Turkish GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1


Today's press conference with Franz Tost, Laurent Mekies and Otmar Szafnauer.

Franz, can we roll it back to the last couple of races. Both Monza and Sochi, difficult ones for the team. What are your goals for this weekend in Turkey?
Franz Tost: Not to repeat the last two races, because Monza and Sochi was really a nightmare. We didn't score any points, too many mistakes and failures on the car, retirements and so on. And I hope that here in Istanbul we come back to score points.

The car in Sochi in particular looked really competitive. What lessons have been learned from that race weekend?
FT: Sochi was a difficult race, as you all know, a shower came and we decided with Pierre to stay out - but this was a completely wrong decision, as we know now and you know, if rain is coming it's always difficult to estimate how much water will come down and we thought after the first shower it will stop. Therefore we decided to stay out with Pierre. It was a wrong decision, should have called him in, should have put on the Intermediates earlier, and then I think he would have been in a better position to score points.

So when you've had a difficult moment like that and you've rolled the dice and it doesn't work, how does that influence your thinking going forwards?
FT: First of all, we are sitting together, we are analysing what we did wrong, what we have to do better in the future. We had a couple of meetings from the operational side to improve the work at the track, especially during the race if such conditions are coming up there - and I hope the decisions we made are positive, if in the second half of the season we are coming once more in such a situation, to be better positioned and make the right decisions.

Would you roll the dice again?
FT: That depends. On the one hand, yes, because if you don't risk anything, then it's difficult to win. But you have two cars and maybe you can split the cars. We could have, for example, put on the Intermediates on Yuki's car instead of the dry tyres because, as I mentioned before, we through it will stop, the rain, and therefore we put on the Soft tyres - but as we know now, this was a wrong decision. We should have put on the Intermediate tyres. In the future, if one car is still out with the dry tyres, we say OK, but then we go to a safe car with the second car and put on the Intermediates. There were a couple of other points and topics which we discussed and I hope that we are now settled for conditions in the future.

Laurent, first of all, what are grip levels like around the track here in Istanbul?
Laurent Mekies: Actually, the grip level was surprisingly high this morning. I know there was a lot of questions after the last race, we were all very surprised last year with the low level of grip which we knew was the result of the very late resurfacing of the track. But I must say well done to everybody involved because it seems to be back to normal here. So, I think all the drivers have enjoyed a much higher grip level compared to last year. We'll see how it will evolve during the weekend but certainly we are in a much better place than last year. So, well done to you guys, the FDA, and everybody else that has been involved.

Can we talk power units now? The new one has completed a race distance with Charles in Sochi. What did you learn about it there?
LM: The main target of this new hybrid system for us was to anticipate some of the work we are doing for next year. So we were trying to validate the direction of development we have been taking on the PU development for next year. We fitted it on Charles', it worked in a very smooth way through the weekend, which was the first objective. Performance-wise it was never going to be a game-changer - nothing is nowadays, it's small steps - but it was a step in the right direction and we are pushing forward with Carlos this weekend.

As you say, Carlos is taking it. Of the remaining races, is this the optimal track to do that and to take the grid-place hit?
LM: I think if you ask your strategy people when is the optimal time to do it, they will always want to do it as early as possible because you want to take the penalty and then enjoy the benefit of the new PU for as many races as possible. The short answer is, if you have decided to do it, you want to do it as early as possible as you are capable to do so. That's what we have been doing, pretty much. We have done it quite well in advance, compared to our initial plan, with Charles last week and now we do Carlos.

Otmar, first of all, let's talk about some great memories from Turkey last year. Of course, Lance on pole, Checo finishing second for Racing Point. Do those memories give the team a lift coming into the weekend?
Otmar Szafnauer: Yeah. Last year was significantly different, if you remember the very wet conditions and very slippery track. I think it will be different this year. The memories are still with us and what could have been had Lance not had his strake get stuck between the other strakes, which meant his front wing wasn't working - because I remember he had a significant lead. But still, great for the team last year but I think it will be different this year, including the weather.

While we're on the subject of drivers, your guys have tripped over each other at the last couple of races, particularly in Sochi. Have you felt the need to get involved yourself?
OS: No. They spoke about it after and I was there and Lance was apologetic. He didn't see Seb coming around him and just moved over to take the corner and Seb happened to be there, so yeah, there is no need, they're completely fine.

Final one from me Otmar. Martin Whitmarsh started at the team last Friday, first of October. How is his arrival at the team impacting you?
OS: Martin arrived on Friday so it's only been a couple of days that he's been there before I left to come here. He's getting to know the team and some of the other strategic things that he was hired to do, as we're marching our way down getting those things done. There's a lot happening at the team and we welcome Martin. He can help with his experience. We're building a new factory now, we're building a new wind tunnel, for example, and there's a lot happening back at base, even when we're out racing, so it's nice to have his experience.

You use the word 'strategic'. Is that his role? Is he more of a strategic thinker? Is he going to be coming to all the races?
OS: He's group CEO which by mere definition means you have a bigger role and a wider roll. He will be coming to some races. I think he'll be coming to Austin and then perhaps one more race this year and then a few next year.

Video Conference

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) To all three, as far as the championship is concerned we're heading towards the last quarter. Who would you tip as World Champion for this year, having looked at the past races?
FT: Personally, I hope Max Verstappen will be, clearly.

LM: It's difficult to say. It's a great fight. It's after, whatever, 15 races or more, they are two or three points apart. It's great to see. Looking from the side, it seems that we will see a bit more speed in the latest races with Max but I'm sure it's going to be a very tough fight until the last race.

OS: Very difficult to predict, just because they are so close, they're two great drivers fighting for a World Championship that's very valuable. Hard to say: Lewis is very experienced. He knows how to win World Championships. Max is very fast, so let's watch and see. We only have a quarter left and we'll know.

Are you going to give us a name?
OS: No - because I can't! If I say one, I'll probably be wrong!

(Julien Billiotte - AutoHebdo) Question to Franz please. Franz, do you think there is a sense of regret from Honda for perhaps deciding to leave Formula 1 too soon? Because yesterday there were more details about the future cooperation between Red Bull Powertrains and Honda. It almost felt like they wished they continued with you guys properly.
FT: I can't talk in the name of the management and of the board from Honda. But, as you know, the great manufacturers, there are some people, some managers who were happy to do Formula 1 and others that think the company should go in another direction. Honda has decided to go out from Formula 1 and nevertheless there is a close cooperation with Honda and Red Bull Technology in the future. Whether then Honda will come back, I don't know. Currently, they have decided to stop at the end of this year and will provide us and Red Bull Racing with engines in 2022 and from 2023 the engines will be designed and built by Red Bull Powertrain Technology Group and the rest we will see.

Check out our Friday gallery from Istanbul, here.

(Louis Dekker - NOS.NL - via email) To all three of you, on the subject of sprint races, what did you guys think of the events at Silverstone and Monza and, going forwards, where would you like to see two races in one weekend?
OS: I think we've got another one coming up in Brazil and thereafter we will have seen three different tracks and make a decision on the future. Whether the benefit on a Friday outweighs some of the traditions that we usually have on Saturday. I think also it's only fair that we listen to the fans. Perhaps do a bit of a fan survey to understand if the fans both at the circuit and at home watching TV, which they prefer. I think we should listen to the fans and, if it's more popular with them, then we should do more of them.

Otmar, your thoughts on Silverstone and Monza?
OS: I think they were different. Silverstone to me was a bit better but that's the first time we did that. I think on Saturday, there isn't as much overtaking as we would hope. I think people just settle in and that's what you end up with. So, let's see what happens in Brazil and then having a backwards look at everything and see if we're going to do it in the future.

LM: Similar thinking here. I think Silverstone and Monza went very well from this new racing format. I think it put all of us on quite a bit of a more intense programme on a Friday and hopefully it have been received well by the fans at the track or behind the TV, so I think it's good to have a more exciting Friday, then Saturday, Sunday. Yes, as Otmar said, you probably want to have a bit more overtaking but I think altogether it produces a very intense weekend and it's probably - hopefully - what the fans want to see.

Are there any tracks that would suit the format particularly well?
LM: I guess the main things we are careful with is to do it on a track where you actually have decent overtaking possibilities - otherwise it probably, a little bit, defeats the purpose. But again, we'll see in Brazil. If you do it on three very different tracks like Silverstone, Monza and Brazil it means you can be reasonably confident that you can extend it further to a few more races next year.

FT: I think that Silverstone and Monza showed that this new format worked quite well. I think for the fans it's something good because they have Friday, Saturday and Sunday highlights: Friday with the qualifying, Saturday with the sprint qualifying and Sunday with the race. Of course, we expected maybe a little bit more overtaking manoeuvres but we must be careful next year with a new regulation and maybe this will change completely. I think that this format is positive and I also expect some races will be added to this format. The only negative I see is for rookies because they have only one free practice session and then they go already into the qualifying. This is not an easy one but, nevertheless, as Otmar said, we have to wait now at Sao Paulo. This is the third race weekend where we have this format, and then ask the fans how they see it, and then decide what we do in 2022.

(Luke Smith - Autosport) Question for all three of you. We're expecting to get the F1 calendar for next year in the very near future and it's going to have 23 races, a record-breaking season - but it's also putting a lot of strain on all of the personnel working in the paddock. I just wanted to know from all three of you how important is it to look after the wellbeing and mental health of your employees with such a big calendar - and what kind of processes or protocols are in place do you guys have, particularly from a mental health standpoint.
FT: We know now that we have 23 races. It's fantastic, good job from FOM, I am looking forward to it. Regarding the people at the track. First of all, we are a race team. They all should be happy that we have as many races as possible and, of course, we take care of the people, for example the mechanics after a race weekend they have three days, four days off where they can stay at home. And also, press, marketing, all the people which are at the race track have some free days after the race weekend. Engineers it's a little bit more difficult but also, if I remember back in former times, they had to go after a race weekend to tests which means that they also had to work there. I think we all should be happy that we are in a position to be in Formula 1 and to have 23 races. And if someone doesn't like it, then he should go.

LM: Yeah 23 races is, I think, going to be a great calendar. To answer your questions, yes, we are building season after season a programme for the race team, you know, to stay in the best condition possible and yes, you add item after item, so you start from the physical aspect and then you go into the nutritional aspect and then eventually we are also looking at the mental aspects as you say to make sure that people have a good balance and stay in good shape and stay in good spirits. So I think all the teams are going to inevitably spend more and more energy on trying to keep their people in good shape for these long calendars but it is something that is very well embraced by all involved. I'm sure there will be further steps in the right direction.

OS: Well, we have been looking at this for quite some time, knowing that this was going to happen. I agree with Franz: it's nice that we have 23 countries or 23 races that want us to come and compete and showcase Formula 1. However, we do have to be mindful of all the people that travel - the mechanics and the engineers - and we have put operations in place both back at the factory and at the race track to make the travel as comfortable as possible for them, including sometime rotating people and some other organizational changes back at the factory such that the factory will do more of the jobs that mechanics traditionally did at the track to just make it a little bit more pleasant for them. Yeah, we look after them, including any mental health issues. We have a travelling doctor as well with us. We look after them as best we can.

(Scott Mitchell - The Race) To all three, along similar lines, specifically about the presence of triple-headers on the calendar. The first time F1 did a triple-header pretty much everyone by the end of it felt that it was too much and the teams had even indicated that they had been given assurances that it wouldn't happen again, so in your opinion why are triple-headers now back and seemingly a permanent fixture on the calendar? Is there something different about them now that makes them easier for teams to handle?
OS: Well, the first time you do a triple-header it's all new and then from there on you learn and you do some things to make the triple-headers easier. However, they still are very taxing on all of us. We have two of them next year and hopefully after the pandemic is truly behind us we can look at the calendar and minimise or even get rid of all the triple-headers. The nice thing next year is that we start mid-March and finish mid-November, which gives us a decent winter break. You can put up with a triple-header or two if you know you are not racing up until Christmas.

LM: I think Otmar explained it very well. I think it is clear it is very challenging for Formula 1 to put a great calendar together in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. So in that context we obviously understand that there needs to be a level of flexibility from the teams which is why we just have to cope with these triple headers now and then once, hopefully, the pandemic is out of the way we will sit down again and see how to move forward as it's probably the aspect that is the most taxing for the race team. Hopefully it will be the first thing that will go away once the pandemic is out of the radar.

FT: The first triple-header is the easy one - Zandvoort, Spa and Monza. I don't think there is any problem. The second one with Russia, Singapore and Japan is a little bit more a heavy one but I think from the logistics side everything is under control, we are then nearly in the same time zone so I don't expect any problems.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) Just two questions based on previous answers. The first one is, all three of your said that one would have to review the Sprint Race concept after the three races, possibly even some fan questions. However, Stefano Domenicali this week said on Sky that there could possibly be up to seven. So is he being premature? Do you share his optimism or how do you see it, particularly given the fact there has got to be a change in the sporting regulations with unanimous agreement,. And then the second question is on the triple headers. Will the new weekend format for next year make it easier to accept these triple headers?
FT: Sprint Races: if FOM and Stefano Domenicali want to have seven Sprint Races and if after this year we see that the fans and all the people around are all positive for this Sprint Qualifying and for this new format then I support it, because I think it's a good idea. As I mentioned before there are only three days of highlights and this is what fans want to see. I don't see it as a big difference whether there is a triple-header, for example in Zandvoort, Spa or Monza, and also for the second triple-header. Of course we must be careful regarding the material we maybe need, as a Sprint Qualifying is a higher threat to the material of the car, but nevertheless if we know it now, early enough, then the teams can be prepared for this and we have to optimise everything from the operational side to get everything in place. Therefore I don't expect that this is difficult.

Check out our Friday gallery from Istanbul, here.

LM: On the Sprint Race, I think as you see today, as you have seen many times, the initial feedback is very good from everybody, so we already had many loops of discussion with the FIA and with Formula 1 in the various groups. We interact with them and gave feedback, so I think it is to be expected that Stefano, in the case you mentioned, is planning more. What we say to each other, however, is that we will wait for the third to look if we want to adjust the format, to maybe modify some of the parts based on what the fans' feedback will be and what we will think, but I think in broad terms we are already agreed that this is a positive step for the sport so will we probably all expect already to have a few more of them next year.

OS: Yeah, I think very similar to what was said already. I'm sure Stefano has some more fan information as well, so he's probably said it because it was positive and the fans enjoyed it, Like Franz says you have something on all three days. But we should still do the third one and like I said, have a backwards look at all three of them and perhaps even make some adjustments so that it can better next year and then decide how many.

Q (Andrea Cremonesi - Gazzetta dello Sport) Laurent, regarding your power unit. How much of this power unit will transfer to 2022 and do you think that the hybrid element now has the same power ass Mercedes and Honda?
LM: At first, yes, what we see on this year's car, what we have just introduced is a step that we will take to 2022, so that's the answer of the first part of the question. When it comes to competitiveness analysis against the other manufacturers, it's early days. Only one race weekend and obviously we will anyway have to wait until next year to see what will be there on step before we assess whether or not we have completed the catch-up work or whether there is still work to do to be at the same level.

(Ian Parkes - New York Times) To all three, another calendar question. I was wondering why when we have got a record-breaking season next year, 23 races crammed into 18 months (sic) despite the longer break that follows in the winter, why more pressure wasn't brought to bear from the teams to ensure that races were geographically located better. We still have Canada-Azerbaijan and then we've got the ridiculous triple-header of Russia, Singapore, Japan? Surely the teams should have asked for races to be better geographically located?
OS: We have asked but there is a lot that goes into doing the calendar and it's not just as simple as trying to write them down in a more convenient geographical order. Stefano and his team do the best they can, with a lot of inputs. These days one of the big inputs is still due to COVID and some of the considerations there. I think some of the locations we are going to were driven by some countries wanting to be later on in the calendar, hoping that COVID would be past us. So when you have those types of constraints, I think they have done the best they could with the constraints that we have today and hopefully those constraints won't be the same in the future and we can do a better job.

LM: I think it's a time for us to show flexibility in the context of the difficulties to put such a calendar with the COVID and then again I'm sure we will sitting down all together once this is out but we know they are trying to do their best with the constraints they have.

FT: To create the calendar is really a difficult topic. It's not only regarding to the geographical side, to the logistics. It depends on the different countries, they have other events over there where you can't come then with a Formula 1 event, or holidays or other things that have to be taken into consideration. Therefore, it is quite complicated to make such a calendar and I think that Stefano and FOM have optimized everything in the best possible way.

Check out our Friday gallery from Istanbul, here.

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Published: 08/10/2021
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