Part 1 of today's FIA press conference with Zak Brown, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner.
Let's start by talking about performance. A question to you all please. What are the issues you identified during testing and on the evidence of the first practice session today, how much progress have you made with those issues over the last ten days? Zak, let's start with you please.
Zak Brown: We had a smooth winter test. Got everything accomplished we wanted to. The integration of the Mercedes power unit went very well, so we accomplished what we hoped to. In the development of these cars you're always looking to make improvements and learn and testing faults but I'd say so far everything has gone according to plan. We just need to keep on our progression.
Toto Wolff: With us, testing didn't go so smooth. We lost quite some time with little gremlins and then we never kind-of found the sweet-spot of the car. There was a lot of work being done in the last ten days in between. I think we've found the path forward that makes the car more predictable - but obviously these climate conditions now, with the heat, is hardly representative of what to expect tonight, and then especially on Sunday with the wind.
Christian Horner: We had three positive days. Obviously a much-reduced pre-season this year but no, generally pretty decent. Tricky conditions. They were the same for everybody. I think we might experience some of those conditions over the next couple of days with high winds but no, I have to say the car ran well on all three days.
Thanks. And Christian, staying with you, do you relish the 'favourite' tag or is it something you don't want?
CH: Well Tom, you should know by now that, being judged on a day's work or whatever, would be foolhardy. Mercedes have dominated the World Championship for the last seven years. It's a probably 60 per cent carryover car from last year. One swallow doesn't make a summer, as they say and I think that whatever difficulties they had in the test, they've got huge strength in depth and we know it would be very, very foolish to underestimate them. So, I think with the kind of success they've achieved, not only last year but the last seven years, it would be foolhardy to think that anybody other than Lewis and Mercedes are the firm favourites going into this championship.
OK, Toto, do you agree with that assessment?
TW: I think what Christian says is just what happened over the last years and is the logical consequence. This is a fact you can't ignore. But also, even if it looks like a carry-forward car there was still... I think we've probably suffered more with the change of regulations than the cars with the higher rake - and the Red Bull has followed that concept since many years. So it's maybe more difficult for us to recover some of the lost downforce - but so far, what I've seen, and what I hope is that we can have a really tough fight. It's what the fans want to see and what we would like to have. Red Bull is a formidable team with people pushing really hard. They've won four championships before the hybrid power units came in and no doubt they're the strongest competitor - but these guys here [McLaren], they have a really good power unit now in the back so mustn't not consider them either.
Toto, you said after testing that Red Bull are the favourites. Is it a strange sensation being the hunter rather than the hunted?
TW: When I say that, it's always the scepticism that I feel we haven't been good enough. In Formula 1 it's like in many other sports, we are oscillating between depression and exuberance and when everything is perfect you think 'here we go, this is ours' - and then when you have a few days that are not very good, you kind of look at the data and say, 'well, should we ever catch that up?' So, this is what it is. I think, if we are behind, then we just need to catch up and do a good job. If we are just about on the same pace, which I would consider today maybe as the best possible scenario for us, then we are up of for the fight with another great team.
Zak, everyone's talking about this season being a two-horse race between these guys. Do you think you can gate-crash the party?
ZB: Hmmmm... no. I think realistically, Mercedes and Red Bull have been the class of the field here for a while. We hope to close the gap but I think it would be unrealistic to think that we would get in the mix on a regular basis - but we're on our way and hopefully we'll be able to join that fight in the not-to-distant future.
Questions From The Floor
(Christian Menath - motorsport-magazin.com) Question for Toto and for Christian, can you tell us a bit about the run plan for FP2, considering it is only 60 instead of 90 minutes?
TW: So, we are running flat-out with 20kg. We are hiding a bit but not... in all seriousness it's obviously much more compressed, which is good. Everybody's going to be earlier on the track, more running time, rather than a tactical waiting for the track to come towards you. The programme is like many of the Fridays, the FP2s before, getting in some long runs. It's not about the long runs you can get in but more consecutive laps, and trying to tune the car in climate conditions that are more similar in respect to what to expect from qualifying and the race.
CH: I guess the upside is, as Toto says, there's going to be more track action because you've got to cram into 60 minutes what you had to do in 90 minutes previously. So short-run, long-runs and, of course, it's the more relevant session to qualifying and the race. The temperature will drop significantly, so the first session, I would say, take with a pinch of salt - but obviously the characteristics of the car are going to be somewhat different as the temperature changes and obviously that's going to be the most important one for the engineers and drivers to get a read for both qualifying and the race.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Last year, after the brake duct issue, the FIA issued a technical directive about what is, and isn't allowed amongst teams, particularly teams that source their major components from another team. Toto, you and Christian both have customer teams - if I can call them that - or allied teams but equally, you also have competitors that have them and Zak, you don't have that situation. So, are you concerned that possibly this situation will not be able to be controlled this year?
ZB: New regulations were put in place. We're confident the FIA will monitor that very closely and will make sure that the rules are executed as they should be. As you mentioned, we're an independent team. We're of the view that everyone should be a constructor but there is obviously the ability to collaborate but we just have to have our trust in the FIA, that they'll monitor the situation and make sure the rules are followed accordingly.
(Christian Nimmervoll - motorsport.com) Question is to all three gentlemen on the stage. Zak made some comments earlier today that he thinks it's very possible Mercedes will race George and Max next year. I'd be interested to hear what you think about this prediction.
CH: I don't know! It's speculation. Maybe they're as likely to run Daniel and Lando! We're at the first race, we obviously acutely aware of what the contracts with our drivers are. It's a bit early for speculation.
TW: I want to keep out of the discussion that these two have about who's going to drive the Mercedes.
Well, Zak, what makes you think...
ZB: I don't necessarily think it. Someone just asked me 'what do you think the driver market will look like next year. I believe George is out of contract and obviously has a Mercedes relationship and did a great job here in Bahrain. Max, I've never seen his contract but understand that there's probably a possibility for him to drive elsewhere and Mercedes and Toto are able to attract an awesome driver line-up. So, if those two guys are floating around, depending on what Toto decides with his current driver line-up, you could see that happening. I was asked the question - it wasn't a prediction, it was an opinion.
Toto, are you hoping to get your drivers for 2022 nailed down earlier than you did for this season?
TW: Certainly. We don't want to leave it until January to confirm the two drivers. Valtteri was pretty regular during the summer, this is when it should happen. Also, to give the driver peace-of-mind, or be able to concentrate on the job. And obviously for next year there's lots of balls in the air and we will always try to do the best for the team long-term while also giving total loyalty to our current driver line-up. We are not doubting either Valtteri or Lewis but discussions obviously are going to happen - but not in January next year.
(Andrew Benson - BBC) For all three of you. On the subject of sprint races. The proposal started as one thing and it's become something else. Has there been any discussion about standing back and asking - is it really doing what it was intended to do - and therefore is there really any point in introducing it. And also, secondary to that, also discussion on the potential for confusion as to what denotes a Formula 1 winner or a grand prix winner and whether that's going to get difficult for people watching from the outside?
TW: I think probably we share the mindset that we are racing purists and we know of the importance of the grand prix. It's always been like that and we mustn't dilute the attraction of that singular event happening Sunday afternoon as somehow a cornerstone of everybody's weekend. Now, we have always been very reluctant to change that traditional format and I have seen some experiments in other race series where they have put in a second race on Saturday and the audiences were actually quite interested. Having said that, it by far didn't have the importance and tradition like Formula 1, so we need to be really careful of how we are testing things. We are in a data-driven world. We simulate, and here we are talking about going live with something that hasn't been simulated properly. So, I don't think we want to block anything - it's worth the experiment - but we need to be very careful with it, with the format that we have and with the responsibility we carry for Formula 1.
Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.
CH: Yeah. Again, a mixed opinion. It's something that the Commercial Rights Holder is keen on and I think, if you don't try things, you never know. And so, I think we're keen to try to support the Commercial Rights Holder in having a look at it. Is the format right? I mean, it could just be a static Saturday race that creates a static Sunday race - but it's another start, there's more jeopardy, etcetera, etcetera. I think we have to give it a go. We're interested to look at it - but what we can't ignore is that, to run and operate these cars is extremely expensive and we need to find a solution how to combat that, in particular in a season where the budget cap is having a significant impact on how we operate.
And what constitutes a Formula 1 winner?
CH: It has to be a Sunday afternoon. It's almost like a pre-final, this race concept that you're winning a qualifying race; effectively you're not a grand prix winner. I think, as Toto has said and as Zak said previously, that we need to protect the DNA of the sport, the history of the sport. A grand prix winner should only be a guy that prevails on a Sunday afternoon. A pre-final on a Saturday is not a grand prix.
ZB: I agree with everything Toto and Christian have said. I think there's general support among all the teams. The Commercial Rights Holder wants to do it. I don't see much downside in trying a few times - and potentially there's a lot of upside if it's very exciting and, if it doesn't work, we'll maybe try something else in the future and not move forward. We're supportive of giving it a go.
(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Toto, you mentioned that the change of aero regulations seems to have hurt you more than the higher rake cars. Obviously switching a rake concept comes with a lot of consequences, so is this something that you just have to work with your concept? Have you tried to increase the rake of your car at all? What are the complications for you moving forward in addressing this?
TW: First of all, I don't think the rake is the only singular effect that we may be suffering from these news tyres that we are racing in 2021 and we haven't even started so definitely, our analyses have shown that higher rake concept has lost downforce than the lower rake and in the last year of these regulations we would be able to replicate the concept that Red Bull and some of the other teams have been racing. It's physically not possible. We couldn't run our suspensions and settings in the way that Red Bull does and so we need to do the best out of it and tune the car to what we have available.
(Ronald Vording - motorsport.com) Christian, do you expect the dynamics within the team to change now that Checo is with you?
CH: No, I think Alex and Max had a pretty decent relationship last year. Checo's a guy with a lot of experience. He's a pretty laid back character. This opportunity has come late in his career and he's determined to grab it with both hands so everything that I've seen so far looks pretty sensible but we're only at practice for race one so there's a long way to go.
(Phil Duncan - PA) Toto, yesterday Lewis said that he intends to carry on next year, he's got no plans to retire, so given he said that, do we expect that he will be a Mercedes driver next year?
TW: I very much hope so. The journey that we have had together was very successful. He has been a Mercedes driver - a Mercedes kid since his go-karting years. He never raced a single weekend in Formula 1 without Mercedes power unit so it's the logical continuation of the story.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Reference my earlier question, Toto and Christian, I wonder if you would give me your opinions on whether you're totally comfortable that the FIA can actually control the IP issue. As I said, you do have the association with allied teams but equally so do your competitors, so do you see any reason to be concerned?
TW: I think we've got to trust the system. Like Zak said, the regulations have been more prescriptive. By the end of last year they have been clarified. Everything that could have been bound to an interpretation was described in a very solid way, so everybody knows what's on and what is not on. There will always be areas of collaboration between teams but they are not in areas of any IP nor any exchange of information or in whatsoever way so I believe that everybody... it's down to all of the teams to perform, carry on with their own development but there will be some infrastructure that's being shared within the regulations and obviously that creates the positive effect of economies of scale, revenue stream for the bigger teams and fantastic state-of-the-art facilities for the other teams, but we equally recognise a situation like McLaren has, that this needs to be, in a way, ring-fenced in terms of the regulations, so there's absolute clarity what's on and what's not.
CH: Look, I think last year we saw the regulations stretched to the limit of what's feasible and what isn't and I think the FIA are acutely aware and again, as the governing body, you have to trust in them to police accordingly. I think obviously there is the topic of the 2022 car which is a clean sheet of paper and again the FIA need to be on top of ensuring that no team artificially benefits through that of a customer or affiliate or associate team and it's something that we at Red Bull take very, very seriously and the relationship with Toro Rosso and now AlphaTauri has scrupulous discipline to how we operate, respectful of those rules. Of course you trust in the governing body to police those and enforce those accordingly.
(Christian Nimmervoll - motorsport.com) Another question to all three: can you please tell us what numbers of staff you're operating with this year? On the chassis side, and Toto obviously on the engine side and has it changed at all as a consequence of the budget cap kicking in?
ZB: We're a little north of 800 people.
TW: I think we are a little bit south of 1000 people.
CH: It's so hard to make comparison. I think our numbers are... we're in the 800s but we have so many activities as well where we supply, for example, a gearbox to Toro Rosso (sic) so those manufacturing staff are included within that number so actually bespoke, working on the team? If you... we would probably be at a similar number now... we've had to go through the pain of redundancies over the winter, we've had to re-size, re-package ourselves and it's really tough when you're saying goodbye to members of the team, some of which have been there for 25 years across its different formats so it's been really been a tough exercise and continues to be a significant challenge, particularly for the bigger teams. It drives efficiency into the business because it quite simply has to. Head count is your biggest cost. Therefore it has to be as efficient as you can possibly make it.
(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Toto, just on the evidence of FP1, it did look like the car didn't have the rear instability but maybe went the other way and had a bit more mid-corner understeer. Is that just a legacy of the changes that have been made to try and settle the car down and is that more encouraging because that kind of being addressed, more minor balance changes?
TW: I don't think... it wasn't minor balance changes. It was or we were thinking, the sweet spot of the car also in combination with the tyres, so it's absolutely right, what you've seen, the snappiness at the rear is much better and like we said before, now it's about tuning it for the meaningful sessions tomorrow and on Sunday and see whether the car is still behaving nicer than in testing or not.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) To all, there seems to be a bit of an impasse about the sprint qualifying. I believe that some of the issues revolve around the costs of damages in the race and whatever else. I believe there is a proposal on the table to have a sort of insurance policy-type situation whereby if there's damage you would claim. Are the three of you in favour of that particular policy?
ZB: It definitely needs to be addressed, that sprint racing/sprint qualifying will cost more money and can cost significant more money if there's accident damage. I think there are some different proposals on the table. We just need to make sure that we address that specific issue and that it doesn't create... we don't put a rule in place that creates an opportunity that starts expanding the budget cap that we've all agreed to. So I'm confident that we'll figure that out.
TW: By the nature of things, I have a little bit of a different view. Christian described the difficulties for our companies to change the processes and the way we have operated over the last few years and we are really struggling to find... to just come in below the budget cap and we're talking about tens of thousands of pounds and not hundreds of thousands, therefore we would really like to support Stefano and Ross with the idea because - as discussed before - I think it's worth trying but we simply haven't got the margin to go for it and then find out that there is an extra half million pounds or more that we have to find within that budget cap, because that could mean looking at people again and that's not where I want to go any more, at all.
CH: Look, we accept that cash in, for this, that what's been proposed doesn't match cash out at the moment, so effectively it's an investment by the teams into FOM to say OK, we support this in the hope that if it works it generates future revenue, future interest, future benefit into the sport in future years but at the moment the cost benefit in terms of income in versus what it costs to operate these cars... if you divide 145m by 23 events, you can see the kind of... you're in a crude basis what it takes to operate a grand prix car and of course, adding in, effectively albeit a shortened race is just more cost that we're naturally going to incur the usage of parts, etc, etc and so there just have to be a sensible allowance that takes that into account because as Toto says, we're chasing £10,000, £20,000, £30,000 savings at the moment to ensure that we're hitting the cap and to suddenly have a variable like this is something that just needs to be accommodated. We're keen to support it but there needs to be an accommodation.
Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.