was your assessment of Ferrari's pace after winter testing?
TW: It's very dangerous to assess the pace in winter testing because it's Barcelona and it's February and you could see in 2019 Ferrari was really leading the charge and then struggled in the first few races - so I don't want to find ourselves in a trap of thinking you're competitive. And the same applies to this morning's performance. I don't think Red Bull or Ferrari have even switched on the engine, in a corner they still look pretty strong. Bit of a different aero configuration also. We shouldn't be analysing any performance after FP1. I think it needs tomorrow to really make a solid first assessment.

Christian?
CH: I think Zak sums it up pretty well. We've only had - what? - six days of testing and one session here, so there's been a consistent theme through that, that their straight-line speed hasn't looked anywhere near what it did last but it's too early in the weekend. Let's review it after qualifying and the race and you know, probably three or four races in. That's only when you're going to get a true pattern of how things are genuinely looking.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Question for Toto. If I can go back to the DAS question. Is there any concern that after all the excitement of finally getting back on track and having a race and Formula 1 starting up, that come Sunday we could be bogged down in a protest and nobody really knowing who's actually won the race - if you win it.
TW: I think, against what you would expect, all teams are pretty much aware that we are in a sensitive situation with going racing. It's the first race and on one side, it's fair enough to seek clarification; on the other side we are aware that we don't want to end up with a big debate on Sunday night. I think Red Bull, I think Christian is going to take the right actions. You know, controversy and different judgement on engineering innovation has always been part of Formula 1. This is what's to be expected in a way. It's part of the racing.

Q: (Jonathan Noble - Motorsport.com, via email) Christian, you've talked about Red Bull Racing being better prepared for this season than any since your last title success in 2013. Can you explain why you feel that way - and what factors are in place this year that weren't there before?
CH: I think that obviously since the hybrid formula was introduced in 2014, I think this has definitely been our best off-season - albeit a very different off-season. We're obviously into the second year of our partnership with Honda. It was a great start last year winning three races and I think that momentum that we've built, the convergence that looks like it's happening with the engines, it feels like we are coming into this year better prepared than any previously in the hybrid era - so that would take us all the way back to 2013 that we were going into a season on a decent footing. So that's a reason for optimism for us. It's going to be a different kind of year this year. We don't even know what the calendar is. We don't even know where we're going to be racing in the second half of this Championship, so you've got to just swing with the punches and go with it. But it feels like we're in a good starting place and excited to be here and going racing.

Toto, do you expect Toto to be closer this year than they were last year?
TW: Well Red Bull was close last year, they had a little bit of up and downs but in some of the races they were more competitive than us. Alex Albon is going to get more comfortable in his car and we rate him and Max, nothing we need to add to his potential. So I very much expect Red Bull to give us a run for our money. And vice versa. And this, I think, is what F1 needs.

Q: (Abhishek Takle - Mid Day) This is to everybody. The crisis shines a spotlight on the importance of teams being profitable operations. Do you think the returns on investment would be looked at differently going forward, not just in terms of the marketing returns but actual, real profit? Thank you.
ZB: I think the teams did an excellent job over the extended winter to address the fiscal nature of the sport. As I think everyone knows, there was too big of a spread between first and tenth, which then plays itself out, also on track. I think if you can get a sporting franchise that is profitable, then I think the value of that franchise goes up significantly and so you get asset appreciation. I think all of our shareholders love being in Formula 1. I don't think they're in it necessarily to turn a profit, but they're also not in it to lose substantial amounts of money, which has been the case for a lot of teams. And so I think we've landed in a place where there's a path to profitability. I think that it closes the gap between first and tenth. I think that'll put a better product on the track ultimately. I think the fans win and I think it was a good compromise because the teams that were spending north of the cap have had to make some real compromises and I think that's good because that's going to be difficult and, at the same time, I do think that we have more wealth in the sport from the teams and what some of the teams that I think were at risk of leaving were more about their frustration for being competitive than not being able to afford the sport. So I think we found a good balance and I think Formula One's going to really thrive in the future.

Check out our Friday gallery from Spielberg, here.

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