Today's press conference with Cyril Abiteboul, Toto Wolff and Mattia Binotto.
Q: Let's get straight to the biggest story of the week, which is the news that Honda are going to be pulling out of Formula 1 at the end of next year. Please can we start by getting each of your reactions to the news, starting with Cyril please.
Cyril Abiteboul: Well, I think the first element to say is that it's never positive news when you have such an important participant to the sport of today and of yesterday that decides not to continue. I think the explanations, the narrative around their decision are clear and to a certain degree are shared by everyone in this world and in the automotive. We all appreciate the agenda of sustainability and to what extent Formula 1 needs to respond to that but we feel that actually Formula 1 is a great platform in relation to that so I think it just shows that we need to do more, better, stronger in response of the expectation towards this important topic of sustainability. The rest obviously is the sport and we have a bit of time to see the impact on the grid and on the different teams currently powered by Honda.
Toto, please, your thoughts.
Toto Wolff: Yeah, I've a slightly different view. I think it's a shame that Honda has decided against Formula 1. I believe it's always a ratio of risk versus return. At the end of the day each of us needs to provide an ROI - Return on Investment - that makes sense. So, whatever capital you deploy for the investment in Formula 1 needs to guarantee or needs to return sensible marketing value and, if that is not the case, I can understand that somebody says 'we've tried it and it didn't function'.
Unfortunately this sport is about, in my belief, not only about investment but also that all the investment doesn't buy you success because it's a long-term commitment that you need to provide. We have seen it with Mercedes: we had a couple of really painful years and managed to turn it around. In the past, OEMs came and left, many of them, including Honda, BMW, Toyota and many more and yeah, that's unfortunate. I think it needs... Formula 1 needs a stable commitment from all of us and needs to have the buy-in from the board, saying 'OK, we launch ourselves into this, it might be difficult, we're setting our expectations low but at a certain time we will turn this around.' But, at the end, we need to accept it. It's certainly not great for us to lose an engine manufacturer It's a problem for Red Bull so yeah, I'll be missing those guys. They were a good part of the paddock.
Mattia Binotto: Certainly I think that we are all sharing that it is not great losing Honda. It's not great to lose such a big engine manufacturer. Honda is certainly a big name in Formula 1. They have been a big name, they are today a big name. I think it's a shame that we will have only three engine manufacturers, that somehow it's something that needs to be addressed, try to attract more power unit manufacturers for the future. I think, on the other side, it's not a surprise that OEMs are joining or leaving. As Toto said, it is not the first time. It has always happened - except one, which is Ferrari. I think somehow it's something that has always happened. I think we know that Formula 1 is anyway in a good period. It will grow. Very positive, what is happening with the growth of F1 towards the business, towards the sustainability. I think we've got great challenges ahead, so I think we should... certainly it's not great news but we need to keep positive because I think for F1 we've got a great future ahead and I think it's somehow down to us to even try to improve it and to attract - eventually - new OEMs.
Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) It's a question to all three please. One of the key differences between Honda and the respective manufacturers that you represent is that they didn't have a works team underpinning the engine project at the same time. So, do you think there is any value in Formula 1 just being an engine supplier at the moment - and what would you like to see done to improve the value of being an engine supplier, even in the form of a spending cap for engine manufacturers or possibly prize money for the engine manufacturers?
MB: For us it's no question. We are a team, we are as well a power unit manufacturer. It has always been like that in our history, and that's a big value. So, I certainly would believe it's an important value. What can we do to improve? Certainly the engines are very expensive today. The cost of the development is very high and I think if we compare to what it has been years ago, it has increased a lot. We need to control those costs, we need to try to reduce them. We just changed the regulations, as a matter of fact, tried to freeze as much as we could the engine developments, tried to reduce dyno running for the next years, which is certainly a step forward, eventually not sufficient. I think now we will have the opportunity of brand new regulations in 2026 and I think that by designing the new regulations, we need not only to decide what will be the technical choices or the technologies we intend to develop but to look at the cost of the product itself. I think when we were drawing or we decide for the 2014 regulations we've been much focussed on the hybrid format, much focussed on the technologies, making sure that somehow F1 was a platform of innovation - but we completely forgot the cost. And I think that in the last years the cost of the power unit has been certainly too high. Now, I think that it will be an important discussion that eventually we need to accelerate, try to understand the vision for the power unit format of the future, because it's cost, it's technology will be a key element again to attract new OEMs and if we can even eventually anticipate for 2026 I don't know actually. I think the time is very short but we need to certainly accelerate the discussion and understand the format for the future.
TW: We have been on both sides. We have had a really successful spell as an engine supplier to McLaren but made the decision at the end of 2009 to buy a team because we saw more marketing value, better return on investment by owning a team - so we've seen those both sides. How the business case went for power unit manufacturers. It's certainly not how it should continue in the future. When I joined Formula 1 with Williams in 2009 I remember the power units that they utilised, they cost US$20million and more. Today we have an obligation to supply at the price that is much below that. With the hybrid introduction, like Mattia said, it was an engineering exercise: what kind of engine can we actually develop? And we didn't realise that we would have a fantastic engine with, today, more than 50 per cent thermal efficiency that doesn't exist in any other sport. We started to message around it in 2014 with, chief Indian Bernie, that this is really all not good for Formula 1 and the noise is not enough and somehow you can't sell your product by talking negative about it. So, we're still lacking the messaging that these engines are fantastic hybrid technology but they're much to expensive. So we need to introduce a spending cap for power units that's clear, like we've done on the chassis side in order to make it more sustainable and in order to attract other OEMs in the future.
CA: I have very little to add because I fully agree with what's been said. For Renault, it's exactly the situation that we've experienced in 2015 when we asked ourselves whether to get out completely or get back in completely as a works team because, for us, at that time it had not got any better. There is simply no business case to support the positioning as engine supplier only given the cost of the technology and the very poor marketing reward you can get out of that whether you do a good job or a bad job. Having said that, you can imagine some teams that can be good at partnering with engine manufactures such that engine manufacturers do not need to buy into a team - but I guess that would also take a bit of different thinking than the thinking that is currently in place at Red Bull. Let's be honest, we've tried that, we failed, that's why we had no choice but to do what we are doing, which is running and owning a works team ourselves.
Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Cyril, I believe you've already spoken about this so I'll address this question to Toto and Mattia - would you be open to supplying Red Bull with an engine supply beyond 2021 when Honda pulls the plug? I know it's something you've both explored and talked about in the past and rejected it but would you be open to doing that in the future?
TW: No. Because... for various reasons... but the main being that we are supplying four teams including us. We are almost in a state that we can't make power units for all of us so there is no capacity. But I have no doubt that Helmut will have a Plan B, as he said, and probably doesn't need to rely on any of the current power unit suppliers.
MB: Obviously we were not considering it. Something that we need to start considering now. I think we have not decided, as far as I think it will be down to Red Bull eventually to look at us and ask for a supply. They are a great team, no doubt. I think that supplying them is as well a lot of energy, somehow, which is required but something which we need to consider and something on which we have no position yet. On which we need certainly to take our time to think at and have a decision. I think timing-wise, it's very little time - because we need to organise ourselves, 2022 is just here behind, which is tomorrow, somehow. So, as we said, it was somehow sudden news from Honda and I think that now we need to consider something that was even not considered a few days ago.
Before we move on, Cyril, can you just clarify whether you have or have not had contact from Red Bull about an engine supply from 2022?
CA: I can confirm I have not been contacted by Red Bull in relation to engine supply. More seriously, I don't think it's a question of whether we are open or not open. To the question before. We know the regulation. When you are a participant to the sport you have to accept the rules. It's part of the sporting regulation. So, we know what that is. We also know the details, including in terms of timing and as anyone can check in the sporting regulations, there is still quite a bit of time before we get there. As Toto has said, I can't imagine that they don't have a Plan A or Plan B and I think we are very far in the pecking order of the alphabet before they call us again. Yeah.
Check out our Friday gallery from the Nurburgring, here.