Sakhir GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 2


Today's press conference with Franz Tost, Christian Horner and Otmar Szafnauer.

Q: Can we start by getting as word from each of you about that first practice and what the drivers have been saying about this new track in Bahrain?
Franz Tost: Our drivers so far were quite happy with the track. We tried different configurations on the car. We looked reasonably competitive and did a long run as well with the option tyres, and just to be also prepared for the race, to get a picture of what's going on in the race simulation and so far I must say everything worked quite well.

Christian Horner: No specific major issues other than it's incredibly short, it's bumpy and traffic is going to be an absolute nightmare. From a driver's point of view I can see that the track is frustrating in some respects but from a spectator point of view it's going to produce an exciting qualifying and race because the gaps between... when all the 20 cars are on the circuit there is a huge amount of traffic and I think the chance of jeopardy is increased significantly with this type of layout. I can't remember ever having a sub-one-minute lap before.

Otmar Szafnauer: Same with us. I echo what Franz and Christian said. It will be tight out there in qualifying, especially in Q1. We just did a bit of work on one lap pace and did some race sims on the soft tyres as well, some long runs. We have a little bit to learn, come back in FP2, a little bit more tonight and we'll see how we go on Saturday.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) A question to Christian. When we have look at the dynamic between Max and Alex Albon. Last week Max seemed to be a bit critical of Alex. What is the relationship between them?
CH: Pretty good. They've known each other since they were kids. They're not much more than that now. Since they have been 12-13 they have been racing against each other. Alex won the Karting World Championship one year, obviously Max won it in subsequent yeas and there's a healthy respect between the two of them. They were out karting with the rest of the mechanics, even myself on Monday evening. Max can sometimes call things as he sees it. But there is no issue or no atmosphere at all between the drivers.

Q: Christian, were you surprised by Max's comments?
CH: I think Max just calls facts. I think that's the way he sees it. He said it was obviously a significant gap but he was also stuck behind Sergio who was doing a great job and it's very difficult to follow closely behind a car ahead of you. I think Alex, he was there to capitalise on Sergio's misfortune. It was our first double podium since Japan 2017, so that was great to see from a team point of and it was a solid weekend from Alex.

Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) Otmar, Renault is going to test Fernando Alonso in what is ostensibly mean to be a Young Driver's Test after Abu Dhabi. If the rules had allowed it would you have pursued getting Sebastian Vettel in the car in Abu Dhabi or would that not have been possible?
OS: I've got to understand the rules. I was surprised to see Fernando being allowed to test so we have got to have that discussion with the FIA. I think the rules are pretty clear - it's a Young Driver Test and a two-time World Champion almost in his 40s or in his 40s to me isn't a young driver. I've got to understand what the rules are first and foremost and then see what we do thereafter.

Q: Otmar, if the rules permit it, will you put Sebastian Vettel in the car?
OS: If we can and the rules permit it and... there's a bunch of ifs and we'd have to consider it.

Q: Christian, your thoughts on this, please, and if you do end up bringing in a new driver for next year, would you look to run him in Abu Dhabi as well?
CH: It's an interesting... it's one day of testing. Is one day really going to change the world. We're allowed to run two cars there. We had no problem with Fernando driving the Renault as we would really if Carlos wanted to drive a Ferrari or Sebastian a Racing Point. Is one day going to change the world? But as a young driver test, I'm not sure how Fernando... I'm feeling younger already! The fact that he's classified as a young driver, maybe we could get Nigel... he never retired, we could get Nigel Mansell to come and do the young driver test!

Q: And Franz, your thoughts as well please.
FT: We went along with young drivers. This was already planned in a way and there's no other driver we take into consideration.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Christian, regarding the engine freeze. Have there been any developments in the last few days in terms of where things are standing for that? And given the opposition from Mercedes and Renault at the moment in terms of their convergence mechanism that you and Mattia Binotto suggested, how do you see this situation resolving itself?
CH: Obviously there's been some healthy discussion. Look, you can understand the respect the different positions of most of the manufacturers. Toto, who enjoys an engine advantage at the moment... of course. Naturally he'd want to freeze the engine for the next 35 years if he could. But is that healthy, ultimately, for the sport, to lock in an advantage, particularly for a period of three years, before we get to the new engine, if that engine is brought forward into 2025. As far Renault is concerned, one would have thought that it would make absolute sense for them to support a freeze but I think there's got to be further discussion and hopefully a sensible solution will be reached in the next few weeks.

Q: Otmar, it was a tough race for your team here last weekend and at such a crucial time in the year as well. How have you guys picked yourselves up over the last few days? What have you been up to? What's the mood in the camp as we come into this weekend?
OS: Well first and foremost, we had to understand the failure and the nature that we fix the root cause best we can going into this weekend and next. And then secondly there's a lot of damage that was done on both cars and we had to make sure that we had ample parts to finish this season, like we need to. Those are the two big tasks from last Sunday to now and I think we're in good shape for the next two races.

Q: Franz, Kvyat's future has been the subject of much speculation for weeks. How tough has that been for him and have you been impressed by his resilience?
FT: Dany is experienced, he knows the game and the rules in Formula 1. He is a fast driver and he showed a good performance in the last races and also today, in FP1. I hope that also on Sunday he will be quite competitive and also the race in Abu Dhabi and then we will see.

Q: (Christian Menath - Otmar, coming back to the failure you had on Sergio's car last weekend, can you give us an overview how you're coping with the engine parts for the rest of the season? Do you have to sacrifice a bit of power to come through the season without a penalty?
OS: No, it was an MGU-K failure and we had a previous MGU-K that we could use for the next two races, so no hit on performance.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Franz, Daniil Kvyat told us yesterday that he was rather shocked when he saw what happened in his mirror etc. We saw you talking to him during the red flag period. Just talking from a team principal perspective, how do you treat or handle a driver after a situation like that?
FT: First of all, I said to him it was absolutely not his fault, that he couldn't do anything, that he should take this on the side and be concentrated on the second start of the race. And he is professional enough and he did it in a really good way.

Q: (Scott Mitchell - The Race) Franz or Christian, whoever is more appropriate to answer it. Yuki Tsunoda looked in good form last weekend and looked it again here but you never know what can happen in Formula Two where there are incidence of unreliability so there is a chance that he will slip to sixth in the championship and the best that I can make out, that would leave him slightly short of the points required for a super licence. Do you have a plan B or a contingency plan to ensure that he can get the super licence points? Are there assurances from the FIA that he will get a licence regardless? How do you handle that situation?
FT: We have a plan B, of course. There's absolutely no doubt that in Melbourne Alpha Tauri will have two cars on the starting grid with two every competitive drivers.

CH: I don't whether you can see, Scott, but I'm so distracted by his moustache and it's now, what, the fourth of December so we're passed Movember. But look at it, it's magnificent! What was your question? As we went into this conference, I think he was on pole position so he's doing a good job, so it's more of a problem for Franz, I think, so he's obviously glued to seeing how that performs.

Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.

Q: Christian, if Alex Albon hasn't done enough to justify his place at Red Bull Racing next year, is there a route back to Alpha Tauri for him? As there was with Pierre, for course.
CH: I don't believe he forms part of Franz's plans for next year, so it's very much a Red Bull seat or a year on the bench. The focus is on giving him that opportunity, he's got two races, he did a good job last weekend, being on the podium, his second podium in Formula 1. He's had a good first practice, a good start to the weekend here and two more weekends to demonstrate that he's absolutely the right guy to be in that car alongside Max next year, and we're giving him all the support that we possibly can to achieve that goal.

Q: Just to follow up on that, Christian, if he's not in your car, do you think it's the best solution for him to be on the bench, rather than in Alpha Tauri?
CH: It's not something that we're contemplating at the moment so I guess once we get to the end of the year, then we'll evaluate all of those options. He's on a long term agreement, as all Red Bull drivers are when they join the team. Our focus at the moment is on the race seat and giving him the opportunity to demonstrate that he is making significant, building on that podium from last weekend and this early practice form.

Q: (Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) Christian, just to follow up on that, Alex was half a second, on average, slower than Max Verstappen in qualifying over the first half of the season and he's still half a second.... enough to justify a Red Bull seat the following year. Why is it that this year might be different?
CH: Well I think you've got to look at how Max has evolved over the last few years. If you look at his average, Alex's average is still closer than that of, for example, Pierre's was last year to Max. We know we've had some issues with the car that have made life particularly difficult which I think we've worked hard to address and have been addressing, so we're confident that that situation will hopefully improve for him and for any driver. Max is a tall order to go up against, he's arguably probably the most in-form driver currently in Formula 1 and I think it would be tough for any driver to go up against Max currently.

Q: (Luke Smith - Autosport) Christian, we've got a situation at Mercedes this weekend with George Russell stepping into the car for Lewis Hamilton. I think there are some parallels with when Max stepped up to Red Bull back in 2016, obviously coming from what was effectively a junior team, through the academy up to the works outfit. What are your memories from that very first weekend that Max was with Red Bull? Was it quite natural from the word go, how he worked with the team and then obviously winning on debut?
CH: Well he astounded us from the moment he got in the car because there was no shakedown or anything like that, similar to George. The first time he got in the car was in Barcelona. I remember Q1 and Q2 he actually had the upper hand on Daniel and then just not having any experience with the car as the circuit was evolving, Daniel wound more front wing into the car and extracted a great lap and they qualified third and fourth. We then ran different strategies in the race, giving Daniel what we thought was the preferred strategy on what was a two stop and Max went out and made a one stop work as did Kimi on that day and won the race and it was astounding that someone of his experience and age - you have to remember at the time - the maturity and control that he showed, so it was a fairytale debut and of course George is familiar, I guess, with many of the controls. He's been a test driver there before, he knows many of the people and it's the best car currently in Formula 1. It's won the most races this year, it's an enormous opportunity for him and one that I'm sure that he's looking to make great use of. It benchmarks him against Valtteri. I'm sure Toto's looking to use it to perhaps negotiate Lewis's contract in some way, shape or form. So it will be fascinating to see how it plays out but it's great to see another youngster getting that chance and opportunity.

Q: Otmar, Lance said after qualifying last weekend that there were a few issues and that you were going to talk about it after the session. What conclusions did you come to as to what his issues were during that session and how do you think it's going to play out tomorrow here in what Christian has already described as being a very intense session?
OS: Yeah, it will definitely be an intense session tomorrow. I think track position will be at a premium. We've got to be out at the right time and in the right place tomorrow. The only issues were a bit of a miscommunication as to how many laps Lance had left after the red flag and that's easily fixed.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Question to both of the Red Bull company team principals: why is it that Honda should be prepared to give up the IP and the engines that they worked so hard and spent so much money on and not have any return, or would there be some return for them? What's the game plan there?
CH: Well, Dieter, I'm sure you can understand that we're not going to share in a public forum the details of any discussion or negotiation with Honda but nevertheless to say that the relationship between the companies is excellent, continues to be extremely strong and there's positive discussion. I think Honda are being as helpful as they possibly can be to see that we have a competitive power unit available to us in 2022, should we chose to go that route. Focus in the meantime is very much on 2021 for Honda to leave the sport on a high and huge effort is going into the 2021 campaign in Japan.

FT: Nothing to add.

Q: Just on the subject of Honda this weekend, Franz, how important is horsepower around this particular layout?
FT: Horsepower generally is very important in Formula 1 as in any other motor sport category and we all know that Honda improved during the winter months a lot on the performance side but also on the reliability side and I think that the power unit currently is not so far away from Mercedes and nearly the same level as Renault and better than Ferrari. And it depends also on the downforce level the cars are running therefore I think that cars with the Honda power unit have a good chance here to be successful and eventually to win the race.

Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.

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Published: 04/12/2020
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