Today's press conference with Otmar Szafnauer, Mario Isola and Frederic Vasseur.
Q: That was an exciting and eventful first practice session of the weekend, so why don't we just sum it all up from each of you. Otmar, could we start with you please?
Otmar Szafnauer: Well, it's early days. We got some good running in when we didn't have red flag incidents. We got most of our programme done, evaluating some new downforce levels here, some new parts that we brought and it looks promising.
Mario Isola: No surprises. Tyre behaviour as expected. We had some small graining on the C4 which, in these conditions, is quite normal. For the rest, if it stays cool as it is now, the harder tyre is a bit difficult for this circuit here but nothing else. As Otmar said, with the red flag, it was even more difficult to judge the behaviour.
Q: Any warm-up issues in the cooler conditions?
MI: It's possible for the hard compound, for sure. That means that the medium is clearly the race tyre then it will be interesting to see if these guys can manage the front graining this afternoon for qualifying, because it is clearly the decision for Q2, to go through Q2 with the medium or the soft, depending on how they can manage the soft.
Frederic Vasseur: We are at the early stages of the weekend, that it was not an easy session. We are almost blind in the first part and we've no data, and then we had two red flags and the conditions were a bit extreme in terms of track temperature but let's see this afternoon. I think everyone will react and we will come back to the normal situation.
Q: Fred, if we can stay with you, on the evidence of Bahrain, you guys have made a decent step forwards this year. Can you just talk to us about the step? Where has it come from, how much of it is motor, how much of it is the car?
FV: First, I think that we don't have to make any conclusions after one event. We have to do it after a couple of events with different layouts and different track conditions and when you improve, it's never coming from one pillar. I think we improve a little bit everywhere including the engine, but on the aero I think we did a decent job but the target was to score points and at least on this we failed but for sure we did a decent step forward in terms of performance but the target is to score points.
Q: As you say, we've only had one event but how confident are you that the improvement will translate to other tracks, like here at Imola?
FV: I don't have to be confident or not confident. I'm just trying to do my best every single weekend with the team and I think that we had this kind of approach last year. We did more than a decent step during the season, from the beginning to the end of the season and we again did a good step between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 but we don't have to be focused on what's happened before, just to be focused on the next one.
Q: And you talk about the step the car has made - let's talk about the drivers and Antonio specifically. Where do you feel he has improved over the winter?
FV: Antonio did a good step forward in terms of performance in qualifying between the first year and the second year and last year he again did a step forward in race management. I think that the big difference between the Antonio of 2021 and 2020 is that he did the perfect lap for the car in qualifying and this is a good improvement to be able to put everything together at the right moment of the weekend, but I think it's coming with confidence in the car and himself and I'm quite confident for Antonio.
Q: Mario, can we throw it back to Bahrain, to start with? How did the new constructions perform there, how happy were you?
MI: I believe it performed as expected. The teams had the opportunity to test the new tyres in Bahrain during the pre-season tests. It was tricky, we had the wind affecting the sessions and it was also difficult during the race because we had Sunday's temperature was much lower compared to the previous days but they had the opportunity to run the new construction and balance the car. We know that with the new construction there is a bit more understeer. Obviously you had to put that in combination with the changes in technical regulations, so it's not exactly the same car that they had last year but yeah, Bahrain is tricky for traction, we know that. It's a normal situation for Bahrain and when it's very hot, like it was on Friday they had to manage the degradation from the rear a lot but on Sunday it was slightly different but again, coming back to the new construction, it was working quite well. Don't forget, we have the same compounds, so it was just an upgrade in the construction and there is no difference in the compounds, so we shouldn't expect a big difference, a big change.
Q: Now Pirelli stayed in Bahrain after the race, because you had your 18 inch tyre test with Alpine. Can you just tell us how it went and what you learned?
MI: Yeah, we had one day with Ferrari and two days with Alpine, all with the race drivers. It was very helpful to confirm what we already saw in the past. We are now in the process of finalising the construction and the profile for the slick tyre and it was good conformation, with both cars. Obviously we are also interested, not only in testing on different circuits but also on different cars because we have new cars that should be representative of next year's cars but we don't know until we start next season but again, there is good conformation. We tested some constructions, we have a new baseline for Imola; all in all, I'm happy. Obviously if I look at the targets that have been defined more than one year ago, to have a tyre that is with a wider working range, less weighting, a level of degradation that was agreed so certain characteristics also to listen to the drivers and to make a tyre which is more in line with drivers' expectations.
Q: Otmar, can we start by talking drivers and Sebastian Vettel in particular, because he was very upbeat in the press conference yesterday, despite him and the team having a difficult opening race in Bahrain? Can you just tell us a little bit about Sebastian and in a way, his first 100 days in office, with the team?
OS: Yes, Sebastian, it's good to hear he was upbeat, he's been upbeat with the team, he's learning who we are and he's feeling more comfortable by the day. Needs a bit more time in our car. He didn't have the time that we anticipated that he would over the winter. We only had three days of testing and the day and a half that as assigned to Seb unfortunately we had some reliability issues so the more he drives our car, the more comfortable he'll be and the quicker he will get up to speed.
Q: Is there one characteristic of the car that he's struggling with more than Lance, let's say?
OS: He's driven different powertrains, so a little bit with driveability but I think we're on top of that now. Just overall car feel and balance. Lance has driven our car for a few seasons now and he knows exactly what to expect and the way the car behaves is much different than what Seb has been used to, but he's getting on top of it.
Q: You've already said that you've got upgrades here this weekend. You tested them in the first practice session. What can we expect from Aston Martin over the rest of this weekend?
OS: Over the rest of this weekend? Well, we still have some more work to do, we're analysing the information now that we gained from FP1. We'll make some changes into FP2 and then see how well we can qualify and race.
Questions From The Floor
Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) Otmar and Fred: we've heard a few people talk about the data issues and the communications issues that arose before the start of FP1, that were there for the whole session. Could you just explain what you experienced and do you know what the cause of it was?
FV: The experience was a bit strange because we had no lap time... we had the data for safety for sure, at least, but we had no data or information also. But as it was just for the first stint, until mid-session, something like this, it was OK for me, it was not a drama but for sure we are not used to it now. We discussed after the session, because the drivers were complaining about the radio and... OK, but 20 years ago, guys, they were able to drive without radio. No, it's OK.
OS: Until you lose that kind of data, I don't think you realise how much you rely on it. It was like we were blind on the pit wall and then, like Fred said, even driver communication wasn't working. It made things much more difficult. Root cause? I don't know why it happened but hopefully it will be fixed for FP2.
Q: (Andreas Haupt - Auto Motor und Sport) Otmar, did the season-opener make you re-think about the development plans for this season?
OS: Not yet. We planned to develop this car... to continue developing the car and we're still on that plan. It may make us re-think as we go down the road but as of now, we haven't changed any development plans.
Check out our Friday gallery from Imola, here.