Group 1: Tom McCullough (Aston Martin), Marco Perrone (AlphaTauri) and James Allison (Mercedes)
Q: Tom, that is practice for the weekend done. How prepared are you feeling?
Tom McCullough: Fully prepared Tom! Obviously it's been pretty full-on for everyone. Red flag in the middle is not ideal - but worse for Alpine than the rest of us. Just a matter of trying to get the order one data that we set to get, understand a bit the car balance, the tyres, where we're going to be on all the main metrics - because as you're alluding to, we head into parc ferme conditions into the next session, so you're going to rely a lot on your simulation tools and hopefully test runs done, fully ready.
Q: A lot has changed since last year, namely the asphalt. What were the drivers saying about that?
TM: Yeah, the track seems good. We know from the walk around the track they've done a really good job resurfacing the track. The bumps, the grip, everything was good. So, that helps us get into the track pretty quickly. Big evolution with a new track but overall, positive first session.
Q: Tom, just one final question about the Sprint from me. Of course, no more practice. Do you have more questions than answers going into the business end of this weekend?
TM: Yes. Obviously you usually have a few more sessions to get ready, low fuel, high fuel, so trying to get everything done on what it typically a highly evolving track, is not ideal - but simulation tools put you in a good place, you're just looking at your data now, correlating back to that and trying to make all the right decisions forecasting ahead, for what's going to be two very different qualifying sessions, different times of the day, different track temperatures, different tyre compounds, Sprint race, main race, track evolving so yeah, we've got it all covered!
Q: There's a lot going on! You mentioned the two qualifying sessions we've got. Of course, this evening's one for the race on Sunday, tomorrow for the Sprint. Do you think we're going to get the same grid for both Qualifying sessions?
TM: I think in Baku you've always got the chance of jeopardy, so ‘no', I'd say to that. There's a lot of cars relatively close on pace as well, so it's going to be a matter of who makes the most of it. The drivers have spoken quite a bit about turning up Saturday morning, straight onto a Medium tyre first run, one lap, bang, gotta do it. So, I think it will be a bit different because the cars are so close up and down the grid. So yeah, looking forward to seeing how that rattles along.
Q: And looking more generally at the 2023 season, the AMR23 looks very competitive. Just how much easier is it to extract a lap-time from this car compared to last year?
TM: I think when the car's not as competitive as you want, you spend a lot of time soul-searching, trying things. I think when the car is a bit more competitive, you're just more trying to follow the race weekend, understand the tyres, get the most out of the car with your simulation tools. So, it's definitely easier. This time last year, we had a lot of porpoising and bouncing just adds a whole new dimension to things as well. So, definitely easier having a car which is a bit more forgiving to work with.
Q: And Tom, final one from me. You've worked with many great racing drivers in your career. This is the first time you've worked with Fernando Alonso. What's he brought to the team?
TM: Obviously a wealth of experience. Drivers are one of the best sensors in the car, so we've got a lot of very smart people, a lot of very good sensors but from a global optimisation side of things, having a driver who really knows, who's walked the path several times, seen evolution through a race weekend, knows what you need at this track, other tracks, he's been great. He's on it straight away and he's very efficient with how he feeds back on the car too. So it's like, these issues are all there but these are the ones we need to all focus on and I need to do a bit more from my side, you need to do a bit more here, short-term and then medium- long-term. So yeah, great, really good fun working with experienced drivers. You always learn from them.
Q: And looking from the outside-in. He seems to be across absolutely everything. Is that the reality?
TM: He's pushing us all. He wants to do well, you know, he's covered every single... he knows you've got to get everything right. And everyone up and down the pit-lane is really good, so you can't just rest on your laurels and say ‘we've had a good start'. You've just got to keep pushing in every area to lift the level.
Q: Marco if we could come to you know, welcome to the press conference Great to have you join us. Let's start by talking about FP1 for you. Yuki hits the wall. How much damage to his car first of all?
Marco Perrone: We're OK for Qualifying. We had some damage to the rear end-plate. He went, after five minutes, back on track, so everything is fine.
Q: And Nyck seemed to have a very competitive session. You're happy with the straight line speed of the car in particular?
MP: Yeah, yeah, we are quite competitive. He is very competitive here. Very happy about how both drivers actually entered into the rhythm or considering also Yuki and the issue he had. So yeah, positive.
Q: And what about the changes to the Sprint format this weekend? Can we just get your thoughts from a sporting director's point of view?
MP: Personal point of view, I like the changes. I'm a big fan of those changes. I liked the process that brought us to reach these agreements in, the Sporting Regulations. All the teams have worked really as a unique team, the sporting directors, the FIA, F1. To be fair, it has been a tough period of three weeks, where everybody started to nail and understand the various regulations. We found, I would say, a solution that, in my opinion, works quite well.
Q: The big news coming into the weekend was Franz Tost's impending departure from the team. It's going to be AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso's first change of team principal in its history. How much will the team miss him?
MP: I think a lot. A really, really lot. Because he's always present. He's always present as a helper. He's always there. You can always feel , you can always go to him and ask questions. He's a big presence in the team, so we will miss him.
Q: Is that his greatest quality as a leader?
MP: He has many, many qualities. I enjoy working, working with him. To be fair, he's very straightforward. He's very direct. He's very clear. And we actually have a very good relationship.
Q: And of course, Laurent Mekies is going to be coming back to the team. You've worked with Laurent?
MP: Yeah. Correct, from 2011 to 2014. Yeah. So, we were together on the pit-wall during my first season. He was my chief race engineer when I started being a strategy engineer.
Q: And how has the team received the news that Laurent is coming back in the role of team principal?
MP: It's a very good feeling. Many people know him still there. And the feedback is very positive.
Q: James, thank you for waiting. Good to have you back in an FIA press conference. Can we start with FP1, a word on progress with the cars and also a brake issue was being reported over the radio, if you could tell us anything about that?
James Allison: Lewis went out with the Brake-By-Wire set to passive mode. So that's not... he'll get around the lap safely but it's not high performance mode. Just had to come in and do a switch setting to get that back to good shape. I think in George's case, the brakes were just a bit spongy. So that'll all get sorted out for the next session.
Q: And what about these changes to the Sprint format? Is it something you welcome?
JA:Well, I personally like the fact that it's... free practice is ace because you get to learn about the car but I think all of us like the adrenaline of the qualifying and the races more than the practice. So, although it feels loaded with fear and jeopardy, the fact that you get into the paying end of the weekend that much quicker; that there's four scary sessions instead of two, that's more fun, I think for all of us.
Q: And do you think we'll see the drivers being more aggressive in the Sprint now that it no longer sets the grid for the grand prix on Sunday itself?
JA:I doubt whether that will be the biggest difference. I think the fact that this track is very much an overtaking track, will mean that they'll take their opportunities where they can, but I doubt whether the fact that it doesn't set the grid will completely change their approach.
Q: How much are you enjoying being back at the racetrack in your role as technical director?
JA:Well, just being back at the racetrack is a lot of fun. I've not been here for ages and, it is a place that is always fun to be at. It was fun getting on the plane to come out here, because you sit in the queue to get your check-in ticket and stuff and you see a whole heap of faces you haven't seen for ages in all different teams. And that's a pleasure as well, because there is a certain sort of family feeling to being around the paddock. So yeah, lots of fun coming back.