TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Riad ASMAT (Caterham), Monisha KALTENBORN (Sauber), Gerard LOPEZ (Lotus), Martin WHITMARSH (McLaren), Stefano DOMENICALI (Ferrari), Christian HORNER (Red Bull).
Riad, if I can start with you, just a quick question about Melbourne to here. I think you were perhaps a bit disappointed with the performance in Melbourne – are things going to be better this weekend?
Riad ASMAT: We’re hoping so, we found reasons why we were disappointed in Melbourne but obviously that’s been sorted. Obviously I still want to second or two definitely, but I think for sure we’ll show some good pace for this weekend. We’re prepared for tomorrow and we’ll see where we go from there.
Does that mean Q2?
RA: We always try, because my head is on the block.
Monisha, first of all the result in Melbourne was what you should have had a year ago I guess. It that the feeling?
Monisha KALTENBORN: No, we don’t want to think about a year ago actually. Indeed we have this time a very good start to the racing season. Our drivers showed an excellent performance during the race, we weren’t that happy with qualifying but we’re glad that overall we could get confirmation on the potential of the C31 and that it’s a good basis for developing further, which will be key this year.
Gerard, you have obviously hired Kimi Räikkönen. When he was perhaps going to Williams, allegedly he was asking for a share in the team. Does he have a share in the team at Lotus? Did he ask for a share of the team?
Gerard LOPEZ: No he didn’t and no he doesn’t. It’s that clear. I don’t know where that came from. It probably came from his previous negotiations but we would not hire anybody, a driver, by selling shares of the team, that’s kind of a nonsense thing.
You wouldn’t want to give a shareholding to a…
GL: No, I mean he’s a driver, and that’s it, so you pay him as a driver. You don’t make him a co-owner of the team, that’s kind of an odd way of dealing with drivers. It would be for us in any case.
Martin, I mentioned this yesterday to Jenson, it was interesting in the preview to the race Lewis talked about how Jenson had the ability to light up the tyres in Melbourne at the start of the race when he pulled away and also after the safety car. Is that something you’ve noticed? Is that something that’s been manifesting itself in testing?
Martin WHITMARSH: I don’t think we’ve noticed it as a particularly significant phenomena. Clearly it depends where you are with tyre heating but I think in that race both drivers were able to get the tyres going pretty quickly. They’re very different conditions from here, obviously. It was pretty good for both of them, I think.
So that’s not going to be something that’s an issue?
MW: Well I think circumstance here is quite a lot different – I think it’s pretty easy to over-heat the tyres here.
Stefano, give us an update today. Have things changed, has anything changed in comparison to Melbourne?
Stefano DOMENICALI: I don’t think so, to be honest with you. In one week I think it is important at least as we already said we have identified issues on the car and we are working at home to solve it. At the moment we need to maximise what we’re doing on the track and that’s it.
So we don’t expect anything different?
SD: I don’t know. In the race everything can happen, so we need to be focussed then. And of course with no magic stick you can’t do anything.
Christian, it’s a measure of the team’s success last year that we expect you to be at the front all the time. Not today necessarily, and well, you were very close in Melbourne. What about today? Tell us about the results today.
Christian HORNER: Well firstly Melbourne was an exciting race and congratulations to McLaren who put on a great show there. We did our best to try to get amongst it but Jenson drove an excellent race. The McLarens again looked very strong today, I think Mercedes were also looking quick, and it’s a tighter field this year. I think the midfield has bunched up as well. We’ve worked through a programme today. Obviously with the limitation in testing there is, both drivers have worked through different programmes, had a look at the two tyre compounds and tried to do our preparation for the race on Sunday. All the forecasts say it’s going to be dry for the rest of the weekend. Occasionally you look up and you think there’s a big thundershower coming.
Now, a question for you all but starting with Stefano. Obviously the story of the last few days has been the possible flotation of Formula One and I guess you’ve had a look at a draft, I guess you’ve all seen a draft and you know something about it. What are your views on it, looking at Formula One as a whole but also your own particular teams? How is it going to benefit your own particular teams and Formula One? How is it going to affect your own particular teams?
SD: First of all I mean nothing to comment on what are the speculations coming out because you never know what is the reality at the end. What I can see is that there are ongoing discussions that are, as I said, ongoing, going ahead. At the moment the situation seems to be reasonable but nothing more than what I’m seeing now.
CH: What are we speculating on? You didn’t say…
The floatation of Formula One.
CH: Oh, floatation. I though you said flirtation… at the end of the day it’s not down to us, it’s down to the shareholders, it’s down to CVC and Bernie. It’s their business at the end of the day, not the teams.
Will you benefit, you as a team, would it benefit Formula One?
CH: Possibly, possibly. We’re not involved in the detail. I heard that there is potential discussion and it’s an interesting concept.
MW: I don’t think it will benefit us as a team. I don’t think, but again I have no detail of proposals anyway. But generally floatations and change of ownership aren’t done for the benefit of a sport. I think what us as race teams need to concentrate on is putting a show on here and clearly the owners can decide what they do with the asset.
Gerard, your thoughts on that?
GL: As I said, there are no details out there and floatation can mean many things. If you take to the market a minority share it doesn’t change anything in ownership, it gives more liquidity to the owners, maybe more money to the sport, so as long as there are no details on what might by IPO’d or not, I don’t think there is much to be discussed because it can mean many, many things to many people. It really depends on what you’re going to take to the market.
MK: On the flotation itself, we also do not know more, so anything I guess we’d say is mere speculation. As a team, what’s important to us is that whoever owns Formula One should prepare the sport to face the challenges, which we all will be (facing), and to create parameters whereby running a team can be sustainable for everyone here.
RA: We’re speculation I guess. On my side, we focus on what we do best and what we’re doing right now, and if anything comes along, we’ll review it and see what’s beneficial.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Adrian Rodriguez Huber – Agencia EFE) A question for Stefano Domenicali. I want to know exactly what the situation is inside your team and I want to know how you feel yourself. Are you concerned, are you worried, are you scared, are you angry? How are you feeling?
SD: For sure, I’m disappointed by the performance of the car, no doubt. But on the other hand what I need to make sure is that at home we need to push on the development of the car because we know what are the problems with this car from the other weekend. Nothing has changed on that. I am confident that our engineers will solve the issues we have as quickly as possible because in such a close field a little step makes a difference, and in such a close battle, when you are in a difficult moment, you need to score points because everything can happen. So that’s something, it is clear. Not happy as I said but not to be happy doesn’t help, and I’ve asked my engineers to be focused on the job because that is what they have to do.
Q: (Naoise Holohan – Manipe F1) Another one to Stefano. Can you give us an update on Felipe’s situation? Has the chassis change solved the problems he had in Melbourne?
We had a programme today with some changes on the car to verify some different configurations and tomorrow we will have let’s say the best package, because in this moment I would say for him it’s important to feel the confidence around him. Not only him because the team has a lot of pressure, so that’s the status of the art we have done today.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Today we saw another big gap in the afternoon between Felipe and Fernando. Is it due to the different work that they did, or is it something more? The second question is about if you can describe… we wrote a lot about you travelling back home. Can you describe what is the situation there, what did you and Pat (Fry) did there?
SD: In terms of what we have seen today we were trying to work with different programmes on two different drivers and tomorrow we will see the situation. Today there is nothing I can say that is going to one direction or the other. The work of today was done in order to make sure that tomorrow Felipe has the best car in the best condition. This is the thing we have to give to him.
On the other hand, what we did was to make sure that the focus on the programme has to be there at home with the engineers, mainly in the aerodynamic department. I’ve asked Pat to be spot on, on the case, in order to make sure that now that there is a lot of meat on the fire, we need to make sure this meat will be delivered as quickly as possible, as there is no time to lose.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) To Gerard Lopez. During your ownership with the team is this the best starting point to a new season with a new car?
GL: Yeah, it really is. In terms of the whole package it’s the most complete one we had. We had a good chance last, but then we obviously lost one of our drivers. I think now we have complete drivers, the car’s good. We pushed the envelope without going crazy on certain things, it had to be within certain borders. So far we’re pretty confident. We said at the beginning of the season that fourth place in the championship is what we’re looking for and I think the package right now is probably able to deliver that, but the season’s just started. It feels quite OK right now.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) A question for Riad. Are you expecting any repercussions from either the governing body or the legal system regarding the court case with Force India, given that the judge found… I’ve got a couple of comments and I read through the judgement last night, that your team did actually copy bits of Force India’s intellectual property and that parts found their way onto your car?
RA: I’ve got no comment on that but I think the judge has already given his judgement. If anything were to happen, I can’t say for FIA or Force India or whoever it is, if anything happens they’ll inform us. But I’m quite clear in terms of where we are with our positioning and we’re fine.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) Christian, I just wondered if you’d managed to speak to Charlie (Whiting) since I spoke to you this morning?
Q: So you’ve still got no clarification yet on the Mercedes rear wing?
CH: I haven’t personally spoken to him. I think there has been a bit of debate obviously about the Mercedes rear wing and you know, assuming the car has passed scrutineering, at the moment you have to assume that the FIA are happy with the configuration that the Mercedes car’s in.
Q: So is that the end of the matter for yourself then?
CH: Probably not. I think the biggest thing for all of us – I’m not the only one – I think there are probably other gentlemen that are keen for clarity going forward. Is it something that’s accepted as a clever interpretation, and hats off to Mercedes if it is, or is it something that you know isn’t permissible moving forward. I think that’s the most important thing to resolve and it would be nice to come out of this weekend with that clarity.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) I’ve got a question for all six of you. Could each of you look at the role of the team principal at your particular team? Obviously some teams have a team principal that goes to every race and is very hands on and at other teams he’s happy to let other members of the team do different jobs.
MK: In our team, Peter Sauber is the founder of the team, and the team’s gone through a quite awkward time, especially since 2010. So I think it’s been important for us that since he is the founder he stands for certain stability and continuity, which was important in the last two years. But everyone has seen that over these years he has started to step back a little. He doesn’t particularly enjoy going to all the races, and it’s of course up to him to whether he will want to change anything, but I guess it’s important for us, because of our specific situation, that he is around.
RA: Well, I do have a team principal but he’s sort of broken down all rules. Obviously I go to most of the races and I run hands-on with the team that I have and it seems to work. He does it with all his other entities and it seems to be working quite well.
GL: In our case, Eric manages the team as a team principal should, as far as we’re concerned, and also for the fact that unfortunately or fortunately, I have other things to do, so I can’t devote my time to Formula One, as much as I probably sometimes would. He plays the role and acts as a team principal, which is the way we understand it.
MW: I think in our team the team principal enjoys going to all the races. Whether the race team enjoy him going to all the races I don’t know, but I go because I quite enjoy it. We like to think we’re hands-on but I suspect they just humour us most of the time.
SD: Of course, it depends on different teams but on my side for sure I’m not really involved in the technical side of it, because I delegate these things to the people that should follow that. The team is an entity where there are a lot of things that have to go on in terms of organisation, in terms of sponsorship, in terms of commercial activity, in terms of administration, so it’s really a company – because we are part of a group that is bigger – and that’s the way it is. The best situation would be to have a team principal who is not coming to the races because it means that he really has a very very good number two that can delegate everything so that would be the ideal scenario for the future.
CH: We run a pretty old-fashioned structure, I guess, in that I attend all the races. As Stefano says, there are many faculties with a Formula One team these days and you have the responsibility for them on a day-to-day basis, reporting to the shareholders and managing the team on a daily basis. So there’s certainly never a quiet moment, and that’s part of the involvement and challenge of the role. Every day, you drive to work, you’re not quite sure what to expect. It’s both a sport and a business and I think the role during a Grand Prix weekend is certainly quite different to during the week back in the factory, so it’s a multi-faceted role, certainly in our case.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Question to all six of you: Mr Ecclestone has, this past week, confirmed that he has suggested or proposed to CVC that they do list Formula One on the Singapore Stock Exchange. Would you, as team principals, be interested in acquiring equity in the listing individually?
MW: Better ask Gerald, he’s the only one who can afford it.
CH: Certainly from Red Bull’s perspective, we’re an entrant, we’re a team, we’re very happy to be both an entrant and a team and we don’t see a necessity or requirement to have a shareholding.
SD: I can copy what Christian said.
MW: I can’t afford it. I don’t think it’s our business. Our business is that we’re a race team primarily – we’ve got a few other businesses as well now – but being owners of Formula One isn’t something that’s in our plans.
GL: As far as Formula One goes, it might have made sense if all the Formula One teams could afford it, if they all became shareholders in some form or fashion but that’s not going to happen, so as far as investing in Formula One, I think it then becomes purely a financial position and then it falls out of the sport. It’s like if someone wants to invest or not. It’s like any other stuff.
MK: No, I join the gentlemen in front. No.
RA: Definitely not. We’ve got enough challenges in being a Formula One team. We will focus on that.
Q: (Arianna Ravelli – Corriere della Sera) Mr Whitmarsh, McLaren remains involved in FOTA. Are you afraid that this could cause some disadvantages in the negotiations for the new Concorde Agreement?
MW: No, I’m not afraid. Whether it’s through FOTA or by whatever mechanism, I think it’s important that the teams work together to really develop our sport, to make sure that we’re fit for purpose, make sure that we rise to the challenge that Formula One has. We’re a sport, we’re an entertainment, there’s many challenges in front of us and I think there’s been some great examples of co-operation between the teams. There are other challenges that we’ve struggled with but I think we should continue to try and work together.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Christian, last week in the press conference, the team principals that were present confirmed that ten of the twelve had signed a copy of the letter to the FIA regarding cost-cutting and policing of the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA). I believe that your team and your sister team didn’t sign; is there a particular reason for that?
CH: Yeah. We didn’t see the letter. Simple. I can’t sign something I didn’t see. Whether or not we agree with the content is something else. Firstly, I think what I would like to make clear is that Red Bull is absolutely fully behind cost control in Formula One. Whether the RRA is the right route to achieve that is what we question. I believe that letter, from what I read, requested for the FIA to police the RRA which, in our opinion would be the wrong route. We believe full-heartedly in controlling costs in Formula One and not frivolous spending, but we think that there are better ways of doing that and containing that through sporting and technical regulations as opposed to a resource restriction that relies on equivalence and apportionment of time and personnel, which is always tricky in subsidiary companies, particularly of automotive manufacturers. So we would be totally open to any discussion that involves cost control that pursued those avenues.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) Continuing on that thread, why would you not want to be policed when ten other teams would agree to that? That would suggest you’ve got something to hide in your accounts or the way you manage your finances?
CH: Or it would suggest that we’re structured in a different way, as a single entity as a race team, and I think that there are things that, when FOTA was first created, did that: clear and tangible restrictions in personnel, restrictions in the amount of engines, restrictions in the amount of gearboxes, restrictions in the amount of testing that has been permitted. All things that you can see policed and genuinely save costs and we think they’re the type of things that should be focused on rather than apportionment of people’s time and equivalence which is, in any formula, in any mechanism, is fraught with problems and difficulties. I think it was well intended at the time but I think – as with all these things – when you drill into the detail, it’s something much harder to police, especially when there are companies or teams which are subsidiaries of other organisations. So for us we would prefer to keep it simple and go on tangible, measurable items.
Q: (Ian Parkes – Press Association) Following that up with Martin and Stefano, can you appreciate what Christian is saying?
MW: I think the challenge of controlling costs in Formula One is something that we’ve all had a go at and if you can do it by a simple singular number that you can count, see, feel, touch then it’s quite a nice simple thing to do. So I can relate to everything that Christian has said. We’ve done some of those things, we need to do more, and I think you’ve to carry on. The fact is at the moment we in this room all know that there are Formula One teams that are struggling to survive which tells us that we’re not doing enough and that’s why we’ve got to keep pushing.
SD: What I can add is that for sure that is something that we were discussing. We said – well, we were putting on the table certain conditions for us to be considered part of the general picture, because as we said, this could be a fragment of what is really controlled through the sporting and technical regulations, because that, at the end of the day, is the biggest thing that you can consider tangible and you can see would be some effort in saving money, so I think that overall this is the target we should aim at and I would say that if I have to look at Ferrari’s interests, thank God that our financial situation is really good in terms of general financial position for the future. But we know that the situation of Formula One is not so stable. We know that there are a lot of struggles around so we need to put aside our self-interest a little bit, to make sure that we can look ahead in order to make sure that we are a lot competing in Formula One, because this is a very critical period, where everyone is smiling but we know that it’s very tough.
Q: (Vanessa Ruiz – ESPN Brazil) So back to Ferrari’s situation; Stefano, you just said that you know what the Ferrari’s problems are, but at the same time, you’ve brought different chassis and a new car for Felipe…
SD: No, I didn’t say that. I said that in order to make Felipe comfortable in this particular moment, we took different parts of what we have, and so we changed to the spare chassis for Felipe and we changed all the pieces, in order to make sure there was nothing wrong with the car that he used in Melbourne. And with regard to the problems; we know what are the problems and we now we need to tackle them and make sure that these problems that are fundamental, I would say level priority two, will be solved, as quickly as possible, as I said.
Q: (Vanessa Ruiz – ESPN Brazil) Could you clarify what these problems are, because you bring in another chassis which delivers another message.
SD: No, no, the chassis is a part of the car. The problems with the car are what I said on Sunday evening after the race in Melbourne, so maybe traction in slow speed corners and speed. These are the two fundamental issues which need to solve.
Q: (Ralf Bach – R&B) To all you six; I have learned that the problem of the Mercedes F-duct is that it’s not that it breaks any regulation but it was only that Ross Brawn, as chief of the technical working group, had more or less broken a gentlemen’s agreement. My question is, how can you break a gentlemen’s agreement? I think you need gentlemen in Formula One for this.
MW: Next question.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Christian, back to the letter: does it worry you that ten people had actually left the two Red Bull teams off the list of invitees, and secondly, being one who has never really been slow at coming forward, did you not consider getting a copy of the letter and seeing if you would like to append your signature?
CH: Maybe it will be printed on the internet, you never know. Maybe you’ve got a copy that I can look at later, Dieter. As I’ve said, cost control is something that is important, it’s something that Red Bull fully supports but we don’t agree with the current RRA. Within the RRA you’ve got restricted and non-restricted areas. How on earth can KERS be non-restricted, a gearbox be non-restricted? So open resources and spend allowed on those areas. So that’s why we think a more workable solution… and indeed, we’ve sat down and tried, certainly prior to Christmas, and I don’t think our teams are so different in structure that we can’t find a solution and hopefully, with some productive discussion, moving forward, a solution can be found, to make Formula One cost control for the top teams, but also, importantly, as Martin says, make it affordable for the teams in the middle of the grid and at the back of the grid. The cost to be competitive in Formula One at present is too high. I don’t think anybody will dispute that. The debate is how we achieve it.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Did you not try and get yourself a copy of the letter?
CH: If I don’t agree with the content of the letter then why do I need a copy? Thank you.