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Bahrain Grand Prix: FIA Team Representatives Press Conference


Team representatives press conference with: Toto Wolff, Zak Brown), Frederic Vasseur and Laurent Mekies.

Laurent, start as you mean to go on. Both your cars inside the top four in FP1. You've introduced quite a few upgrades here. Progress so far?
Laurent Mekies: Honestly, I don’t think we should take too much notice of page one after FP1, obviously we ran a very different program compared to most of the guys, so there is no illusion in the team about what you see on the screen. No, instead, I think it's a continuation of the work we have done at the test, and it's still a bit early to talk about relative competitiveness, but you know what, it's only 24 hours before we’ll all know, so...

Can we talk about you for a moment, Laurent. This is your first race as a Formula 1 race as Team Principal. How different are the emotions coming into this race compared to, let's say, 12 months ago when you were still at Ferrari?
LM: Twelve month we were sitting together on a pit wall, and we are still sitting together in a different place, so it actually feels quite similar now! No, seriously, it’s wery different situations. You know, as we said it's a unique opportunity to be associated with the start of a new team like that. So, you know, we are right in the process of trying to build the basis of it. And it feels like very much being part of the start of something very fresh. Last year was a completely different situation. Obviously, Ferrari has extremely high ambitions, and the pressure is very different, and the obligation of results is very different. And we're trying to find our ways around with Fred when we were working together there. So it’s a very different set of conditions, but certainly both very enjoyable.

And in terms of your ambitions for the team this year, your predecessor, Franz Tost, always used to say, ‘we need to finish P5 in the Constructors' Championship’. That was pretty consistent from one year to the next. What is your message to the team?
LM: Well, you know, I think Franz and the team they did a fantastic job in these years. And if we really want to do a performance step in the years to come, it's not going to happen by changing a few things and just hoping that the performance will improve, because these guys were doing a very good job, they had a very sharp team and so forth and so on. So we are trying to build what we need in the factory to be able to give us the means to do these performance steps. So we are not quoting numbers yet. We are trying to improve the team in all areas and see where it's taking us.

All right. Well, good luck with that. Thank you, Laurent, for now. Fred, if we could come to you. So the first of 72 practice sessions in this 2024 season has happened. How's progress at Ferrari?
Frederic Vasseur: From the first one to the first one? No, I think if you compare with last year, I think that… I don't know about competitiveness and we'll see it probably tomorrow because today for 10 kilos of fuel you were moving from P1 to P6 or 7, and let's wait for tomorrow to see exactly where we are, all of us. But at least we are in a much better place in terms of balance, feeling of the drivers and so on. This is a much better starting point to develop the car for the season, to know where we have to work and to develop the car, and this is a good feeling.

And a personal question for you, Fred. This time last year, you just started the new job. How different does it feel now, 12 months on?
FV: For sure that you have a better understanding of the team, of the people around you, that you develop the relationship during the season. I think over the year, last year, that we made some improvement, that it was also the time for me to understand… Each team is different in the approach, in the culture, in the system and so on, so it was tough work for me in the first 12 months to understand everything, but I'm not sure that I understood everything so far. But I have still room for improvement. No, it's a good feeling that at least last year went pretty well over the season, the improvement. And we are starting in a better shape today.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned as team principal of Ferrari?
FV: Last year? That we have kept to calm down everybody into the team and it was my main task last year to try to not overreact, not to have over-expectation or under-expectation after a poor result. and we have to stay calm in every single circumstance. and it's even more true with a Latin team.

If last year was all about calming people down, is there a feeling of optimism coming into this new season?
FV: No, no, this is important. We have to keep the same approach in any circumstance. You will have ups and down during the season, for sure, like every single season. And we have to keep the same approach, the same focus, and not to overreact in a positive or negative way.

Zak, coming to you. As Laurent says, let's not get too excited about FP1 at the first race but it did go well. It was a promising opening hour for you guys. what were the drivers reporting?
Zak Brown: Well, they're in engineering right now, so I only heard a little bit over the radio and some first impressions. It was very windy, but it was a good first session. I think everyone's… You know, the track is rubbering in, very windy conditions, it will continue to improve. We were running through, as every team will, the different run plans and it was a good opening session but I think very early to kind of draw any real conclusions.

Now, the technical regulations are by and large the same as last year. How much momentum has McLaren carried through the off-season?
ZB: We've continued our development that we saw last year. It looks like most, if not all, the teams have as well. So that's, I think, the exciting part of it. We all live in a world of prototypes and developing our car every weekend. So I think if we can continue to bring the pace of upgrades that we did last year and they continue to work, we'll just continue to get stronger and stronger. But the three gentlemen sitting alongside me have the same master plan, so we'll just have to see how things play out. It's a very long season, but I think what we demonstrated last year is with hard work and great teamwork you can turn things around and make significant improvements over the course of the year. So we'll continue to do what we did last year and see where the chips fall.

OK, see where the chips fall, but are you confident that you can continue where you left off at the end of last year?
ZB: I am as far as our own development and the pace of our car. What we don't have great visibility on yet is what the nine other teams are doing. Since the hybrid era, every season has gotten closer, and I think this one will be yet closer again. So I think it's going to be a game of tenths. I think drivers are going to make a big difference, getting clean laps in, having the right strategy. So I think it's going to be an exciting season.

Toto, coming to you. Now, there's a feeling inside the Formula 1 paddock that Mercedes was masking its pace last week at the test. How satisfied are you with the work done so far with W15?
Toto Wolff: Yeah, I would wish we're masking our performance, but why would we? I think it's important to understand where you are in the competitive order, where you're lacking performance and where the car is good and that's why we've approached it as every other pre-season test. So we will see where, as Zak said, the chips fall down.

ZB: So, you're masking?
TW: No, no, no masking. What happens later today, I think it's going to be a much better performance picture because it's the representative conditions. And tomorrow is when the bullshit stops.

George did mention last week a recurrence of bouncing with your car. How much of a concern is that?
TW: Bouncing obviously has been a feature in our car for quite a few seasons, but I would say it's more what is inherent to these regulations. We can see some degree of bouncing in other cars, less severe, more severe. And I think ground effect has as a consequence that you want to have those cars close to the ground and ride, and bouncing can be an effect of that. And we've seen that once the track ramps in, the faster it goes, the more it becomes a feature. But I hope we've found some tools to tune it or dial it out as good as possible.

And Toto, can you just describe the atmosphere inside Mercedes at the moment? How have two frustrating seasons changed the mentality of the team?
TW: What is very nice to experience is being part of a group that is very positive in terms of the approach. It reminds me of the 2013 and ‘14 years, when I was lucky enough to join the team. What a buzz the whole organisation had. And after those two difficult years, this is very much what I feel at the moment. The spirits are high. We have a good ambience in the team, very collaborative. trusting, empowering, and just a lovely place to work at the moment.

Press Conference

(Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) For Toto and Zak. What’s your reaction to Red Bull’s statement yesterday?
TW: Well, I just read the statement, which was pretty basic, I would say. My personal opinion is we can't really look behind the curtain. At the end of the day, there is a lady in an organisation that has that has spoken to HR and said there is an issue and it was investigated and yesterday, you know, the sport has received the message, it's all fine, we've looked at it. I believe that with the aspiration as a global sport on such critical topics it needs more transparency and I wonder what the sport’s position is. We are competitors, we are a team, and we can have our own personal opinions or not, but it's more like a general reaction or action that we as a sport need to assess what is right in that situation and what is wrong.

ZB: I read the statement. I think from what I've seen there continues to be a lot of rumours and speculation, questions. I think the sanctioning body has a responsibility and authority to our sport to our fans. I think all of us in Formula 1 are ambassadors for the sport on and off the track, like you see in other sports and so I think they need to make sure that things have been fully transparent with them. I don't know what those conversations are and it needs to be thorough, fully transparent, and that they come to the same conclusion that has been given by Red Bull and that they agree with the outcome. But I think until then, there'll continue to be speculation because there are a lot of unanswered questions about the whole process, and so I think that's what's needed by those that run the sport to really be able to draw a line under it. Until then, I think there'll continue to be some level of speculation by people, and I don't think that's healthy for the sport.

Check out our Thursday gallery from Bahrain here.


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