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French GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1

NEWS STORY
18/06/2021

Today's press conference with Frederic Vasseur and Laurent Rossi.

Q: Question to both of you first up. Can we start by talking about the French Grand Prix. What are your first memories of this race and of Paul Ricard please. Laurent, let's start with you please.
Laurent Rossi: You don't want to start with the oldest person?

Frederic Vasseur: I'm older?

LR: It's blurry memories because I was very young when I started looking at grands prix. I think the earliest memory was not here, it was in Dijon when it was Alain Prost winning, and that's about it. I started following grands prix very early on, so it's difficult to put a date on which grand prix and which winner - but definitely I was a big fan of Alain Prost, so I remember those ones fondly. Still a big fan of Alain Prost!

Fred?
FV: The first memory of the French Grand Prix for me was 1990, the first time that I worked on a grand prix, with Franck Lagorce. We were in a Formula Renault and it was a great, great event for us to be in front of the F1 and on the same track.

And what about the French Grand Prix itself? Can you remember your earliest memories of that?
FV: I would say Dijon also probably. The beginning of the 1980s probably, or something like this.

Q: Laurent, if we could come back to you. The big news in the lead-up to this race is Esteban Ocon's new contract with your team. Great news for all parties. First, can you tell us a little bit more about Esteban, and what impresses you about him?
LR: A lot of things actually. First off, he's a great fine-tuner, if you will, a metteur au point, he reminds me a lot of Alain again, actually. He's very good at extracting the maximum out of the car and it shows, constantly improving it. He's damn fast too. Give him any car, he's fast. He shows it every quali. So that makes him a very good driver first-off. He's a very good team-mate, he's good with the rest of the team. When I say 'team-mate', not just to the other driver but also to the rest of the team. He's basically pushing everyone up and it shows. He's a great guy to have in the team, in fact. Beyond the F1 driver, he's a great guy. He's humble, very generous of his time, constantly giving his time, even to us helping in the larger construct, he always offers to chime into the development of the new cars or the brand, or in any step of work, so it's really good to have him around. That's also why we signed him for three years.

Q: That was the next question: why three years?
LR: Well, it's a three-year regulation period that opens up next year. I know it goes with 2+1. We have a mid- to long-term view of things at Renault. We want to be here for a long time, so we wanted to secure that first step. The first step is three years. We've seen enough of Esteban. We know he's good. I don't want to be here again, looking for another driver after two years, when the recent past shows that it never really turns the right way: if you have a good driver, you want to keep him. I think it's good for us, good for him. We have a long, long way to make progress. He buys into the project, he lends credibility to our project. For me, it's also a guarantee that we're going to perform in the driver department. Esteban is arguably a top ten driver, minimum. So, we don't make a big mistake here. For me, it was a no-brainer. It's part of a long journey and Esteban fits into that mould quite well.

Q: And under the terms of the new contract, does he maintain links with Mercedes?
LR: Well, I mean, there's no reference. He's a Mercedes-managed driver, that's about it. He's constantly under their management but there's no such clause - if that's your question - of Mercedes poaching him out of the team. No, he stays with us for the next three years.

Q: And while we're talking drivers, can we have a word on Alonso's progress. Where have you seen the biggest improvement from him in recent races?
LR: Consistency. He was fast already. Every single race he's been able to clock in some very good times that are always - most of the time - as good as Esteban's. He was not necessarily comfortable repeating those efforts, those good times, over and over again, which I guess was a bit of an adaption period. He needs to get used to the car, to feel that lap-in, lap-out. He does the same performance over and over. He is getting there, evidenced by his grand prix in Baku. It was a very good race. And today's showing that this morning, he started off at good pace - so that's good.

Q: And, I guess your heart was in your mouth when you were watching those last two laps in Baku?
LR: Yes. This guy, he gave us a couple of points just by sheer talent, yeah.

Q: While we're talking drivers, Fred, can I bring you in now. There's been an announcement very recently about Juan Manuel Correa, who has joined the Sauber Academy. His return to racing has been an inspiring story, can you tell us why he's joined the Academy?
FV: Yeah, it's a way to support Juan Manuel on his own project. Honestly, I was in Spa two years ago, it was a very tough time for everybody and Juan Manuel had something like 22 surgeries. He spent the last two years with a clear target to come back. It was, for him, the main motivation and I wanted to help him, and the way I have to do it is to ask him to come back to the academy and try to support him on the project. It's such a huge human effort that I think it makes sense to be part of this.

Q: And while we're on the subject of news, there is news about your chief designer, Luca Furbatto, who's joining Aston Martin. At this stage of the year, with a view to the 2022 car, how tricky is this timing for you?
FV: We knew for a couple of months. That means we anticipated the move and it's not a drama at all for the team, and he will join the other team in the beginning of 2022 and not before.

Q: And what about replacing Luca?
FV: We have a couple of options. One internally, another one externally. I think that we will go for the internal option. I want to invest and to invest in the guys in the team. I want to help them to grow up and I want to take this option.

Q: Fred, is now the moment to tell us who that person is?
FV: No.

LR: Good try. Try again.

Q: OK, Fred, let's talk about car performance. You've said that there's more potential in your car, that you've yet to get out of it. So where is that potential?
FV: We'll see this weekend - but it's try that over the last couple of weekends we were always around 12-13 in quali and 11-12 in the race. We did a good step forward, compared to last year. This is sure. And now we have to be consistently in this situation. I hope that very often we will fight with my friend of Alpine - and then when the race is a bit chaotic that you will score good points. The most important is to have the pace, to be able to fight with the midfielder, and then we will score for sure.

Video Conference

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Question for Fred please. Fred, we were talking about contracts just now. Some of the questions from Tom, your own contract and also that with Alfa Romeo, what's the situation there please?
FV: Don't worry about my own contract! I'm working for Sauber and I'm in good shape. Regarding Alfa Romeo, we are in ongoing discussions but it's moving forward and I hope that we will be able to close something in the next few weeks. We're offering the same answer as last week!

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC) It's for Laurent. A question about each of your drivers. On Esteban, a clarification, the announcement said for three years Laurent but in the course of your answer earlier to Tom, at one point you said 2+1. So I just wanted to make sure if it was three or 2+1. And on Fernando. In his previous career, he never needed any time to adapt to anything, he just got in things and was quick straight away. Do you have an understanding as to why that's not the case this time?
LR: Yeah, OK, the 2+1, I might have said that as a reference to the usual type of contracts. We wanted to sign a three-year contract straight away. It is a three-year contract straight away. There is no 2+1 here, to clarify the matter. On Fernando, I guess it's the same as Checo and Danny. It takes time for them now to adapt to the new cars. They're probably a little bit more complex, technologically speaking, if you will. Danny took a good full year at Renault to get used to the car. Now he repeats the experience with McLaren, so I guess it's a good comparison. It takes time now: it's not just jump in and drive the car. It's a little bit more complex. There's probably more parameters that you can fine-tune. And the car is probably, at the beginning, was not too much to his liking - but he's shown that, just like Checo again, he's getting acquainted with it quite well now and he's extracting more and more out of it every race. So, I think it's just normal with the modern cars.

Check out our Friday gallery from Paul Ricard, here.

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