Italian GP: Friday Press Conference: Part 2


Today's press conference with Toto Wolff, Claire Williams and Cyril Abiteboul.

Q: Claire, if we could start with you. It was a big announcement from you yesterday. The Formula 1 paddock agrees that it won't be the same without your or your family in it. How much will you miss Formula 1?
Claire Williams: Firstly, I would like to say an enormous thank you for all the support that we have received since making the announcement and I think we felt quite overwhelmed by it. Williams has obviously contributed a huge amount to Formula 1. Certainly I think the legacy that Frank and Patrick have left behind is nothing short of extraordinary, what they have achieved. Not just the support we have received in the paddock, which we're enormously grateful for, but also the support we have received from our fans. We have some of the best fans out there and yesterday they were contacting us in their thousands and it was lovely to see and we thank them enormously for all of their support.

Q: How much will you miss Formula 1?
CW: I think you can probably imaging how much I will miss Formula 1 and how much the family will miss Formula 1. We have been in this sport for more than four decades and we have given it our all. I think we have all felt enormously privileged for the fact that we have had the time we have had in this sport, that we haver even been in this sport. I know certainly from my perspective, I've always felt incredibly lucky that I was born into the Williams family, that I have grown up in this magical world that we all get to live in and work in every day; that I got to grow up around Williams and the incredible people that we have had there past and present. I will miss the people the most. It's quite emotional for us. This has been our life for so many years. It's what has defined us and it is who we are. But this is the start of a new chapter, not just for Williams but for our family as well.

Q: Thank you Claire. Toto, if I could come to you next please. You've had many dealings with Frank and Claire over the years and could we just get your reaction the news that the family is leaving Formula 1?
Toto Wolff: The family have been the founders of this team and I will always hold the team high up. It was the start of my own journey in Formula 1. I remember the first sentence that Frank Williams told me when I went there in 2009 and that was "somebody told me that you can help repay my mortgage". This is how he is and he is super straightforward and I ended up with a shareholding in the team. I met Claire and without it meaning it in any way patronising, I thought it was very important that Claire was on the board and I'm impressed on how she grew there and what she has achieved, together with her father. I will never forget our last win in 2012 with Pastor, which was an incredible moment, also because your mum was there, and probably one of my best moments in Formula 1.

Q: Cyril, Renault has a lot of heritage in the sport, much of it intertwined with Williams, so please can we get your thoughts on this?
Cyril Abiteboul: Obviously it's an emotional moment, because as you say, the legacy that the team is carrying today under the Renault name has had its greatest moment, also as an engine supplier, particularly as an engine supplier of Williams. They were instrumental to building Renault's reputation in the world - in the world of Formula 1 but also in the automotive world as a large OEM - so it's been great sporting moments but also great business moments. We have for instance the Clio Williams, that is still a very fancy car the people love. It has clearly been a milestone of the sport but also on the road. Myself, I fell personally in love with Formula 1 during this period. Myself, one of my best memories is when I announced in Viry that we had done an engine deal again with Williams. That win of Pastor was actually not with a Mercedes engine but with a Renault engine. That was an amazing moment also for us. It's good that the name I understand it staying but also a bit sad when the people that are carrying the name are leaving. But it's good that the name stays and that there is a way forward for the Williams name and also the factory and the group of people.

Video Conference

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Toto, you said on the 9th of August you said: "obviously, our reputation is very important. If someone thinks we have done something wrong they should protest and we are happy to go to court." Since then variously people, team principals past and present etc have made potentially defamatory remarks about the team's involvement or possible involvement with Racing Point, some saying that you supplied data, wind tunnel models, full-sized cars. Have you taken any action or not?
TW: Of course when there are defamatory comments being put online or that are being taken on air we have reacted appropriately. I get really upset when unfounded rumours find their way into the press, especially when we are, I think, a very straightforward, very compliant organisation because obviously we represent one of the most iconic car brands in the world. But, you know, things are often being put out of context in the press, they are being tweaked, people are making up rumours, the sources are unreliable sometimes, but as long as it doesn't damage the reputation of Mercedes then you have to take it with a pinch of salt.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) A question for Cyril: the Renault Group have announced that you will be heading up the Alpine brand moving forward. Can you explain what's going on there? Are we going to see a closer alliance between the Renault F1 operation and Alpine, even a renaming of the Renault F1 squad and just what the situation is?
CA: Thank you for the question. Obviously I need to be a bit more specific. What Renault has announced is really two things. First, as you know, we have a new CEO Luca De Meo come in with clearly a great vision for the group but in particular to move from value driven to a value driven organisation (sic), positioning clearly four brands at the heart of the system. One thing that he has announced is that he has big expectations indeed for Alpine and what he has asked me to do as a mission, on top of what I am currently doing, running the team, is to provide a couple of suggestions in order to build an organisation around that brand. Right now that brand is one car, one model - A110 - but we want do more and that needs an organisation: and engineering department, a product department, a sales and marketing and communication department. So that's what I'd like to do. That's what I've done for the team: building an infrastructure and a platform. That's what I will be doing on the top. But that has absolutely no implication on the marketing strategy. It will be up to him to decide what way he wants to market the different brands. I'm just running the team.

Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) Just to follow up on that. Given the Alpine brand's history would it not make sense for it to be absorbed as the sporting part of Renault as a company? And depending on the direction you want to go, is it effectively a decision on whether or not Renault Sport continues as a brand or Alpine takes over?
CA: I'm afraid I need to say these questions are not for me, these questions are corporate strategy questions for the CEO, so I can only say that as soon as you have access to him you can ask him. My two cents is that with the new Concorde Agreement we have finally the possibility to have a stable platform in Formula 1, a great marketing platform. Again, the way we want to make use of that platform will be up for the CEO. We have a flexible platform; we have different brands. Probably rationalisation will be one of the things we need to do given the group financial result. We need to optimise the way we do things. But first there is a strategy to define and it's not up to me to disclose.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Claire, you have been the only female team boss, or the only woman to run a team recently and you have given opportunities to female drivers such as Susie Wolff and Jamie Chadwick. I'm sorry to see you go and I just wondered if you feel that your departure is a setback for the aim of maybe one day getting a woman back into Formula 1 as a driver and also within the sport a role model. You are an important role model for many women.
CW: Thank you Alan, I appreciate that. We've done a huge amount of work at Williams in order to promote greater diversity across the board, with a particular focus on gender diversity. I feel that that work has been enormously successful but it will continue, whether I'm there or not. The teams we have in place at Williams now running those programmes are incredibly passionate about it and I know that they will continue that work. But I do think Formula 1 has changed over the last handful of years. I think that the world has changed and in response to that Formula 1 has become much more diverse. We see many more women working in our sport and I know that will continue. I know that my fellow team principals are now thinking about more women across the board and it's something that is on everybody's agenda. But I've always believed that this sport should be based on a meritocracy and I think only the best people work in this sport and that should continue to be the case. We do need more women coming in. As I've said, we have seen more women coming into Formula 1 over the past few years and I hope that work will continue and I absolutely believe that it will.

Check out our Friday gallery from Monza, here.

Q: (Erik van Haren - De Telegraaf, via email) Cyril, do you now believe that Renault now has the strongest engine after Mercedes and how satisfying is that?
CA: The strongest after Mercedes? No, I would be satisfied if we had the strongest engine full stop. There are only four! So P2 out of four is not a sufficient achievement! No, but more seriously, I think it is very difficult to know where things are standing. There is such a variation from one track to the next, where you operate, and also through the life of the engine. These things are monsters of technology and the more we push, the more we see new opportunities and that's very exciting to see. At the same time it is insane. The cost of the technology is absolutely insane. Frankly, right now, my biggest concern is given the expectation that we set after Spa to see what we can achieve in Monza, in particular with the qualifying modes that will go away and I'm very concerned that it could have the opposite effect of what people are expecting.

Q: Do you think this is your best opportunity for a podium this season?
CA: No. No, I think Spa was probably one of our best tracks from a characteristic perspective. Monza should be OK-ish. I'm not particularly excited by what I have seen this morning. So again, let's remain extremely focused and continue the work and more importantly let's try to have a car that is a bit more consistent across the different tracks. It's only through that condition that we will be able to progress into the championship.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC) Cyril, as a partner former of Red Bull, I wonder if you had any insight as to why they seem to be stuck in this pattern of starting seasons slowly and having to catch up to Mercedes afterwards?
CA: How harsh do you want me to be in that answer? No, I think Red Bull is a fantastic team, with one mindset and we have failed to do that altogether, just looks like they are not able to do much better with Honda but it just shows that the level of complexity and perfection that is required in Formula 1 in order to have to win and in particular to beat Mercedes.

Q: Toto, can we put this to you please, just your assessment of Red Bull this season, who look like being your closest rivals?
TW: Red Bull has all the resource, human resource and financial resource to compete at the very front. I think that they had those great years with Renault, starting in 2010 with four consecutive championships - we are having a run at the moment. As Cyril said, it's about putting all things together, every parameter is needed in order to get there and that is not only the engine and chassis relationship that needs to be strong but it's also about putting all components, all these marginal gains together in order to perform. But I very much think this can be a cyclical sport or at least in the past, it has been a cyclical sport and it's something that we are very well aware of so we are trying to not rest on any laurels but just focus on what lies ahead of us.

Q: (Jon McEvoy - Daily Mail) Toto, Lewis said last week that he would be bored watching the ease with which he wins. Do you think Formula 1 should: a) worry about that and b) does it in a bizarre way undermine all that Lewis is doing in that it seems to the outside world that it seen that he's in a Mercedes that is so dominant?
TW: Of course you need to define what Formula 1 stands for and in my opinion it's very much the majority of the DNA is the sport and sport works on meritocracy but the sport has also to deliver entertainment and in that respect, obviously, if Usain Bolt wins every single race and Bayern Munich wins every single championship, it can come to a point that the result becomes very predictable and less variable and this is something that the fans cheer for. It's always the underdog, who is always the point of interest; everybody wants to see the underdog perform and we are very well aware of that dynamic and therefore we are coming up and we will come up with suggestions that must not necessarily impact our own performance. These things are done anyway, but all the other teams and the FIA and Liberty, in order to slow us down a little bit, but in things where we can use the current resource to make it more exciting. One of the ideas that I voiced last week was to open up the intercom channels between the pit wall and the garage, which would show how much drama is actually behind winning a race. When you see Spa and people think that it's a walk in the park, actually it wasn't at all. We had reliability issues, we were not sure whether we could make it on a one stop like many other teams and if that would be transmitted to the broadcasters, that would create more excitement.

Q: Claire, can I put this to you? Williams has dominated Formula 1 in the past. Do you think one team dominance is boring?
CW: Well, not if it's Williams, no, clearly. If it's another team, then yeah, it's super boring. But no, to be honest I didn't see those comments that Lewis said but I think Lewis is probably being incredibly gracious in his commentary. I think that... I've always been a massive fan of his; he is an extraordinary racing driver. I wish that we could have had him in a Williams at some point but that wasn't to be. But I've always believed that this sport is about the best rising to the top, that's what all sport is about and really I don't think we should be complaining that Mercedes has been so dominant. They've done an extraordinary job and I'm incredibly jealous of the job that they've done. I wish that I could have done the same thing. It's up to the rest of us to do a better job and to fight harder to then go and fight against Mercedes and to give them a challenge over the course of a weekend. But I also agree with Toto that I think there may be some more that we can do to expose what is going on behind the scenes over the course of a Grand Prix, to see the fight that these people - whether they be on the pit wall, whether they be in the cockpit - are having to put in order to take their victories on a Sunday afternoon, because it's not as easy as just driving round and round and putting your foot down and taking the first place on a Sunday afternoon. There's a huge amount that goes into it that a lot of the fans don't get to see.

Q: Cyril, anything you'd like to add?
CA: I was... without willing to... we open a controversy, I don't mind, again, huge respect for what Mercedes has done, playing entirely by the book but what I think sometimes we are harming ourselves when you know, you're just basically able to inspire yourself for your previous car and you're suddenly faster than everyone else and obviously I'm making a point to what Racing Point has done and I'm not talking about... I'm not questioning the legality, that's not my point, but I think Formula 1 is not necessarily doing itself any good when it does that. When Nico Hulkenberg, who I love, is coming from Majorca and jumping into the car and doing the second row in Silverstone without any preparation, we are not doing ourselves any good. The driver needs to be at the centre of it, of the thing, but we can't only be talking about it, we need to act and we need to have a set of regulations that really makes it happen and demonstrates it.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Claire, first allow me to express my personal regret that it has come to this. In 1977, 90% were independents. At the moment, as of last week, you were the last independent left standing in Formula 1. Has Formula 1 evolved in such a way that a man and a technical director could take their life savings and get into Formula 1? Are those days over, do you believe?
CW: I think, in reality, they probably are and I think that's clearly a great shame because I think that the very foundation is that this sport has been built on those kind of individuals but the world changes and the world has changed dramatically over the past... even handful of years that we've been racing in Formula 1. I would like to make the point that I think that we have received an awful lot of criticism for some of the decisions that we've taken at Williams over the past handful of years but until you actually see what goes on behind the scenes of a Formula 1, particularly operating in the environment in which we find ourselves operating in at the moment in this sport, that has become ever harsher, predominantly courtesy of the last Concorde Agreement, I think our team has done an extraordinary job... all the people who have worked behind the scenes in order to just keep our team alive and to keep the fight as an independent team and I'm very proud of that work and it's never something that I will regret having made decisions to ensure that we have retained that independence over the last few years. But I do think that Formula 1 has changed and I think it would be enormously hard for anyone of Frank's ilk back from the '70s to start with nothing. It would just be absolutely impossible. Another reason why I'm so pleased that the Concorde Agreement has been finalised because it is going to help create a much more level placing field and make it easier on teams like ours to be able to be successful in the future but also be sustainable in the future as well.

Check out our Friday gallery from Monza, here.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Cyril, you're now going to be heading up one of basically four divisions at Renault. Is there any question of your role changing in Formula 1: maybe delegate more, maybe somebody else takes over the team or... because it does seem like you're going to be spread quite thinly?
CA: That's OK. I can work a lot. No, right now, what I've been asked to do is a mission with a set of proposals in order to structure our brand. I've not been asked to run the brand so it's not in any way a permanent appointment whatsoever so that's what I will be focusing some of the spare that I have, given what I'm doing for Formula 1 and there is no question of change of team leadership for the time being, for the time that I do this mission, obviously.

Q: (Chris Medland - Racer) Claire, the press release yesterday said that Dorilton encouraged you to continue as a family within the team and we've now seen the make-up of the board of directors. Has there been or will there be any handover where you get to outline your views and recommendations for the team's future or do you feel that the new ownership have their own plans that are pre-set?
CW: There were a lot of rumours swirling around in Spa about my tenure within the team and Dorilton, I would like to make it clear, wanted me to stay. This was my decision. I felt that it was the right choice for me to step away. I've forgotten the rest of the question! Yes, there will be a period of transition. Sorry Chris. I'm going to be working... this is obviously going to be my last race weekend but I am going to be working a few days a week over the course of the next few weeks in order to hand over in order to talk to Dorilton about the team, the inner workings of the team and the expertise that they need to come in. Obviously they're in the business already, they're doing their due diligence, they're reviewing the capabilities and they are looking at what they can do in order to invest into the business and I will be helping them with that to advise them over the coming weeks.

Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) For Toto and Cyril on behalf of the engine companies in Formula 1. We have the new TD here this weekend outlining how engine modes need to work over race weekends going forward. Do you think that there is enough clarity now over what is and isn't allowed within the complex nature of these engines? Do you think there is any suggestion of wrong-doing and do you welcome the FIA requesting information from the engine manufacturers about the ERS designs of their respective packages?
TW: I think obviously we got a little bit frustrated with this decision because we have optimised our engine very much to perform near to the limits in qualifying. That was one of the targets we set ourselves, especially for this year, and when this is taken away, it is obviously frustrating. But on the other side I understand the dynamics in this sport, not the first time that teams that run away with a championship were penalised or were trying to be slowed down by the other teams, by the FIA and by the commercial rights holder and so I very much understand that dynamic. The second point is that we as a team, we took it the right way in a sportsmanship and I remember Howell who runs the engine group now, to say OK, if that's it, then we will be running qualifying mode all through the race next year and it's maybe sometimes you need this extra motivation to push yourself over the limits and like Cyril said, there may be an advantage of this TD for us, we will see how much we lose in relative performance to the other teams but we are certainly sure that we will gain a lot of race time on Sundays, because we can simply run the engine much harder. The damage matrix of not running qualifying modes in qualifying allows us to stretch the limit much more in the race and that brings a lot of race time so let's see what it is, I don't want to set expectations too high but on Sunday we will have a clearer picture.

CA: No, just on the question, if we think that it's clear enough. Not going back on the substance, or on the merit. There has been with the engine, very limited amount of time to try and police something that is highly complex. I still feel that the FIA will probably have to act as a bit of a referee in certain occasions because we are trying to regulate something that is so complex with defaults modes, with sensors that can fail, therefore the engine that needs to react and that could be perceived as a change of mode so it's going to actually be quite difficult to police and what's interesting is that there is with that plus also with other discussions that are going on with other topics, that the job that FIA starting to move on from being making sure that the only complies with what is written in the regulations so again, becoming a referee and having to look at the actual circumstance in a more subjective way so it would be interesting to see if we are all prepared to live with the consequence of that.

Q: Claire, this is the last time we're going to see you in an FIA press conference so I would like to leave the last word to you. Perhaps there's a message to the fans and friends of the Williams family around the world.
CW: You've put me on the spot a bit, Tom. Thank you for the opportunity. As I said earlier, we have had an extraordinary time in this sport. We have loved every minute of it. We've obviously had some amazing highs. We've equally had an awful lot of lows. I feel a bit that our family has given a huge amount to this sport. I think Frank... what he has achieved I will forever be in awe of and I know that there are probably many fans around the world as well. I hope that those fans continue to support our team like they've done over the four decades that we've been in Formula 1. We thank them enormously but we equally thank everybody that we've met along the way that have been so supportive of us. We thank everybody in the paddock that we've had such a wonderful time getting to know and working alongside. There are so many people I could thank but the list would be endless and we'd be here all afternoon and we've got practice to get to but I most of all wish our team well. This is obviously incredibly emotional. It's a very sad weekend for us but as I said, it feels the right time so leave but we will always wish our team well. We wish the new owners well and we will always follow this sport, this sport that has given us so much, a sport that we have been in for the pure love of it and for no other reason and we wish everybody in this sport great success in the future and we will all be watching.

Check out our Friday gallery from Monza, here.

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Published: 04/09/2020
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