MALAYSIAN GP - FRIDAY - PRESS CONFERENCE
FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCE - 17 MARCH 2006
TECHNICAL DIRECTORS/TEAM PRINCIPALS: Patrick HEAD (WILLIAMS), John HOWETT (TOYOTA), Mario THEISSEN (BMW SAUBER), Geoff WILLIS (HONDA)
Q: Geoff, you have a new driver this year in Rubens Barrichello. What has he brought to the team?
Geoff WILLIS: I think he brings a lot of experience of how to win. He's won nine races, I think. He's been with a championship-winning team for many years. Certainly, he strengthens our driver line-up hugely, and he brings that experience, that knowledge of what it feels like to win and makes us a stronger team, so it's been good working with him. Let's see how we do this weekend.
Q: Does he tell you much about Ferrari?
Willis: Certainly, he's used to working in a slightly different environment, how they operate certain technical aspects of the car. The driver can often explain what the car feels like, the way he thinks it operates and other bits about the car, but generally the teams don't tell the drivers an awful lot about the cars that other teams might be interested in, so it's really just his experience, how he feels the car and how he wants to work on the car.
Q: You have a third driver again, having not had one last year but having had one the year before that. Is it more of a benefit now than it was two years ago?
Willis: It's certainly very useful this year because, unlike in 2004, when we had just one engine to last just one race weekend, we have an engine to last two race weekends, so even more we are biasing the running on a Friday to the third driver. Anthony's been with the team for a long time, he's very quick, very consistent and our race drivers have got a lot of confidence in reading what he says about the car. So it's certainly very useful for us.
Q: You certainly did a job with him today, getting him back out again at the end.
Willis: I'm not quite sure how the car came back so quickly, but we got a call from Charlie Whiting to say we would get it back so we were well prepared.
Q: Was there any damage to it?
Willis: Only after I think the marshals got to it and they pushed it into the gravel, and we had quite a lot of gravel to take out of it which wasn't there when Anthony left it.
Q: We're seeing fewer and fewer laps from the drivers on the Fridays; do you think there is a case for making Friday an unlimited test day?
Willis: I think it would be very difficult to make it a useable test day. Typically, on a test day, we are getting quite a lot of cars going round, we're running six or seven hours. We can probably achieve 500+ kilometres. It is also difficult coming to a race track, where usually there hasn't been anything on the circuit for at least a week, if not longer than that, so the circuit conditions are fairly poor on the first day. So I think there is not an awful lot that we would learn and part of the reason why a lot of the race drivers don't go out in the first session on Friday is just because the circuit conditions are not really very useful.
Q: John, today Jarno Trulli was eleventh. Was this a little bit of relief after last weekend?
John HOWETT: Well, yes, I suppose you can say a slight relief but obviously a very disappointing start to the season, and not really where we expect to be or want to be. So we have to work a lot harder. We are getting a bit more temperature into the tyres here so it's helping, but still we have to work hard. It's clear that we're not where we need to be and how competitive we should be.
Q: Was it tyre choice or a little bit of how the chassis used the tyres?
Howett: I think it's the way the chassis is utilising the tyre. We can't condemn the tyre because we clearly had very similar rubber to both Williams and McLaren in Bahrain and it's the way we are actually utilising the rubber.
Q: We talked about the third driver; you don't have one this year. Are you missing him?
Howett: Yes, clearly. It did help a lot last year (having one) but I think it's part of the route to the top and you just have to learn to cope without that. As you notice, we did a lot of laps today with both race drivers.
Q: Have you had to build that factor into the race engines this year?
Howett: Well, I think we have a strong engine but obviously we hadn't planned that sort of mileage on a Friday, so we have to see how the engine stands up to the pressure it's had today in a fairly hot environment.
Q: Now Mike Gascoyne is still back in Germany, I believe. Was that a knee-jerk reaction from last weekend?
Howett: Not knee-jerk. He's here tomorrow but he's obviously stayed in the factory an extra two days just to keep the pressure on and look for further improvements.
Q: You've got a massive build programme as well, haven't you?
Howett: Yes, that's correct. That's part of it.
Q: Mario, your third driver, Robert Kubica has been impressive this year; what are your thoughts on him?
Mario THEISSEN: Yes, absolutely. Obviously we watched him last year and on that basis we contracted him, but we didn't know too much about him. He's only 21-years old, he hadn't seen these overseas tracks before: Bahrain and Sepang were both new to him, and we couldn't expect him to be so quick on pace. He didn't make any mistakes. Over the two days he has accumulated a lot of mileage, always did his programme perfectly and he's even quite good at reporting to the engineers, so very useful data. I think he's a very promising guy.
Q: After Jacques Villeneuve's engine failure in Bahrain, are you worried about the same thing happening to Nick Heidfeld here?
Thiessen: It's true that Nick's engine is built to the same specification as Jacques'. On the other hand, the failure had never happened before, this type of failure. So far, we can only assume it was one faulty part in the engine, and so we don't feel a reason to change Nick's engine, we will see. Every engine manufacturer is concerned about engine life here, especially in Sepang, where a V8 goes into the second weekend. It's a hot race and I think we will see something over the weekend.
Q: You're building up a new team from the basis of Sauber; what still has to be done? Is there a huge amount still?
Thiessen: Yes, of course. I can say that I'm proud of what the team has done over the past eight months, but that was only the start to a programme of several years. We have decided to take on more than 100 additional people. The team is really small compared to our competitors. We started last summer with 275 people in Switzerland. Now we have 320, still one to two hundred fewer than our competitors. We have decided to expand the factory, which will only start this summer, so I'm happy if we have everything in place by the end of '07.
Q: Patrick, a lot of people see you as an independent team again, therefore they see your performance in Bahrain as very praiseworthy. What were your impressions?
Patrick HEAD: Obviously it was encouraging to get two cars in the points, and both cars ran reliably through the weekend. In developing our transmission, a lot of it had to be done at the track because we didn't have the facilities to do it on the dyno. So we spent rather a lot of time in the garage looking shrapnel round the back of the car over the winter, so that rather interrupted our winter testing which wasn't ideal, but I was happy. I don't think we're ever going to get too excited about a sixth and a seventh but it was very pleasing to see Nico's charge having made a mistake at the beginning of the race and unfortunately to Nick Heidfeld's detriment but it was very encouraging.
Q: Last year, we saw you doing few laps in practice, thinking it was conserving the BMW engine but it seems that that continues with Cosworth. What is the thinking behind that?
Head: Particularly with a new engine, obviously we've done a number of double race distances or double race simulations and things over the winter, but I doubt that anybody has really done enough to say 100 percent that they know exactly where they are in their engine life. I think Honda, as you will have seen from the testing mileage, have done easily the most and even they have probably not been absolutely 100 percent. So the best thing, particularly with the opportunity to run a third car on the Friday, the best thing is to limit the amount of running and get the best out of it in qualifying the race.
Q: But how much does Nico suffer from that, particularly on the circuits he doesn't know?
Head: He was due to do a few more laps this afternoon but we had a small fuel system problem that shouldn't have happened but it did. He seems quite happy with the track and knowing the track. He doesn't think he's at a disadvantage.
Q: A general question for you all on the testing agreement; could someone clarify 1) if it's been signed and 2) what is consists of?
Willis: I'm not sure I can clarify how many have signed it, whether it's completely signed.
Head: It's signed by everybody now.
Willis: It's very similar to the testing agreement that was agreed by nine teams last year. The number of days is slightly more and there's a little bit of detail tidy-up about how you use... you can nominate your home circuit and on those conditions you can count for a half car day rather than if you use a single car on that track. So certain teams have circuits which they can only use one car on and so we've agreed that we can all nominate one circuit that allows you to count - if you only run one car on it - half a day. So in general I think it's pretty consistent. It gives a realistic target cap on distance per day, the number of days per year, so I think it's fairly well understood that it will keep us in a sensible position on testing.
Head: Yes, I think it's an outer perimeter on testing but I think the most significant thing is that we've at least got back to a common agreement between all teams, so it's a good platform to work on.
Q: This is a question I've been asked to ask about the measurement of rear wings: is there another way of measuring rear wings, the flex that might appear, that you would want to see, that you would be happy with?
Willis: I'll have another go at it. The issue about the flexibility of rear wings is a difficult one because clearly all engineering structures do deflect. The question is whether you are allowed to make performance benefit from that, and the FIA - Charlie Whiting - has clarified on several occasions that you are not. The difficulty is what sort of test you come up with that is safe to perform in parc ferme conditions because the rear wings do have very significant loads on them that you probably wouldn't want to place on the car in parc ferme in case they fell off and hurt somebody. The designs of the wings that people have used in the past and certainly have either allowed what we call the slot gap - the gap between the first element and the second element of the wing to either close up or to open up and by doing so change the drag and the lift on the car, and you can see that in the past a number of teams have gained extra top speed from that - that's been tightened up a certain amount by regulation changes in the last year or so or more stringent application of certain stiffness tests. I think we probably still need to see a change in the regulation there to see that that geometry has to remain constant all the way across the speed, and one way to do that is to make sure that the physical arrangement of what the rear wing is like is consistent with not being able to change that gap.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Anne Giuntini - L'Equipe) I would like from all of you to know what is your opinion about the new qualifying format?
Thiessen: I think it is exciting, I love it, I think the spectators will love it. It is one hour full of action, three runs, and I think it is the best way we ever had. You can always talk about refining it, question of going with or without fuel, how to deal with that, but altogether I really like it.
Head: I think Mario is right. It is certainly exciting and quite tense in the garage and of course with Kimi's accident and the big rush then going out it was certainly quite tricky and I think it particularly did not work out in Ralf's favour. Basically you got one lap and if you happen to have a slow car in front of you when you go out, your are in big trouble. The only bit that is a bit dubious and I think the crowd will find rather difficult to understand is this business of having fuel in for the last practice and then while the cars are going round seemingly not doing quick laps and obviously the influence of the weight of the fuel is huge. When this qualifying format was first proposed it was on the basis of not carrying fuel in any of the three qualifying sessions and that probably would have caused a problem at the time had the tyre situation stayed the same. But with us being able to change tyres at the pit stop as I understand it being proposed at the same time, personally I would be happy to have all three sessions on low fuel, but as Mario says there is room to trim as the basic format is pretty good but I think the FIA are not really willing to trim race to race. If they are going to make a change it will be at least mid season, I think, and obviously after some discussions with the teams.
Willis: Well I think it was great fun, something we had studied in a lot of details and rehearsed a lot and made the specific preparations for handling the cars, particularly in the last session, trying to get the cars with their tyres changed simultaneously. Having said that, having practiced everything and rehearsed everything, I think the first session showed that you could revert on the edge of getting it wrong badly, so there is a lot of learning during the first weekend. It will be interesting to see what the qualifying brings up this weekend. I am sure everybody will learn again for a couple of more races and it will settle down. But it is very busy and there is no room for error and that certainly is a challenge, a challenge we will enjoy.
Howett: I think the qualifying we have to look at it from a consumer's point of view, the public. From inside the team it is a pretty exciting format. It is very busy but we have all the times so we can see. I think the key point really is to see what television viewers also think about the format and whether they can really follow it. And I think there seems to be some mixed reactions. So for the end consumer we have perhaps to wait a bit longer but from within the teams and probably for track action it is a very positive move.
Q: (James Roberts - Motorsport News) Patrick, what did you think when you saw Villeneuve's BMW retire in Bahrain?
Head: A loaded question. That was quite interesting really, because I was called up on Wednesday to be asked whether I'd come here and I said to Silvia, who rang me up, Mario Theissen being asked as well? I'm not sure if I got a reply there, but I thought 'this is a set-up'. You're so busy during a race that you're not really looking too often at what's going on on other cars but I don't think tears welled up in my eyes.
Q: (Tetsuo Tsugawa - Tetsu Enterprise) After last Bahrain race, what did you think about Scuderia Toro Rosso's V10 engine? Do you think we need more restrictions or to change the rules, or just keep going?
Head: Mario's really the one to talk about it, but I think from what I've seen of power curves, run at its maximum, it's certainly below the V8 from Cosworth. The thing about it is that it's so under-stressed, in effect, that it can be run at its maximum every lap of the race, every lap of qualifying, every lap of practice. That gives a certain advantage. The other thing is that it would have been a much bigger problem, I think, if one of the manufacturer teams had decided to go that route because the Cosworth V10 engine never had variable trumpets and as I understand it, it has not been optimum-tuned for the lower revs, for the restricted intake, and I'm sure that for any of the manufacturers - because you are allowed to run with those engines in exactly 2005 specification, so with variable trumpets, if you'd re-done the camshafts and the ports and all the rest of it, to optimise it for those rules - I'm sure there would be a few people howling like hell now.
Providing it's only the Cosworth V10 and it doesn't get developed to be optimised for that, then it brings another team out there which wouldn't otherwise be out there but I'm not sure that Colin Kolles from Midland feels the same way, but I don't have a problem with it. But Mario's opinion, I think, is probably more significant.
Thiessen: I see three advantages of a restricted V10. One is peak power, even if you apply the restrictions in a very rude way by putting in a plate into the air trumpet, I would expect it to have a higher peak power - maybe not too much. Second one is higher torque, which should put you in a position at the start to overtake maybe one or two cars, and at the exit of a corner, to accelerate much quicker. That's what we saw in Bahrain. And the third advantage is, as Patrick said, that this engine is good for several thousand kilometres and you can basically go at qualifying pace throughout the race. Those are the major differences from a technical perspective.
Howett: I think that the only thing you have to recognise is that the FIA have indicated that they will change the restriction or the peak power of the engine if they determine it is necessary, and therefore it would be very difficult for any of the main manufacturer teams or main teams to really consider that, because you don't really know what could happen between one race and the other, and I think that should be considered as another element.
Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) The third car facility has been questioned recently; would you like to see that reviewed?
Head: I would have to say that we are very happy with the third car facility and I think last year I'm sure Ron Dennis was very happy with the third car facility. It was actually proposed, I think, for some of the teams nearer the back of the grid to be able to have paying drivers on a Friday and it certainly isn't being used in that way. But on the other hand, it is a bit of an advantage to the lower teams and therefore, as a corollary disadvantage for the upper teams. I would have to say that they are probably happy about it this year and I hope to be in a position where we are unhappy about it next year.
Thiessen: Similar view. It certainly is an advantage especially now, in the early phase of the season because, as we discussed before, everybody is concerned about reliability and keeps engine or car mileage low. We are happy to benefit from that. Maybe we can change it after every team benefited from it for one year - don't know if that works out. On the other hand, you have to see what would happen without the third cars on Friday. Certainly the teams who have a third car, their race drivers would maybe do a few laps more but not too many, and now at least, we have some cars going around on a full programme. Robert Kubica did 49 laps today and together with the third drivers that was quite interesting to watch.
Howett: Clearly it's an advantage, but as we don't have it, it sounds sour grapes to say you can't. I think you just have to live with the rules as they are, but clearly we did gain advantage from it from the last two years with Ricardo driving on the Friday, no question.
Willis: Yes, I agree with everything that's been said. It's clearly an advantage for us but maybe it's just a way of helping to mix up the grid to try and give a little bit of a penalty to the top four teams and a little bit of a bonus to the following teams to maybe avoid teams just running away. It keeps you having to work hard.
Q: (Anthony Rowlinson - Autosport) Patrick, how long can an independent team continue to be competitive against a manufacturer in the current era of Formula One?
Head: I suppose it depends on how good they are at generating their funding and whether they spend their money wisely. I think if you looked at the Renault budget for last year, both engine and car, you'd find it probably only the fourth, fifth or sixth biggest budget out there, so efficiency is a very important part and equally, it's fairly well known, the sort of magnitude of money that we're paying Cosworth for the engine this year, it's certainly very much less than 20 million Euro, and I mean by a long way, and I would have to say that I'm very happy to be running a Cosworth engine. I think it's fully competitive and relative to some, a more than competitive engine and Cosworth are not making a loss on that engine. But as testing gets limited more, which inevitably it will, it will put more emphasis onto the simulation tools, both virtual and physical that you have within your facility, and some of those simulation tools are pretty expensive and I mentioned beforehand - I'm not complaining about it but we had to de-bug our gearbox out on the track. It would have been much more efficient and much more clinical if we could have de-bugged it on a more sophisticated transmission dyno than we have available to us.
These sort of facilities will certainly, in the longer term, be very useful, but to be precise in terms of saying how long, I suppose it depends if Max (Mosley, FIA President) is successful on what he has been talking about which is to try and reduce the slope of spend against performance.
Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) Question for all of you: honest and frank thoughts on a standard ECU, please?
Howett: It's a difficult one. I think in principal, most of the manufacturers would prefer freedom with the ECU, at least the actual cost of the ECU itself is not of an extreme magnitude. OK, one would probably need to be more draconian in restricting electronic capacity to significantly reduce the cost area. I think there is an issue of actually ensuring that there is no artificial aids which are intended to be eliminated, such as traction control in the future, and therefore by having a standard ECU it may make it very easy to police and avoid any rumours of a certain team having this capability or not and I believe that's one of the reasons that the FIA wishes to integrate the actual standard ECU, but I think as a preference we would prefer to keep freedom.
Willis: Not really my area to comment that much apart from the fact that in both road car engine design and in race car engine design the engine hardware and the controller is very much thought of as a complete package, so it's a thing where an engine manufacturer, a car manufacturer would always normally want to be developing engine and ECU together so in that sense, it's something we would rather keep and not go to an independent third party. The other issue from the team side is that changing ECUs and changing all the integrated code with it and the software the team uses is a very big challenge and there's not a lot of time between now and the beginning of 2008 and none of us would want to be starting on January 1, 2008 with a new system. We want to be trying to test it earlier so I think there's a pretty tight timescale.
Head: I'm not convinced that it automatically follows that if you have a standard ECU that there's no more possibility of some sort of power modulation but if we all get put to a standard ECU then those of us, few of us, with devious minds will turn their attention to other means.
I did actually... Niki, I lost the 'and' between your first two words. I thought you said 'honest Frank' and I thought, who's this? (Laughter) But you said 'honest and frank.'
But it's a change and I can understand that a lot of people like BMW, building their own ECUs, it's an interesting challenge for them which I'm sure has some relevance and some knock-on to their road car development and it must feel very uncomfortable for engineers to be told 'no, you can't do this, no you can't do a job in that area' and be given what will probably be a fairly middle-of-the-road type piece of hardware, it doesn't feel very Formula One-ish but anyway, that's what we're told we're getting and it seems it's still Max and Bernie's game so that's what we've got to play.
Thiessen: As we understand, the original aim was to rule out artificial driver aids and we fully support that, even if road cars have it, we want to see the best drivers out here and want them to cope with the car at the limit and that is certainly more exciting without driver aids. We have had talks between the manufacturers and some teams, I think it was a year ago - at least a year ago - about how to achieve that, and we came to the conclusion that it should be possible to do that with a controlled section, accessible to the FIA, to make sure that there are not artificial driver aids. We would prefer to go along this route because, as Geoff said, today there is not the mechanical parts, components, development on one hand and the electronics components on the other hand. Virtually everything comes with its electronics and virtually every functionality is controlled electronically. So in order to have the possibility to test new functionalities, we would need to have access to the electronics and then you are immediately down to the question: what is standardised? Is it a certain area of the hardware, is it the basic software as well, even, as the application software? It's quite a difficult and tricky area, so, as I said, we would prefer to have a common standard which ensures that there is no driver aids and it cannot even be perceived to be there but then to do our own stuff in order to use the same stuff for testing and racing.
Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) Mario, can I follow up on that? What is currently the definition of a standard ECU then?
Thiessen: There is no precise definition, especially not when it comes to software.
Q: (Mark Hughes - Autosport) Geoff, in the lead-up to the season, it seemed it was very close between you, Renault, Ferrari and McLaren. With one Grand Prix weekend out of the way, do you see any patterns in the performance which might differentiate?
Willis: Seing the pattern that the teams which we thought were going to be strong are strong on race pace last weekend, it certainly was very close with ourselves and those three teams. I think it's quite an even field this year. I think there are a lot of teams very close in performance. It will take the new few races, I think, to get a more detailed pattern but for sure, I think we all know which are the strong teams and what you have to do with such a tough grid is you have to be right in every session, in every race and you can't afford any mistakes, whether they are reliability or strategy, you have to get it right and it's the person who is going to be most reliable, most consistent who is going to win this year.
Q: (Heinz Pruller - Kronen Zeitung) May I ask each of you, from what you know so far, on which circuit do you think your car and your team has the best chance to win a Grand Prix this year?
Thiessen: I would prefer to answer the question after Sao Paulo.
Head: We obviously design a car and intend a car to be quick on all tracks. We were quick in the race at Bahrain but we didn't do a good enough job in practice to be able to make good use of it, but I don't think that we can say there's any characteristic of our car that means it will be better on one type of track or another. We obviously aim to try and make the car to be quick everywhere and anybody's who's hoping to participate in the championship I think.... I rather like the position that everybody's talking about Honda and McLaren and Ferrari and - who's the other one? Oh yes, Renault, they're rather good as well, aren't they? I think if we can keep our heads below the parapet but I think we're players in there as well, but we will see, we've got to go out and do it.
Willis: I think Patrick's right, you never design a car to be quick on one type of circuit, you want to be quick everywhere and certainly we're looking at this year with strong pre-season testing knowing that there are quite a few teams with very similar performance. We really have to go to every single race and try to do as well as we can at every race, just take them one by one, so we're not developing the car specifically for any one circuit and I don't think any one circuit is more important than another although clearly there are some races you can think of as home races or not and there are some circuit which may have historically proven better but no, I think we're trying to go and be quick everywhere.
Howett: I think it's the same. We haven't designed the car for one circuit. I guess until we have resolved the problem we've got at the moment, using the tyres, we will have a similar challenge on a number of circuits.