Portuguese GP: Friday Press Conference - Pt 1


Today's press conference with Franz Tost, Zak Brown and Otmar Szafnauer.

Welcome gentleman, good to see you all. Can we start this session please with your first impressions of the Algarve International Circuit. What are the engineers saying, what are the drivers saying. Franz, perhaps we could start with you.
Franz Tost: It's a very impressive race track. The drivers like it. It's a demanding track, it's not so easy and we are still analysing everything to find hopefully a good set-up. It's, I think, an enrichment for Formula 1 to be here because it's really a very nice venue and I like it.

Zak Brown: I think it's exciting to come to new venues. I think that's been an exciting part of the season this year, with some new circuits. I think the drivers enjoy the challenge of the circuit, the elevation changes. I think it will be difficult to pass around here. The early comments as you would expect was not a lot of rubber down so quite slippery but it will be exciting. I've been here before, about a decade ago, so I think it was intended to have Formula 1 races here before all the testing restrictions were put in place. So, I think we'll put on a good show for the fans.

Otmar Szafnauer: Yeah, no different to what Zak and Franz said. There's good elevation change here and some blind corners too and some off-camber stuff. The drivers are now getting used to the track and trying to hone-in the car and get a better set-up than what we started with.

Staying with you Otmar, great to have Lance back with the team this weekend. Tell us, how is he today and how has his recuperation affected the team's preparations for this race?
OS: Yeah, he's feeling fine, he's one hundred per cent, physically and in himself. He tested positive on Sunday, so that was Sunday of the German Grand Prix which meant that his ten-day isolation ended in time to come here and do the track walk and have normal preparation, so it hasn't had an impact apart from quarantining for ten days.

Zak, the driver's silly season has ramped up this weekend with the news that both Haas drivers are on the market. Would you consider someone like Kevin Magnussen, who's a former McLaren driver in the team's IndyCar squad?
ZB: I thought you were going to ask about Formula 1 and I was going to say we have our drivers. Yeah, I think Kevin is a very fast driver, very aggressive, which I think fits IndyCar driving styles, so we do have our driver line-up sorted. One of those drivers announced, Pato, one yet to be announced, so I don't think there is a window of opportunity for Kevin in our IndyCar team. Had there been, he would definitely have been considered.

Franz, quick question about the Constructors' Championship. Your team is only 13 points behind Ferrari now and you've out-scored them at the last three races. How do you rate your chances of beating them to sixth place?
FT: It will not become an easy target but we will do everything to score as many points as possible - hopefully more than Ferrari to catch up and hopefully to be in front of them at the end of the season. But, as I said before, it will become a very big challenge because they brought new upgrades also now to Portimao. They look quite fast in FP1, especially Leclerc and the rest, we will see. We'll be pushing.

Video Conference

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Question for Zak and for Franz please. There have been recent outbreaks of COVID among teams. I think Mercedes and Renault, we've obviously had the high profile ones at Racing Point. Are you two team principals, who, as far as I know, haven't really been affected recently, apart from you, Zak, in Australia, are you quite comfortable with the protocols and the processes and procedures that are in place?
ZB: Yes. Is the short answer. If I look back I think we were the first team to get COVID within the team in Australia. This disease is extremely contagious and extremely dangerous. I think the FIA and Formula 1 have done a very good job in putting on these grands prix. If you look at some other sports I think they've had bigger issues. I think it requires a lot of trust, transparency, communication and responsibility from all the teams to make sure we have not only safety within our own teams but within the whole racing community. For McLaren, we put our people first and foremost. We won't take any risks; we won't gamble; we recognise how dangerous this is and we want to make sure everyone stays healthy and we can continue to put on grands prix. So, I think the sport's done a good job. There has been more cases, obviously Racing Point, as you mentioned, being the most visible recently, and we do a tremendous amount of testing. We take full precaution and will do an immense amount of testing and I think we all just need to look after each other's back. If I look at the Racing Point incident - incidents - I would probably test anyone that isn't feeling well, daily. When in Australia, we had someone that didn't feel well. Andreas and I aren't doctors but we took the very quick decision to isolate and then once the test came back positive, isolate the team and ultimately we knew that would shut us down for the race. So, I know the doctor didn't think a test was positive. Maybe in hindsight that should be different. I don't know who the doctor was. Don't know if it was Dr Mallya, Dr Seuss... maybe it was Dr Dre. Maybe next time around we should be testing any sorts of symptoms because we know how dangerous this is.

FT: FIA and FOM are really doing a very good job because this COVID-19 story is really a difficult one. I think that Formula 1 showed that with a really good organisation and control you can do all the races and the sporting events. Because Formula 1 started more or less with everything in June and we, from the AlphaTauri side do everything to prevent that people get this COVID-19 virus. We once more worked all of our guidelines and we retested people, also in their private life, to protect themselves, to wear the mask, to not come together with too many people and everyday in the morning, when our employees come to the factory, they are being tested with the temperature and as soon as anything is not clear, we send them immediately to our doctor - but so far I think we have everything under control and I hope this will stay so until the end of the season.

(Jonathan McEvoy - Daily Mail, via email) It's to you Otmar. Yes or no, did a Racing Point engineer test positive for COVID at or following the Russian Grand Prix?
OS: No. We didn't have an engineer test positive after Russia. I think we've now done nearly 20,000 tests, 15,000 at the factory and however many that we do here because we test more than once. We've had our two drivers test positive and a few members at the factory, and that's it. We test more than any other business, more than any other Formula 1 team on the planet. We test all of our employees every Tuesday and every Friday and we test everybody that's at the track upon landing in Britain. So, every Monday when our aeroplane lands we have Eurofins there testing, so everyone has piece of mind when they go home to their families that they're not bringing the virus with them, which is why I know that we didn't have a positive test after Russia.

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) A question to Otmar following up on that. Otmar, when you spoke to a lot of the media yesterday and explained in quite detailed terms why you're satisfied with the Racing Point testing protocols, after that media session it emerged that the FIA intended to give a warning to the team, which I think was for not disclosing Lance's positive test earlier, rather than what happened over the Eifel Grand Prix weekend. Could you just clarify what's gone on there, what communication has there been with the FIA and are they satisfied with how you handled that situation?
OS: It wasn't a warning, it was a reminder, and it was a reminder that we have an obligation to inform the FIA in a short period of time after, and we've learned from that. And if it happens again, of course we will do it immediately. So yeah, like I said, it was a reminder, not a warning. When Lance tested on Sunday he was isolating in Switzerland after he got the result. Our concern was first and foremost for his health but also making sure that we contacted all of his close contacts to let them know - but by the time we had word, all of his close contacts had already tested negative for the virus.

(Christian Menath - motorsport-magazin.com) Question for Zak. If I understood you correctly, there was some criticism between the lines about how Racing Point handled the situation. You were talking about trust and responsibility the teams have. Do you think they dealt with the situation not with this trust and responsibility?
ZB: Look, I don't know what everyone's testing protocols are. I know how much we test; I don't know how much Franz tests. I've just heard Racing Point test more than any company on the planet. Not sure how you substantiate that. All I know is that when we had our issue in Australia, we communicated it very quickly to everyone because I think we have a moral obligation to people's health, that they need to have a high level of awareness. I think that's what Mercedes did when they had their incidents. So, again, I don't know all the details, I just know what I read and see. Looks like there wasn't immediate transparency and you know, for an entity that tests as much as they do, all I know is we would be testing at McLaren anyone who doesn't feel well, daily. To make sure that person is healthy and that they're not transmitting, and then would isolate anyone that was around them immediately.

(Christian Nimmervoll - motorsport.com) Question to Zak and of course Otmar if he wants to add anything. Zak, it looks like Racing Point, in spite of the penalty earlier this season and the 15-point deduction, has a very good chance of finishing third in the championship. If that remains the case until the end of the season, would you regret not having pursued the matter further earlier this year and is there a bit of a bitter feeling that this was a lenient penalty?
ZB: Look, Racing Point has an extremely fast race car. It's the third fastest race car on the grid and it has been all year. Racing Point, formerly Force India, has always been a strong team. I think we got what we wanted, which was clarity and a change of direction for the future. I think you can't look backwards in the sport. Franz's team, I think there was a question earlier about him running for sixth in the championship, I wouldn't rule them out for fifth or fourth in the championship; they are extremely competitive. That's the nature of the beast. Don't regret anything from the past, just glad that we have got clarity moving forwards so that you can't replicate a race car to the extent they have done in the future.

Check out our Friday gallery from Portimao, here.

(Ronald Vording - motorsport.com, via email) Helmut Marko said Red Bull's preferred option for 2022 is to take over the Honda project and to run the engines themselves but they want a complete freeze on engine development from 2022 in order to do that. Would that be acceptable to you if it kept both Red Bull teams on board?
ZB: You're looking at me. Obviously we want to have both Red Bull teams participating in Formula 1, they both great teams. I think it's too early - we have some upcoming meetings - to understand what that would look like. Of course we don't make engines so we would defer to Mercedes, our future engine partner, on what they think engine regulations should look like moving forward so I think at this point, until it's discussed, it's a bit premature to have a strong view.

OS: I tend to agree with Zak. The Red Bull teams are both an important part of Formula 1, both Red Bull and AlphaTauri, and we for sure need them to stay. As for freezing the engines, that's a question for Mercedes. However, I think it's healthy for us to have a sport where you compete a little bit on the engine, you compete a little bit on chassis, you compete a little bit on set-up and you compete a little bit on drivers and I think excluding any one of those and it's not Formula 1.

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) A question for Franz, please. We've heard the interest and excitement around Yuki Tsunoda. It seems to have been indicated from Helmut Marko that Yuki is in a good position for an AlphaTauri seat next year. Is it as simple as: if Yuki gets the Super Licence points he will be in Formula 1 next year?
FT: The driver line up is not decided yet for next year. The programme is with Yuki is, in a few words, the following: we had him in the factory last week to make his seat, because after the race in Imola we will do a 300km test; maybe, but this us not decided yet, he will do an FP1 once, and then he has another two races in Bahrain and we will see where he is finishing the F2 championship, in regards to the Super Licence. Then he will do the Abu Dhabi young driver test and then Red Bull will decide who will be the driver line-up for Scuderia AlphaTauri in 2021.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Thank you. A change of tack here from the normal COVID questions. A question for Otmar. Otmar, I wonder if you could clarify please, whether you or any of your team members or team executives are being or will be called upon to testify in the Uralkali court case against the administrators in regard to the sale of your team?
OS: I don't know what the future holds there Dieter, but I can tell you I haven't been asked.

(Luke Smith - Autosport) Zak, you spoke about the IndyCar project earlier. You previously said Sergio Perez could be an option were you to run a third car in IndyCar next year. I wondered if you'd had any further talks there and what are you looking at for your IndyCar project for 2021?
ZB: Yeah, I think Sergio, too, is an extremely good talent and someone that would be great to have in an IndyCar but I suspect he'll stay in Formula 1, but I don't know that for sure, but I think a third car for us, other than at the Indy 500, is unlikely.

(Julianne Cerasoli - UOL Esporte) Does the sequence of added races at new circuits tend to increase the gap to the biggest teams or is your simulation capacity similar to theirs?
OS: Yeah, that's a good question. It's hard to know the details of the simulation work that the bigger teams use as they try to keep that to themselves. We too have a driver-in-the-loop simulator that we use to prepare for new circuits and for those that come in quick succession and we do the best we can to be ready when we get here and to utilise FP1 for a bit of set-up work and long runs. We're doing the best we can with the resources we have but it's hard to compare. I hear rumours of what the bigger teams are doing but I'm not 100% sure.

ZB: Yeah, I don't know what the other teams are doing but you have to assume that the teams with larger budgets are outspending you and have greater resources in probably everything across the board, give or take. We do the best we can with what have; we do a lot of simulation. But I suspect that those that have bigger budgets are doing more.

FT: Of course the big teams have an advantage coming to new race tracks, because they have the resources. They have the hardware and the software to get more out of it on the part of information and therefore the gap increases because they use these tools in a very good way for them and for the teams that don't have all these simulation tools have a disadvantage.

Check out our Friday gallery from Portimao, here.

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Published: 23/10/2020
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