Russian GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 2


Today's press conference with Toyoharu Tanabe, Laurent Mekies and Marcin Budkowski

Laurent, can we start with you and start by talking about the new power unit that is in Charles's car this weekend? How's progress so far?
Laurent Mekies: Well, first of all it's fair to say that the main target with this power unit is above all to work for next year, so the big push from the company to try to bring this new hybrid system as early as now, is to make sure that we can confirm that all the processes, all the direction of development that we have for next year's PU is confirmed with the race track feedback. It's one thing to have the simulation, it's one thing to have the dyno tests, it's much better if we can have on-track confirmation so that's why we are doing it. A bit early for the feedback, we have only run FP1 but hopefully it will be a step in the right direction. Of course, doing so in that manner means that we will have a sporting penalty to deal with, but again it's consistent with our focus to next year and to try to give priority to that.

Laurent, of course it's early, but what are Charles' first impressions of the new power unit?
LM: I think the first take-away from that FP1 running is that we had a smooth session, so it's credit to all the people in Maranello and here who prepared that switch. So he had a smooth session, we don't have outstanding comments about changes that he could feel but because we know there is no silver bullet these days, it's about implementing small steps in every area and that's what we are trying to do, so the hybrid system is no different to that.

And can you tell us when Carlos Sainz is going to get it?
LM: That's a tricky one because as we said, the difference in performance is never going to be huge because it's all about adding these small steps. The sporting penalty is significant. We are also fighting for every single point for the Constructors' championship so we are trying to evaluate when it is reasonable to do it from performance versus penalty point of view. Of course, you should not do it too late because the more you wait, the less you will have benefits from the switch so I think in the next couple of races we will probably make the call.

Now, while we're talking power units, Tanabe-san, can I bring you in please? Honda introduced new hybrid elements at the Belgian Grand Prix. How much of a step forward have they been for you?
Toyoharu Tanabe: The purpose of the new energy store, there are some reasons: one is the performance, then the reliability, then the weight. And the performance means efficient electricity system that contributes to the PU performance. Then, the reliability, we developed that energy store in collaboration with Honda R&D and then our engineers closely worked with our supplier, then it means that much more high quality than the previous one. Of course, in this sport reliability is very important for the PU point of view because of the sporting regulations. And then another one is weight, so to tell you the truth... it means our energy store was a little bit heavier than the regulation so now we tried to match the regulation low limit so the weight contributes to the total car performance, so those three aspects improved our total car performance.

And will Max Verstappen take a new power unit this weekend?
TT: We are watching the situation and then discussing with the team when is the best timing to introduce the next PU for Max, and then we are going to decide when.

Marcin, can I bring you in on this discussion as well? New hybrid elements, what's the situation at Alpine and Renault?
Marcin Budkowski: We said, in the last few months, we are focusing on our 2022 package so we have a whole new engine coming for next year but we've developing for a couple of years now and we aim to introduce it just before the freeze for the first race next year, obviously if the freeze does happen and so yeah, we've pretty much carried over the engine for next year to this year to be able to focus all our attention on next year's package.

Now Fernando Alonso said yesterday, Marcin, that you have the fifth or the sixth best car on the grid. Would you agree with him, and what does that means for the Constructors' championship battle that you're having with AlphaTauri - just 11 points between you?
MB: I do agree, we do our regular competitive analysis for the whole package, for the chassis, for the power unit, we look at the numbers after each race. Obviously there are swings in competitiveness between teams, depending on the circuits. Some circuits suit better some car characteristics than others but I think, on average, yes, we are there or thereabouts, it's the sixth quickest package meaning that we are in the fight to get into Q3 and fighting to score some points at every race, we've done that consistently. I was looking at the table the other day and was pleased to see that we've scored points at every single race except the first one this year, so it's a good run. But we tend to fight for the smaller points unless there are opportunities, unless the races are animated if you want, at the front, so that's where we are and obviously this is where we are aiming to improve to fight for bigger points, to fight for podiums in the future.

Another question involving Fernando Alonso: he's now the highest-placed driver in the World Championship without a podium; how unfair would it be if he weren't to score a podium this year given his level of driving?
MB: It's the case, because he's been extremely regular, he's been consistent, scoring points at every race and we all know that in terms of race craft Fernando is still at the very top of his game and probably one of the best in the sport so he makes the best of every opportunity in the race and tends to score more points than the car is worth on that particular day and that's why he's there in the championship. Would that be unfair? Reality is you've got to be in the right place at the right time sometimes if you want to be on the podium or win a race with a car that, on merit, shouldn't get there. He hasn't had that opportunity so far, he's commented on that a few times on the radio saying we've been unlucky but at some point our luck will come. I hope it does.

Questions From The Floor

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) To the two team representatives please: next year, the sporting regulations will require rookies to be run on Fridays. Both your teams have fairly impressive rosters of rookies; will you be choosing one or rotating them?
LM: It's a good question. At first, as Ferrari, we welcome the opportunity to run the rookie in FP1. We have been investing in the younger generation for many different reasons, for a number of years so without so many testing opportunities it's great to see that as a sport we have now the window to at least give them these FP1 opportunities. I tend to think that we will run only one driver, Dieter, because two sessions is still very little. We all know that it's a very tough ask to a young driver, to get into a car in FP1, one hour, and to perform, so I think giving only one shot and not the two shots to whoever is going to probably be... is not the best way around, so I think the short answer to your question is probably going to be one driver only.

MB: First of all, we're doing it already, so it's not going to change an awful lot, this regulation, for us. We've run Guanyu Zhou, one of our F2 academy drivers, in Austria this year and we are looking at the opportunity to run him again in an FP1 session later this season, so obviously we welcome this regulation because we believe it's the right thing to do, to develop young drivers; as Laurent mentioned, there's very very few opportunities at the moment for young drivers to actually drive current Formula 1 cars, let alone during a proper race weekend. To answer your question precisely, it depends what we do effectively next year with our young drivers and especially with the reserve driver role. Should we put one of our young drivers - academy drivers, if you want - that are currently competing in F2 as a reserve driver, then that's the best way to actually prepare your reserve driver to step is, should he have to, if one of your main drivers can't participate, so I guess the same answer as Laurent, it's likely to be the same one but it doesn't have to be.

(Evgeny Kustov - Laurent, could you tell us about Ferrari's plans for Robert Shwartzman and Callum Ilott for next year and beyond? Can we expect them both to be reserve drivers in Formula 1?
LM: It's a fair question. I think we are in the lucky situation on one hand where we are dealing with a great generation of drivers. We have Robert, we have Callum, obviously, we have Mick in the F1 field. It's going to be difficult to find the space for everybody for the reasons we just discussed so I think the reality is that Callum is starting to investigate his way in the US, he's been racing in IndyCar recently and hopefully he has a good opportunity there and for Robert, we want to think that it's still early days. There are three full weekends to the end of the championship. He's third at the moment at some distance from the leading positions but that's a position he's fighting for so we want to leave him fully focused on this programme and then at the end of the season we will sit together and certainly try to build the best next step for him.

Check out our Friday gallery from Sochi, here.

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Marcin, about the Alpine academy and specifically Oscar Piastri. I know that the F2 title has to be decided, there's a lot of races still to do, but has Oscar's progress and performances this season, has it almost effectively come a year sooner than you at Alpine expected in terms of trying to find something to do with him and is he basically the lead candidate to fulfil that reserve driver, FP1 driver role next year, if he does win F2 and doesn't step up to F1?
MB: Well, the first thing I'd say is that I don't remember us ever talking so much about young drivers which is fantastic. We're here, the first half of this press conference and most of the questions we were getting in the TV pen earlier are asking about young drivers in general and Alpine academy drivers in particular so that's great. We are talking about young drivers, we are recognising the success of our respective academies so that's the good part. Now, I'm not going to give any information on what our plans for next year are, partly because they are still in the making, definitely Oscar's been extremely impressive. He is potentially on course to win his third championship in three years. He has won F3, he won the Renault EuroCup in the previous years so what a streak already. Even if he doesn't win it, it's a pretty strong three years for a young driver. I think there's very few that have managed that in the past, so does that impress us, at Alpine? Of course it does. Will he win the championship? We'll know that soon but certainly it does have an influence on the plans we are making for next year for the reserve driver's seat and for the year output of the academy in general.

Tanabe-san, how are things going in terms of Honda handing over to Red Bull Powertrains for next season?
TT: Yes, so we are discussing - Honda and Red Bull - are discussing the details and then it's not simple, so we need to discuss very detailed how to progress that project and then whether we have to do that. We can have a specific plan soon and then make it progress.

(Leonid Kluev - Marcin, could you maybe share some details on your contract with Danny Kvyat in terms of what are his chances in staying with you in 2022?
MB: Well, first of all, Danny is a great addition to the team. He's here with us, he's been participating in various media operations. I think he went bungee jumping yesterday amongst other things. He's a great driver, he's a great guy as well. He's a fantastic person to have around so we're very happy with him. He was testing for us between Monza and here, the mule car, the car that's been adapted to run the 2022 tyres, the 18 inch tyres, in Magny Cours in the wet for a couple of days with very very useful feedback both for Pirelli mostly and for the team, so at the moment he's very much our reserve driver and certainly until the end of the year, and as I mentioned earlier the options for next year are open. We are discussing internally what's the next step and we have quite a few young academy drivers coming up and ready for F1, so we are evaluating seriously for the role of reserve driver but that's all I can say at this stage. We'll communicate our plans in due course.

(Valentin Khorounzhiy - The Race) Marcin, you have Guanyu Zhou on the books and this year there has been a lot of talks that he might be heading to Alfa Romeo next year, onto the F1 grid. Would there be any way of retaining a link to him if that does come to fruition? And is there a wider concern that as there is no obvious partner team it is going to be harder to hang on to members of your academy who are proving to be quite good?
MB: It's a great problem to have, isn't it? What we are basically saying is that our academy has been successful at generating great talent and in a way a few of them are coming to maturity and are ready for F1 at the same time. So, credit to the academy that we have been running for a few years and to Mia Sharizman, our academy director, who has been preparing all these youngsters and taking them through all these various categories successfully. To your question on Guanyu Zhou, there are rumours flying around, and again I am not going to comment on rumours here, or on driver contracts, as I said, we are evaluating options for our academy drivers but the success of an academy is also measured through its output. We are running this academy because we want to generate Formula 1 drivers, Formula 1 drivers for Alpine, and the academy as such is only successful if it does generate Formula 1 drivers, so we can't stand in the way of our drivers who are mature for F1 and ready to take that challenge because that would be, obviously, negative for their careers and for them as individuals and also it would reflect badly on our academy. So these are the parameters, if you want, we need to take into account when assessing our plans for next year. But I won't get dragged into giving any more details, no matter how many questions I'm getting, and we'll announce this in due course.

(Leonid Kluev- Laurent, what areas does Robert Shwartzman need to improve to succeed in the final stages of the championship?
LM: Robert has a great talent. We consider him as a pure talent and what we normally want to see with these pure talents is we want to see them making steps every three, four, five races. There are great guys we have in our race cars at Ferrari right now, Charles and Carlos. It's drivers that never stop progressing. So even though they have the raw speed and even though they gain experience by communicating with the engineers and so on, but ultimately that they do make steps forward. I think what we want to see with Robert is we want to see these steps forward and we want to see them as often as possible. Until we see him progressing, we will be happy with the path he is having. Now we are seeing some progress with him. This season has not been all easy but I think for... his main focus should really be on that. Continue to develop. The road is very long and the sort of drivers that then come to Formula 1 and succeed are people that will continue to develop, also in their Formula 1 years and this is very much where our focus is with him.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Marcin, you spoke about this great to have, namely too many young drivers for the seats available. Partially, this is due to the fact that there aren't enough teams in Formula 1 - there are only 20 seats when we could have 24 or even 26. Part of the reason for this is that we have this $200 million anti-dilution fee. Should this be scrapped for the next Concorde Agreement if not before?
MB: It's a complicated question, Dieter. I'm going to try to give you a simple answer. It would be good to have more teams in Formula 1. I think we would all welcome that. But they need to be the right teams and they need to bring value to the sport and I think that's one of the reasons that the anti-dilution fee was brought in, to make sure that people who come are really financially sound and solid, to be able to run a Formula 1 team, which as you know is a very expensive business to run. Equally, it was also a way to ensure that when the Concorde Agreements were negotiated that all the teams would be reassured that the cake wouldn't be split in more slices, with newcomers entering the sport in an uncontrolled manner. It was a measure that was mostly brought to give confidence to the existing 10 teams that they would be looked after if there were new teams coming. Should that be scrapped? To be honest, it's a question for the commercial rights holder, a question for Stefano in that case. But yeah, more teams would bring more diversity to the sport, bring more drivers in the sport for sure. I think it's a better outcome than having three cars per team as has been mooted by some other people in the recent past.

LM: I think it was a very good summary from Marcin. I think trying to focus on the young driver aspect of the question. Ultimately you still want the 20 best drivers to be on the grid and what we need to come up with as a group is to find a way to give a chance to the young guys that are coming to be able to demonstrate whether they are part of the top 20. I don't think it's so much a matter of making it a top 22 or 24 or 26 or whatever, but it is a matter to have the opportunity to have the testing opportunities to make sure that we don't miss in one of these young driver coming up a guy or a young woman that is potentially within these 20 best drivers in the world.

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) Marcin, just on the absence of a customer team for Alpine. How much does that complicate exactly what you can try to do with your young academy drivers? I know that if you did have a customer team and you had an agreement to place a driver there that would obviously be much simpler but presumably your hands aren't totally tied, so how difficult its it to try and assist them, guys like Zhou and Oscar?
MB: I think you have to make the difference between a customer team and a partner team. A customer team, by definition, is a team buying an engine from you. Obviously we are a PU manufacturer with the Renault engine and we could sell our engine to another team but that doesn't mean we would have the right to nominate a driver in that team. I think that's a big difference. Now, everything is negotiable as part of the contract and the deal, but what we are looking at at the moment is what is the best future for the drivers we have developed for the past few years and if that involves discussing with another team the opportunity of having this driver then that's something we are doing. If that other team is a partner team of yours or a customer then it does make things simpler or gives you a lever if you want to make the deal but it doesn't mean that it's impossible without that.

Check out our Friday gallery from Sochi, here.

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Published: 24/09/2021
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