Mexican GP: Friday Press Conference - Part 1

06/11/2021
NEWS STORY

Today's press conference with Christian Horner and Laurent Mekies.

It's a very vibrant atmosphere out there, so let's start with a question to both of you: thoughts on racing in Mexico after two years away.
Christian Horner: It's great to be back, and great to be back with a Mexican driver as well. The reception that the team have had, we've been out here for a few days now, we did a running show car demonstration earlier in the week and just the enthusiasm for Formula 1, for Checo, for the team, has been fantastic. They're such passionate people and it's such a fantastic venue with the atmosphere, with the stadium section and so on. I'm expecting a lot of noise over the course of the weekend.

Laurent Mekies: It's fantastic to arrive here after Austin. I think we all got nicely shocked by the 400,000 people in Austin, it reminded us how great it was a couple of years ago and you come here and you feel the same warmth. You're just waiting to see the stadium completely full tomorrow and the next day. We certainly missed it and we hope to see many of those now.

Christian, let's come back to you. Five races to go, what's the mood in the camp?
CH: The mood in the camp is good. It's upbeat, it's really enjoying this championship and I think, coming off the back of Austin, it was a big result for us, a big win, a double podium there as well, so there's everything to play for in both championships. Five to go, still a lot of points on the board, a lot that can go right and can go wrong but the fact that we've got ourselves into this position, the whole team has worked incredibly hard, not just trackside but behind the scenes, and what's going on in the factory, the long hours and, under difficult circumstances at times with the whole pandemic this year but yeah, it's exciting, we're loving taking this title challenge on.

The team has a fantastic record here in Mexico. How confident are you, coming into the weekend?
CH: Well, you look at the record, we've won as many races as Mercedes have here, so we've always performed reasonably well here, and we've had a couple of victories but, as I said, this year, the form book, you can throw out of the window because the difference between the two teams has been so tight at pretty much all of the venues that we've been to so far. I see no reason for that to be different here. It's going to be about getting everything right on the day, nailing qualifying, getting the start, the right strategy, the right reliability and doing all the basics well. That's going to be crucial at this phase of the championship.

What did you make of the Mercedes 1-2 in the first practice session?
CH: We can see that they ran a little bit higher power on their performance laps and it's a trait that we saw them do again in Austin a couple of weeks ago. So, I think a positive first session for us, I think there's areas of the car that we can improve, it was very dirty and dusty, you can see it's still a little way off the pace we were doing a couple of years ago in the equivalent session. So there are areas we can improve, things that we can make the car perform a bit better around here and it's a question of going with the circuit as it rubbers-in, as it cleans up, because it's not used a great deal, that's going to be a key factor.

Now Christian, can I put a scenario to you? It's Checo's home race, it's leading on Sunday and Max Verstappen is second, would you deny Checo victory in his home race?
CH: That's an incredibly tough one. Our main objective is to win both Championships, and both drivers know the task involved to achieve that - but of course so many scenarios, what-ifs, can happen. It will depend where our opponents are. You can't rule it out, you can't rule it in. Our preference would be to see Checo, if Checo were in that position, to win his home race. There's no bigger result for any home driver - but as a team, we have to keep an eye on both of these championships and know what's at stake. This race like any other has the same amount of points attributable to it and therefore we treat it like any other race.

This World Championship fight is being fought on and off the race track. Do you think that's inevitable? Toto Wolff and you are often exchanging blows in the media. He even described you earlier this week as a protagonist in a pantomime. What's your reaction to that?
CH: Yeah, look, we all know Toto has a lot to say. I was quite flattered actually, I mean, going called a protagonist, if you look at what the definition of that means, I think you also need an antagonist to have a protagonist. One could say that perhaps Toto fulfils that role pretty well - or if it were a pantomime then the pantomime dame role might suit him but look, it's all about what goes on, on track. I think it's a great competition between the teams, it's no-holds barred, pit walls going against pit wall, drivers against drivers, engine suppliers against engine suppliers, chassis against chassis. It's fantastic. We're loving it and occasionally you're going to get some flak thrown at you - but take it with a pinch of salt and sometimes even as a compliment.

Laurent, Charles was pretty confident yesterday about the car's performance here in Mexico. Do you share his optimism?
LM: I don't know if you can call it optimism. I think what we see is that the performance is getting more consistent, so the results are coming, also in a more consistent way. So we come to a race track and have a better idea of where we are going to stand. I think it gives everybody a better feeling about how to go about the weekend. I think you can see it with Charles, I think you can see it with Carlos, you can see it with the team. It gives more confidence to work on the next steps. I think altogether, a little bit like between Red Bull and Mercedes, we know it's always going to be a matter of going and getting the last few hundredths and few tenths to be topping the midfield honours - but you know you are going to be in that fight, and I think that's what Charles and Carlos feel now.

Going to be in the fight - but do you think you can mix it with Mercedes and Red Bull here?
LM: No. I think the gap to Red Bull and Mercedes is too big. It doesn't change the focus on our objective, which is to try to get to just behind them. This is what we are concentrating on and it still involves the chasing of every single bit of performance we can, and that's what the boys are trying to do.

Now what about this battle for P3 in the Constructors' Championship with McLaren. The gap is down to 3.5 points. How confident are you of getting that position now?
LM: It's a very good fight, McLaren have had a very strong season. They had a great win in Monza, it's a team that is pushing very hard and you know we are happy to be in that fight. We don't forget where we were last year. So, the fact that we have managed to reconstruct to the extent that we can be in that fight today is a good testimony on the progress made by the team on that reconstruction. Now, the path is very long to get to where we want but we think we will be in the fight until the very last races. It will be, again, who is going to leave a little bit more on the table than the other one - but we think it is very good training for the team. Hopefully we will be in bigger battles in the future and what it means is we need to be able to be at ease in these battles, to operate under pressure and to perform under pressure - and I think for that, as a team, we take it as a fantastic challenge to get to the next step.

Fantastic challenge but what does P3 mean to Ferrari?
LM: I think it means turning into facts the progress that we are trying to make, and that we believe we are making, so that's what it is all about in the end.

What about the battle between your two drivers. They're only separated by 5.5 points. Carlos described it yesterday as tense and too close to call. How would you describe their battle?
LM: I don't know if we can call it a battle. Of course these guys are very, very competitive as they should be but I think we are enjoying at the moment a level of interaction between our drivers and between our drivers and the team that is at a very high level. We try to build on that advantage. They are pushing very hard, pushing not only each other very hard but the team very hard, always with the right spirit and we think that's it's something that is giving us lap time and will give us more lap time in the future - so I don't think that battle will change anything to the spirit that is driving all of us and altogether I can confidently say they are more focused on getting the team to third place than on their own fight.

Check out our Friday gallery from Mexico City, here.

Questions From The Floor

(Phil Duncan - PA) For Christian please. There's been some comments knocking around this week that a Senna-Prost-type collision could determine how this championship is won. Just wanted to get your response to that. Do you think it could happen? Do you think the title could end up in bad blood?
CH: Yeah, I was disappointed to read in the comments that that was being condoned. We want a really fair fight between now and the end of the championship and I think any driver would want to win the championship on track. We're a team of racers and that's... if we can pull off this feat - and it's a massive, massive task - then we wouldn't want to win a championship through a collision between the drivers. There's been enough of those this year already. I think what we saw in Austin was a great fight between two drivers at the top of their game. I think a few more races like Austin between now and the end of the year, I think the biggest winner will be Formula 1. Nobody wants to see a championship decided in a gravel trap.

(Christian Nimmervoll - motorsport.com) Question is for Christian. With the Championship being wide open and Covid numbers on the rise again in several countries, are there any extra precautions you are taking during this phase of the championship compared to the summer to protect Max in particular but also mechanics and engineers from potentially having to miss a race?
CH: Yeah. Look, it's always a present danger. You see in Europe the numbers are continuing to increase, so we're just trying to be prudent in the way that we go about racing in these conditions. It's something that we've done since the pandemic has been around us and we're just not letting, or relaxing any of those protocols too much. It's great to see fans coming back in, and Austin felt like a normal race but we still have to adhere to some of the protocols to protect the drivers and the whole team, so I think, as a team, we're sticking to that process.

Laurent, could I just put that to you. Any extra precautions at Ferrari with relation to Covid?
LM: You know, I think the biggest protection is what has been working extremely well since last year. There are these FIA protocols, they are proven to be working extremely well. We try to stick to it. We try to not to get too relaxed and in the meantime you enjoy getting the public back into the grandstands, you enjoy getting the guests back into the paddock but as a team, we try to stick to this protocol. We know it is the best way to protect us, we know it has worked and now it's a matter of discipline.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) To both panelists, could you tell us first of all whether you're going to have any kind of tow strategy and, if so, which driver would get priority please?
LM: You know Dieter, we've done that a couple of times this year but it was very much when we knew one of the drivers was going to have some sort of grid penalties. I think otherwise it's probably quite difficult to get right around here if you are treating your drivers on an equal basis - and that's the case for us here. So, I don't think there will be any great games between our drivers this weekend for that. Again, it has worked in very specific situations, we will use it again when we are in those situations but hopefully we are not planning any grid penalties this weekend and therefore we'll go for a more conventional qualifying strategy.

CH: I think at this venue you've got as big a chance of screwing it up as getting it right, so it's not something that we've pursued previously here and I think that both drivers will focus on doing the best qualifying they can without tripping over each other or having the potential to trip over each other so that's a process we will stick to.

(Luke Smith - Autosport) Laurent, question for you. Ferrari has obviously taken a huge stride forward this season compared to last year - I know you guys very much focused on 2022 and returning to the front of the pack but could you tell me how much the atmosphere has changed around Maranello? How much differently are people acting given this season's been a more successful one compared to last year?
LM: Well, you know, I think the greatest signs of the reconstruction is that even in the darkest moment of last year the team stayed very united, we know we were in front of a huge task to turn things around and to get out of the situation we were in - but even in this darkest moment the team was very, very strong at sticking together. This year, despite the fact the regulations were very restrictive in the amount of development you could do into the car, we've seen some progress, it gave confidence, we're brought some more developments to the car, they have taken the car in the right direction. It gave again some more confidence, so I think it's a reconstruction phase. The atmosphere, to answer your question, is fantastic. In a way that there is this very, very strong team spirit that comes from having gone through the huge difficulty of last year. There is this incredible drive from Carlos and Charles, and therefore it's a very, very positive moment, at the moment to be in the fight for third place - but not only the fight for the third place, it's one of the answers this season but it cannot be the only answer. More important is how much improvement we are able to make and how many clean weekends we can deliver, one after the other. We are coming from two strong races and we are hoping to keep delivering at that level.

(Edd Straw - The Race) A question for Christian. There has been lots of talk about how Max has stood up to the intensity of the title fight and he seems to be dealing with that really well. How would you compare the way he has reacted to his first title fight to 11 years ago when you had Sebastian Vettel going for his championship and winning it. There were a few mishaps along the way for him. Do you think Max is dealing with it better as a first-time title contender than Sebastian did or are there very big differences in the situations?
CH: It feels quite different. I mean, Sebastian's championship challenge, we had a great car but we kept having bad luck, you know, engine blow-ups and offs and so Sebastian actually wasn't... he never led the championship until after the final flag in Abu Dhabi. There were four drivers competing for that world championship that year and four drivers at the final race that could have won it. So, Sebastian's challenge felt different, we had a strong car, arguably a car advantage that year, but we had quite a few issues reliability-wise that compromised him. With Max, it's been so tight between the two drivers, toing and froing from pretty much that first race in Bahrain and I think that it's been an intense battle between the two of them and I think the way Max has handled that has been totally commendable. It's his first time in this situation in Formula 1 but he's just sticking to his principles, the way he races, the way he drives and he's got five or six seasons behind him now of experience, which he is using to great effect.

(Christian Nimmervoll - Motorsport.com) Question to both of you representing engine manufacturers. In terms of future regulations, what are the remaining stumbling blocks around the table and is it realistic to expect the December World Council to sign off the regulations?
CH: There are a few open points that need bottoming out. I think one of things that concerns me is the removal of dyno hours, restrictions for the new engine in 2026 and I think that would be a big mistake, so just relying purely on the budget cap is too much pressure on that element of the regulations. It's something that was in the regulations and has been removed and needs to go back in. I think the rest of the regulations are making good progress and inevitably there are always some elements that do need tidying up. But there has been constructive discussion with the FIA and hopefully the remaining issues that are on a relatively short list now can be addressed before that December World Council meeting.

Laurent?
LM: I think the discussions have been very good between the FIA, F1, the teams, the PU manufacturers, everybody is trying to push very hard to get something for the World Motor Sport Council. I think it's unavoidable... you know, you will never get something that you would consider as finished regulations at the moment but at least something that is a good milestone that you can build on in the following weeks and months so I don't think there is a hard line there, I think it is a good occasion to get the path better defined and I am sure there will be more iterations after that.

Check out our Friday gallery from Mexico City, here.

(Dieter Rencken - Racing Lines) A question for Christian: I don't know if you were able to watch yesterday's conference with the drivers or whether you have had any feedback but Sebastian said that "even if team orders are logically very easy to explain, I still think it's bad and I would be in favour of not having any team orders ever". If you cast your mind back to Multi-21 plus, I believe, various others do you have any comment on that, please?
CH: It's a difficult one, you know there are different circumstances... Sebastian has benefited and been on the receiving end of team orders. Team orders are part of the sport being a team sport. Formula 1 isn't just about the drivers, the drivers are one element of the team. They're contractors, they have a contract for the team and the Constructors' Championship has equal or more weight to it. Perhaps not the prestige but that's where the money is paid out. So when you were asking Laurent about the benefit of being third versus it's sort of a few million quid. The benefit is there as well. So, drivers are part of the team and you know we operate as a team and that's why team orders sometimes are necessary for the best interests of the sport and I've got no doubt you will see more and more of that at the sharp end of this championship over the remaining five races. We've seen it to date and we will see, as teams are going up against each other, whether it's for first in the Drivers' or Constructors' or P3 in the Constructors' or whatever battles are going on beyond that. Formula 1 is a team sport and everybody has their role to play as part of that team.

(Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Christian, there has been quite a bit of needle between you and Toto this season and I've seen earlier this week he referred to you as a protagonist in a pantomime. I just wondered to... just historically, when Red Bull first came in you were referred to as the fizzy drink company. I wondered how much real needle there is between the two of you and how much satisfaction it would give you if you do ultimately win these championships?
CH: To be honest with you as far as we are concerned it is all noise. It all depends on what you do on the track and if you can do your talking on the track then that has way more weight and value. Toto likes to throw in a comment here or there and that's part of the needle, that's part of the sport. He's got a lot at stake. He's going for an eighth world championship with his driver. We are going for a first with Max and to add to the titles we have already won. Formula 1 is a competition and as the pressure builds you see people react to pressure in different ways. We are at the business end of that championship now and you can feel the tension and that will only grow the longer this goes on. So if Toto wants to make a comment or two, I'm fine with that. It's pantomime season coming up anyway, so it is what it is.

Is there mutual respect between you, Christian?
CH: I have no issue with Toto. I think he has done a great job there in a team he inherited. Yeah of course there is respect, Mercedes are a phenomenal team. They have achieved great things and there is of course a respect between the two teams. But it is a competition. You can't just accept... if we roll over and accept that Mercedes win every race, it's pretty boring... Why do we turn up? We are here to go racing. We want to take the championship. We have been fighting to get into this position to take the fight to Mercedes for you know seven long seasons now and of course we have got ourselves into a competitive position, we want to make sure that we do our very, very best to convert this between now and the end of the year. It will be by far our biggest achievement in Formula 1 if we manage to do that in either of the championships.

And equally, if you don't convert it, how much will it hurt?
CH: Losing hurts. If it doesn't hurt, go and do something else. If anybody is happy about finishing second they are in the wrong job. Sport is about winning and we are a hungry team, we are a race team and we have worked hard to get into this position and we have had a phenomenal year so far - nine race wins, however many podiums, I think 17 odd podiums, some great wins along the way - but it's where you finish at the end of the year that really counts and everybody is very hungry for this and enjoying it. The most important thing is to enjoy the competition as well. So, if it winds Toto up a bit, that's fine by us.

(Luke Smith - Autosport) Christian, looking ahead to next year and Red Bull Powertrains. Wanted to know how plans are going with that. You have the work going on at the campus, and similar to the question I asked Laurent, in terms of the atmosphere at the team both with this title fight and with the evolution to basically becoming your own power supplier next season, how are things at the team?
CH: It's a really exciting phase in Red Bull's history, I mean, as we created the Powertrains business, the factory is gathering pace, we are into week 32 of the build of the facility. That is really taking shape and it will be operational in spring next year. Each week we are welcoming newcomers into the team. We are seeing some great talent from many different areas and different parts of the sport and it's hugely exciting to be building this team, and the challenge is massive. The challenge to design and manufacture our own engine for 2026 is enormous and we are very grateful to Honda for coming to an agreement for us to be able to use their technology as we go into the frozen period. Again, it was important for us that the regulations were becoming crystallised for 2026 to give us that time to get ourselves up to speed to take on the might of these guys to my right who have been building engines for 70 years in Formula 1. But we are going about it in just the same way as we have with the chassis and I think that what's so refreshing is that there is so much positivity around the factory at the moment, and this project with the power unit, taking control of our own future, bringing it in house, being the only team other than these guys that have engine and chassis on one campus is an enormous opportunity and tremendously exciting and one that we are relishing, so the atmosphere is sky high. The facility is getting better all the time, we work hard to look after our people and we have been flattered by the amount of approaches that we have had to come and work for Red Bull in Formula 1.

Check out our Friday gallery from Mexico City, here.

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Published: 06/11/2021
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