Today's press conference with Zak Brown, Guenther Steiner, Toto Wolff and Alessandro Alunni Bravi.
Alessandro, perhaps we could start with you after the news that you announced yesterday, confirmed your 2024 driver line-up. So, first of all, can you just tell us why you decided to stick with Zhou for another year?
Alessandro Alunni Bravi: I think we are being consistent with what we said from the beginning of the season. We are in a transition period as a team, in a full transformation process and we want to have stability in our driver line-up. Of course, we need to have all the conditions for Zhou to remain, and also I think we have an open and transparent discussion in the last few months - but our aim was always to keep working with him for another year. We think that he can do another step and improvement, like he did from last year to this season, so we expect him to be more comfortable with the team, to do another step in terms of speed and consistency. For us, it was the very best choice to keep our driver line-up.
Tell us a little bit more about the step that he's made from last year to this.
AAB: I think that we have seen in Qualifying, being able to match Valtteri's performance on several occasions. I think he still needs to improve the approach to the weekend because we want him to be more aggressive from lap one in the FP1 session, and so to really maximise all his potential throughout the weekend. And of course we need to be more consistent from circuit to circuit - but we need to help him, because our car also has not been so consistent this year and we need to work hard together to improve every area, and to improve as a team, and also on the drivers' side.
So, consistency is important for him, but do you see him in other areas as Valtteri's equal now?
AAB: I think there is confidence where he needs to improve more. Of course, so far, he was always following Valtteri, also in technical decisions. This year, he made a step and is able to have his own approach, also on the technical side. I think he needs to be more confident, he needs to rely on his personal feeling on the car and not to follow always Valtteri. This is a step that he partially did this year but we expect more also on this side.
Let's bring it on to the here-and-now. You were back in the points in Monza. Just how confident are you that you can repeat that here in Singapore?
AAB: It's difficult to judge: we are only on Friday but we are confident we did a good job in Monza to recover from a very difficult start on Friday and Saturday. And we know that our race pace is better than our qualifying performance. We have tested in Monza a new front suspension that we think can bring more benefits here in Singapore. We introduce a new floor and a completely new aero package. A big step for us. Of course, also for this one, we will see more benefits in Suzuka, but we always say that we take a little bit more than other teams, two or three races to maximise any new package - so we wanted to implement immediately here the floor. So, we are confident we can do a step, but of course we need to do a proper Qualifying session. This has been our weakness point so far. If we will be able to have both cars in Q2, I think we can fight for points.
Toto, coming to you now. Max Verstappen thinks Red Bull could struggle this weekend. If that is the case, do you think Mercedes are in the mix for victory?
Toto Wolff: I think I don't want to predict something and then not meet our own expectations. It's about delivering a solid job leading up to Qualifying, and in the past we've got some really good Singapores, and then we've got worse Singapores. It's going to be very close between, I think, four or five teams in the front.
As you say, the team's fortunes have fluctuated here in the past. You've won races but other weekends haven't been straightforward. What is it about this track?
TW: It is different to all the other ones. I think tyre overheating plays a massive role: you can get it right in Qualifying but then suffer tremendously in the race, extracting that peak grip performance in that lap. And, if you're just a millimetre out of the window when somebody's in, then you're just being beaten.
And what about your car in high-downforce trim? Do you feel you're in better shape this weekend than you were in Monza?
TW: I wouldn't want to talk about high downforce and low downforce, because it's more nuanced like this. Certainly, looking at the past races, we were better when it was about high downforce, rather than the top speed circuits - like Monza and Spa. But it's a fight every time you come to one of those races, it's a fight, starting from the get-go and that's why you can't just predict we're going to be good here.
George was in here yesterday, and he was telling us how straightforward his contract negotiations were with you. But one thing he couldn't tell us is why two years. Why did you settle on two years for a contract extension?
TW: With George, we have such a long-standing relationship, since his junior days, and there is no reason why it's another ten years. We'll see next time around.
Well, how about Lewis. How straightforward were the negotiations with him?
TW: Well, with Lewis, the negotiations with Lewis are always different because we talk when we see each other and then sometimes we both disappear into different parts of the world, and then it's tricky - but we were pretty clear with the main terms before the summer, and then obviously you just need to put them in a contract with lawyers. That can be more tricky.
Does the deal get harder with him over the years - or does it get easier? How much copy and paste is there?
TW: Well, Lewis is a very competitive person, in the car and outside. He has a good commercial brain and now he is into the last phase of his Formula 1 driving career, there are other things that need to be evaluated. But it's always been... as long as both want to work, he wants to be in the car and we obviously want to have him with us, there's no reason... we're always going to come to some agreement.
Final one from me, you said you weren't going to start on 2024 until you fully understood this car. Are you now at that point?
TW: Well, I'd wish that was the case, but this is still for us a little bit of a surprise box. Every learning that we have this year is going to be valuable next year - but obviously nobody is working on the current cars anymore.
Guenther, if we could come to you now, Kevin said yesterday that Monza was the weakest that the team has been this year. Do you fully understand the issues that you were having there?
Guenther Steiner: Yeah, I think we understand not fully the issues a little bit. As Toto said, this car is still always a surprise. I think we know why we were in Monza where we didn't want to be and obviously we are working hard to get out of that hole - but it's not only Monza. I mean, Monza, obviously it highlighted more because it's a high-speed track and that is our worst place always to be on the high-speed tracks. So, low downforce, we are just weaker than we are normally - and we are not very strong when we are at our best. It's just that we struggle this year a little bit. I mean, we started off, it was OK and then couldn't gain any... couldn't make any progress, performance-wise. We just couldn't find any performance. Therefore, we didn't bring upgrades because there was nothing to be upgraded because what we found wasn't any better. So, we had to make a complete U-turn and go a different direction. And that's what we did: we decided before the summer break to do that. And now we bring something for Austin, a big upgrade. For us, a big upgrade. To also go in the direction we want to go... or we are going next year, not ‘we want to go', we are already going that way. And just to learn as much as possible, and hopefully bring some performance for the last five races. We need to see what it does but also to understand where we are going next year a little bit better, because what we have got now, we just don't know what the car is doing from weekend to weekend.
Can you tell us a little bit more about that upgrade? I mean, there's talk of it being a B-spec car. Just how extensive are the changes going to be?
GS: I wouldn't call it a B-spec because we don't touch the suspension or the gearbox, nothing like this. We go with the bodywork style like almost all the other teams have got. At least seven of them have got. So, we go that direction and just start a little bit afresh with the concept, which will hopefully get some performance out over time, which we couldn't get with this concept we have got now, we couldn't find any performance anymore.
Well, just bringing it back to the here-and-now, here in Singapore. If low downforce is your Achilles Heel, how much more competitive can you be at a high downforce track like this?
GS: Difficult to say. I think it's a little bit better on the high downforce, our car, but it's always also difficult to say how good are the other ones. Everybody made progress, so we have to wait a little bit because FP1, the track is improving a lot, or improved a lot over the hour we run. You know, there's a lot of things, we wait a little bit that prediction where we are at - but it can't be much worse than Monza!
Final one from me. No upgrades on the car here - but we are seeing a central console in the garage which is new. Can you just tell us the thinking behind that?
GS: Yeah. The other garage setup was pretty old and we just decided this year to make a new one and also it goes hand-in-hand. We will send the garage, when everything is complete by sea freight. It's better, it's cheaper and sustainability. It takes about two, three tonnes out of the air freight.
OK, thank you very much. Zak, coming to you now. You have your biggest upgrade package since the Austrian Grand Prix here. What are the first impressions from Lando?
Zak Brown: First impressions are good, but they are early impressions. The track has still got to rubber in and we now need to look at the data but I think the first session was what we'd hoped for and we'll see how the weekend plays out.