Today's press conference with Frederic Vasseur, Simon Roberts and Mario Isola.
Fred, can we start with you. Great race for you in Monaco last time out with Antonio getting a point. Are you confident that pace can translate to here in Baku?
Frederic Vasseur: I am not so confident. I think the layout of the track is not the best one for us. We are doing a step forward over the last couple of weekends and we are always there. But we all know that Baku is one of the most chaotic races of the season and it means we have to do a good job, a strong job, from the beginning to the end, and to be there at the end, and probably we will have the opportunity to score points at the end of the weekend.
So you see the jeopardy as an opportunity for Alfa Romeo?
FV: Sure. It's always an opportunity. If it's not an opportunity we have to stay at home!
Can we talk about the strengths of the car? It is a great step forward from last year. Now you're five races in and you've learned a lot about it, tell us more about it?
FV: It's quite clear that we made a good step forward on the PU side and it's the same for Ferrari, and for sure it's helping a lot. On the global aero package we are still there. Last year we also had a decent level. We improved a lot during the season last year to finish always in the mid-group of Q2 at the last four or five events and we started from there. But with the support of the engine now we are almost always in Q2 and it's a good step forward.
Antonio has taken a good step forward too. If I had told you pre-season that he would outqualify Kimi four to one in the opening five races, what would have been your reaction?
FV: I'm not Madame Irma so I don't know but honestly I think it was already the case a little bit at the end of last year. But for me he improved probably more in the race management than in the quali pace. That quali pace was already there in the second part of last season and now he's also able to do a very good management during the race and to have strong race pace.
Mario, you've gone softer on the compounds in Baku compared to 2019. Can you tell us a little about what you learned in FP1 and how it will impact the race?
Mario Isola: Yeah, we decided to go softer because analysing the race in 2019, the hard was not used. It was used only in P1, mainly at the beginning of the session and then teams focused on the medium and the soft. That is why we decided to give an extra chance in terms of different strategies by selecting the C3, C4 and C5, that is one step softer. I can imagine that a one-stop race is still possible using hard and medium or hard and soft. It is probably marginal if they consider a strategy of medium and soft in terms of wear. This morning, as predicted, we had a big, big, track evolution. If I look back at other races here in Baku we always have a lot of track evolution and therefore it is difficult to assess the delta lap time from first practice. I hope we have better data in the afternoon. The wind is another important element to consider because we know how these cars are sensitive to the wind and the wind is probably making their life a bit more difficult in finding reliable data from P2.
It's been a busy time for Pirelli since Monaco, because you've been testing your 2022 wet weather tyres at Paul Ricard with Ferrari. How did it go?
MI: It was a very good test on a different circuit. Obviously in Jerez it was difficult to have the right level of water on track, so it was a good test for intermediate tyres but we didn't reach the right level for the wet tyres. In Paul Ricard it was possible to have two days testing with all the conditions and also to better understand the crossover. I believe that we have a good tyre, talking about the intermediate. It's still a work in progress for the wet because, as I said, the first session was not really representative for the wet tyre. I'm confident that in the next session that is planned in September at Magny Cours we can finalise the product for the slick tyre we spoke of last time we saw (each other) and it is still good and the planning has gone as predicted. We have three sessions scheduled in Spielberg, Silverstone and Budapest, so we will finalise the new compounds in these three sessions.
Simon coming to you now, Mario touched on the windy conditions there. Given that both drivers have told us this year the car is very sensitive to wind, how nervous do these conditions make you?
Simon Roberts: Interesting, because today neither driver really commented on the wind affecting the car, so I'm wondering if we're just getting used to it and for everybody else beginning to get into that space. Yeah, it wasn't really a feature for us. The wind yesterday was amazing and luckily we're not in that but yeah, today was not any issues so far.
Well, what about progress with the car? Do you think you're going to be a little bit more competitive here than you were in Monaco last time out?
SR: I'd hope so. We're working to our programme and it is about getting the tyres to work and as Mario said, we've got different choices here than last year so that's all new for us and then we just tune in the aero package on the car and making sure we give the drivers something they can be competitive with.
And we've already heard from Fred about Antonio Giovinazzi's progress since last year; I wanted to ask you about Nicholas Latifi. He seems to have made great strides as well. In what areas do you feel he's made the most progress since last season?
SR: We think he's matured a lot over the winter. Obviously it's his second year in the car and I think that's the main difference, so he now joins us at a race weekend absolutely knowing what's going to happen, how we're working with him and vice versa: we know how he's going to work with us and I think that gives him confidence early on in the day, through FP1 and FP2 and it allows us to build to a better place. But yeah, we're really pleased with the progress he's made and just looking forward to continuing that through this season.
Questions From The Floor
(Sandor Meszaros - Autosport es Formula) Mario, a few days ago in an interview, David Coulthard criticised Pirelli. He said that this era is pretty boring for him because the drivers complain too much because they have to avoid pushing hard enough on these tyres. Have you got any comment on this statement?
MI: Yeah. I spoke to David and I have to say that he was not criticising Pirelli but he's obviously... he likes the tyre war era, he likes to have a competition in Formula 1 that is not only for engines, cars but in his opinion is also about tyres. He doesn't like the current system, where we have tyres with some degradation that, as you know, they are designed to have this level of degradation. It is and it will be a different story next year when we've been requested to design the new 18-inch tyres with different characteristics: less overheating, less degradation. He was just expressing his opinion about the current regulations and the current system and I fully understand because he is a driver that used to drive more than 10 years ago when it was a completely different situation. We know that with the current cars which are very fast, even if much heavier compared to the past, you put a lot of stress on the tyres, this generates degradation and also when you follow another car you lose downforce and it is an additional element so we are working together with the FIA and F1 in order to have a different situation for next year. I'm sure that if you don't lose downforce, when you follow another car, and with tyres that are designed with different characteristics we can achieve the target.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) To the two team principals: in this period of financial regulations, do we actually need very stringent technical regulations of the type that bans flexi-wings? How do you feel about that?
FV: So far for us it is not an issue because we are below the cost cap. It means it's more an issue on the budget side but it's not an issue on the cost cap. But for sure, for the future, we need to be able to predict what could be cost and expenses during the season and it means that we need to have something consistent, even if we have to keep some margin for emergencies but for sure it will be a key point into the performance, the budget management in the future.
SR: Yeah, like Fred, currently we're operating under the cost cap. We're focusing on making sure we are fully compliant with that going forward, because it's not just about the level, it's about how you document everything and how you go racing. In terms of the rules, we're just looking for fairness and consistency so nothing more than that.
(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Mario, you mentioned the impact on the weight of F1 cars briefly. I was just wondering if you could explain a little bit how much the weight of the cars has pushed Pirelli to the limit, in terms of tyre technology and what the tyres can actually withstand, because I think next year, the 2022 cars are going to be almost a hundred kilos heavier than the first hybrids. The cars are also going to be quite considerably heavier than the first set of cars that Pirelli would have been designing tyres for back when it first got this contract.
MI: This is true, it is not only the weight of the car that is stressing the tyre, it's the level of downforce, the speed. There are many parameters that we have to consider and obviously we are designing tyres for next year, keeping in mind all these numbers and also asking the teams that are providing mule cars, to give us cars that are representative of next year's cars, even if they are mule cars but the weight is the same that is in the regulations for 2022, weight distribution, level of downforce also. We are designing tyres with these characteristics in mind. Obviously they are different compared to the past but that's our job.
(Luke Smith - Autosport) Simon, George Russell's performances have won him huge amounts of praise throughout his time at Williams, both on and off track. Do you feel he's grown into a leadership role at Williams and how much has helped bring the team forwards?
SR: Yeah, it's been great having George in the team and he has grown and continues to grow. He's still relatively young in his career and we just want to make sure we give him the best possible experience and help with his ongoing performance going forward.
On the subject of his off-track leadership role, does he get involved in some of the bigger decisions back at Grove or is he very much a racing driver?
SR: So, we're always talking to the drivers about the direction of the car. They spend a lot of time in the simulator. George is very active in that programme and it's part of that whole decision-making process so with his team of engineers in particular, they will set direction in terms of making the car better and we try and weave that into the programme we've got running forward but this year is different, the car is very carry-over, we're fairly limited on what we can do so I think going forward into 2022 and beyond it's all going to open up again and driver feedback and driver involvement will come into play much more.
Check out our Friday gallery from Baku, here.
(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Mario, if I understood you correctly just now you said that the tyre characteristics for next year will change. That implies that you have a different set of targets or target letter. Could you just elaborate on that please?
MI: Yeah, the new target letter is just stating that we have to design a tyre with less degradation. The numbers of degradation are in the target letter, the data lap time is defined in the target letter. We have to focus on compounds with a wider working range and to reduce the overheating. These are the main parameters that are interesting to know that there are some other technical characteristics but mainly this is a summary or what we agreed. Obviously the degradation cannot be zero for all the compounds because otherwise there is no reason to have strategies with more than one stop or using different compounds so we have to look at those targets and try to design compounds with these characteristics. What I can tell you is that during our tyre development tests, we obviously measure the degradation and we ask the drivers to push each lap, to simulate what will happen next year and the results are very promising. Then next year we will have different cars and we have to validate the results on the new cars but the results so far are promising.
(Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) Mario, just to follow on from that, you've been using the word promising quite a lot when you're talking about these tests but just to be specific about it for a moment, from the test, you did sound like you were very close to finalising at least some aspects of the build of next year's tyres. From what the drivers have experienced so far, have you been able to produce a tyre that they are able to push for long periods of times, multiples of laps, on the limit, without suffering thermal sensitivity and overheating issues that have been characteristic of the tyres for the last few years?
MI: I'm using the word promising just because the development is still ongoing and we haven't finalised the product for next year yet but the numbers that we collect from test sessions are in line with the target letter. That is why... we saw some others in which we can improve and we are working around that. Obviously we have to design five compounds to race on 23 different circuits so we need to collect more data in different circuits with different cars to be one hundred per cent sure that we are on the target. How can we produce tyres with these characteristics? We had to completely change the approach. We have to redesign the compounds and we are talking about introducing a new family of compounds with different ingredients and also in terms of construction, we have designed a construction with some characteristics that are going in the direction of reducing degradation and overheating. If we want to say that the overheating or the thermal sensitivity will be zero, I tell you that that is impossible from a physical point of view so forget the possibility to have a tyre with zero overheating or zero degradation that in any case is not in the target but we can heavily reduce it and the challenge for us is to produce a tyre with these characteristics.
(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Another one for Mario: obviously the testing is being conducted with the mule cars and there are obviously estimations that you can make about what the cars are going to produce performance-wise next year, but presumably those first days of pre-season testing with the real 2022 cars next year are going to be really important to work out what the tyres are doing in reality, so with that in mind, how much potential is there for a significant shift, I suppose, in the characteristics of the cars on the 2022 tyres, and what sort of flexibility do you at the start of next year to adjust the tyre compounds and specifications as necessary?
MI: Talking about the mule cars, as I said, because now the technical regulations is available, teams have the possibility to prepare some simulations and we did simulations also to prepare mule cars that are representative for next year. It is true what you say, we cannot have a final feedback until the pre-season tests next year, for sure, and in any case, when we start the season next year, there is no plan to - once the tyre are frozen and this is what the regulations state - we cannot change the tyre unless there is a specific reason that we have to agree with the teams and with the FIA, so there is no plan to review the compounds during the season. Obviously all the data collected next year with the real cars will be useful for us to upgrade the product for 2023 but there is no plan to do that during the season.
Check out our Friday gallery from Baku, here.