Austrian GP: Friday Press Conference Pt 1


Today's press conference with Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Zak Brown.

Q: (Raphaelle Peltier - AFP) This is for everyone. How are your teams adjusting to the new normal and new rules in the paddock?
Christian Horner: It's certainly very different. The PPE that's required is different to what we're used to. The paddock is very quiet and we're in our own team bubbles as well. So, it's a lot more focused just within your own team, but focus very quickly is placed on the cars and trying to improve them and make them go quicker. Once you get over the discomfort and inconvenience of the P{PE it's business as usual I would say on the everyday problems you have with racing cars.

Toto Wolff: I have been for quite some time in Austria and all this set up here seems very weird in a country where there are no cases anymore, or at least around here. I understand that in the UK it's very different. I hope that based on my experience in Austria that this is the start and it's good that we are racing again. Even though it's weird that we are sitting 10 metres apart wearing surgical masks on our noses but if that is the thing we need to do in order to get racing then that's OK. Obviously the work in the garage is impacted but nevertheless it's about lap timer and all of us are in the same position so it's a little bit about improvising and getting the job done.

Zak Brown: It's definitely a weird situation. I don't think any of us have been here before. That being said Formula 1 teams are used to rules and regulations so I think that we can adapt very quickly to the new circumstances. I've got to say, the FIA, Formula 1 and the circuit and the government and everyone that has gone on to contribute to putting on the event has done a very good job, because it certainly feels like a very safe environment. Hopefully we can get back to normal racing soon, but for the time being this is certainly better than sitting at home.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Christian, we know that Red Bull planned to protest Mercedses' DAS system in Australia. Has anything changed in your thoughts about that between Melbourne and now? Are you still planning a protest and for Toto are you completely confident in the legality of the system?
CH: First of all, it's a very clever system and so all credit to the ingenuity behind it. I think the fundamental question for us is does it comply with the regulations in what is a fundamentally grey area. So we do want clarity on it because it does have an impact regarding the rest of this year. It's something that's been outlawed for next year but the question is: is it right for next year. So they're the questions that we'll be asking of the FIA through the necessary channels.

Toto, your thoughts...
TW: Yes, I respect Christian's position. I mean a clarification is always good. We think we are on the right side. There was a lot of talking and exchange with the FIA, that is the reason why we have it on the car. So we will both bring our arguments forward and then, let's see.

Q: (Chris Medland - Racer) I've got a question to follow up to Christian. Just wondering if you have your own version of DAS ready to go if you get clarity on whether it's completely legal for this season.
CH: It's a very complicated system, so obviously a lot of work has gone into it. We've certainly looked at it and like any component, it has to earn its place on the car for the penalty that it carries, whether that be weight or packaging etc. It's certainly something that, subject to a clarification, would be under evaluation for the rest of this year.

Q: (Christian Hollman - DPA, via email) Toto, how far are you along in contract talks with Lewis and Valtteri? What is your timeframe for your decision for your driver pairing for next year? And on what will you base your decision?
TW: I think simply based on the fact that we haven't seen each other a lot, we have been keeping the discussion up, we are in a position of trust with both of the drivers. You could say that in Formula 1 it doesn't mean a lot - but it does in our team. I guess that we will do the next steps soon but I don't want to commit to any timing because I don't want to answer questions every single race weekend about why the contracts are not done. There is no urgency in the matter. All of us want to do it and when the time is right, we will announce it.

Q: (Julien Billiotte - AutoHebdo) Question to all three gentlemen. Charles seemed quite off the pace this morning and Mattia has already admitted that there will be a new aero package for the team in Hungary. Do you think they are really starting the season on the back foot or they are bluffing?
ZB: I think it's too early to really know. We've done a little bit of winter testing and one FP1 session, so I think it would be premature to draw any real conclusions as to their real pace.

TW: Yeah, I would pretty much... nothing to add to Hannibal Lecter's answer!

What was your assessment of Ferrari's pace after winter testing?
TW: It's very dangerous to assess the pace in winter testing because it's Barcelona and it's February and you could see in 2019 Ferrari was really leading the charge and then struggled in the first few races - so I don't want to find ourselves in a trap of thinking you're competitive. And the same applies to this morning's performance. I don't think Red Bull or Ferrari have even switched on the engine, in a corner they still look pretty strong. Bit of a different aero configuration also. We shouldn't be analysing any performance after FP1. I think it needs tomorrow to really make a solid first assessment.

CH: I think Zak sums it up pretty well. We've only had - what? - six days of testing and one session here, so there's been a consistent theme through that, that their straight-line speed hasn't looked anywhere near what it did last but it's too early in the weekend. Let's review it after qualifying and the race and you know, probably three or four races in. That's only when you're going to get a true pattern of how things are genuinely looking.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Question for Toto. If I can go back to the DAS question. Is there any concern that after all the excitement of finally getting back on track and having a race and Formula 1 starting up, that come Sunday we could be bogged down in a protest and nobody really knowing who's actually won the race - if you win it.
TW: I think, against what you would expect, all teams are pretty much aware that we are in a sensitive situation with going racing. It's the first race and on one side, it's fair enough to seek clarification; on the other side we are aware that we don't want to end up with a big debate on Sunday night. I think Red Bull, I think Christian is going to take the right actions. You know, controversy and different judgement on engineering innovation has always been part of Formula 1. This is what's to be expected in a way. It's part of the racing.

Q: (Jonathan Noble -, via email) Christian, you've talked about Red Bull Racing being better prepared for this season than any since your last title success in 2013. Can you explain why you feel that way - and what factors are in place this year that weren't there before?
CH: I think that obviously since the hybrid formula was introduced in 2014, I think this has definitely been our best off-season - albeit a very different off-season. We're obviously into the second year of our partnership with Honda. It was a great start last year winning three races and I think that momentum that we've built, the convergence that looks like it's happening with the engines, it feels like we are coming into this year better prepared than any previously in the hybrid era - so that would take us all the way back to 2013 that we were going into a season on a decent footing. So that's a reason for optimism for us. It's going to be a different kind of year this year. We don't even know what the calendar is. We don't even know where we're going to be racing in the second half of this Championship, so you've got to just swing with the punches and go with it. But it feels like we're in a good starting place and excited to be here and going racing.

Toto, do you expect Toto to be closer this year than they were last year?
TW: Well Red Bull was close last year, they had a little bit of up and downs but in some of the races they were more competitive than us. Alex Albon is going to get more comfortable in his car and we rate him and Max, nothing we need to add to his potential. So I very much expect Red Bull to give us a run for our money. And vice versa. And this, I think, is what F1 needs.

Q: (Abhishek Takle - Mid Day) This is to everybody. The crisis shines a spotlight on the importance of teams being profitable operations. Do you think the returns on investment would be looked at differently going forward, not just in terms of the marketing returns but actual, real profit? Thank you.
ZB: I think the teams did an excellent job over the extended winter to address the fiscal nature of the sport. As I think everyone knows, there was too big of a spread between first and tenth, which then plays itself out, also on track. I think if you can get a sporting franchise that is profitable, then I think the value of that franchise goes up significantly and so you get asset appreciation. I think all of our shareholders love being in Formula 1. I don't think they're in it necessarily to turn a profit, but they're also not in it to lose substantial amounts of money, which has been the case for a lot of teams. And so I think we've landed in a place where there's a path to profitability. I think that it closes the gap between first and tenth. I think that'll put a better product on the track ultimately. I think the fans win and I think it was a good compromise because the teams that were spending north of the cap have had to make some real compromises and I think that's good because that's going to be difficult and, at the same time, I do think that we have more wealth in the sport from the teams and what some of the teams that I think were at risk of leaving were more about their frustration for being competitive than not being able to afford the sport. So I think we found a good balance and I think Formula One's going to really thrive in the future.

Check out our Friday gallery from Spielberg, here.

Q: Toto, your thoughts?
TW: Yuh. Our situation is a little bit different to McLaren, albeit that the shareholders of McLaren seek value on their investment but for us, Mercedes, and also speaking also for our partners, the return on investment seems to be right and Formula One is probably one of the best marketing platforms in the world. We're able to generate return on investment of up to twenty times the investment of Mercedes and its partners and our partners, so from a marketing standpoint it has always made sense and does make sense. But now there's an additional angle that is being added, but with the cost cap, as much as we would have liked it to stay on a higher level because our organisation runs smoothly and restructuring is always difficult, as Zak referred to, there will be difficulties for us in restructuring but at the same time it leads us to a situation where our P&L will completely change from a deficit - not a big deficit, but still a deficit - it will change to a profitable P&L which is very important for the long term sustainability of the sport. I think we've seen that there are team owners and shareholders in the sport that are in there for the love of the sport and for the marketing return but in order for us to really prosper you need to post a profit like any normal company out there and then more people will be interested in owning teams or with owning part of a share in the Formula 1 organisation itself because it is a solid business kit and we are - as much as it's difficult from the restructuring point of view - we are looking forward to become a profitable franchise.

Q: Thanks Toto, and Christian?
CH: Yeah, I mean Red Bull's involvement in Formula 1... the majority reason for that is to promote its product because Formula One is a global platform that has viewing figures that are only exceeded by the Olympic Games and the football World Cup which only happens every four years, not every single year. So I think the work that's been done, the collective work, the compromises that were found were very positive to improve the model and the fiscal model of a Grand Prix team, so it just adds greater value for money - as Toto has highlighted - for the shareholders, for the partners, for the sponsors. It gives a financial ceiling for the amount of money that a team can spend, so it allows the teams that are further down the pecking order to converge for that, certainly fiscally and potentially on track as well so it creates, certainly, a more even playing field and I think that in terms of providing value and long term security to the sport, the teams, the entrants, I think it was the right thing and responsible thing to do and I think all teams... we often differ in opinions in many areas like DAS systems... it was for the benefit of the sport to converge and come to a common understanding and compromise was found where it was needed to be.

Q: (Lawrence Edmondson - ESPN) Going back to Australia, there were still lots of questions about the legality of Ferrari's engine the previous year and also questions about the settlement which was reached with the FIA and Ferrari. I know, Toto, Mercedes have kind of backed off from that but for the other two team principals, are you still pursuing that, are there still questions that you need to be answered?
CH: Look, it does sit uncomfortably that there is an agreement that has been entered into about the legality and conformity of a car. That immediately draws you to think what is in that agreement? What does it comprise of because obviously in our minds a car is either legal or illegal? Now obviously questions have been raised with the FIA; the FIA have said they would be happy to disclose that document but of course they need the clearance from the other signatories so obviously it does nothing but promote suspicion when there are private agreements about legality and conformity so the healthiest thing would be to get it on the table so everybody sees what it comprised of. The FIA have said they are willing to do that, it would be great if Ferrari were prepared do the same so it puts it all to bed.

ZB: Oh yeah, I agree with Christian. It would be good to understand exactly what happened, what they found, what the solution is. It was last year so hopefully we see on the data maybe what we saw last year so I think at some point you do close last year out as long as you feel it's been addressed, but in today's transparent world I think it would be good to understand what was the case, but it doesn't seem like that's going to come forward from them any time soon.

TW: I want to précis exactly what you said, Lawrence. We didn't back off. We decided in Melbourne that for the start of the season this additional controversy plus Corona starting to get really bad in Italy, was not the opportune moment. I would very much agree with what Christian and Zak said: in this day and age, transparency is extremely important and good governance - it's extremely important. And it may well have been good governance but if you don't know, it's difficult to judge so in the position that we are in is that we are monitoring the situation. We are not happy about last year. It has stretched all of us to a point to be competitive against Ferrari where it was difficult to cope and therefore let's wait and see how the season starts and gets going and we will then reassess for ourselves and probably with the other guys who were upset.

Q: (Adam Cooper -, via email): Toto, how much of a loss is Andy Cowell from the Mercedes engine programme, and are you confident he's not going to a rival team or manufacturer?
TW: Well, it's always a loss when somebody's retired that is calling the day but I think we respect everybody's decision and there is something within our organisation that we very much live to is that if you start to see that you are becoming from great to good or energy levels start to dip low that you can take a decision, and Andy very much wants to take a break. He's involved in a Daimler project that is very exciting and then we'll take the decision what to do. But we've shown in the past that we have always been very good and always on the front foot by succession planning. In the past, great people have left the organisation: Ross Brawn, Paddy Lowe, Aldo Costa, Bob Bell, Mark Ellis and they've been replaced from within with very strong next generation engineers and the same is happening at HPP. We have a fantastic board of directors there, led by Hywel who I personally rate very much as an engineer and from his personality standpoint, so I think we're going to be OK. Whether Andy decided to join somebody else, that is very much his call. I think at the moment he is well established and recognised in the Mercedes family and I hope that is going to continue.

Q: (Nate Saunders - ESPN) Christian you mentioned earlier about being prepared but I guess the only certainty we have is that it's going to be a much shorter calendar that we were anticipating. Given what you said about Red Bull's readiness for the new year and feeling much better about a championship challenge, do you feel better about your chances of winning the championship or challenging Mercedes for the championship now we have much fewer races, than you did ahead of Australia when we were prepping for a 22 or 21 race season?
CH: I think beating Mercedes under any circumstance is going to be extremely difficult, particularly when you consider their previous six seasons, but what we're also looking at is pretty much an 18 month season in many respects. OK, we've got the 2020 World Championship, which we don't know, in the bizarre situation where we're sitting here whether it's going to be eight races or 18. And then of course we've got a car that largely carries over into next year which will basically be bodywork updates during the course of next year as well so it's important to get the basis of this car right because it doesn't just impact this year, it impacts next year as well. But hopefully we've got a good starting point. We got close to Mercedes at the end of last year at a few circuits: Mexico, Brazil were a few to name but hopefully we can keep the pressure on and not give them an easy time this year and it's going to be a different kind of season and I think it's good for the health of the sport to have competition, to have rivalry as well I think is something the sport desperately needs and particularly as there's so much focus on this return to racing. It would be good to get off to a good start.

Check out our Friday gallery from Spielberg, here.

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Published: 03/07/2020
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