Group One: Andrea Stella (McLaren), Christian Horner (Red Bull) and Frederic Vasseur (Alfa Romeo).
Q: First up, Andrea, congratulations on the new job. How are you settling into the role of team principal?
Andrea Stella: Well, it's been an interesting couple of months. I would say, intense, long hours at work - but also enjoyable in a way. Certainly, my focus at the moment has been on understanding and knowing the place in great details, such that my action can be as effective and as accurate as possible.
Q: After such an illustrious career as an engineer, how difficult is it for you to let go of that side of what you know of Formula 1?
AS: I think I will have to somehow strike a balance - because if I think about the main opportunity at McLaren at the moment, that's performance. My expertise as a performance engineer, race engineer, performance director and then racing director, I think can be very useful in the interpretation of a team principal role, in the current context of McLaren.
Q: So, do you wish you were in the debrief right now?
AS: Erm... yes! Obviously! But pleased to be here.
Q: Before we come on to performance at McLaren, I did just want to ask you to compare and contrast your two experiences in Formula 1: 15 years at Ferrari; you've been at McLaren since 2015. How do the two camps compare?
AS: Well, actually, I think that through the two places operate in a more similar way, then one can think. We are within the same regulations, same objective, so that's not a surprise. The main difference I found is - it actually still persists - I think it's in the size of the infrastructure, the size of the workforce, which is obviously quite a lot larger at my previous team. But we are working on it. There's a lot of investment going on at McLaren, right, to fill this gap in terms of infrastructure and workforce.
Q: Come on, then let's talk about performance. The MCL60. Testing didn't seem to be the smoothest for you. You were telling us - the team was telling us - not to expect too much of the first race. How's it going so far?
AS: I think testing confirmed that, at the moment, we are a midfield car. The midfield is proving to be quite compact, a couple of tenths can move you to the top; a couple of tenths and you can be at the bottom of the midfield. I think, for us, the focus is maximise the package in the short term, but at the same time, focus on delivering our upgrade programme. It is ambitious, it should unleash quite a lot of lap time over the course of the season. So, focus on short term, but also focus on development over the season.
Q: And in terms of development, where are you focusing?
AS: Certainly aerodynamic, performance, like I keep saying is the name of the game in this business. So that's our main focus in terms of development.
Q: And is that where you're lacking the most at the moment?
Q: OK. Final one from me. Lando needs no introduction. But Oscar, he's new to the team, he's new to Formula 1. How do you feel he's developing?
AS: Oscar is new to Formula 1, but is proven winning material in junior categories. Oscar has been doing very well, so far. We are very pleased. The level of talent, the level of progress we have seen day-by-day during testing is very encouraging, and kind-of confirms that he is a strong prospect for the future.
Q: Christian, welcome. Pre-season testing for you guys was exemplary.
Christian Horner: Yeah, we had a good run in the three days last week. We managed to get through... I think it's one of those rare occasions where engineers come up with a big list of things that they want to test and try and I think we managed to pretty much tick most of the boxes in terms of trying the things in the compressed amount of time that they had. So, both drivers got a good feel to the car. But, of course, you never really know where you're at. I think we've got a good basis but it's only going to be during this weekend that we get to see, you know what the starting point is.
Q: You've been with the team since the beginning. 2005. Has this been your best ever pre-season?
CH: Quite honestly, it probably, in terms of mileage, and what we've managed to achieve in a compressed amount of time, probably it is. I can't remember a pre-season, particularly when you've only got three days to rattle through everything. It was a great team performance in terms of... because it's all the effort that goes on behind the scenes, in terms of getting the parts, delivering the parts, getting the cars built and delivered here to a set of regulations. It was similar to last year, there are still subtle differences, so yeah, I'd say it was right up there.
Q: Now, Max said yesterday that the car is better everywhere, compared to last year. Can you just break it down a little bit for us? Where is it better? Specifically, what areas have you worked on from last year's car?
CH: Well, I'm not going to tell these guys that, am I?
Q: What are you most proud of with the RB19?
CH: With the RB19? I think that the weight loss that it's had is impressive. At times last year, we were running up to 10kg overweight. So, I think the whole team have done a great job to get down to the limit. But Formula 1 is constant evolution. It's constantly refining and developing all elements. Look, RB18 was a great car but obviously regulation changes over the winter, the revision to the aero rules, they throw in some curveballs. So, you never quite know: have we done enough? Have we adapted enough? It's only when you see the other cars and then you start to see the lap times come in, that you start to form a picture. But really the first litmus test is here, at the first race.
Q: Does it suit both of your drivers?
CH: The feedback from the drivers, they both got out the car after their stint in testing happy with the balance that they had. So, you know, the circuit has changed a little bit in the last few days, since we were here last, in terms of characteristics of the handling that just need tuning into the conditions on the day. We've got more and different cars running around and stuff like that now, so that's what they're embedded in now, with their engineers working on fine tuning.
Q: Talking specifically about Checo, what is he got to change this year to challenge Max week-in, week-out?
CH: His lap-time.
Q: How does he do that? What does he have to do to be more consistent?
CH: Look, you know, Max is a hell of a competitor and he's a tough... probably the highest benchmark in Formula 1 But Checo is now in his third year in the team, he's confident, he's comfortable and he's got to be on his A-game. And not just with Max. It's, you know, Fred's drivers are pushing each other hard, Mercedes' drivers are hard, we've got looks like a pretty motivated veteran in a green car as well, so it's going to be a really exciting year and I think there's going to be some great racing ahead of us.
Q: Fred, thank you for waiting coming to you now. So Ferrari, it has a certain pull to it, doesn't it? For racing drivers. It's a team that's very hard to say no to? Is it the same for team principals?
Frederic Vasseur: Yeah, for sure. I gave the example last week that when you play tennis, you want to do Wimbledon, I think when you are doing your business then somehow at one stage, you want to race for Ferrari.
Q: How long did it take you to say yes?
FV: Honestly, I had to discuss with my wife. Twenty-four hours.
Q: How different is Ferrari to any team that you've worked at before?
FV: Yeah, I think that clearly there is more emotion, passion, and so around Ferrari, but at the end of the day, I think all the racing teams are similar on the fact that we have the same DNA. It's all about technique and performance and continuous improvement and the approach is the same. Passion is a bit higher probably, but this is OK.
Q: You are team principal, can you just tell us a little bit about what that means, in practice. What are you doing differently now, compared to when you were at Alfa Romeo, for example?
FV: I have to walk much less from the parking to the, to the hospitality, first. But no, at the end of the day for sure the expectations are different. What we are doing, it's much more visible for everybody but honestly I love the pressure and the target is to win and, it's a dream.
Q: You love the pressure? What is it about pressure that you love?
FV: I am very keen to have this kind of target and this kind of motivation every day. And I think that the team is used to dealing with it and honestly, I'm not scared at all about this.
Q: Have you got the car to deliver? Tell us about the SF23.
FV: So far, for sure that Red Bull is a step ahead. But the season is 23 races and we didn't do the first one, we did just the FP1, and it's a long way to go. I think last year for the team was a good lesson, the championship is not over after Race One, and we know that it will be a long way. And we have to continue to develop the car over the season.
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