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United States GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1

NEWS STORY
23/10/2021

Today's press conference with Zak Brown and Toto Wolff.

Zak, it's the first US Grand Prix for a couple of years. How good is it to be back? How important is it to be back?
Zak Brown: It's awesome to be back. This is such a great race. It's obviously a bit of a home-town race for me personally, so I enjoy it quite a bit. The crowds are phenomenal, the city is buzzing. We're not quite yet back to normal - hence the mask - but it certainly feels like a giant step forward. Formula 1 is best consumed with hundreds of thousands of people at the facility, and that's what we have here, so really pleased to see the excitement in the city.

How busy is it for you guys off track?
ZB: This is probably as busy as any race gets. We have about four or five hundred partners, tonnes of fan activity, so it's pretty flat-out from about six in the morning until about midnight.

Before we start talking about Formula 1, Daniel is going to be driving Dale Earnhardt's NASCAR this weekend. What's the history of the car and has Daniel had a seat-fit. Does he even need a seat fit?
ZB: He had a seat fit yesterday. He's quite excited. That's a special car. That started off life in 1983. It's actually Ricky Rudd's car that won at Riverside. I was at that race. And then it got converted to Dale Earnhardt Snr's car in the '84 and '85 season, and won a handful of races, so it's the real deal. We flew it out here from England where it lives, and Daniel's going to give it a go. He did a seat fitting, which was I think more of just making sure that the seat-belt's fit.

Now, let's talk about on-track. It was a slightly frustrating race for the team in Turkey. How confident are you that you can turn things around here?
ZB: I think we've shown really good speed at points this year and then we've had races where we've struggled. I think that's part of the journey that we're on. We're constantly getting better but it's not without race-by-race setbacks. In Holland we weren't very strong, in Turkey we weren't very strong. Spa, Monza and Russia we were. We don't yet have a consistently quick race car, we've got a quick race car - but I think that's just all part of learning and improving and this journey we're on to get back to the front. We're getting closer - but there's still a big gap.

And what about this battle for P3 in the Constructors' Championship with Ferrari? They've shown a turn of speed in recent races.
ZB: Yeah, I think it's going to come down to the wire. I think you've got two championships going on that are very exciting, right? You've got Lewis vs Max, which I think will go down to the wire, and then I think the McLaren versus Ferrari will go down to the wire, and I'd like to think we'll take it - but I think it's too close to call.

Toto, Zak thinks it's going to go down to the wire between Max and Lewis. Would you agree with him?
Toto Wolff: Yes, I think it will, because the swings of points are not massive. Goes one direction and then the other way. I've said before I think that the DNFs are the killer for this championship because you can't... It's very difficult to recover a 25-point loss, so you need to minimise the mistakes. It's exciting to see.

What about the Constructors' Championship? You're now 36 points ahead of Red Bull. Do you think it's a little bit more comfortable in that one?
TW: Well, comfortable is the wrong word but I think there is a little bit of a bigger gap, that is solid but that could go very much to the end, and is an important championship for us as Mercedes.

How important is Valtteri in that fight? Over the last four races he's scored 38 points more than Checo Pérez. That's massive. Are you confident he can maintain that form?
TW: His form was unbelievable in Turkey. For me it is really a 10 out of 10, and he seemed pretty good today. Comfortable, at ease with the car, and if he can continue to maintain his pace that is very helpful, not only for the Constructors' Championship but also for Lewis' Championship because he is taking points away from the other guys.

You mentioned Turkey. It looked like you guys had taken a significant step there. Is that the reality of the situation? How big is that step?
TW: I think what we have been able to understand is how to hit the sweet spot of the car, in terms of the set-up. Today, when you look at the lap time, it's a straight line gain and I think we've found the right compromise between drag and downforce. And, on the other side, we were very quick through the fast corners, which is good, and equal to Red Bull on the slow corners. Overall the car is much better together.

A lot was made after the last race about Lewis' strategy car - do you pit him? Do you not pit him? Did the fact that you opted for the conservative strategy there reflect the increased pressure at this stage of the Championship? Is now the time when you become a little bit more risk-averse?
TW: No, I think the right call was at lap 40-something, 41, or 42, to pit and then try to overtake on track, because we had more pace than Checo but we decided to stay out, Lewis decided to stay out and it was fine, and then we had just two choices: either try to make it to the end and try to hold on to P3 or P4, or not. We saw that the pace was just dropping and dropping and we would have been eaten up by almost all the cars behind, probably dropped back to P6 or P7. We opted for the conservative call to actually finish P4.

Questions From The Floor

(Christian Nimmervoll - motorsport.com) Toto, there's a report that Aston Martin wanted to change Vettel's engine already at the Belgian Grand Prix, rather than at this one. First of all, can you confirm that is true, and can you explain a little bit the mechanism of how many engines you usually have in store, is there a large stock that you can always activate? Maybe you can explain a little background there.
TW: I think you can see that we are suffering with reliability this year. We're going onto the sixth engine - I believe it is for Valtteri - and it's not something that we choose to do but, on the contrary, we're trying to really get on top of the problems, and we haven't understood fully. I think we are a step closer now, so it's not always that we are always, literally, easy with having the engines. We're hanging on for dear life supplying all customers, and that is not trivial.

Zak, can I bring you in on this. Are you concerned about the reliability of Mercedes?
ZB: No, we've had a great run with Mercedes. We've won our first race since 2012. It's been a great partnership, everything that we'd hoped it would be. Toto and everyone at Mercedes is pushing extremely hard, there's great competition, so when you're pushing, that's always going to challenge reliability - but I've got to say, from a McLaren point of view, we're very happy, they've got an unbelievable track record, so we're not concerned.

(Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Question for Zak, about the Andretti Acquisition Corp. When the documents were filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission in March, you were named as one of the independent directors. I wonder if you could perhaps fill us in with how things are going, what your thinking is in that involvement and also whether there might be any conflict of interest, should the ultimate acquisition be a Formula 1 team?
ZB: I can start with the SPAC, it doesn't have anything to do with Formula 1. I'm good friends with Michael, we're partners in an Australian Supercar team, we're partners in Extreme E and it has nothing to do with Formula 1, never had any intention to do with Formula 1 and it's going through its process now. So, stay tuned.

(Luke Smith - Autosport) Toto, question about the engine issues as well. On Sky, a few moments ago you were quite emphatic dismissing one of the theories put out about what the issue was. Are you able to expand a little bit on what the exact problem is with the engines, particularly with Lewis and how close the title fight is with Max. How much of a concern is it for his title bid in particular?
TW: I wouldn't want to disclose what it is, for obvious reasons, but it is always a concern. I think that, when you look at Monza, for example, Valtteri had to start from the back, and we're losing points on the way - but it's like Zak says, we are trying to push the performance every year and this year we've come to a point where that has cost us points. Over the last seven or eight years, that mindset has won us races and championships, so wouldn't want... would have hoped to have less penalties and use less engines but this year it has really hit us hard. McLaren and Aston Martin were more fortunate and in that respect, we just have to take it on the chin and do the best possible job.

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Toto, you mentioned earlier that you're finding the sweet spot between downforce and drag. There was obviously an aero package update earlier this year at Silverstone. Presumably that changed where the car's aero sweet spot was exactly. Have you had to optimise that specific package more since then? Has it taken a few races to really nail it?
TW: I think what I enjoy watching is the intellectual process in the team. In the group around some of the guys. How to hit the sweet spot, and obviously we've introduced that upgrade in Silverstone and since then have comprehended every race a little better, how to extract the maximum performance, and now since Sochi, then in Turkey and also here, it proves to be definitely the right path.

Check out our Friday gallery from COTA, here.

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