Azerbaijan GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1

04/06/2021
NEWS STORY

Today's press conference with Guenther Steiner, Franz Tost and Otmar Szafnauer.

Franz, can we start with you please. Yuki told us yesterday about his move to Italy that's taken place since the Monaco Grand Prix. It sounds like you're a hard taskmaster but why is it important for him to make the move to be closer to the team?
Franz Tost: You know it's a gift to go from England to Italy. Beautiful weather, fantastic kitchen, nice people and, apart from this, he has the possibility to work close together with the team, with the engineers because he still has to learn a lot and, he always wanted to come to Italy, but during the winter months it was decided he should stay in England and now he is in Italy, he's living there and he enjoys it and we are happy to have him close to us because then we have everything better under control.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you have planned for him? What's his daily routine? How much contact does he have with the engineer?
FT: The daily routine is quite easy. He has to be in the gym at around 9:00 until 9:30-10:00, then from 10:30-11:30-12:00 he is together with the engineers, then in the early afternoon he has an English lesson then once more together with the engineers and then he's allowed to go once more into the gym for another two hours. And then he should go to sleep. Easy.

And who devised this programme for him? Was it you?
FT: Yes.

Now Franz, it's another new circuit for him here and these two street circuits in a row: Monaco and now Baku. It means it's a tricky part of the season for him. Can you just sum-up how it's been going these past couple of races?
FT: We must not forget the last races were really not so easy for him. He had never been in Portimão, he has not been in Monaco and this is the first time here in Baku. The level in Formula 1 is really very high and you have to get everything together to be in the front part of the midfield. I must say, also in Monaco, the first practice session, he did a really good job. He was not far away from Pierre. Unfortunately in the second free practice he pushed a little bit too hard and ended in the wall - but it's part of the learning process. You cannot expect that the newcomer at these tracks does not make any mistakes. We can see even the experienced drivers struggle in some corners. And so far, his learning process is going onwards, and his learning curve also is a good upgrade. We have to support him now. This is also the reason we told him to come to Italy, to work more with the engineers, to analyse more the data, just to come up to speed - especially on brakes, which he doesn't know - as fast as possible. Also, this morning session was OK for him. He had once locking fronts, I think it was a technical reason, we have to sort this out. The rest was fine. I think in the second free practice, he will improve his performance and hopefully he will not have a crash, or something like this - because important for him is to do laps. Every lap will increase his experience, and then I am quite optimistic for the qualifying and the race because the car seems competitive and we simply have to work with a newcomer. It's not only Yuki, it's generally when you get a newcomer more than with an experienced driver, and this is what Scuderia AlphaTauri will do and therefore I'm still convinced Yuki will have a successful season.

Guenther, on the topic of mentoring drivers, Nikita spoke yesterday about some advice you gave him that helped his performance in Monaco. Could you just tell us a little bit about that discussion - and was the improvement for him race-specific or do you expect it to continue on?
Guenther Steiner: There is not one specific thing, he cannot sort these things out in one session. We talked since the beginning of the season and I just tried to give him confidence - though I'm getting worried now after all that Franz said about how good it is in Italy for rookies, that they now don't want to move to Italy. So, Franz, you have to welcome them as well if they want to go now if it is so beautiful but...

FT: You should know, you are from Italy!

GS: I know it - but I don't tell the drivers where to go. So, no, seriously, it's just he needs to grow his confidence, that he did a good job again today, until a few minutes to go in the session. I think the last minutes in the session are somehow the most difficult ones for us after Mick had it in FP3 in Monte Carlo and Nikita in FP1. As Franz assessed, it's very competitive. We are not looking for the front of the midfield, we are just trying to train the drivers as much as we can. What our two have got as well - and we knew this, this is not a surprise - they have no reference. Their reference is their team-mate, which is a rookie as well, so it's very difficult. It makes it much more challenging to learn things. I think they just need to get in the weekend and just have the confidence that they can improve and not just looking at times to say 'I'm good or I'm bad'. There is more than a time. There is 'how much did I learn?' 'how much progress did I make?' There's a lot to be learned. And the learning will continue. We knew this going into this season and in the moment it is working out as we saw it coming. I'm not unhappy. Obviously I would like to replace crashes but we will deal with that one anyway we have to. There is no other way to do it but in general they're making progress, it is getting better, everything calms down so, for me, those are the positive sides of it.

But were you surprised by the step forward that Nikita took in Monaco - and at Monaco of all places? Such a difficult track.
GS: I wasn't surprised because it will come. At some stage, there will be a step, and where it is, I cannot define, but I knew it was coming, that he will make progress. He was pretty good in F2. He won races in F2, so why would he not make that step? Like everything else in Formula 1, how much time have you got? Like in every top sport, you don't have endless time to do this. It was good that it came in Monaco and again this morning he did a good job as well. Hopefully we just can build on this, what happened in Monaco. But you know it's an up-and-down. There will be races where we are down again until we stabilise ourselves. To be honest, I knew it was coming. If it was Monaco... maybe just circumstances.

Otmar, onto you, can I continue the theme. Obviously Lance isn't a rookie but do you see Sebastian taking on the mentoring role within your team?
Otmar Szafnauer: Lance isn't a rookie, he's been with us for a while now and there's a good dynamic between Lance and Sebastian. Sebastian does have more experience and the way we go about debriefs now has changed a bit. Sebastian has expanded the way we do things, not just Lance but the entire team have embraced that.

And can we throw it back to that great result for you guys in Monaco. P5, P8, it was a good reward after a tough start to the season. Just how much satisfaction did it give you personally, and how much of a lift has it given everyone in the team?
OS: You know Monaco's a special place and it's a bit of a one-off. We will continue to build on what we had in Monaco. It lifted the team, it showed that, in a place like that, we did a good job. Pitstops worked well, our strategy was pretty good and we had decent qualifying - so, if we can continue to do that in other places, long may it continue that we have both cars in the points.

Do you think it will transfer here - because Monaco is a bit of an outlier isn't it?
OS: It's early days here. We had a good first session. We still haven't run the softest of the compounds. We'll do that in FP2. There's still a lot to learn and some homework to do tonight to get ready for tomorrow.

And was Monaco proof that Seb is now fully up to speed?
OS: Well, Seb's getting more comfortable. In Monaco, if you're not comfortable in the car then it's hard to extract all the performance out of it. He did feel more comfortable in the car in Monaco and did a good job, both in the race and in qualifying. Is he 100 per cent? I don't think he's quite there yet - but very close.

Questions From The Floor

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Good afternoon gentlemen. When we look at the budget cap it was introduced in order to level the playing field yet we have all these controversies about flexible wings and whatever else. Surely the budget cap actually regulates these sorts of things through limits on cost control? Would you prefer to see regulation via cost-control rather than strict regulations?
OS: I think there needs to be a combination Dieter. I personally would lean towards having regulation by cost-control so the smarter teams, not the richer teams also have a good chance - but you need technical regulations and sporting regulations as well. So, it's got to be a combination.

FT: You need strict sporting regulations and a cost-cap regulation. You need both if you are in Formula 1 because otherwise there are always loopholes.

GS: Yeah, I would say the same. We need technical regulations which need to be followed and then the cost-cap comes in, I wouldn't say at the end, but with it, you know? It needs to be really clear what you can and cannot do, and if there are loopholes, like it seems to be on this rear wing, they need to be closed and we need to move on. But we need technical regulations and the cost-cap is then there anyway.

Check out our Friday gallery from Baku, here.

(Christian Nimmervoll - motorsport.com) This one is for Franz, following up on Yuki moving to Faenza. Franz, I believe you have an apartment in the city centre and Dr Marko says he's going to be under your personal supervision. So does that mean Yuki is moving into even the same building? How close are you going to be? And if he works hard enough in the team, as you said before, are you going to invite him for your famous Marillenknodel?
FT: For the Marillenknodel, ooh he must work a little bit harder and have more success before he gets the Marillenknodel yeah? Must wait a little bit. Maybe this is something for next season? No, we are not living in the same apartment, it's enough if he sees me in the factory. It's not the most important - what's important is the cooperation with the engineers and with the trainers - because they do most of the work and so far everything works well, Yuki is happy. How everything will come to and end, we will then see.

Thank you Franz. We've spoken a lot about Yuki. Let's talk briefly about Pierre. Great race for him in Monaco, P6. Why did it all come together for him there? Do you think it was something of a breakthrough for him in the team?
FT: Pierre was from the very beginning onwards very competitive. If you remember, he was on the fifth position in Bahrain on the qualifying, then in the race he had unfortunately the collision with Ricciardo, if I remember right, he lost the front wing - but he was always there. When we struggled, there were technical reasons behind, that we couldn't get correct set-up to the car, either from the tyres or the aero side, and then, of course, he couldn't show the performance. In all the races, Pierre showed fantastic performance, also in Monaco, and the reason why he couldn't finishing on the fifth position was because we had problems to heat up the tyres, the Hard tyres in time, and he lost a little bit too much on his out-lap and therefore Vettel and also the others could overtake him - but from his performance, I must say he is really, really doing a good job.

(Andrew Benson - BBC) What's your position on the way the FIA has handled the flexible wing controversy and how do you feel about them having declared that some cars have wings that go beyond the regulations in their view, but those wings are not yet illegal and that some teams are being allowed to run them this weekend?
GS: I think the FIA has handled it in a very fair way. There was a loophole and they didn't know about it. They found out that there was a loophole, it was detected or they were made aware of it. Like a lot of these things, how they happen is the FIA is made aware of it because the teams monitor each other all the time anyway and then they reacted and gave it a little bit of time to fix the problem. I'm not talking for the FIA here now, by no means, but to fix a rear wing, if you give not enough time, it could be a safety aspect involved as well. I think with the timeline involved, we need to fix it. There was a loophole. Some people used it and some didn't and it will be fixed in the near future.

FT: The FIA handled everything in the correct way, because you have to give the teams a little bit of a timeframe. The rear wing is not such an easy thing, because you have to make new calculations, it takes time, then you have to fabricate the new wing and then you have to do a test by yourself and this takes time and therefore I think the FIA made everything correct.

OS: I would have preferred us not to have flexi-wings here, as this is the circuit that it has the biggest impact upon. It's good that the FIA have acted. It could have been earlier. In my opinion I would have preferred earlier, but better late than never.

Guenther, coming back to you. In 2017 and 2018 this race ranked number one for on-track overtakes. Does that potential for jeopardy provide an opportunity for you or does it fill you with fear?
GS: Ha! I don't think we have a lot of possibility to overtake people, you know. I mean, it's no fear as well. We know where we are. I think in general for racing it's good if there is a lot of overtaking. It's good after Monte Carlo where there was very little overtaking. But for us as a team it will have very little influence.

(Christian Nimmervoll - motorsport.com) Seb had a very positive weekend in Monaco but at the same time he was very close to failing to make into Q2. Was this a weekend that was a bit on the lucky side or were there actual signs of a performance improvement and if there were could you bit of flesh to the bone in terms of what Seb found?
OS: I think the Q2 issues is that Seb wanted to save an extra set of tyres. He was confident he could make it in. You're right, it was close, and as it turned out the extra set of tyres helped him get into Q3. Yeah, Seb is getting more comfortable in the car and as I said before, if you are not comfortable in the car in Monaco it can be disastrous. He did a really good job. He felt comfortable in the car and we hope the same will happen here this weekend.

(Chris Medland - Racer) Otmar, Monaco was a strong result for the team but looking at the Constructors' Championship there is a big gap to Ferrari and McLaren specifically, so it looks even at this stage you will be fighting for P5. Is that how you see it and that does that change maybe how you approach 2022? Or with so far to go in the season are you still trying to target those two teams in front of you?
OS: Well, I see the gap exactly like you do. There is a bigger gap to the teams in front than to the team's behind and we have to do a good job for the rest of the season, bring some more upgrades, understand the car better, get the drivers even more comfortable and fight as hard as we can to finish as high as possible in the midfield. It won't be easy, even for fifth, but we will do the best we can.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Otmar with next year's technology change etc and also the fact that you have a bigger budget than at any time in the past, or certainly the recent past, how is your facility and also your manpower upgrade and recruitment process going?
OS: We've added significantly the amount of people we have since we were Force India. The new factory is on track, we have started building already, and it's a big, big programme to recruit even further. We are at about 535 people now and we will get to about the region of 800 or whatever the right size is under the cost cap and we are strategically working on that now and trying to recruit likeminded individuals that want to come work for Aston Martin Racing and go racing at the highest level. The recruitment process is going well.

(Chris Medland - Racer) Guenther, I just wondered if you were paying attention to how Pietro got on at Indy last weekend and do you look at how your reserve drivers perform outside of F1 and then maybe what they might be able to do in an F1 car if needed?
GS: Yeah, I for sure look at the 500 and this year we were not racing so that's what I did on Sunday and I think Pietro did a very good job in qualifying - qualifying 13th for the 500 on a one-off is pretty good. In the race, it didn't go his way. He was out of sequence with the yellow and then he did a fuel strategy that obviously didn't work out. But I think he did a good job. Obviously I watch him, what he's doing outside, I interact with him, he doesn't live so far from me and I mean he is doing one more race in Indycar this year and we will keep watching him. But if I look into it to see how he would do in an F1 car? With this I don't need to, he did it already last year in Bahrain and in Abu Dhabi we put him in the car and he did a good job, but it's always interesting if these guys go Indycar racing, especially the 500.

(Sandor Meszaros - Autosport es Formula) Franz, at the time when you made the decision to promote Yuki to the race team, did you expect that working with him would be complicated?
FT: It's not so complicated. It's the usual way you have to work with newcomers in Formula 1. Yuki shows a fantastic natural speed. Once more, as I said before, coming to a new race track with this high level which is currently in Formula 1 being shown from all the drivers it's not so easy to be in the first 10 or qualifying three. But I am convinced that Yuki will show us some fantastic races this year and I am also quite sure he will learn very fast. The question is not how much work, the question is how fast we can bring him forward, how fast he is adapting everything and how fast he can transfer this to the cockpit and the driving and so far I must say he is really, really doing a fantastic job. We all have now the incidents in mind, for example in Imola, yeah, but we forget that in sector one and sector two he had green sector times, he was so fast. Of course when you are so fat the risk is higher that you crash. But he is learning out of this, hopefully at least, and therefore you will see on race tracks that he knows that he will show a fantastic performance.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) A question for Guenther. Guenther, during the recent Q1 investor call, Stefano Domenicali mentioned that he was hopeful of an American driver in the near future. Now, you, as an American-based team or American-owned team, have you been working together with Formula 1 about an American driver?
GS: Yeah, there is always... Formula 1 would like an American driver and we would like an American driver, but at the moment... Obviously we are looking into it, but there is one thing out there, which is a Super Licence, which not many have got at the moment, and then it needs to be a talent. Then the American drivers they all get a good job in America. For sure, we are always looking and I speak with Stefano about it - what could be done and what couldn't be done and we try to make a plan for the future. I think it needs to be something not immediate but short you cannot do anything to get someone in because of the Super Licence. It will come. We just need to be patient at some stage. There are a few guys in Formula 2, in Formula 3, sorry, which look promising and let's see what can be done.

Guenther, have you had any conversations with Colton Herta?
GS: No, I never spoke with Colton but we all know he has no Super Licence.

Check out our Friday gallery from Baku, here.

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Published: 04/06/2021
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