Today's press conference with Toto Wolff, Frederic Vasseur, Laurent Rossi, Franz Tost, Christian Horner and Guenther Steiner.
Part 1: Toto Wolff, Frederic Vasseur and Laurent Rossi
Q: Laurent, first of all, congratulations on victory over night at Sebring but let's talk Formula 1. Fernando Alonso said after practice yesterday that he was surprised by the car's competitiveness. Were you?
Laurent Rossi: Well, I guess he was pleasantly surprised versus the last report from two weeks ago. At the same time, we have been working towards that, so I am not that surprised. And, then again, the two cars are in a slightly different position at the moment. So, let's see tonight how it reads out.
Q: What is the mood in the camp at Alpine at the minute as we come into this new season?
LR: Everyone is very excited. It's a very good mood, on the back of a good season last year. Everyone is motivated. They know that the cars are going to be reshuffled. We had decent tests and, indeed, the first runs here are rather promising, so everyone is working hard but with a big smile, so hopefully we keep that and we continue the victory rings that we had in Sebring, even though it's going to be hard to get those top positions.
Q: Just before we move on, quick word on Otmar Szafnauer, who's been with the team for just over a week now. How is he settling in? Has he made any suggestions of how you can improve things?
LR: Oh yeah. He already made suggestions on the day he arrived because he was observing us already last year, so there's a couple of things that he could see, that he could bring in, and then, now he knows the team a bit better, he's been already instrumental in helping us prioritising a couple of things operationally speaking, fixing a lot of things as well and also planning for the long term. So I'm very happy Otmar is making a difference already.
Q: Fred, Valtteri in particular was very positive about the car after practice yesterday. How encouraged were you?
Fred Vasseur: Yeah, we did a good FP2 yesterday but the FP1 was much more difficult for us. But, you know the most important is to be there on quali and for the race, not in FP1 or FP2, and so far everybody is a World Champion, and we just have to be there when it will be the money time, and not before.
Q: It is still the winter world championship but just how encouraged are you by the potential of your car.
FV: For sure it is much better to be there in FP2 than not - and I'm quite pleased with the result of the first sessions and the test last week but nobody knows exactly in which condition the others are running the car and we will see tonight. I think that tonight, everybody will push on the engine, everybody will run with Soft and with low fuel data.
Q: So much is new at Alfa Romeo this year. Are you impressed with how quickly everyone is settling in?
FV: You are speaking about the drivers? The rest of the team is the same. For sure we have a new line-up, but Valtteri is well-known and I think Zhou is a very good guy, that is very easy to work with, and the collaboration started very well. Now that you know that it is quite easy to be in a good mood before the results, and it is not my first season in motorsport and we will see after the first races where we are.
Q: Toto, are you surprised by what the timesheets have thrown up so far this weekend?
Toto Wolff: Well, surprised? In a way, yes, because you set your expectations and so far we couldn't reach them - but I guess you just need to understand and learn from there on. As I always say, every season the points go to zero and particularly in a season where the regs have changed considerably, you have no entitlement whatsoever to performance. Now that we have to understand better. Like Fred said, in qualifying and in the race tomorrow, we don't really know where we stand, and if it's not good enough then this team will prove that we can just grind ourselves out of non-performance.
Q: Do you think you can challenge for victory this weekend?
TW: Well, as it stands, when we make our assumptions based on the free practice sessions, no. I think Red Bull is in a league of their own, and then then there is a bunch of teams that are within a corridor of fuel weight and engine modes - but even there, it's great to see that teams like Fred's and Laurent's are right there in the free practice sessions. And also, this is what I said, the regulations were made in order to bunch the field up and that's what's going to happen.
Q: What is the mood in the camp? How is everybody dealing with what's been a difficult pre-season?
TW: You know we'd rather be a second quicker than everybody else and disappear into the sunset, but that's not the case now. We started the season well in Barcelona and then went backwards from there on. So, now it's about really understanding. Whatever we do now is, in a way, a process. We can do things quickly and we can do more sophisticated and profound changes over the mid-term - and this is what we are aiming to do.
Questions From The Floor
Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) To all three, Andreas Seidl and McLaren have been talking a lot this week about the relationship between A and B teams and the benefits to both sides. McLaren have suggested that there needs to be tighter runs in terms of what transfer there is between teams, said yesterday it should just be engine and gearbox and nothing more. What are your views on that. I know you're in three very different positions, and particularly for Toto being an A team, what do you get from customer teams?
TW: I think we haven't even started the season. We have seen a certain pecking order in free practice and in the test sessions and obviously there are some teams, including ourselves, that haven't met our own expectations, and others have over-performed. But you need to give credit to the ones that have been fast and the once we can see what the real order is, then we can actually try to, first, find performance within ourselves, and then see what we can do long term in the way that the regulations can be shaped. I can tell you from our side, with Aston Martin, we're sharing a tunnel but that's pretty much it: there are no conversations, no exchanges, not anything else.
FV: At the other end you have a regulation, the regulation is monitored by the FIA and I think so far the FIA have nothing to do on this. The rule is clear and we have to just follow the rule, that on our side we are working with Ferrari, we have the cassette and the engine, and this is it. I'm OK.
LR: Clearly no A-B-team game for us. We are looking at what's happening out there but so far the rules are being respected, as far as I can tell, so it's good. In the interests of sports, obviously, I think Andreas was talking about the fact that we want to avoid too many pairings, because at the end of the day we want to have ten teams racing and not like five duos. I guess that's what Andreas was pointing out - but so far, so good.
Q: (Claire Cottingham - Racefans.net) Toto, Lewis has obviously been speaking about how unhappy he is with how the car's feeling, George sort-of mentioned it yesterday in the press conference as well. What conversations are you having with your drivers to reassure them that things might change in the future - and how are you managing to lift the spirits? I know it's really early days but how are you managing to lift the spirits of the team to know that there is more positivity in the future.
TW: Well, the conversations are happening in the team and in the team means also between the drivers. It's the first thing we do in the morning; we pick up the phone and we chat about things. We have won, and it's not to say it in an arrogant way, we've won eight Constructors' Championships in a row, so this team has done well in the past, we didn't always have the easiest of times, we climbed our way back to a championship against a big engine performance of our competitor, and even last year, where we felt that we started much worse off, we still were able to take it all the way to the last race. And, if it were the case that we're on the back foot, we all know that we've done it before, and in a way, it's a challenging situation but you need to see the positives. Whatever we learn now will make us strong in the future. The regulations are meant to stay for a long time, so let's go for it.
Q: (Phil Duncan - PA) Toto, you've said here that Mercedes won't be able to win and Lewis said the same thing last night. Do you think you'll be in this position for one, two, three, four races? Do you think you'll not be in a winning position for a little while yet? And do you think then that means you won't be able to challenge for the title? I know it's early days of course, but...
TW: Again, purely based on assumptions that we've seen in terms of pace, I don't think we can match the leaders' performance at the moment. I personally believe there are simple solutions to get the performance back, that start to crystalise, and it's 23 races. Even if you lose a race or two, or you end-up outside of the podium, nobody is protected against DNFs, or crashes, in a way. And we've seen last year that they played a big role, so we will give it whatever we can, bring updates as quickly as we can and understand the car more and try to find performance.
Q: (Adam Cooper - Motorsport.com) It's clear that COVID protocols have been relaxed in the paddock and in the world generally. Are you more nervous this year about your team members and especially drivers testing positive than you were last year - and how have your own internal protocols changed? Are you doing less testing than before or is it the same?
LR: Well, we definitely do a bit less, technically speaking, but we still self-impose the test before coming and a test every other day, a healthy measure to make sure we don't spread it around. Nothing more.
Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain, here.