Sakhir GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1


Today's press conference with Guenther Steiner, Toto Wolff and Mario Isola.

Q: Toto, can we start with you please. How is the Champion, Lewis Hamilton, was he even watching FP1, do you think?
Toto Wolff: I don't know - probably not, he has better things to do than watching an FP1 session. He's recovering. I think those first few days are always critical once you catch Corona. I think he's OK. He was symptoms but they are relatively mild.

Q: So, bringing it on to FP1 this evening, George Russell, if we could talk about him. Just sum-up his progress, P1.
TW: FP1 was a good session for him. I mean, we need to calm everybody down because it was a first session on a new and short circuit. He delivered a really solid job in what we expected from him on a single lap. The long runs were difficult with our cars anyway, difficult to really establish a benchmark because Valtteri broke his car very early on in the session, wasn't really able to stop it properly. So I would say I am happy with what George has done. It's about what we expected him to.

Q: Guenther, great to Romain Grosjean back in the paddock. Same question to you: do you think he watched FP1?
Guenther Steiner: No, I don't think so because he was in the gym, I texted with him during the session. I don't know if he saw it, he's in gym, trying to get ready. That's what he's doing in the moment, so I think he wasn't.

Q: How does he want to be in the car in Abu Dhabi next week?
GS: I think he goes hour by hour. He wants to be in, he doesn't want to be in. I let him decide and come up with how much does he want it. He's training now, hoping to get ready to be in the car.

Q: And the man replacing him, Pietro Fittipaldi, P19, just a few words summing up his first session.
GS: The task was to go out there. He wasn't in an F1 car since a year now, just familiarise yourself with it again, with the car, not even the track, and just try to get the best out. Unfortunately on his second set of tyres, on the Soft ones, he locked up and flat-spotted a tyre and it wasn't useable any more, so we had to stop the session short for him, which is not idea - but he was thrown in the deep end and you have to live with that.

Q: Mario, coming to you, first up, how are you? You've had Covid since the Turkish Grand Prix.
Mario Isola: I'm now OK - so you can come closer. I'm feeling well, I'm OK. It lasted for a couple of weeks, as is the average, luckily I had no symptoms, just lost taste and sense of smell and I had a couple of days with fever, but now I'm fully recovered. I had four negative tests, so they can stay close to me.

Q: You tried the prototype tyres here last week. What conclusions did you draw?
MI: I think that everybody knows the drivers made not very positive comments. I believe the biggest mistake was not to give them the right information on which was the target of the test. Obviously, we are trying to fine-tune the current construction in order to cope with the additional loads of the cars in the future. We decided together to work in two directions: one was on the technical side to reduce the downforce for next year; on the other side to improve the current construction in order to have more resistance to integrity. That is what we did. Consider that we tested only 30 minutes in Portimao. We found a specification that gave us feedback in line with the current tyre but with an resistance to integrity that is a step better, so we decided to homologate it. I think that we have now clarified which is the target of the test, which is the programme for next year, we can test them again in the C4 compound in Abu Dhabi with a different approach, in a different way.

Video Conference

Q: (Edd Straw - The Race) Question for Toto please, what's the likelihood of Lewis being ready for Abu Dhabi, and also, given the symptoms he's showing and the timelines involved, what are the practicalities of being able to get him there? Basically, when's the latest he can test negative and still make it to Abu Dhabi and participate?
TW: We have seen tests that were negative within ten days, so I think that is perfectly feasible, in my opinion but it would be a very positive development. Nevertheless, you need to look at the situation anyway because there is many athletes have tested positive for a long time after any symptoms and after they've been in any way infectious - but this is something the FIA needs to look into anyway.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Mario, you were referencing the 2021 tyres earlier on. Talking to Andreas Seidl this morning, he said all the teams had provided you with projections about the sort of downforce and energy levels etc., for next year that they expect. Have you had all of this information, is it enough and what sort of increase in energies are you actually expecting?
MI: I don't have a number now because the deadline to provide the upgraded simulation is the tenth of December, so we are collecting now the data. Some teams are convinced that they are going to recover the downforce quite quickly. Maybe at the beginning of the season. That's why it was decided to work in two parallel directions. I'm not expecting to have loads that are different from this year, probably, at the end of the season, if we have a normal season. As it is planned now, we will have an additional load but we cannot quantify it now.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC) Toto, this is a question for you. Do you see this, as many other people within Formula 1 do, as a showdown test between Valtteri and George for the 2022 seat?
TW: No, not at all. I've heard this rumour and obviously you can't call it a shoot-out when it's about one or two races. That doesn't give you any meaningful data whatsoever. If George does well it's an indication that one day he's going to be in a good car and hopefully race for victories and World Championships - but that is far away. He knows that. He just needs to do a solid job, not make any mistakes, and continue what he has done. There is no shootout. We have total trust in Valtteri and loyalty as we've always had - and that is our position.

Q: (Christian Menath - Question for Guenther. It was announced by Ferrari just ahead of the practice session that Simone Resta will move from Ferrari to Haas. Can you explain what position he will have at Haas. Do you have to restructure the technical team - and also, is this move connected to Mick Schumacher?
GS: The position we are still defining. For sure, it will be a very senior position, obviously. Simone was at Ferrari for a long time in a very senior position now, so he wouldn't come without having that one, it would be no point arriving there without a senior position. The connection to Mick is not direct. Obviously we work very close together with Ferrari, so when it was discussed we needed to reinforce our technical team after we went a little bit backwards the last year with the pandemic. So, he was a good choice - but it has nothing to do directly with Mick driving for us.

Q: Guenther. How much of a boost is it for your team? Simone's arrival?
GS: As I said, we are restructuring ourselves on the technical side because we have fallen a little bit behind so for sure it's a big boost that we get back on our feet again to get to the performance we had in 2018. You need good people and Simone was at Ferrari a long time and that had a short stint at Alfa Romeo. He was available and we took him.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Toto, you said at the last race that you and Lewis were taking baby steps with regard to his new contract and talks in that regard. Does the fact he's now isolating for ten days, how much does that hold things up in terms of you guys sitting down and hashing things out over a new deal for next year?
TW: Well, the timeline is being pushed back until he recovers. We know that we need to get it done, pretty well aware, both of us but the priority now is him getting back on his feet and being back negative. And then we will meet, or Zoom, in order to put pen to paper.

Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.

Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) Question for Toto. George obviously has to adapt to Mercedes processes and also specifics of the car - but how do you expect him to assert his authority in areas that he can? What have you seen from him already in terms of asking for specific information, or asking if things can be done differently - that sort of thing?
TW: I don't think he has to assert his authority. There is no authority required in the team. We know what we do and he has, of course, a good plan of where he wants the car to be - but being drafted in last minute, like it has happened for him, we need to find compromises. Compromises means he needs to settle in a car that isn't his in processes that he wasn't involved in. And we, on the other side, have a totally different personality and character than Lewis. So, it's an interesting exercise, also for us, how adaptable we are, and also for him to being thrown in the cold water.

Toto, on the topic of being adaptable, Lewis is going to be missed obviously, but is there a buzz about the place having a new driver this weekend?
TW: First of all, there is no buzz, because Lewis is ill with Corona and we'd rather him not be ill but here with the team. Of course, we rate George highly and giving him such a possibility is, in a way, interesting - but with hindsight I'd rather have everything normal, as it was, because George anyway one day is going to make it into a good car.

Q: (Laurence Edmondson - ESPN) Another question for Toto on the driver change. I know you said it's not a showdown between the two of them, and all that kind of stuff - but if Valtteri is beaten by George, mentally, that's going to be quite tough to take, I would have thought. So, how are you reassuring him and is it just a case of 'tough luck, you're a racing driver, you've got to go up against whoever's put up next to you'?
TW: Valtteri has never been anybody that needs reassuring. He knows where he stands, he knows his position in the team, how we are supportive of each other and we have to remain realistic. George is a highly-rated young driver, one of the most highly rated, so it's expected for him to be fast. He knows the team and this is a fifty-second circuit where you need to be in the right place at the right time with the right engine modes. In that respect, this is just going to be alright. We all expected George to be right there, and we see how the weekend ends.

Q: (Phil Duncan - PA) Question for Toto. Lewis was in Dubai before travelling to Bahrain and that's where it appears he contracted the virus. Did you know he was going to be there? Did he have permission to be there? And as a team principal, how frustrating is it to not have your star driver available for one, possibly two races?
TW: Lewis doesn't need to have any permission. He rides anything he wants, he jumps out of every aeroplane he wants because he knows best what's good for him and he's a grown-up man and it was never an issue. I think contracting Covid-19 is something that we are all not very sure where you get it. If you ask Mario where he got it, he's probably not going to know where. It's just unfortunate. He was protecting himself a lot and then you go to Dubai, wear your mask all the time and come back with Corona. These things happen.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC) Toto, I wanted to follow up my question from earlier. You've obviously put George in for a reason and one would assume that's so you can assess how good he is - and therefore that he's a Mercedes young driver presumably the basis for that information would be whether you wanted to put him in your car in the future. So, while I accept the point that it's not directly a showdown, surely this will have some influence on whatever influence on whatever decision you make about driver line-ups for 2022?
TW: Andrew, it's another set of data points. This weekend and maybe next weekend that will be giving us more information in our overall understanding of George's performances but we know that we race next year with Lewis and Valtteri and where we are in 2022 is all going to depend how our own season in 2022 is going to go, and not by George's performance on an oval in Bahrain and on a season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Toto, regarding the data points from George etc and that Lewis doesn't have a contract yet, could some of these data points be used to influence the market value of Lewis?
TW: No, Dieter. We've discussed having George in the car. We know what we have with Lewis and he knows what he has with the team. Such a situation would never be utilised as some kind of bargaining power, neither by him, nor by us - it could do both directions. I respect very much who he is, how he drives, his records, and whatever happens this week or next has no influence on our talks.

Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) Toto, just going back to George: he has always had a very mature head on his shoulders, all the way through his junior career, what is it about his mentality that you believe means he is able to jump in and do a good job in what is quite high pressure situation with a lot to take in in a short amount of time?
TW: I think he is somebody that is generally relaxed. He comes across on the radio as very chatty and buzzing but driving the car, in the debriefings, he is very focused and calm. Obviously the race record he has - winning GP3, winning F2, both in the rookie years - and the maturity he has shown from a very early age stands out. I remember him coming to my office when he was 15, 16 years old in a black suit and a black tie with Powerpoint presentation of why Mercedes should support him. So, very mature for his age but probably well suited from his personality to jump in the car in such a high-pressure situation. Burt again, let's stay both feet on the ground. It's FP1. These cars haven't been taken out in anger and we haven't raced yet.

Q: Guenther, you announced earlier this week that Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin will be racing for you next season. What has impressed you about each of them so far?
GS: Their race results. One is leading F2 and one is third in the F2 championship and results always talk. I didn't spend a lot of time with them yet as with COVID we cannot interact on a personal level obviously so we spent some time on the telephone and I need to get to know them. But for me results talk. They are both pretty mature guys for their age, obviously we always have to go back to their age, so I think they have a good future. And that is what we are trying to do: we are trying to make a step backwards to make two steps forward for the next seasons.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Toto, a few weeks ago Lewis said that George had the potential to be a future world champion. What was Lewis' reaction when you told him that you were planning to put George in the car and take his place this weekend?
TW: Lewis knew who the candidates were and who we were talking. I think those very special drivers they see and know who is going to come up and who one day could be up there for victories and championships. I think is priority is now to get healthy. I'm not sure he is going to follow in detail what is happening on track. If you are in bed and not feeling great, racing becomes a second priority.

Q: (Laurence Edmondson - ESPN) Toto, we've seen in Formula E that BMW and Audi are both pulling out. What does it say about that series as a long-term prospect?
TW: Well, it's certainly a little bit of a shake-up if two premium OEMs leave the series. But I think it's good they have done it with a full season to go. But they will have their reasons, which we must respect. At the end, every motor racing series needs to return on investment and if that calculation doesn't work for you it's perfectly legit to decide to pull out. On the other side, we stay behind it. We have always been a manufacturer that has stayed loyal to racing series. We have been 30 years in DTM. We have been in Formula 1 for a long time as and engine supplier and as a team since 10 years. I think it's important to understand that you have to go through the downs to come to the ups. I think the positive of the situation is that Formula E will progress on the learnings: why are these two guys leaving, is there anything we can do? I think the cost cap needs to come rather sooner than later, similar to Formula 1. These little entities need to profitable and only if they are profitable they will generate interest from shareholders, from people buying in, and it becomes a franchise value, like Formula 1 is going to be. I see the future bright in terms of the set-up of Formula E, but of course the series needs to deliver on all our expectations on branding, marketing and exposure. And if these expectations are being met, for us, it makes sense to remain in the series.

Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.

Q: Guenther, any thoughts on Formula E?
GS: I'm not as educated as Toto on Formula E because he has got a team there. My opinion is that it's like everything else there was a hype in the beginning, it's new, everybody goes in and then it just adjusts itself. Some people leave, because they say 'this is not for us and it's a little bit trialling'. Looking how it is, it is a shame two big OEMs are leaving, but I think it is there to stay. It reassesses itself and it will continue. Where it ends up, we don't know.

Q: Mario?
MI: I agree with Guenther. We are not really involved in Formula E, but electric series are the future. We are also looking at new opportunities in electric series. It is part of the game. We have seen also in GT in many years many changes with OEMs coming and going away. It's part of a normal life cycle of a series.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC) Toto, Stoffel Vandoorne is your reserve driver and it's now been four races this year that he could have taken part in but didn't. Can you explains what your thought process was in going for George rather than Stoffel and how he is feeling about the situation?
TW: What were the four races?

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC) Well, two for Racing Point, another for Racing Point and now this one.
TW: OK. Stoffel is our reserve driver and has done the grunt work, simulator and travelling to the grands prix, and has the capability of driving these cars very well. No doubt about that. Telling him that George was in the car was certainly not something that I took easy and I didn't expect him to be excited about it. He took it professionally and expressing his, let's say, reactions that were totally legitimate and he'd rather be in the car than not and that's understandable. He's a great guy. He is one of our two works drivers in Formula E. He's been really good last year, particularly towards the season end, and we count on him in Formula E.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Guenther, I'd like to give you the opportunity please of telling us how you thought Pietro did and what your plans are for him for the future please?
GS: The first session is difficult to judge because he hasn't been in the car for a year now and on the first set of tyres he did pretty well and on the second set he flat-spotted early into it and that put an end to his session. It was not fantastic but it's difficult these cars if you have not been in for a year. But he really prepared well for it over the last week since we told him he is going to race instead of Romain. He prepared himself and we just have to let the weekend come to us and try to make progress with him. About the future of him: I don't know really yet what he is going to do next year, whether he is going back to race in some other series, We haven't really talked about that one. But Pietro became a friend to the team in the two years he is with us. He travelled around like Toto said Stoffel did. The whole year with this guy sitting there, what I can drinking coffee and eating pasta and then when the opportunity comes up they are really happy. I don't know if he wants to do that for another year or if he wants to go racing again.

Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.

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Published: 04/12/2020
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