British GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1

31/07/2020
NEWS STORY

Today's press conference with Christian Horner, Guenther Steiner and Franz Tost.

Could we start with a quick resume from each of you about how FP1? Franz, can we start with you?
Franz Tost: We had quite a good session, I must say. We came here with some new parts, they worked well and I'm quite optimistic for the rest of the weekend.

Christian?
Christian Horner: Yeah, we had a busy session with both cars, obviously trying to understand some of the issues from Budapest, so a productive session, a busy session, trying quite a few things, with different programmes on both cars, so I would say a sensible start to the weekend.

Guenther?
Guenther Steiner: Yeah, we had a sensible start as well, but I'm not as optimistic as these two gentlemen. I mean, we know we will be struggling here because of all the high-speed parts. But we had a good session, we didn't have any issues and we just tried to figure out how the tyres work and to learn something, which again is very difficult because today is abnormally hot. It won't be like this on Sunday, but we had a good session and we just try to improve what we've got.

Christian, if can go back to you, can you just tell us a little bit about Simon Rennie's return to the pit wall?
CH: Well, Simon has obviously been with the team for a long time and he was race engineer to both Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo through his entirety at Red Bull Racing. Simon left the pit wall, through his own choice, at the end of 2018 to take on a factory-based role and that's what he's been working at for the last couple of years. But with the issues that we currently have with the car and an inexperienced driver like Alex we felt that it was unfair on the race engineer who was working Alex, who was relatively inexperienced, to have that pressure. So we've brought Simon back into the front line for the rest of the season. Mike remains under contract to us. And hopefully that experience, that knowledge while we aggressively develop this car will only help Alex, because you have to understand that every time he gets in the car it's that little bit different and I think an experienced hand like Simon is definitely a positive for him.

Franz, we saw a lot of reliability issues on Pierre's car in Hungary. What reassurances have you had from Honda that the situation is going to be different here.
FT: It was a sensor issue and Honda sorted it out, but because of this sensor issue we had a problem with the gearbox and a bearing failed and therefore Pierre had to stop on Sunday with a gearbox failure but I'm quite sure that everything has been sorted out and that the cars will be reliable.

Guenther, you said a couple of weeks ago that your mission this year was to keep Gene Haas happy. Just how happy was he after your result in Hungary two weeks ago?
GS: It was an up and down. We did something different to everybody else and we got away with a point, which under normal circumstances we couldn't, so he was happy about it. But you know these highs are short, because we are here now again and we have to do it again. You are evaluated every weekend when you go racing, so let's see how we can keep him happy. That's more important than how happy he was last weekend.

Video Conference

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines/racefans.net) A question to Guenther. I don't know if you saw the press reports but John Elkann gave an interview in the Italian media during the week where he said that Ferrari basically wouldn't be in a winning a position until 2022 at the earliest. Given that you source most of your parts from there, how did you feel about that comment knowing that effectively you'd probably be in the same situation in terms of your performance, even if not winning?
GS: I'm aware of the situation we are in and I see what they are doing and they are in, so I was not very surprised by the statement from Mr Elkann. So it was no surprise. For sure, it's never nice to be told it will be difficult but again if you admit that it will be difficult you work hard to make it better going forward. But I wasn't really surprised that he said that because for sure they did their analysis of the first three races and came to that conclusion and he just said it how it is.

(Erik van Haren - De Telegraaf, via email) Christian, are you afraid that somebody like Max Verstappen will lose his patience if it takes even longer before he can fight for the world title?
CH: Well, look, we know that Mercedes are the target; they're doing a very, very competitive job and they have got a very complete car and package at the moment. They are setting the benchmark very high and we have to take on that challenge. And everybody in the team is extremely motivated to do that and everybody within Honda is very motivated to do that and obviously Max in particular as well. It isn't going to be easy, Formula 1 isn't easy. But I believe in the people we have, in the capacity and capability we have and I think that we will eventually be able to mount a challenge and really take the fight to them. They've turned up with a very good car this year and we have a big regulation change certainly for 2022 but I think that before that there is plenty of opportunity.

(Luke Smith - Autosport) - We've had the first confirmation of a positive COVID-19 test for a driver, with Sergio Pérez. I just wanted to know how you are managing your drivers in terms of their travel and where they go between races and things like that. We know that Checo maintained himself within all the guidelines but did take a trip to Mexico. What are you doing with your drivers to make sure they are minimising the risk and that they don't pick up this virus
FT: We always tell to the drivers, but not only the drivers, to all the team members: stay disciplined, which means keep the mask on, wash your hands, clean your hands. Stay with people whom you know and also there keep a distance, don't go to parties and try to keep the virus away, because we have seen now how dangerous the situation in reality is and looking back to March nothing big has changed, because medicine is not able to come up with a vaccine and therefore we will see. I hope that in the close future they will come up with some medicaments or whatever so that we are not anymore in so dangerous a position to catch this virus and when we have to stay at home currently.

CH: I think it's a stark reminder that... you know, sometimes in Formula 1 we are a bit isolated and we all live in our bubbles anyway, and I think that when it happens to somebody like Pérez, a driver, is affected like that, it's a stark reminder that these procedures are here for a reason and the procedures we take as a team, the procedures we take as a collective in Formula 1, we do everything we can to ensure that as little unnecessary contact is made either at the race event, away from the race event, within the factory. It's very, very difficult and it's a stark reminder that this thing hasn't gone away yet. It's still out there and we are going to be travelling to countries where obviously there are second waves and peaks that are still bubbling away. And that's where as a group, as Formula 1, we do need to keep that discipline with the procedures that are in place. I think that the whole thing was handled well and executed well by the FIA and by the team.

GS: Yeah, I would agree with that one. The FIA, FOM and the team handled it well. We just tell our people to keep to the guidelines and not to do anything different, but we know it can happen, as we found out. It can get everybody. But then if you have a good reaction to it we can limit from spreading anymore. But we just have to be responsible, each of us, because we cannot follow each person, what he's doing outside the race track, but hopefully we can be all responsible and sooner or later this virus is going away when our team is instructed to behave by the guidelines.

(Sandor Meszaros - Autosport es Formula Magazine, via email) Christian, you have spoken already about Alex's race engineer but how happy are you with Alex's performance and in what areas does he need to improve?
CH: I think there has been criticism if Alex, which in some ways has been unwarranted and unfair. If you look back to the first race in Austria, through strategy he was in a position to arguably win that race and was taken out by Lewis Hamilton and he finished fourth in the next race and fifth in the next race. We know the car we have provided our drivers with this year isn't optimised and it has had some difficult characteristics and for a driver that doesn't have experience, he's only just had over a year's worth of Formula 1 experience, that's a tough call. But the way he has handled the situation, the way he has handled the pressure has been impressive. And I think he just needs time and we're doing our best to support him as much as we can and things like the experience of the race engineer he's now working with will only compound that.

Check out our Friday gallery from Silverstone, here.

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Christian, just on the development of this year's car. You've got updates here and Max and Alex have said it's a work in progress to try to improve it. Can you explain where you are in that phase? It isn't that long after Hungary, so presumably what you've brought to Silverstone isn't a reaction to Hungary exactly. Is it part of an ongoing process and how long do you think it will take to get everything under control?
CH: No, it is a reaction to Hungary, so I think that all the data that has come off the car, the factory has been working incredibly long hours, so components that are on the car this weekend are a direct reaction to what we saw in the data and from the feedback we had in Hungary. And I think some of the philosophy at the front of the car changed over the winter and it's given some anomalies that we need to understand and the team collectively has worked incredibly well to start to understand those issues and hopefully the part we have brought here this weekend will start to address some of those issues. Certainly the first session was a positive start and we have to build on that through the rest of the weekend.

(Jonas Fehling - motorsport-magazin.com) Guenther, Kevin praised the VF20's much better baseline compared to last year's car and now you just have to develop it. So what news is there about Haas brining updates to the car in the near future?
GS: As we stand now we are not planning any upgrades or any big upgrades in the near future because we were shut down quite a long time and we don't have the resources like the big teams to react and they would come late anyway, so we use this year more to stabilise ourselves again after the pandemic and try to make sure next year we are in a better position.

Sorry to labour the point, is there anything in the design phase at the moment?
GS: No, nothing in the design phase at the moment.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines/racefans.net) When I did an interview with Guenther during the pre-race period he mentioned that one of the shortcomings he felt that he felt Formula 1 had was that it hadn't put any contingency planning in place. So, to all three, although we have managed to get through this season reasonably OK-ish, thanks to the work that Liberty and the FIA have done, what sort of contingency planning have you put in place for next year because you don't know how long this will continue for?
CH: It's a new situation for all of us and as you rightly say Dieter this is unlikely to stop on December 31. I think that it's inevitable that until a vaccine is found corona is going to be with us for a while to come and of course it's about how you manage and control that and with the disciplines that have been put in place we've managed to get a season up and running and a championship in play. Of course there is going to have to be flexibility and I think that the way that all of the teams have reacted to the moving challenges of this virus, I mean we still don't know the extent of our calendar for this year, we don't know where we are going to be racing in October, November and even early December, so the teams are having to be flexible, they're having to think on their feet and work collectively with the governing body and the commercial rights holder and I think that will continue for some time to come.

FT: I think the teams, FIA and FOM are working very closely together to sort out this difficult situation. It's not only for motor sport, it's generally for sport. It's in football the same, or in skiing. Let's wait until the ski season starts, yeah? We all have to be flexible and maybe take advantage maybe of countries where there is less COVID-19 people being infected and just go there. Fortunately, F1 is a global sport, and that means then we can choose where to go and I am convinced that we will also next year have a championship.

GS: Yeah, the big unknown is where is this coronavirus is going and if anybody knew that for sure he would be a rich man. But as Christian said, until a vaccine is found and distributed we live in this fluid situation and we just need to make a step-by-step just how the situation evolves. I think we now realise that this will not be over at the end of the year, and we need to start to think about next year. I think FIA and FOM are doing a good job in trying to find out, but I don't know where it exactly goes, to answer Dieter's question, we just need to stay always prepared for any situation that comes up, like we did this year. Five months ago a lot of people thought we would have no championship and we will end up with hopefully 15 races. I think we will find solutions. Normally Formula 1 is pretty good to find solutions to problems and I think we will find something here as well.

(Julienne Cerasoli - UOL Esporte) Question to all three of you. Are there any measures that could be taken to minimise the mechanics' working hours during a race weekend or anything that could ease the stress on the team, especially for these triple-headers?
GS: I think there are measures in place. We have got the first: at night we cannot work, you know? So, the triple-headers, the people didn't work a long time yet, they are tired and everything but I think they get nine hours of rest every night if they go to bed and don't do anything else. I think we try to manage it - and also FOM is trying to avoid triple-headers for the rest of the season except which are already in place, so I think we have to deal with it. It's a very abnormal situation at the moment. So, I think they're dealing pretty well with it.

Christian?
CH: Yeah, I'd agree with what Guenther says. I think the life of a mechanic today, compared to what it was ten, 15 years ago, is very different, with parc fermé in particular. They do have a set amount of time they have to be away from the circuit, so that makes a triple-header far more bearable: they're not smashing-in all-nighters every night, three or four nights in a row, which is as it was in the good old days. So I think that, whilst there is pressure, there is stress obviously involved in it, but it's manageable. And they're all racers at the end of the day. They all, given the choice of having no championship or doing three, even four, races in a row, every single one of them would vote to be at the racetrack and be racing.

Christian, just before we move on to Franz, how tough was the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend for your guys - because you broke the curfew on Friday night, and then you had everything going on, on the grid. Was there a sense of complete exhaustion after the race?
CH: I think they were exhausted but also elated. We gave them a hell of a hard weekend. Friday night we took our first joker with breaking the curfew. They worked through the night to change the spec of the car. Saturday was obviously underwhelming for us. We were disappointed with the qualifying, and then going to the grid on Sunday, Max unfortunately crashed his car. Thankfully the damage he did, while significant, wasn't enough to prevent him from starting the race. The guys had 20 minutes to change track-rods and push-rods that would usually take - I don't know - an hour and a half, something along those lines, and they managed to do it. It was a phenomenal effort, together with everything else that was going on. So, Max then repaid that in the best possible way, or delivering a great race and great result and podium finish. So, coming out of the weekend, there was a sense that all that hard work, it pays off in the end, like they clearly demonstrated. We were incredibly proud of the job that they did in Hungary.

Franz, your thoughts on the triple headers, and easing the stress in the team.
FT: I think first of all we have to be happy, and thankful that we have races, that we are on the race track, because a couple of months ago this was not the case. I don't see that the mechanics are being overloaded with the normal work. OK, if there is something special, that the car breaks down, this is another situation - but race mechanics, and especially mechanics in Formula 1, have to be used to this and to sort out this. And the triple-headers, if the races stay on one place for two race weekends, like now: Silverstone; Silverstone and then we'll see. Hopefully we'll go to Barcelona. I don't see a big problem because this is just one time when you change to another place. I don't see anybody who is tired. At AlphaTauri especially not.

Check out our Friday gallery from Silverstone, here.

(Julien Billotte - AutoHebdo) Question to Christian please. Looking back to last year, do you think having an inexperienced race engineer might have hurt Pierre Gasly's development and progress at Red Bull Racing?
CH: Pierre was a bit more experienced that Alex is. We had a car that was far more settled than where we currently are. So I don't think it would have had any material change on Pierre's performance last year.

(Jon McEvoy - Daily Mail) To everyone: Lewis starts as favourite to the race to a degree that we've probably never seen before over the years. Who can stop Lewis, can anyone who isn't driving a Merc stop Lewis and to everyone, what's Silverstone like to you without fans?
CH: Of course he's the favourite. He's driving at an extremely high level. Their car looks very complete, both chassis and engine-wise, they've made a good step over the winter. So he's won this race - I can't recall how many times but a significant amount of times - so of course he goes into this race weekend as the favourite. We'll do everything we can to give him a hard time and his team a hard time but this type of circuit, high speed and of course, some of the corners are now just extended straights because they're just flat, like Copse is flat, turn one is flat, so it has been a Mercedes stronghold over the past few years but hopefully we can make a bit of progress and put them under a bit of pressure, hopefully on Sunday afternoon. As far as what it's like coming into the circuit without the fans, it is really weird. British Grand Prix, since I was a kid, was always a massive thing, it was almost like a festival and turning up at the circuit today, with nobody here, is quite peculiar and it doesn't feel like a British Grand Prix in that respect, but as soon as the cars start running, you become engaged in what you're doing, you see the cars on track, that becomes secondary with your primary focus obviously being on those cars, so that side of things is not different to when the fans are here. It's just... the atmosphere obviously isn't here, that sense of a festival that the British Grand Prix is isn't here and we're having to talk to you in your toilet rather than in person!

Christian, do you expect Max, in particular, to be closer on Sunday afternoon than he was at any of the opening three races?
CH: It's so hard to predict. I think we've had a positive first session. I think all things that we know from the first couple of races is that Mercedes do have quite a significant advantage and we're working as hard as we can to reduce that but they only match their pace to the cars that are behind. I still think they have quite a lot in hand which is what you see when Bottas is chasing to catch Max over those last few laps. It's only then that you see their true pace whereas Lewis, for the last couple of races, has definitely been pacing himself so as not to stress his car unnecessarily.

FT: Of course Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton are the favourites. As you all know, this package is very strong but nevertheless, the race is on Sunday and I hope that Max can compete successfully against it because we need interesting races, we need fights. It would be a nightmare if Hamilton is just far aware in front of the rest of the field because this is not what people want to see. People want to see fights, people want to see overtaking. Regarding the fans, it's a shame that they are not here, especially the fans here in Silverstone, the fans here in England, they are so well educated in motor sport, they understand everything and it's always nice to see them in the grandstands, if there are good manoeuvres, how they accept this and it's beautiful weather as well, which is not always the case here. It's really a shame that they are not here but this is how it is.

GS: I'm sure Lewis doesn't have to fear us, you know, for the victory? For sure, he's the favourite, maybe Nico can pull something off in the pink Mercedes, you never know, but he's the favourite. The fans? We miss them everywhere but driving in here, it's quite a long drive in and you drive in the middle of the fans; as Christian said, it's a festival atmosphere normally. It's not just a motor race, there are people here who are just so engaged in the sport that for sure you miss them. We miss them everywhere but here maybe we feel it more because we are more in with the fans but hopefully the virus is under control soon and we can have the fans back because we don't just want them back here, we want them back everywhere in the world where we are racing because that's part of what we are doing and as Christian said, once you are sitting up there and the cars are going you forget about everything around you but again, in the evening, when you go out, what have you done today, there is nobody here, nobody must be interested. So it's a weird feeling but hopefully we will get back to a normal feeling.

Check out our Friday gallery from Silverstone, here.

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Published: 31/07/2020
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