EUROPEAN GP - FRIDAY - PRESS CONFERENCE

Michael Schumacher, European GP 2006

Michael Schumacher, European GP 2006 

 © The Cahier Archive

FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCE - 5 MAY 2006

TEAM MEMBERS: Ross BRAWN (FERRARI), Willy RAMPF (BMW SAUBER), Mark SMITH (RED BULL RACING), Pascal VASSELON (TOYOTA), Geoff WILLIS (HONDA)

Q: Pascal, you've had an interesting career path, from a tyre company now almost to find yourself as technical director. How has your job changed since Mike Gascoyne left?

Pascal VASSELON: I guess we have to start working a little bit more. Since Mike left, I have taken over most of Mike's responsibilities except the electronic group which went to the engine department, to give a little bit more work to Luca Marmorini and that's it.

Q: And it must be an interesting experience for you working with Bridgestone as well, given that you were with Michelin! What have you learned?

Vasselon: I was really looking forward to working with Bridgestone, but at the end, it's amazing to see how two different groups of people, with very different cultures and coming from two different parts of the world, at the end can achieve very similar performances with different technologies, with different methods. But what can also be said is that putting together some Michelin experience and some Bridgestone experience, there's still a lot to understand and discover about race tyres.

Q: We were talking yesterday with Ralf about the B-version of the current car; when are we likely to see that?

Vasselon: It's still planned to arrive at Monaco. We did the roll-out last week. It went pretty well so we are still on schedule to introduce it in Monaco.

Q: Is that car pretty vital to the team at the moment?

Vasselon: Of course it's always important to introduce a new car. This one, I would say, is a logical mechanical evolution of what we did last year with the 105B, so most of the changes are mechanical. Of course we have a new monocoque, that's why it's a new car, but there are other differences, that we have no more keel at the moment. We don't expect a big improvement with this car, simply because most of it is mechanical, but now we will have a much better basis to continue the development of the aero package.

Q: Geoff, the last race was a bit disastrous; have you changed anything since then, what have you learned from that race?

Geoff WILLIS: I'm not sure I would say disastrous, probably didn't finish as well as we'd wanted. Two issues really: obviously the pit stop problems we had - unusual for us, I think. That's an area where we pride ourselves on being very strong and we've had a look at what went on. We've made some very small changes to what we do. I don't think we're going to have that sort of issue again. Fortunately in this business, everybody is very professional and it was good to get away without any serious incident and without anybody getting seriously injured. It was a reminder to everybody that you've got to be careful in these matters. I think, overall, we're quite happy with the pace over most of the weekend. In the end, we didn't really get the result we were expecting to get. I think we should have got on the podium, but as you say, you have to do it.

Q: What about race pace; that seems to be the thing that's lacking so far this year. Have you made progress on that front, particularly in testing at Silverstone?

Willis: We've certainly had a very busy testing programme in the last three or four tests we've done and we've learned a lot about what's causing some of our difficulties, certainly working very much with the car set-up, working together with Michelin to understand what we need to do and I think we're getting steadily better. Again, we will have to see this weekend whether we can put what we've learned into practice but certainly there's a lot of activity going on, and I think we are getting a better understanding of where we need to work.

Q: Now you've been quoted as saying you're still not happy with the Ferrari wings. Can you just clarify the situation?

Willis: I think I'm not quoted at all, actually. I'm not quite sure where it all came from. The whole issue of flexible wings has come and gone quite a lot over the last two or three years. It's an area which a lot of the teams often talk about to Charlie Whiting, the race director, seeking clarifications, asking what we can do and it's a subject which we discuss in the Technical Working Group from time to time, so I'm not quite sure why this issue became quite so heated this week. It is the case that people have been playing around with wings quite a lot. There are two main ways. People either try and get the whole wing to bend off... to twist off, reduce the drag at high speed, or play around with mechanisms that close or open the flap gap and I have to say that what we've discovered over the last year or so, is quite impressive, the amount of innovation out there. We've seen wings that bend in one way, flaps that bend in another way, wings that aren't bonded together. I think we've even seen an inflatable wing, which I must say I was very impressed with. But it's something where, if we hear something or we have an idea, then it's all part of the regular business of making technical inquiries to Charlie Whiting, asking whether we can do it. It's a little bit of a game generally with technical advances in Formula One, when you have a clever idea, or you think somebody else has got a clever idea, you either try and do it yourself or if you think it's close enough to a grey area you ask the right sort of question to the FIA, so it either gets stopped for everybody or permitted for everybody.

Q: So there's been nothing specific from you over the last couple of weeks, since Imola?

Willis: We're quite regularly in communication with the FIA through Charlie Whiting. I think we've probably had eleven or twelve communications this year alone; that's on top of the general technical directives. It's a difficult area because there are clear regulations about the way we measure the flexibility of wings but the other issue was something that came up in a technical directive that was circulated in the middle of last year where it was made quite clear that we are not allowed to take aerodynamic advantage so we've got a regulation which we all understand but it's a little bit difficult to determine how exactly you're going to enforce it. Now that business of enforcement is entirely the FIA's area but what the teams will tend to do is give information or suggestions to Charlie Whiting and Jo Bauer as to what we think is possible and what we think if it's not going to be permitted by them, where to look for it.

Q: Willy, I guess the team is still very much in development. Can you give us a progress report?

Willy RAMPF: It is. As you know we have a quite ambitious plan to increase the head count. We want to increase it from 300 to a bit more than 400 people. I think we are just in the middle of this process now. Basically we've signed about 50 people, most of them in the development area, but it still takes time until they are on board and until they are integrated in the team, so the current car and the current performance is mainly from the team as you know it from last year, and I don't think you will see the impact of the increase in head count until the end of the season for next year's car.

Q: The performances so far do seem to be a little up and down.

Rampf: With the performance, we started off quite well. In the last race, we weren't really happy with the performance. We have to see where we end up here but we see that the cars are extremely close together, especially in qualifying. In the last qualifying, I think the cars were covered by 15 hundredths of a second, then you move from position twelve to position five which is a completely different avenue for the rest of the event. I think in the race before, at Sepang or Melbourne it was very similar. Cars are very close together. Unless everything is perfect, you drop out of third qualifying and your starting position is not the best. We've twice experienced not going into third qualifying and then your starting position is really too far back to fight for points.

Q: The lack of a test team has always been a problem for Sauber in the past; how has that changed?

Rampf: Since the beginning of the season, we have increased the test team and since the season started, we have done all the tests with two cars and this has helped a lot, because one car is dedicated to tyre testing which wasn't the case in the past, and I think this is helping us to understand the tyres better. We also have more aerodynamic parts now because we're running more wind tunnel hours and overall this is necessary to keep our performance pace.

Q: Ross, one thing that came out of the last couple of Grands Prix, and possibly even here, is the tyre temperature range in relation to the weather expected. How much of a problem has that been?

Ross BRAWN: It's a fairly major issue or a fairly major consideration because the requirements this year have changed again from last year: qualifying performance, we're prepared to accept a lot more degradation this year if the tyre is quick, so we're trying to find our references again with a whole new family and set of tyres, with different cars. We were probably a little bit slow off the mark in adopting some tyres which weren't much more effective at low temperatures and we paid the price for that in Melbourne where the first stint was dreadful, because we couldn't get the tyres up to temperature and then the second stint, when we were able to put hot tyres on in the pit stop, the car was very good, but of course that's not a workable situation. Even if the tyres are very good in that situation, it wasn't workable, so we've moved towards tyres which have a lower working range. But of course, they can then suffer when temperatures get too high which is a little bit of what happened at Imola in the middle of the race.

Q: Jean Todt seemed to have been very pleased with the top speed that you showed at Imola. How important has that been to the Ferrari performance?

Brawn: Well, we changed our emphasis from last year. Last year was a year when downforce was really the main parameter and efficiency wasn't so key. We didn't really have a very good year and we analysed the circuits where we were good and weren't so good and we put a much greater emphasis on the efficiency of the car and in fact we made some good strides, good progress in other areas of the car, which affect straight-line speed, so the aero programme was much more focused on efficiency and other areas of the car improved a lot. We've got a very good engine. People like to talk about rpm but rpm is not the only parameter and if you can produce the power at lower rpm then that can sometimes be more efficient. So we've got a very good engine, for sure, that works very well in the chassis. We're obviously pleased with the straight-line speed, we're pleased with the efficiency of the car, but it's come about because of an awful lot of work by a lot of people.

Q: Michael said at the beginning of the year that this year's championship was going to be about the pace of development. Has it been roughly what you expected so far?

Brawn: Well, I think everyone works very hard in all the teams. It's a question of the results you get from that work, and I think every team in the pit lane is putting a tremendous effort into development. I must say I'm very pleased with the progress we're making with development this year. We've got another aero package here, we had a new one in Imola, so we've already moved on. I think there will be a small modification in Barcelona and then there are the new packages coming for Monaco and then the low downforce packages coming for Canada and America. What's pleasing is that we're making progress on all those fronts. Last year we did a lot of work and we didn't make much progress and I think that due to some internal restructuring and a better focus on what we need to do, we're making a lot of progress. There's a lot of work coming now on suspension. Suspension is something that we haven't done very much on over the last few years. Again, we had a new suspension system in Imola, we've got some new suspension systems being developed over the next few months so I think last year slightly awakened the giant of Ferrari. It was a bad year and we decided that we have to do something about it and I'm very pleased with our rate of progress this year.

Q: Mark, yours is an interesting job in some ways because Adrian Newey sometimes comes to races and sometimes doesn't. Where are you positioned towards him in terms of responsibilities?

Smith: First of all, I want to say that the working relationship with Adrian Newey is absolutely first class. We work well together. Adrian, as I think most people know, is very keen on hands on design. He does a lot of actual design work and he's very keen on engineering-related issues at the track. My role, over the last year or two, has become much more of a technical management role and a co-ordination role. I try to maintain a common direction from various departments - aerodynamics, engineering, all that sort of thing.

Q: When he's (Newey) not there, do you become the tactician of the team?

Smith: No, it's not like that, effectively, part of maintaining common thread and direction within the team is to be involved in all aspects of the car, from conception and design through to operations at the track. So while I play a key role at the track, it's also important to know how we operate and be able to take that to the factory and keep up the development.

Q: Vitantonio Luizzi tested for you recently. When you've got three drivers as well, what was the point of that?

Smith: You shouldn't read too much into that. That was at Paul Ricard. That was convenient from other drivers' points of view and to do with the fact that Tonio is part of the Red Bull family. He's a driver that we know - we worked with him last year, and therefore it's an effective way of continuing that development. We have a lot of confidence in his feedback.

Q: Last week you were confident about your test, but David Coulthard somewhat poured cold water on that and wanted to wait to see how you went in races. What do you think about that?

Smith: Personally, I haven't seen or heard those comments from David. We obviously came away from Imola feeling pretty dejected. It was a bad result even given our current pace, so there are areas of development that we are working on. It is not one single problem so we are working on a few areas. The Silverstone test was more about development than anything else. We made progress but you cannot really make that kind of leap any more that totally transforms the car, so yeah. Generally the test was positive and we are heading in the right direction.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) A two part question for you guys. Firstly, cornering speeds are way up on last year. What, besides tyre development, have been influential in that? Also, with those speeds, do you think the run-off areas are big enough any more?

Brawn: First Dan, I think you need to see some accurate data because cornering speeds are not way up at all. Obviously we don't have multi-usage of the tyres like in 2005, so yes they will creep up a little bit, but our data shows us that the speeds are not much different to what we were doing in 2004. I don't know about the others, but it is not a dramatic difference for us. The comparison to 04 is a little bit different because the terminal velocity on the straights is different so the corner speeds are different.

Willis: Well, obviously we are a lot slower on the straights than in 2004 and 2005, so, with the lap times being remarkably close, we've certainly seen some corner speeds creep up, certainly in high-speed corners over last year. I'm sure a lot of the improvement is down to tyres. Our tyre partner has done a fantastic job and it's very impressive that the tyres are more durable and still with more performance than in 2004 or 2005. Just consider that some of the tyres we use now could easily do a full race distance. On the question of safety, I don't think it's so much a point for the teams - it's something for the technical working group to keep an eye on. It's certainly something that the FIA keeps an eye on. We reduced engine power and if the speeds of the lap times fall then speeds will go up. The nature of Formula One is to be competitive and drive speeds up, so every now and then, we have to re-set the levels for what's appropriate to the circuit design.

Rampf: I think the cornering speed is a bit down to the fact that we can now change tyres where we could not last year. We have tyre changes so we can go in a different direction. Drivers will always try to use most speed in the corners because of the less braking and that more aggressive thing will make higher cornering speed.

Vasselon: From a tyre point of view, we were expecting the gain to be not as much as it has been from Bridgestone. We are very impressed with them. The tyre manufacturers have made a much higher performance from 2005 but without creating too much degradation. More to come as soon probably because until we see the two tyre companies become confident to find some reference points, we may see more improvements with speed.

Smith: The majority of the difference is down to tyres,

Q: (Joe Saward - Grandprix.com) Is any team using flexible wings or underbodies?

Willis: That question is very difficult. There's lots of data you can look at to make an estimate to see if someone is exploiting the regulations to their advantage - and to more than what is strictly permissible. It's hard to say, but what we have to do is make everybody 100 per cent sure of the regulations. If we have a suspicion or an idea on how we might do it, then we would put our ideas to Charlie Whiting and so would all the other teams I think. To answer your question directly, and in terms of what evidence to you would look for, you'd have to look for a speed variation from speeds squared. The cars deflect not as much air at 300 kph as it should be pro rata based on 250 kph. In the past you could see characteristics of cars where the variation was, lets say, non-linear drag characteristics. It's harder to spot now because of entire lap video coverage of the cars. If we thought it was on, we might point it out.

Q: (Joe Saward - Grandprix.com) I know you probably won't want to answer this Mark, but Red Bull have not been as quick as Ferrari. Is there an easy explanation as to why?

Smith: It's down to a combination of lots of factors, and we certainly have no complaints about the Ferrari engines. We're not embarrassed at the results, but certainly disappointed and frustrated. We do have to work in lots of areas and we will be working in lots of areas to make up the deficit. The car has more potential than it has displayed so far, it's a case of working on the problems. We have identified some solutions to our issues and due to some improvements, then maybe in three or four races time we can be a lot higher up. There are no guarantees but certainly there are no issues with the Ferrari engine.