Today's press conference with Toyoharu Tanabe, Laurent Mekies and Marcin Budkowski
Laurent, can we start with you and start by talking about the new power unit that is in Charles's car this weekend? How's progress so far?
Laurent Mekies: Well, first of all it's fair to say that the main target with this power unit is above all to work for next year, so the big push from the company to try to bring this new hybrid system as early as now, is to make sure that we can confirm that all the processes, all the direction of development that we have for next year's PU is confirmed with the race track feedback. It's one thing to have the simulation, it's one thing to have the dyno tests, it's much better if we can have on-track confirmation so that's why we are doing it. A bit early for the feedback, we have only run FP1 but hopefully it will be a step in the right direction. Of course, doing so in that manner means that we will have a sporting penalty to deal with, but again it's consistent with our focus to next year and to try to give priority to that.
Laurent, of course it's early, but what are Charles' first impressions of the new power unit?
LM: I think the first take-away from that FP1 running is that we had a smooth session, so it's credit to all the people in Maranello and here who prepared that switch. So he had a smooth session, we don't have outstanding comments about changes that he could feel but because we know there is no silver bullet these days, it's about implementing small steps in every area and that's what we are trying to do, so the hybrid system is no different to that.
And can you tell us when Carlos Sainz is going to get it?
LM: That's a tricky one because as we said, the difference in performance is never going to be huge because it's all about adding these small steps. The sporting penalty is significant. We are also fighting for every single point for the Constructors' championship so we are trying to evaluate when it is reasonable to do it from performance versus penalty point of view. Of course, you should not do it too late because the more you wait, the less you will have benefits from the switch so I think in the next couple of races we will probably make the call.
Now, while we're talking power units, Tanabe-san, can I bring you in please? Honda introduced new hybrid elements at the Belgian Grand Prix. How much of a step forward have they been for you?
Toyoharu Tanabe: The purpose of the new energy store, there are some reasons: one is the performance, then the reliability, then the weight. And the performance means efficient electricity system that contributes to the PU performance. Then, the reliability, we developed that energy store in collaboration with Honda R&D and then our engineers closely worked with our supplier, then it means that much more high quality than the previous one. Of course, in this sport reliability is very important for the PU point of view because of the sporting regulations. And then another one is weight, so to tell you the truth... it means our energy store was a little bit heavier than the regulation so now we tried to match the regulation low limit so the weight contributes to the total car performance, so those three aspects improved our total car performance.
And will Max Verstappen take a new power unit this weekend?
TT: We are watching the situation and then discussing with the team when is the best timing to introduce the next PU for Max, and then we are going to decide when.
Marcin, can I bring you in on this discussion as well? New hybrid elements, what's the situation at Alpine and Renault?
Marcin Budkowski: We said, in the last few months, we are focusing on our 2022 package so we have a whole new engine coming for next year but we've developing for a couple of years now and we aim to introduce it just before the freeze for the first race next year, obviously if the freeze does happen and so yeah, we've pretty much carried over the engine for next year to this year to be able to focus all our attention on next year's package.
Now Fernando Alonso said yesterday, Marcin, that you have the fifth or the sixth best car on the grid. Would you agree with him, and what does that means for the Constructors' championship battle that you're having with AlphaTauri - just 11 points between you?
MB: I do agree, we do our regular competitive analysis for the whole package, for the chassis, for the power unit, we look at the numbers after each race. Obviously there are swings in competitiveness between teams, depending on the circuits. Some circuits suit better some car characteristics than others but I think, on average, yes, we are there or thereabouts, it's the sixth quickest package meaning that we are in the fight to get into Q3 and fighting to score some points at every race, we've done that consistently. I was looking at the table the other day and was pleased to see that we've scored points at every single race except the first one this year, so it's a good run. But we tend to fight for the smaller points unless there are opportunities, unless the races are animated if you want, at the front, so that's where we are and obviously this is where we are aiming to improve to fight for bigger points, to fight for podiums in the future.
Another question involving Fernando Alonso: he's now the highest-placed driver in the World Championship without a podium; how unfair would it be if he weren't to score a podium this year given his level of driving?
MB: It's the case, because he's been extremely regular, he's been consistent, scoring points at every race and we all know that in terms of race craft Fernando is still at the very top of his game and probably one of the best in the sport so he makes the best of every opportunity in the race and tends to score more points than the car is worth on that particular day and that's why he's there in the championship. Would that be unfair? Reality is you've got to be in the right place at the right time sometimes if you want to be on the podium or win a race with a car that, on merit, shouldn't get there. He hasn't had that opportunity so far, he's commented on that a few times on the radio saying we've been unlucky but at some point our luck will come. I hope it does.
Questions From The Floor
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) To the two team representatives please: next year, the sporting regulations will require rookies to be run on Fridays. Both your teams have fairly impressive rosters of rookies; will you be choosing one or rotating them?
LM: It's a good question. At first, as Ferrari, we welcome the opportunity to run the rookie in FP1. We have been investing in the younger generation for many different reasons, for a number of years so without so many testing opportunities it's great to see that as a sport we have now the window to at least give them these FP1 opportunities. I tend to think that we will run only one driver, Dieter, because two sessions is still very little. We all know that it's a very tough ask to a young driver, to get into a car in FP1, one hour, and to perform, so I think giving only one shot and not the two shots to whoever is going to probably be... is not the best way around, so I think the short answer to your question is probably going to be one driver only.
MB: First of all, we're doing it already, so it's not going to change an awful lot, this regulation, for us. We've run Guanyu Zhou, one of our F2 academy drivers, in Austria this year and we are looking at the opportunity to run him again in an FP1 session later this season, so obviously we welcome this regulation because we believe it's the right thing to do, to develop young drivers; as Laurent mentioned, there's very very few opportunities at the moment for young drivers to actually drive current Formula 1 cars, let alone during a proper race weekend. To answer your question precisely, it depends what we do effectively next year with our young drivers and especially with the reserve driver role. Should we put one of our young drivers - academy drivers, if you want - that are currently competing in F2 as a reserve driver, then that's the best way to actually prepare your reserve driver to step is, should he have to, if one of your main drivers can't participate, so I guess the same answer as Laurent, it's likely to be the same one but it doesn't have to be.
(Evgeny Kustov - Championat.com) Laurent, could you tell us about Ferrari's plans for Robert Shwartzman and Callum Ilott for next year and beyond? Can we expect them both to be reserve drivers in Formula 1?
LM: It's a fair question. I think we are in the lucky situation on one hand where we are dealing with a great generation of drivers. We have Robert, we have Callum, obviously, we have Mick in the F1 field. It's going to be difficult to find the space for everybody for the reasons we just discussed so I think the reality is that Callum is starting to investigate his way in the US, he's been racing in IndyCar recently and hopefully he has a good opportunity there and for Robert, we want to think that it's still early days. There are three full weekends to the end of the championship. He's third at the moment at some distance from the leading positions but that's a position he's fighting for so we want to leave him fully focused on this programme and then at the end of the season we will sit together and certainly try to build the best next step for him.
Check out our Friday gallery from Sochi, here.