Group 1: Tom McCullough (Aston Martin), Paul Monaghan (Red Bull) and Francois-Xavier Demaison (Williams)
Tom, we'll start with you. Three very strong races from Aston Martin in Singapore, Japan and the USA. Then the performance dropped away in Mexico. What have you learned since that race about the issues there?
Tom McCullough: Yes, you're right, we had three strong races in a row, we went to Mexico knowing that some of the compromises we're having to run on this year's car, the characteristics of Mexico would mean it was quite challenging. It did turn out to be the case, and when you're in a tight midfield bunch, you quickly go from one end to the other, as we found from Austin to Mexico.
What were the issues? Were they altitude-related?
TM: The characteristics of the track, it's dominated by a lot of low-speed content and how we're able to operate the car on track at the moment wasn't particularly strong for the compromises of that track. And in the end, that just makes it harder with the tyres as well. So it snowballs a bit from that. A few too many compromises, cooling, lots of other things everybody suffers with there - but it just knocked us the wrong side of the midfield pack.
What about here? We've had that one practice session yesterday, which looked promising.
TM: Yeah, ultimately, we managed to get both cars into Q2, but we didn't get either car into Q3. Close. Small margins again, those changeable conditions. It's very tight in the midfield, it's such a low, grip-limited time at this track. The grids always really close. So yeah, we're a little bit disappointed not to be a bit more competitive or a bit further up the grid. But there's still a long way to go before Sunday evening.
Now, Tom, this is the last time we're going to see you in an FIA press conference this year. So, can we just look at some bigger picture stuff now from the 2022 season? How would you sum up Aston Martin's year, first of all?
TM: We didn't start the season as competitively as we wanted to at all. We struggled a lot with the porpoising, the bouncing of the cars at the start of the year, at the first two or three races in particular. And we realised from a development side of things that we'd sort of not gone down the path that was going to make a usable car trackside. We ended-up changing that, which was a pretty early decision. When we were going through all the initial races, initial testing. Obviously brought the heavily updated car to Barcelona. And since then, we've just been continuously trying to develop that car, that theory. Now we've made a lot of progress, but we started a bit too far back. So that's why we're still struggling hard where we are now. But I think we brought a lot of new people in and they are working well within the team. And we can... we're on a path, we're all developing the same way. We know where the limitations are. We know what we've got to do. It's just a matter of getting heads down and pulling the team together, as we grow, to try to continue to develop and produce a better car next year.
As you say, 'we're all developing in the same direction'. Where have you made the biggest gains with this car?
TM: At the end of the day, the margins are small. We had a car that was in a very narrow operating window and it was very hard when you go to a track with different grip-limited conditions. We're now a little bit more adaptable from track to track. Obviously Mexico was a tough one for us. But the car is a bit more usable than it was at the start of the year. Now, we were doing a lot of bouncing at the start of the year which thankfully we've got largely on top of, and overall the trackside group, with the support of more of the factory groups are able to go to a track, optimise the car, get the tyres working, and race while at the start of the year, we were just too many compromises within the car.
Can we have a word on Sebastian Vettel who, of course, leaves the team after next week's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Can you describe the job that he's done for you guys over the past two years?
TM: He's had a big impact on our team. As you say he's been here now two years. He came from two big teams with the experience of winning races, winning championships. So, he brought a lot of knowledge to our team, on a lot of small details, on how to operate and how to develop the car and what actually is important. The driver is one of the best sensors. We've got some very good tools and software but the driver input is key. He's very motivational, he's a lovely human being, you worked really hard, he pushes everyone in every area. And he's helped us lift our game. Unfortunately, we've not quite given him a car good enough for him to challenge further up the grid. But we've definitely learned a lot from him and improved. And I think, hopefully in the next few years, we're going to see the results of that.
Paul, if we can come to you please. Max was confident that he could do well when he was coming into this weekend. Just how is the car performing?
Paul Monaghan: In our little enclave, I'd say the car is performing reasonably well. We're a little bit unlucky with the Checo and Charles situation yesterday, which is going to be a bit more painful for those two, but Max seems reasonably settled with the car. It's not perfect, he will always seek improvement, we can see areas we would like to improve. Obviously we're bound by parc fermé regulations, so we will do our best to operate and get the most out of it. I think we're reasonably settled, find out later, won't we?
Now, can I ask you a little bit about the qualifying session yesterday? Can you give us some insight into what it is like from an engineer's perspective, when there are so many unknowns? Do you relish that as an engineer? Or do you get frustrated by that?
PM: Both. I think a lot of it... or shall we say, a lot of reflection will determine how well it went for you. So, if you take Q1 for example, clearly, you're going to start on wet tyres. And the lap times would suggest that we were close to a wet-dry crossover yet you can see the spray coming up the hill out of 12, through 13 was a little bit excessive, perhaps, for a dry tyres. I think it was Pierre Gasly that went to dry first? It looked pretty quickly as if he was going to be competitive. So then you're thinking: okay, we're near the top of the chart in Q1, do we need to run again? And then you see Pierre's times, you think, okay, if we don't make that step, we might get tripped up here. So, you follow the track. And if it's drying, you want to be running at the end, because your time at the beginning will easily be surpassed by your time at the end. So, you follow it in that way and, as long as you're clear-thinking and your decisions are logical, then you'll be fine. Similar deal in Q2, similar deal in Q3. Ferrari took a gamble, thinking it was going to rain, we took a gamble thinking we'll get a lap on a dry tyre. It paid off for us and not for those guys in this instance. Had it rained heavily, they might be thinking that they guessed correctly for the weather.
Paul, can we talk about Max now? There have been some recent comments attributed to one of your colleagues at Red Bull Racing in which Max's technical ability has come under scrutiny. So, can I ask you about that? How good is Max technically and where, if anywhere, do you think he can still improve?
PM: If we may just correct some things. It was a poor translation from an interview from a colleague of mine. So, it's a little bit misquoted. However, to answer your question. Max is technically extremely gifted. He did a lot of work as a youngster, often guided by his father. And you can see the legacy of that. He knows what he's talking about within the car. And he knows what he wants. And with his engineers, they know how to deliver a car that he finds nicely-balanced, easy to drive - well, not necessarily easy to drive but drivable - looks after its tyres well enough that he can manage a situation. And if you look at his record over the past seasons he's been with us, it's stunning. He wouldn't achieve that if he wasn't an exceptional driver. And can he improve? Yes, of course he can. He might not thank me for saying that. But I think there are areas he can get a little bit better. He'll dig into himself and think what could he do better for a season. And it's up to us to give him a car to go and demonstrate those skills next year.
Fourteen wins, the team is going for its 20th consecutive podium here in Brazil this weekend. You've been at Red Bull since the beginning. Is this the best team performance you've witnessed during that time?
PM: Perhaps most dominant? We could argue for that, given the success we've enjoyed - but with more races this year. 2009, when we were starting to be challenging, and 2010, obviously with our first titles. I'll say it's different. Because there's a confidence in the team. 2010 was a step into the unknown for us to some extent - at least that's how I viewed it. We're exceptionally lucky, we've had a good fight with Ferrari and some tussles with Mercedes this year. And we've managed to surpass those. So, is it the best year? I wouldn't say it's the best. I'll say it's one of our most satisfying years. And we're very privileged to have a car and the team that we have, whether it's trackside, factory-based, doesn't matter. Everybody's pulling in one direction. And the results speak for themselves.
FX, thank you for waiting. Let's talk about your car. I mean, great effort from Alex in Qualifying yesterday to be so close to Q3. And of course, that came after a good race in Mexico as well. What kind of progress have you made with the FW44 in recent weeks?
Francois-Xavier Demaison: We had some good results recently. But I mean, the cars did not really change since the, let's say, the upgrade we did for Silverstone. I mean, for many reasons, we did not really concentrate our effort on this car, but more on the long transformation where we are doing in Grove. This is our priority. So I think we maximise the opportunity we have and then we concentrate on the longer term and improve our team and that's the main thing. So the results are... for sure I'm a racer, I'm not happy with being tenth in the Championship, but I think it's something we have to accept at the moment and really build for the future.
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