Today's team principals press conference with Toto Wolff, Frederic Vasseur, Otmar Szafnauer, Franz Tost, Christian Horner and Andreas Seidl.
Part 1: Toto Wolff, Frederic Vasseur and Otmar Szafnauer.
Welcome to you all. We're back at Melbourne, racing for the first time since 2019. Can we start just by getting all of your thoughts on being back here in Albert Park. Toto, perhaps we could start with you?
Toto Wolff: Yeah, it's nice to be back in Australia. Since we left last time around without even driving the cars - but the fans are tremendous, the sport is big here, you can see that, and yeah, for me it's always enjoyable to come to the other side and stand upside down for a while.
Frederic Vasseur: Yeah, as Toto said. It's very nice to be back. The fans are amazing, that we have a long queue in front of the gates, and we know also that, when we left two years ago, it was the beginning of the chaos. I really enjoyed the race in Australia, and the show is mega always, but it's good for F1 and it's good for everybody.
Otmar Szafnauer: Yeah, just to echo what's been said already, plus I hope we put on a good show for the fans, they deserve it and the track layout is a bit more exciting, and also, the new Tarmac will make some differences from before. So, really looking forward to qualifying and then having a good race for all of them tomorrow.
Otmar, let's stay with you now, talking about having a good race. You guys at Alpine have had a very strong opening day, yesterday. It seems the more you run this car, the faster it gets. How much more is there to come?
OS: That's a good question. We're still learning. We're not quite at optimal yet. And there will be more to come in developments as well, but actually learning the car that we have, that's still happening. So, there's still more potential in it.
And what about the challenge of the new layouts here at Albert Park? What are the drivers saying? How different is it from a setup point of view?
OS: Not terribly different from a set-up point of view, but the cars are so new, so the set-up was definitely different for that reason. And the drivers seem to like it. They like the changes.
Now we saw your drivers racing hard two weeks ago in Saudi. Have you asked them to turn down the dial a little bit this weekend?
OS: Well, it's not really turned down the dial, it's to make sure that we don't lose time while they're racing each other and allow people like Bottas to catch us. So, for sure they can race each other, but not at the cost of total time.
And Otmar, final one for me. You've now been at the team for a few weeks. How are you settling in and how much potential does Alpine have, in your opinion?
OS: A very good potential. I'm still learning everybody and the personalities and, yeah, it's great. I really enjoy it and I love working with the people, both here and at the factory. It's a great team. Enstone's won some World Championships in the past, and there's potential to do that.
Fred, let's come to you now. Two races so far this season, two competitive showings from the car. How much potential have you guys got?
FV: Well, we will see at the end of the season, because I think the race will be based on development this season. And so far, it went pretty well for us but it's also true that the fight is quite tight between P5-P6 to P15-P16, and from one weekend to the other one, you can stop in Q1 or be the hero of the Q3. I think it's a good challenge. We are more than pleased with the performance so far, and we have to continue to develop and to perform.
More than pleased with the performance. After a tough few years for everyone in Hinwil, how much of a lift is this current show of form?
FV: For sure, part of the motivation as a racing team is coming from the results. And it's working on both sides and that means that when you start to struggle, it's more difficult. But honestly, I think that for us, we put a lot of energy over the last 18 months, when we decided to stop the 2021 project at the end of 2020. And that it was crucial for the company and for the team to be successful, or to achieve that and to improve. And I think it's a good step forward that now everybody is much more motivated, much more focussed. And we know that every single detail will pay, because each time that we are fighting for hundredths, with big teams, and for this, I think regarding the job done at the factory, I think it's a great achievement for everybody.
Quick word on Valtteri, you've known him for a long time since you ran him in GP3. Has the 2022 version of Valtteri Bottas surprised you in any way?
FV: I don't know if I have to be surprised or not, but he's doing the job that I think... If you have a look at the last couple of years, he did a very good job in terms of pure performance. He was always in the shadow of Lewis, but I think everybody would be in the shadow of Lewis, and that what we discussed, during the last season, was to take a different position, different role, to be the leader of the team. And I was convinced that he will be able to do it, and he's doing a great job. I'm not [only] speaking about when he's in the car but at the factory, with the engineers. He's kind-of showing the path for the development, for the right way to improve the car, how to improve the team on every single detail. For sure, he's coming from Mercedes with a mega huge experience - and this is helping us a lot.
Toto coming to you now, it's been a difficult start for you guys in 2022. And for you as team boss, it's uncharted territory, really. I just wanted to start by asking you, how hard are you finding the current performance level?
TW: I've been in this situation before in life, and you just need to be humble about it. When I said last year with the new regulations, how things were set up, that we could have a different pecking order. And this is exactly what's happened. Like Fred said, the midfield is very, very compressed and we're just not quick enough, full stop. There are so many areas where we know we can improve, others where we don't comprehend the car yet. And we just need to concentrate on ourselves and chip away, the performance. The team is still the same, that won many of the Championships.
Do you still believe in the potential of the W13?
TW: Yes, I do. Because what is the other solution? To dial back and go back many months and then put that car on the track? I don't think this is feasible. Because it wouldn't bring us forward in terms of performance compared to the other ones. It's a relative game. So we have, at that stage, no choice than to understand. And whatever the outcome may be, from our understanding, we may change or tweak the car.
Questions From The Floor
(Adam Cooper - motorsport.com) For all three of you, just wanted your reaction to the Las Vegas confirmation. And also, more generally, your thoughts on the challenge of getting the right balance between the new big-paying tracks and the classic venues in Europe? Are you worried that we might lose a few of them?
OS: Well... I was going to say from a young age, I've enjoyed Vegas, but I guess you can't really enjoy Vegas unless you're 21 or older. But it's a fabulous place I used to visit when I lived in America, at least once a year. And it'll be great racing around midnight on this Strip with all the lights, and I really look forward to it. It will be a great venue, and I hear the hospitality will be second to none. Maybe to the level of Miami - although we haven't been there yet, we saw some great videos and depictions of what that's going to be like. So, I really look forward to going to Vegas. And I think we do need to strike a good balance between tradition and where the sport started, and some of the tracks in Europe and the new ones, but I think F1 will do that job, do it well, and I think we'll have a good balance in the end.
FV: Yeah, first, I think we have to enjoy that the F1 is appealing, that we have more and more demands and I think Las Vegas is a mega one. And we don't have to oppose it. I think the newcomers, and the show, it's not because we are going to Las Vegas that it won't be proper racing. We are done on some events like Baku, for example: it's a new street circuit but races over the last 10 years were always mega. I think that we don't have to oppose these too. I am more than pleased to have this kind of event, for sure, for the F1 it's a mega push on the sponsorship side. I think if they pay attention to the layout of the track, it could be also a mega sporting event.
TW: I think Stefano is doing a brilliant job, between balancing out new, interesting venues, not only from a financial standpoint, but also for tapping new audiences. And I think being in the years now with a second and third is fantastic, especially in Miami and Las Vegas - doesn't go any better. The truth is that I don't think that most of the fans that are watching Formula 1 through TV or social media, they don't really mind where we're racing. It's my opinion. Like Fred said. Baku isn't a traditional race, but it's fantastic content. So, racing in those iconic places is important for the fans, for the local fans. And you can see it here: great audiences. So, getting that balance right is not trivial. But Stefano, so far, has done that really well.
(Frederic Ferret - L'Equipe) Question to the three of you. It looks like some teams have sought clarification with the FIA, according to the Haas car. I would like to know your thoughts about the Haas car. Is it too similar to the Ferrari?
TW: Oh, difficult question! I mean, Haas has made a huge jump from being last, the way they were into being... having been solid and into Q3, I think, in Bahrain. So that's an interesting step. For us, it's a learning exercise, because as an organisation, we have 2000 people and we've been successful in the past, and suddenly you're fighting a team that's much smaller in size. So, they must have done a super job.
FV: It's a good question. It's like the old and new regulations about financial, for example, that the most important is to be able to control everything, that we have restrictions on the wind tunnel, we have a restriction on the budget. But we have to trust the FIA, they are doing a good job. And for sure, there will be on every single case.
OS: It's a small team that's done well over the winter, from last to sometimes third fastest team. And it's a bit surprising. I thought - although Toto didn't - that the pecking order would stay almost the same because generally, in a big regulation change, over the years that I've been in Formula 1, the bigger the regulation change, the more it favours those with knowhow and the infrastructure and the tools to actually exploit the new rules. So, it's a bit surprising that the Haas are where they are for a small team - but I trust the FIA will investigate and come to the right conclusion between how similar the two cars are.
Check out our Saturday gallery from Melbourne, here.