Today's press conference with Mattia Binotto, Cyril Abiteboul and Franz Tost.
Q: (Christian Menath - motorsport-magazin.com) Mattia, on 11 February at the car launch you said that Sebastian was your first option and in May you announced that you would part ways. You said it was a common decision and yesterday Sebastian said he didn't get an offer from Ferrari. Could you please explain what changed from February when you said he was your first option to the decision you took not offering him a contract?
Mattia Binotto: Certainly. Let's take a step back as first, certainly we have always said during the wintertime privately to him and publicly that he would be our first choice, which I confirm. It's normal that during wintertime many drivers have asked us if there are any opportunities to drive for Ferrari. So we have certainly been contacted, but that didn't change our position, so Seb was our first choice. What happened since then? I think the virus, the pandemic situation, which changed the entire world not only out motorsport, our F1. The budget cap has been changed quite a lot, a lot more strict. The regulations have been postponed from 2021 to 2022, which is somehow important for us. Cars which have been frozen, or almost frozen, for 2020 and 2021. So let's say the entire situation has changed and on top of that I think that even the season has not started so there has been no opportunity even for Seb being back on track to prove how much he was really motivated to drive for Ferrari, which has been somehow unfortunate for him. So during the shutdown, as Ferrari, we had to reconsider eventually our position. We took a decision. So certainly that was our decision, it's our responsibility and we communicated to him. I heard that he was surprised. Do I remember that he was surprised., I would say yes, certainly. I understand it. I think it's pretty, let me say, normal to be surprised and while he accepted our decision I think that even still today I think that he is not fully happy with it, which again I think is something normal and obvious.
Q: How would you sum up Sebastian Vettel's time at Ferrari?
MB: I think it has been a great period - five years so far, six with the current season. He is a great champion, but he's as well a great person. I think that everyone in Ferrari, our fans, the people working internally loved the time with him. That's something on which we fully respect. I personally, myself, appreciate him a lot, as a professional and as a person and that is fully unchanged compared to our decision.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines/Racefans.net) Good day gentlemen, a question about fuels for the future. From 2030, Formula 1 intends having zero carbon etc and we have an engine change coming in 2025 or 2026, that's to be decided. How would you like to see Formula 1 go from the current fossil fuels to meet that target? At what stage should we switch to bio-synthetic fuels etc, possibly new technologies? How do you see the future on fuels?
Cyril Abiteboul: Thank you Dieter. It's a big question to ask. Let's take it step by step. What we know already is that there is a first step coming in 2022 with E10, so 10% bio-ethanol fuel. I think first it's important to highlight that we could have postponed, pushed back or even completely cancelled this first step in all the measures that we've been discussing, contemplating but eventually we decided to stick to it, because we all agree that it's a very important statement. It's good to make statements but it's also good to make tangible steps, so that first step was important to secure, even if delayed by a year. Then, looking further ahead, also what we have all agree is to contain the arms race on engine development such that we can leave a bit of space in terms of discussion, but also in terms of thinking and later in terms of development capacity for the 2026, if my memory is correct, 2025 or 2026, ne engine and that's a development that needs to kick of in 2023 and that will leave us one of two years probably to really think ahead what's good for Formula 1. As far as I am concerned, I would tend to believe that fuel needs to be part of that process, which may mean that we could have to delay that second step after the first step that will be for 2022 to the new engine that could be developed jointly with a completely different fuel, because it's important to keep in mind that you don't just throw a new fuel into an existing internal combustion engine. It's a complete redesign, a complete re-optimisation that you need to develop. And what will be the weight of electrification versus thermal engine is probably the first main question to ask and then indeed what kind of fuel you put into the internal combustion. So I accept, Dieter, that I'm not really responding, apart from that it needs to be part of a large process and a large-scale thinking process.
MB: Thank you Dieter for the question, I think it is an important one. As Cyril said, E10 in 2022, which is important, but then we need to look at 2026 for the next important step for manufacturers in that respect. We believe that full electric is not the only solution for the automotive for the future and I think that F1 has to be a platform for innovation in that respect or an alternative solution to the full electric. So, designing a regulation for 2026 where our power units need to become even more sustainable or fully sustainable compared to what we've got today will be key and to have full sustainable fuels will be important. Will those fuels be synthetic or bio or whatever, I think that is exactly the discussion we've got at the moment with the FIA, which is important, but I think our fuel supplier needs to be part of the discussion itself. So I think it's... at the moment it is the right time to analyse it, to discuss it and to eventually decide for the future, because sustainability will be key for the future and F1, as I said, has to remain an important innovation platform for the automotive itself.
Franz Tost: There will be different steps to find this sustainable fuel and I am convinced that the engine manufacturers, together with the fuel companies, will find a solution for this. I am quite positive that Formula 1, once more, could show to the people that research and development plays an important role and that they can come up with a proper technical solution and that we can use and continue the system of the current power unit, mainly to have two energy recovery systems. I think this would be quite a good solution against the electronic cars and I think that Formula 1 will do this important step and will stay, on the innovation side, at the peak of the motorsports.
Q: (Chris Medland - Racer) A question for everyone. I just want to get a general overview of the work you've had to do to get to this point? Obviously the situation has been different in the UK to France and to Italy and how have you been able to prepare your factories and go racing and be here and focus on the racing side?
FT: Yeah, as we all know, at the beginning of March it was quite critical in Italy. There were different districts, so-called red zones. Fortunately, Faenza was not included, but nevertheless Conte, the Italian President, decided that all the companies had to be closed and this depended also to Scuderia AlphaTauri. Fortunately then everything came together with the shutdown with all the Formula 1 teams and we meant we then had this period of around 63 days where we all had to stop working and I think that Formula 1 used this period quite well, with a lot of video conferences between FIA, FOM and the team principals to come up with the new sporting, technical and financial regulations. I think that we used this shutdown quite well to finalise parts of the regulations and that we could come up with a proper solution. The preparation went quite well. The mechanics came back and all the3 other people as well. Of course research and development suffered during these three months, there was nothing, the wind tunnel was as well closed. That means from this point of view from the development of the cars there's a delay but it costs less money so it's also an advantage. I am now looking forward that the season starts here in Austria, thanks to Red Bull, and that we will have hopefully a good second half of the season with as many races as possible.
MB:The situation certainly has been very difficult in Italy, especially, since after Australia we had to close our factory. Not only the racing team but the entire Ferrari factory has been closed. I think we, as Ferrari, have worked very hard to put our people in the most safe situation, especially when they went back to work. Ferrari collaborated a lot with the local government, really to set the right protocols for going back to work. I think we did a fantastic and great job and we have set somehow the benchmark for the entire Italy by putting really rigid, strict, severe protocols, but safe for the health of our employees. Our employees are at the centre of our concerns. And that's not only for the racing team, that has been for the entire factory. So it has been for thousands of people and I am somehow even glad to say that the entire people have been back at work when it was the right time and in the right and safe manner.
CA: What can I add, as a lot has been said. Probably the same has been applied in our two factories, one in the UK and one in France, basically with the UK trailing other countries by a week, but no big difference. Seven weeks of shutdown and nine weeks of shutdown in the UK and then indeed re-starting the two factories with a number of measures. Some of them are actually very visual, pretty much the same: social distancing, wearing masks, with extra care for all the interactions you can have between people, not sharing the same tools and so on and so forth. And also setting some targets, so basically we are right now at 50% of head count in our factories at any given time - with some cohort system, which is pretty much the same as the notion of sub-groups we have on track here. And we are progressively aiming at bringing more people back progressively. Obviously more people in production and in the design office with more people in the design office being capable of working remotely thanks to all the new software we have available and that has been a massive shift of mindset, including from a management perspective.
Q: (Lawrence Barretto - Formula1.com and Philip Horton - Motorsport Week, via email) Does Renault need a big-name signing alongside Esteban Ocon next season and are Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel of genuine interest to the team?
CA: No, what we need first is a driver. We need a driver for each car. We need a quick driver, we need a talented driver and we need a driver that can understand and buy into Renault's project. We are very clear about the nature of our team. We are a bit of a unique team in the Formula 1 landscape, but at the same time very loyal to Formula 1 but also a young team still in the making, with some struggles, in particular last year. So we need someone who is capable of understanding all of that and understand the value of all the work, ethic and effort we are putting into that. I am not saying that Daniel has not understood that. That's absolutely not what I mean. I am talking about the future. We are talking to a few names. Some big names, some lesser-known names. We are taking the time and again making sure that there is a good alignment between what we are and what any driver is looking to get in a team like ours.
Q: Can you put a time scale on when you will make a decision?
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Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) A question for Mattia. There's been a lot of talk about Mugello hosting a race. It's a Ferrari circuit so Formula 1 has to talk to you about it. Perhaps you could update us on where that stands? Potentially Ferrari's 1000thF1 race at a home track.
MB: Yeah, I can confirm that we are discussing with F1. I can confirm that our hope is to try to bring F1 to Mugello. We believe that Mugello is a great circuit, not only the sustainable side but generally speaking for the drivers - it's very demanding. I think it's a great track. I think that bringing F1 even in Italy to Tuscany, it's a great region, with all the jewels we've got there, Florence etc. So I think it could be an exciting race there and as you said and being potentially our 1000thrace, doing it in Italy, at Mugello, our own race circuit, that would be great. It would be great even more if we may have some fans there, which at the moment we cannot eventually confirm. But I think generally speaking if this happens, we will try to organize a great show for the entire broadcasting and the entire fans.
Q: You tested there very recently with a two-year-old car. Can you give us any insights into the demands of the track for a modern grand prix?
MB: It's a track that I myself know pretty well because I've been there since 1995 when testing as an engineer - obviously not as a driver. But I've been very often there. It's a very interesting track, demanding, fast. Drivers normally enjoy driving there, and as you said, we've been there a few days ago with Seb and Charles and both of them really enjoyed the track. Fast corners, It is certainly a very interesting track.
Q: (Nate Saunders - ESPN) Cyril, signing Daniel was a pretty big coup for yourself and for Renault, but by the same token losing him to an engine customer, an engine customer that beat you with the same engine last year, is hardly a ringing endorsement of the project or of the management itself. How much pressure do you feel under this year in justifying your position with the team?
CA:You know when we are participating in Formula 1 as a team or when you are managing a team that has the loyalty that I was talking about before - 43 years in the sport, with a number of championships as a supplier or as a full team - there is pressure. There is pressure every single year. We've had a nice progression since 2016 that indeed marked a stop last year. But for me you know there were already some signs of weakness before last year. If you go back into what was 2018, yes we were P4 in the championship but it was clear that we were not capable of developing at the right pace. In order to catch up with a top team, it was already very clear that McLaren was on a very nice trajectory. We had to do a number of changes that basically led us to change a big part of the technical leadership in Enstone. I think the engine has made good progress. It's well recognized and accepted. We now need to focus on the car and that's what we are doing now in the decision that we have taken in terms of financial trade-off for the future. And yeah, so I am feeling pressure but equally I am feeling confident, about this year and the ones to come after that.
Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) For Mattia and Cyril. Obviously because of the change of rules this year there have been lots of development freezes, including on the engine side. Do you have upgraded power units here compared to what you would have used in Australia?
MB:Let me start and the answer straight is no. We've got the same engines as we had at the time of Australia. As I said, we shut down the factory for a long time so there has been very little time somehow to develop. So we didn't bring anything different. Now the power unit is frozen for the season. I know that other manufacturers took the opportunity to continue developing and working. We were aware of that. They took eventually an advantage. It's part of the game. I think that's part of all the entire compromises that we have accepted during the shutdown period, looking ahead for the good of the sport.
CA:In the previous question I was referring to some trade-offs and also sacrifices we have made in order to manage a crisis that has been extremely severe. We are talking about a large reduction of the prize fund. We are also having discussions with sponsors who are very loyal but who are all facing challenges in their own business. That's why indeed we had to come up with some decisions and one of those decisions was that as far as we were concerned is that we are going to pause engine development, focusing on the next step that we will have the opportunity to discuss later. But indeed that means don't expect any engine upgrade from us this year.
Q: (Jon Noble - Motorsport.com, via email) Mattia, can you give us some details on what you learned about the car and the flaws that were discovered from testing in Barcelona?
MB: I think we mentioned that in different interviews. The car in winter testing was not performing as expected. The car on track was not performing as let me say the design we did at home so there was a mis-correlation from design to track. Obviously we had to understand at first. We started really trying to understand it as soon as we have been back at the factory, so during the shutdown period that was not possible. I think we realized that from the aero point of view mainly there were some mis-correlations. Eventually I think we pushed our project on trying to seek a lot of downforce, that's looking as well what was our situation last year in terms of weaknesses. I think whatever we developed was too fragile in terms of aero robustness when being back on track and what we are trying to do now is to have a step back and try to understand and reassess the problem and then moving forwards later on. Our hope is to bring some developments in Hungary, nothing before, mainly because I said that whatever developments we were doing we needed at that time, at that stage, to step back. Hopefully by Hungary we will not address all our issues but we will have a decent step forward in our performance and I think by then we can really understand where we are compared to our competitors.
Q: (Laurence Edmonson - ESPN) We've just heard from Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Zak Brown about they still have questions over the FIA's investigation into Ferrari's power unit over the winter and the resulting settlement with the FIA. The FIA has indicated it would be willing to release some more details but they are unable to without agreement from Ferrari. Can you give us the reasons why you are not willing to release some of those details and do you think this can be put to bed quite easily if you did so?
MB: The answer is quite straightforward. First, there was no clear breach of the regulations. Otherwise we would have been disqualified. The reason we don't want to open is simply because whatever we would need to explain is IP, intellectual property to our project, to our power unit and no one in the paddock would be happy to release information on their design and their projects. It's IP, it's confidentiality, it's intellectual property protection and that's the reason why we are not keen to do it.
Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) For Cyril. I know there were some concerns about Racing Point's car, the so-called 'Pink Mercedes' through pre-season testing. Is there consideration from Renault to lodge a protest this weekend?
CA: It's an old debate, the debate about customer cars. Racing Point has been able to push that to an extreme this year. I think it will be interesting to see the lap time, because there has been lots of speculation based on winter testing. And as we all know that is very difficult to say anything from winter tests. First, this week is back to racing. We will finally have an idea of the respective competitiveness and if Racing Point complies with the regulations then they have nothing to worry about obviously. But again, back to racing is the priority number one for this weekend.
Q: (Chris Medland - Racer) Mattia, a question about the new aerodynamic direction that you are taking. The drivers were asked about it yesterday and they said it will probably put the team on the back foot by quite a lot. Do you feel it rules you out of the championship fight this year and was it still a necessary step to take because we are going to freeze so many aspects of these cars for next season as well?
MB: It's never easy to start a season not being competitive when your objective is to win and to win the championship. It is certainly a difficult start to the season for us. Will that compromise the entire season? I think what's important for us on the first races is trying to maximise the points we may bring back. You never know what may be the situation. Others may have difficulties or problems as well. I think it's only a matter of racing and we are here to race and to do our best. We are focused on this weekend and trying to optimise our car package and optimise the result by the end of the race itself. And then the freezing situation? Certainly it was not obvious for us to accept such a situation when discussing during the shutdown. I think that Ferrari has been very responsible in accepting the situation. Unanimity would have been required, because I think it's important for the sport itself. It's important due to the situation, even of the small teams, what would represent continued development in such a situation. So I believe that Ferrari has been really very responsible to the sport. The hope is that not only Ferrari will somehow sometimes accept compromises. I loudly said that I have been disappointed by the sprint race format that a single team rejected because I think that if everybody will simply look at his own advantage then I think a lot of decisions that were taken during the shutdown would not have been taken.
Check out our Friday gallery from Spielberg, here.