Today's press conference with Frederic Vasseur, Simon Roberts and Mario Isola.
Fred, can we start with you. Great race for you in Monaco last time out with Antonio getting a point. Are you confident that pace can translate to here in Baku?
Frederic Vasseur: I am not so confident. I think the layout of the track is not the best one for us. We are doing a step forward over the last couple of weekends and we are always there. But we all know that Baku is one of the most chaotic races of the season and it means we have to do a good job, a strong job, from the beginning to the end, and to be there at the end, and probably we will have the opportunity to score points at the end of the weekend.
So you see the jeopardy as an opportunity for Alfa Romeo?
FV: Sure. It's always an opportunity. If it's not an opportunity we have to stay at home!
Can we talk about the strengths of the car? It is a great step forward from last year. Now you're five races in and you've learned a lot about it, tell us more about it?
FV: It's quite clear that we made a good step forward on the PU side and it's the same for Ferrari, and for sure it's helping a lot. On the global aero package we are still there. Last year we also had a decent level. We improved a lot during the season last year to finish always in the mid-group of Q2 at the last four or five events and we started from there. But with the support of the engine now we are almost always in Q2 and it's a good step forward.
Antonio has taken a good step forward too. If I had told you pre-season that he would outqualify Kimi four to one in the opening five races, what would have been your reaction?
FV: I'm not Madame Irma so I don't know but honestly I think it was already the case a little bit at the end of last year. But for me he improved probably more in the race management than in the quali pace. That quali pace was already there in the second part of last season and now he's also able to do a very good management during the race and to have strong race pace.
Mario, you've gone softer on the compounds in Baku compared to 2019. Can you tell us a little about what you learned in FP1 and how it will impact the race?
Mario Isola: Yeah, we decided to go softer because analysing the race in 2019, the hard was not used. It was used only in P1, mainly at the beginning of the session and then teams focused on the medium and the soft. That is why we decided to give an extra chance in terms of different strategies by selecting the C3, C4 and C5, that is one step softer. I can imagine that a one-stop race is still possible using hard and medium or hard and soft. It is probably marginal if they consider a strategy of medium and soft in terms of wear. This morning, as predicted, we had a big, big, track evolution. If I look back at other races here in Baku we always have a lot of track evolution and therefore it is difficult to assess the delta lap time from first practice. I hope we have better data in the afternoon. The wind is another important element to consider because we know how these cars are sensitive to the wind and the wind is probably making their life a bit more difficult in finding reliable data from P2.
It's been a busy time for Pirelli since Monaco, because you've been testing your 2022 wet weather tyres at Paul Ricard with Ferrari. How did it go?
MI: It was a very good test on a different circuit. Obviously in Jerez it was difficult to have the right level of water on track, so it was a good test for intermediate tyres but we didn't reach the right level for the wet tyres. In Paul Ricard it was possible to have two days testing with all the conditions and also to better understand the crossover. I believe that we have a good tyre, talking about the intermediate. It's still a work in progress for the wet because, as I said, the first session was not really representative for the wet tyre. I'm confident that in the next session that is planned in September at Magny Cours we can finalise the product for the slick tyre we spoke of last time we saw (each other) and it is still good and the planning has gone as predicted. We have three sessions scheduled in Spielberg, Silverstone and Budapest, so we will finalise the new compounds in these three sessions.
Simon coming to you now, Mario touched on the windy conditions there. Given that both drivers have told us this year the car is very sensitive to wind, how nervous do these conditions make you?
Simon Roberts: Interesting, because today neither driver really commented on the wind affecting the car, so I'm wondering if we're just getting used to it and for everybody else beginning to get into that space. Yeah, it wasn't really a feature for us. The wind yesterday was amazing and luckily we're not in that but yeah, today was not any issues so far.
Well, what about progress with the car? Do you think you're going to be a little bit more competitive here than you were in Monaco last time out?
SR: I'd hope so. We're working to our programme and it is about getting the tyres to work and as Mario said, we've got different choices here than last year so that's all new for us and then we just tune in the aero package on the car and making sure we give the drivers something they can be competitive with.
And we've already heard from Fred about Antonio Giovinazzi's progress since last year; I wanted to ask you about Nicholas Latifi. He seems to have made great strides as well. In what areas do you feel he's made the most progress since last season?
SR: We think he's matured a lot over the winter. Obviously it's his second year in the car and I think that's the main difference, so he now joins us at a race weekend absolutely knowing what's going to happen, how we're working with him and vice versa: we know how he's going to work with us and I think that gives him confidence early on in the day, through FP1 and FP2 and it allows us to build to a better place. But yeah, we're really pleased with the progress he's made and just looking forward to continuing that through this season.
Questions From The Floor
(Sandor Meszaros - Autosport es Formula) Mario, a few days ago in an interview, David Coulthard criticised Pirelli. He said that this era is pretty boring for him because the drivers complain too much because they have to avoid pushing hard enough on these tyres. Have you got any comment on this statement?
MI: Yeah. I spoke to David and I have to say that he was not criticising Pirelli but he's obviously... he likes the tyre war era, he likes to have a competition in Formula 1 that is not only for engines, cars but in his opinion is also about tyres. He doesn't like the current system, where we have tyres with some degradation that, as you know, they are designed to have this level of degradation. It is and it will be a different story next year when we've been requested to design the new 18-inch tyres with different characteristics: less overheating, less degradation. He was just expressing his opinion about the current regulations and the current system and I fully understand because he is a driver that used to drive more than 10 years ago when it was a completely different situation. We know that with the current cars which are very fast, even if much heavier compared to the past, you put a lot of stress on the tyres, this generates degradation and also when you follow another car you lose downforce and it is an additional element so we are working together with the FIA and F1 in order to have a different situation for next year. I'm sure that if you don't lose downforce, when you follow another car, and with tyres that are designed with different characteristics we can achieve the target.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) To the two team principals: in this period of financial regulations, do we actually need very stringent technical regulations of the type that bans flexi-wings? How do you feel about that?
FV: So far for us it is not an issue because we are below the cost cap. It means it's more an issue on the budget side but it's not an issue on the cost cap. But for sure, for the future, we need to be able to predict what could be cost and expenses during the season and it means that we need to have something consistent, even if we have to keep some margin for emergencies but for sure it will be a key point into the performance, the budget management in the future.
SR: Yeah, like Fred, currently we're operating under the cost cap. We're focusing on making sure we are fully compliant with that going forward, because it's not just about the level, it's about how you document everything and how you go racing. In terms of the rules, we're just looking for fairness and consistency so nothing more than that.
(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Mario, you mentioned the impact on the weight of F1 cars briefly. I was just wondering if you could explain a little bit how much the weight of the cars has pushed Pirelli to the limit, in terms of tyre technology and what the tyres can actually withstand, because I think next year, the 2022 cars are going to be almost a hundred kilos heavier than the first hybrids. The cars are also going to be quite considerably heavier than the first set of cars that Pirelli would have been designing tyres for back when it first got this contract.
MI: This is true, it is not only the weight of the car that is stressing the tyre, it's the level of downforce, the speed. There are many parameters that we have to consider and obviously we are designing tyres for next year, keeping in mind all these numbers and also asking the teams that are providing mule cars, to give us cars that are representative of next year's cars, even if they are mule cars but the weight is the same that is in the regulations for 2022, weight distribution, level of downforce also. We are designing tyres with these characteristics in mind. Obviously they are different compared to the past but that's our job.
(Luke Smith - Autosport) Simon, George Russell's performances have won him huge amounts of praise throughout his time at Williams, both on and off track. Do you feel he's grown into a leadership role at Williams and how much has helped bring the team forwards?
SR: Yeah, it's been great having George in the team and he has grown and continues to grow. He's still relatively young in his career and we just want to make sure we give him the best possible experience and help with his ongoing performance going forward.
On the subject of his off-track leadership role, does he get involved in some of the bigger decisions back at Grove or is he very much a racing driver?
SR: So, we're always talking to the drivers about the direction of the car. They spend a lot of time in the simulator. George is very active in that programme and it's part of that whole decision-making process so with his team of engineers in particular, they will set direction in terms of making the car better and we try and weave that into the programme we've got running forward but this year is different, the car is very carry-over, we're fairly limited on what we can do so I think going forward into 2022 and beyond it's all going to open up again and driver feedback and driver involvement will come into play much more.
Check out our Friday gallery from Baku, here.