Friday's press conference with Mario Isola and Toyoharu Tanabe.
Mario, the freight delays coming from Mexico, just tell us a little bit about how it affected Pirelli preparations for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix?
Mario Isola: It affected our preparation because some rims from the teams were in the freight but also some of our equipment. For example, we usually measure the track roughness on Wednesday with a special laser that we have in our equipment and it was not available so basically we had no possibility to measure that, to measure the grip with a grip machine and also the track and air temperature which we collect since - what we call - day zero so the Thursday before the start of the event. Obviously we had to adapt our operation, our people were really available to do everything possible, not to leave anyone without tyres fitted so they stayed here at the track until night, until when they finished but luckily everything is in place now.
And it's been a busy time for you as well, because en route to Sao Paulo you visited the Circuit Panamericana, didn't you, with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali. What was the programme there? Just tell us a little bit about that visit.
MI: We just wanted to show that what we tell to the people is real, so when we say that we invest a lot in development, testing and facilities, it's simply true. And the Circuit Panamericana is an example of... is the biggest test track in Latin America. We have factories here, we have one of our biggest research and development centres, and I was really happy to show to Domenicali the facilities, more than 22 kilometres of track. There is a specific track for wet testing that we also tried to homologate for Formula 1 testing and I visited the facility a few years ago with Charlie Whiting at the time. We have a dry track of 3.5 kilometres. We had a lot of other special tracks for comfort, noise, aquaplaning and so on. It's really a state of the art facility and it's just 130 kilometres from Sao Paulo.
Could we ever see F1 testing at the track one day?
MI: Why not? Why not? The logistics are not easy but you know, here is good weather conditions when in Europe it's winter so maybe in the future.
And what about this weekend, Mario? The tyres are one step softer than when we last raced in Sao Paulo in 2019. How will that affect strategy and just what information have you had back since FP1 as well?
MI: Yeah, they're one step softer and we also have different format for the race with the sprint qualifying, so it's an additional element for the teams to understand. This morning tyres were working quite well. We are expecting that for the soft, a certain level of management is required for rear overheating because this circuit is quite severe on tyres. For the sprint qualifying, I believe that the right tyre is the medium but obviously we have to look at the track conditions. This morning, teams were running very different run plans. For example McLaren used only the medium. Some other teams like Aston Martin used all three compounds. It's a new format so it's not like a normal race weekend where FP1, FP2, FP3 are run with more or less the same programme from all the teams. The delta lap time is probably slightly bigger than our expectations. It's around half a second. This is not affecting qualifying, because this weekend they have to qualify on the soft tyre. There is no strategy behind that because then they can start on the medium or the soft so it's more open. They have to use just the soft in qualifying and they are free to decide which is the start tyre for the Grand Prix. We had no graining, we had nothing else other than trying to understand the real performance of the tyres, considering that this morning we had a lot of track evolution, that obviously is hiding the real values of the different compounds.
One more from me: can we throw it forward to the Abu Dhabi test after the season finale? What's the programme for that test?
MI: The programme is that the teams are free to run the mule cars with 18 inch tyres for two days. This is really important for them and for us to understand how the tyres work in an environment that is difficult for us to reproduce during tyre testing. During tyre testing we have one car, two cars maximum, so it's difficult to understand how they behave in traffic, for example. Don't forget we are using the new cars, not the 2022 cars that will be different in terms of aero package and obviously with a different slipstream and slipstream effect. And, in addition to that, the teams are also allowed to run one current car for one day with a young driver driving the car, so it will be quite a busy session in Abu Dhabi.
Tanabe-san, tell us a little bit about confidence levels within Honda, coming into this race?
Toyoharu Tanabe: Well, so far our four cars with Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri are performing well towards the end of the season. Always, we don't have any confidence but we feel a bit confident looking back at our recent, a few races, so we keep pushing as usual and then prepare everything for any type of accident or unexpected situation.
And if we look at the championship battles now, Max, 19 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Racing Honda just one point behind Mercedes, do you feel the momentum is with you now in both of those championships?
TT: I'm very pleased that we are able to challenge both championships from the beginning of the season with good and strong performances. It's good but it's not an easy challenge to get the championship but then there are four races left. Maybe you may say only four, but for us it's a long, long, tough battle, four races.
And what about engine penalties? Yuki obviously served a penalty in Mexico last time out. Can we expect any more engine penalties for your four drivers?
TT: No one knows the future but there is no unexpected accident or unexpected failure. We have no plans to put another PU to our four drivers.
Tanabe-san, we may not see you in this forum again this year so as Honda's head of engineering, can we just get you to reflect on the last seven years? You must be very pleased with the progress you've made since 2015.
TT: Yes, so, since we participated in this hybrid era Formula 1, actually it was tough. Then we had a lot of failures and then a difficult time in terms of reliability, and also performance. And then we learned a lot, from that era and then we put everything together. It was the end of that... every year, actually, every year, and this year, as you know, this is the last season for Honda Formula 1. I can say we are happy but not quite happy because of some issues in terms of performance. Generally, looking back seven years we have grown and then the current results from this season is quite nice.
And with this being Honda's last season, what's next for you Tanabe-san?
TT: So, it's a difficult question for me now, because, as I said, we still have four races and then it's still a big challenge, a big challenge, so I spent time thinking about those races, so after those four races, I will find out what I will do next.
Would you be tempted to join Red Bull Powertrains?
TT: Can I say? No.
Questions From The Floor
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Tanabe-san, given your answer to Tom about not joining Red Bull Powertrains, could we enquire what your plans actually are after Honda leaves Formula 1?
TT: Again, the same answer so at the moment I have no plans. That's it.
(Julien Billiotte - AutoHebdo) Tanabe-san, how surprised are you to see Mercedes, which used to be such a strong benchmark in terms of power and reliability, change their engines almost every weekend now?
TT: Yes, I'm very surprised they are changing the ICE frequently. So actually, I cannot believe what's going on and then why. But from the PU manufacturer point of view, it's kind of a disappointment to get a PU penalty for the driver so actually I have no idea but I'm sorry about that.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Tanabe-san, if my understanding of the power unit changes is correct, about the power unit that you've taken from Max's car, according to the fact that you have only taken one additional power unit and that is potentially a replacement for the Silverstone power unit which was damaged. Could you have gone through the whole season with no more than the allocated quantities?
TT: Current plan, we can manage the PU for the rest of the season for all drivers so yeah, we had some accidents during the season and then lost some PUs but at the moment we have sufficient number of units for all drivers.
And Tanabe-san, without the Silverstone accident for Max Verstappen, could you have got through the season on three?
TT: I believe yes.
Check out our Saturday gallery from Interlagos, here.