Russian GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1


Today's press conference with Andreas Seidl, Cyril Abiteboul and Simon Roberts.

Press Conference

Q: Let's start with just a quick resume of FP1 if we could. Andreas, why don't we start with you please. How was it down at McLaren?
Andreas Seidl: I would say it was not the most straightforward session for us today. As you have seen, we have lost one car early with Carlos going into the barrier, which was upsetting our programme a bit and we couldn't go out any more because we had to change the rear crash structure for Free Practice Two. On Lando's side, with the red flags and the Virtual Safety Cars it was also not a straightforward session because we couldn't have the clean programme that we were wishing for with trying some new components again. But it's still early days and it's simply important now to reset again and then see how we can progress in Free Practice Two.

Cyril Abiteboul: Fairly straightforward session for us, for a Friday morning. Lots of... a bit of test going on in the background to try to understand a bit better what everyone is seeing from the outside, which is also to a certain degree puzzling us from the inside, which is the discrepancies we seem to have in certain conditions. So we've conducted some aero tests to try to get on the bottom of these questions. The pace seems to be OK but the drivers are both complaining that a balance is difficult to find. Even though it's looking a bit good on the timesheets we know that there was lots of yellow flags and red flag, so we are treating those positions very carefully.

Simon Roberts: Yes, so unfortunately a disrupted session for us as well. On George's side we went through the programme. Everything was to plan, we were basically just trying to get the right set-up, starting the set-up work for tomorrow. No major dramas. As the guys have said there was a few red flags, yellow flags. George missed one turn but nothing major, so yeah, that all went as expected. Unfortunately for Nicholas, went off on Turn 10, one of those classic 'punishment doesn't fit the crime', he had a little bit of understeer going in, just lost the back end and collected the wall. Car's back in the garage, there's quite a bit of damage, we're assessing that now. Obviously we lost the rear wing and the bodywork down the side but we're already into that. So, hopefully the guys will turn it around and see where we get to in FP2.

Q: Andreas, coming back to you, you've said already it was a disrupted session for McLaren but how do you rate your team's chances here? Both cars were in the points last year - is this an opportunity to put pressure on Red Bull and bag some big points?
AS: Well, I don't think that Red Bull is the team we are targeting this year. As I said, we had a good race here last year, we were quite competitive but I'm very careful at the moment predicting how the weekends go because we also thought in Mugello it's a track that suits us. It's particularly important to focus on ourselves again. It's important to simply get through the testing programme on Friday, making sure that the upgrades we are bringing are working and hopefully we can carry them forward into the race weekend. We know that competition is strong; everyone is bringing upgrades and still improving their cars. Renault made big steps forward in the last couple of races. Racing Point brought an upgrade to Mugello that looked really, really strong, also Ferrari is a team we never underestimate. So, we have two good drivers, a good team and it's going to be important to maximise the opportunities going forward - and that's what we will try again, also this weekend.

Q: Cyril, can we talk about Fernando Alonso. He was in the factory recently. How did you find him? What feedback did he give you on the simulator?
CA: Not sure I want to comment on the simulator specifically because it's not necessarily the main strength of the team and we are working hard to improve in that area. That's typically an area where there has been a lack of investment in the last few years - but on a broader perspective first we saw a Fernando that's happy to be back not yet in action but back in the team environment, in particular a team that he knows and where he obviously has good souvenirs - but souvenirs are not a reflection of what's going to happen so we need also to be forward looking. I think, being on the Viry side - because I can't travel in the UK myself - I was not in the UK but I can tell you that he was really impressed by all the changes in Viry, all the new people, the energy, the drive, the determination in Viry that there is in developing a new PU for what is now 2022. It was supposed to be '21 but it's shifting back a year. Obviously I'm biased when I say that but it's something that is extremely important to us, so see Fernando and to see his pride and the excitement in his eyes. He's also been a witness to all the changes in Enstone - but a nice building is not again a statement of what's coming. So, we just need to work very hard to make sure he has a car that he wants and also that he deserves.

Q: When are we going to see him testing a car?
CA: One thing that I can say is that he's definitely keen on getting back behind the steering wheel, so we'll see that. We are building the programme. There is a couple of opportunities within, obviously, the restriction of the sporting regulation. Things like filming days that we've not done so far, there is a post-season test that I have already commented on - we'll see where we get there. We also have a two-years old car programme that we can run pretty much anywhere and he will probably do a bit of that also. So, you'll see him in action. I can't say here where and when exactly yet.

Q: Simon, you've been in the job as acting team principal for a few weeks now. How are you finding things?
SR: It's pretty busy, pretty hectic obviously. It's a big step up, I'm very proud and honoured to be asked to do it but there's a lot to do in the factory. We're trying to make sure we keep the management team stable with the new owners, so that's really important for them and the rest of the team. So, me stepping up makes us able to do that. We're now working with the new owners pretty much every day, looking at what we need to do to improve. What the long-term programme is and how do we find some performance for the whole team over a long period of time. There's no quick fix here. We're in it for the long haul and so are Dorilton.

Q: What are their immediate goals? What have they said to you?
SR: They're just trying to right now understand everything they can about the business. They're super-smart and really nice and easy people to work with, so it's great having them around. They just come and get involved in everything they can. They obviously were in Mugello, which was great for them and we're just in that budget setting, looking at investment plans, trying to figure out effectively what's the first thing to do. We don't want to make mistakes but everything we do is focussed on improving our performance in the long term.

Video Conference

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Cyril, in August, Pat Fry wrote an email to the FIA requesting clarity on the status of listed components, the definitions on intellectual property etcetera. Have you have replies and are these satisfactory?
CA: As you know Dieter, up until a certain point these communications with the FIA are confidential matters but we expect that at some point they will become public material because we believe that they are very important for any team to make sure they comply with the stance of the FIA on these things after obviously the precedent of this year and the controversy of this year. We have had a response from Nikolas. He is in the process of turning that into something more formal that can then become public.

Q: (Christian Nimmervoll - Cyril, you recently announced the rebranding of the team and the restructuring of the programme. As I understand, you also took over responsibility for promoting the Alpine brand in the process. The question is: are you going to remain team principal - or is your role going to change in any way with people in Enstone like Marcin Budkowski taking over more responsibility?
CA: The exact situation is that I have been asked by the CEO Luca de Meo to take as an extra mission the structuring of Alpine as a car company, as a brand but not just a brand inside of things but what's the product strategy, what's the business model within the context of Renault Group changing massively of organisation, and also strategy, given the overall situation. It's a mission which I started, which I will have in hand in a couple of weeks and part of the deliverable of that mission will see obviously some proposals in terms of structure that I absolutely do not want to comment on here and now. What I can tell you is that I remain in the context of that mission until the end this year fully committed in my role as team principal.

Check out our Friday gallery from Sochi, here.

Q: (Edd Straw - The Race) Question for Simon. Obviously you referred to finding long-term performance and particularly with the limitations on next year anyway, it's logical that 2022 is the next big step - so how much do you feel the team is capable of taking a step forward in 2022 and how much thought and decision making has there been on perhaps some of the bigger investments - facilities etcetera - that are needed in the long term beyond that to get the team to the level you want it to be at?
SR: We're looking at all of it Edd. What we don't want to do is give up on 2021. I think it's really important to keep the team alive and active and competing - so we're trying to create a short-term plan and, if we could, repeat the step that the team made this year, going from 2019 into 2020. If we can do something like that, then it puts us in a good position for next year. What we don't want to do obviously is sacrifice efforts towards 2022 because there's new rules, the new financial regulations will start to bite, so we don't' want to lose that opportunity. So, I don't want to go into any specifics but we're basically looking at all of it and prioritising across a long time frame.

Q: (Christian Menath - Simon, from the feedback you get from the new owners at Williams. I think your current title is acting team principal. Do you think you have a future with the team as team principal as well?
SR: It's something we haven't really focussed on, to be honest. The whole sale process happened much faster than any of us expected and then Claire made her decision, which was a shock to all of us. So, the most important thing was to retain continuity. So I'm really, really pleased to be asked to step-up, I really enjoy it and hopefully I can continue to do it for longer - but we haven't even discussed it. It's not the top of my list, and it's not the top of theirs. There's plenty of work to be done and we're all focussed on that and focussed on moving the team forwards.

Q: (Adam Cooper - Question for Cyril. Stefano Domenicali looks set to be the CEO of F1 next year. What are your thoughts on that appointment and are you pleased so see someone with so much experience in so many different areas coming into that role?
CA: It's difficult to comment on something that it only a speculation for the time being. If it were to happen, Stefano obviously has plenty to offer in such a position. He's got - I'm stating the obvious - a very good knowledge of the sport itself. He's got a good knowledge of how the sport can support a manufacturer. Lamborghini obviously not being in Formula 1 but he also knows probably why they are not in Formula 1. So, I guess he has a different, interesting perspective to offer in relation to that. What we need, I guess, is a very strong management as always. Without being too pessimistic about the direction that things are taking, there is a number of topics on the agenda of anyone coming into this position - whether it's Chase continuing in this position or someone new - because there are lots of topics, so we need someone very strong and someone committed, who knows the sport but also with a strong group of people around him and I hope that Chase stays also around because I think he has plenty to offer also in addition to a possible Stefano Domenicali - but again, it's only speculation.

Andreas, can we get your thoughts please on this?
AS: As I have said today in the morning already to some of you guys, I think, first of all it's important was Cyril says. Chase has been and is still the CEO of Formula 1 and I think it's important to mention he has done a great job and is still doing a great job in order to plan the future, together with us, of Formula 1, which is looking great from our point of view with all the changes that are coming but if Chase would decide to step down, or decides he's had enough of all of us, I think Stefano would be a great choice. For various reasons. First of all, purely down to all the different experiences he has made already in his working life. I think he has everything you need to have to run Formula 1. And then my personal experience also with Stefano, during my time at Porsche is simply that he's a great personality, a great character and I benefitted a lot also, working on special projects with him, from his experiences so we would definitely welcome Stefano taking over this position.

Simon, your thoughts?
SR: I haven't really got anything to add from what the guys said. It is speculation. I remember him from the RRA times and he's a great guy, great character - but until something's announced then we'll work with the current management.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Andreas, I know you spoke about this, this morning, so this question is for Cyril and Simon, about reverse grids and the possibility of it being used as a sprint race format in lieu of qualifying next year. We know that sort of some teams are starting to change position and think a little bit more about it as F1 is revisiting the plan, I just wanted to know from Cyril and Simon from what your view is on it and where your teams currently stand?
CA: I still believe that reverse grid is a great opportunity for mixing things up and offering a show but I still believe it's an artefact and we should have the ambition of offering exciting races without that artefact. We've had, again, fantastic races this year, we've had fantastic races also last year with lots of things happening without reverse grid. We just need the field to be more competitive. I think that should be the focal point. If you have 20 cars within half a second, or a second, that will offer you a great show in my opinion - providing you have the opportunity to overtake. We don't' want to turn Formula 1 into DTM. So, I think that we are near enough 2022 not to have to use that artefact at this point in time.

Q: Simon, if there were to be reverse grids?
SR: We've only just started looking at again. We had a look just over a year ago. Didn't do much work on it from that. We're just starting to model it now. It introduces some jeopardy but there are two side to that. As Cyril said, the pace of the cars currently, we're not really sure how much difference it really makes on the feature races. It's early days. Things have already shifted, as Cyril said. The pace of the cars is different. We don't have the normal three at the top. We kind of reserve judgement and still want to study it in detail before we make any decisions on that.

Q: (Edd Straw - The Race) Simon, will Williams run at the maximum allowed under the cost cap in 2021?
SR: It's a good question, Edd. We probably won't. We are so far into.... Sorry, in 2021? Yeah, our budget is based on getting towards the cost cap. This year it's too late. We've only four months to go and we're pretty much set on where we are headed but for next year we are looking at what we can do and we now have the finances behind us to do that. But it's not a given. We will only spend money and invest where it makes sense.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC) This is for all three. As you alluded to just now, there are new regulations coming in for 2022, which are intended to close up the field, and yet they are still pursuing this idea of trialling reverse grids. Is there a lack of confidence within the sport that the 2022 regulations are going to do what they're intended to do?
AS: Well, I can only speak for ourselves, for McLaren. I don't see that there is any lack of confidence. We strongly believe that everything that comes into place from '22 onwards, the financial regulations with the budget cap, the technical regulations and the sporting regulations, will definitely improve the competition and in the end improve also the sport - the spectacle for the fans, which is great. Of course, we also need to be realistic as well, it will also take time until all this stuff is coming into place and until the budget cap is also, let's say, washing out and having its full effect. But in the end then it's simply down to us to make sure that we work hard and close this gap to the cars in front of us, but I'm very optimistic about the future.

CA: It's really difficult, because, as you know, we have no real ability to develop the car at this point in time and we were probably a little bit late also. But anyway, we know the effect on the aerodynamic of our car, but again, we have no ability really to run in a tunnel or into CFD the effect of following another car, which is really the crucial point of the technical regulation, the aerodynamic regulations, which is probably the biggest change that Formula 1 has ever experienced. And when you have a change like this one there is always the possibility that someone finds a magic bullet, or someone finds a huge loophole or a small loophole with a big effect which could again stretch the field, at least for an initial period of time. I don't think anyone has the ability to really give you a correct answer at this point in time.

SR: I agree. I think it's too early to tell. We're just focused on what we can do. It's a huge step from where we are and as Cyril said we can't work on the cars at all, for 2022, yet. We're locked out of the tunnel and CFD and basically the intent is good, but how the intent plays out only time will tell. We can't see any reason why it shouldn't be as expected, subject to any loopholes or quirks. I think there has been a lot of work done and the guys that have created the regulations have been exploring that possibility of loopholes, so our expectation is that it should be a leveller playing field than we are used to today.

Check out our Friday gallery from Sochi, here.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Another question for Cyril. Cyril, first of all, could you clarify that the 200 million anti-dilution fund will impact on your plans to possibly find a second team, possibly almost with a Haas-like relationship. Secondly, the other question is: will your team need be in a position where it needs to trigger that soft landing, US$6-million concession in the budget cap next year?
CA: So, on the first question, on the anti-dilution payment, yes, on the broader sense that's something that I believe is important for the sport. You are making reference to a mechanism that's been introduced in Concorde that is basically putting a minimum value on any entry, I guess it's a collateral effect and clearly it's going to make access to Formula 1 a bit more difficult fort any team above 10, which I think is right. It's like the Premier League of motor sport, it's like the NBA. There needs to be this type of franchise system and with budget cap and that mechanism we are getting there. I have been involved in actually three financial transactions involving Formula 1 teams and every single time, it's no secret, that the value of the team was the value of the debt, and it's not normal when you are talking abut a sport that is amongst the top three sports properties in the world. So clearly that is an important ingredient but I accept that it is probably going to limit our ability to find a partner team, but frankly we are not actively searching. We think it's a good add now that we have a long-term plan and a long-term commitment into the sport, we are open to opportunity but it's not like we are actively searching for opportunities simply because we have been involved in many customer arrangements and it's still not that clear cut that it's bringing you something that you really need in order to meet your sporting targets. On the second question on the six million, it's even more technical. What I can easily say is that we are not going to have any need of this six million on the simple basis that we operate below the budget cap. We have no people in excess. We will not have, therefore, any redundancy to plan to hit the 2021 limit.

Q: (Christian Nimmervoll - Simon, what's the reason why the new owners of the team have kept such a low profile in the public and haven't shown up in public yet?
SR: So, Matthew Savage was in Mugello, he joined the team. He brought one of his other board members and one of his senior chief of staff. So, they were there. They weren't doing interviews but that was their first foray into Formula 1 and I expect we will see them in the future. They are not hiding, so who knows.

Check out our Friday gallery from Sochi, here.

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Published: 25/09/2020
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