Monaco GP - Thursday - Press Conference
24 MAY 2007
TEAM PRINCPALS: Ron DENNIS (McLaren Mercedes), Nick FRY (Honda), Mario THEISSEN (BMW Sauber), Jean TODT (Ferrari)
Q: Do you think this year's rule changes have worked? And what do you think of the future plans as being considered for 2011?
Nick FRY: I think this year's rules have had some benefits in closing up the field. From our own point of view, it has not been beneficial yet, but I think for the quality of the grid and the racing it has been a good thing. One thing I would say is the absolute importance of aerodynamics in the framework of the current rules with the engines similar to each other and the tyres the same, it does throw a lot of emphasis on one particular area and the question really is the relevance of that area. We are all working like crazy on very clever aerodynamics, a lot of time and money is going into that, but the question is does it have any real relevance to the outside world. I'll save my answer on that one for the second part of your question.
Q: But in general about this year's rules, it is good?
Fry: Yes, it is favourable.
Mario THEISSEN: Well, on the one-make tyre, I have the same view. It has closed up the field. We used to have four to five seconds between the first and the last on the grid and it has shrunk to two and half and that is good. The other important change is the Friday schedule. I think it doesn't really fit the original purpose, which was to turn Friday into a test day. What we have now is an extended practice day. The original idea of doing extensive testing, taking young drivers, has not materialised and I think it would be worth discussing again for next year.
Jean TODT: Friday, I mean it is true to say it has made things easier for testing the car, the set up, to know the tyres and definitely for the reliability of the engine because normally we started the engine rules with one engine for 400 kilometres and now we are ending with one engine with about 1000 kilometres, so it makes it different. Definitely to have one engine for two races, it is a way to reduce costs and goes in the right direction not to reduce costs, but to stabilise costs. Over the last years it has been a huge inflation about costs and like that it does make Formula One much cheaper, but it stops the escalation of the costs. Tyres? As usual, in all new regulations there are some positive and some negative points. It is true that less testing is required and leaving it more to racing because everybody uses the same specification of tyres. But competition is a high technology competition and you lose part of it by having only a single tyre company. And about testing, the teams have agreed at 30,000 kilometres a year, which is acceptable, but I think we must not make a wrong judgement about that, because it seems from outside that it reduces costs, but in order to remain as competitive as possible you have to invest in simulation facilities. There is no limitation on simulation facilities - it is a high cost and you cannot test young drivers and you just focus on the development of the car and it is very expensive so on that I would be more cautious to make final conclusions.
Ron DENNIS: First, I endorse much of what Jean said. Dealing with the engines first, we have had significant cost saving and stabilisation and we commonly use the Friday engine for two sessions, sometimes three, so we are not bringing fresh engines always to a Friday. I think two races out of a fresh engine is a positive thing because it creates a more reliable field, which I think is better for Formula One. The tyre situation has had a dramatic impact on testing because you can now concentrate primarily on the car and as a car manufacturer we prefer to be spending time on developing the car and the drivers to tyres. The one thing I disagree with Mario on is Friday not being used in the manner it was designed for. The priority was to put cars on the circuit because Friday was an event where we sat the majority of the time conserving engines and the second was to bring young drivers on. I think it is a question of asking what that means. To be able to put a driver, who has his first year in Formula One, in Formula One, then you need that Friday. And (for) many of the drivers that are currently competing, or several, it is their first year. I don't think it was ever designed to evaluate drivers for that season or to evaluate them for the next season. You do that at testing. You don't do it on Friday. I think Friday is to put you in a position in which you are comfortable if you choose to take a young driver as opposed to a mature experienced driver. It certainly helps that decision. It certainly helped our decision, ultimately my decision, about giving Lewis the opportunity to race and so I think it has achieved a full Friday as today was interesting for everybody and when it comes to the debate about whether we should be complaint to the regulations, whether it is a test day or a race day, I am relaxed in each direction and I am happy to support whatever the majority wants. It makes no difference to us at all. We treat it like a test day, so I think most of the things are positive and there is the odd negative and so long as we are moving in the right direction it is fine.
Q: The second question I was asking was - are we moving in the right direction with the paper that you received recently about the 'green' direction for the future?
Fry: I think it is important as you said at first to look at the philosophy, or strategy, behind the proposals and they are ones that we strongly endorse. If you stand back and look at what the proposals are trying to do - in the first instance they are trying to improve the efficiency of the power trains that we use through the addition of energy-efficient technologies and from our point of view that can only be a good thing. In our view, it is completely mandatory... i.e. there is unlikely to be a Formula One in the future without steps in that direction. So, that is one we give a big tick. The second one is the encouragement of what we call road relevant technologies. I don't think it is likely that car manufacturers and other parties are likely to invest so heavily as we all are unless there is a by-product from the technology and to try and route F1 in terms of its spending into areas where it would have been spent anyway if it is money that Honda was going to spend on its road car technology than by spending it in F1, it is not needless spending, it is money that would have been spent anyway and through the competition of F1 it is likely to happen much faster. So I think in our view these are two good reasons why it is exactly the right direction. I won't go into detail, but would say we would support 80 per cent of the detail of the proposal as well. What we are seeing here is some really game-changing leadership from the FIA and I think that is what is required and I think the whole thing is to be applauded.
Theissen: Well, on the general direction, I can only agree with what Nick said. We support this and we are a technology driven company and we are in F1 to demonstrate our competence in this area, so it is from our perspective good to take the lead and use F1 as a tool to pioneer future technology for road cars and so the basis is correct. The proposal itself we see as a basis for discussion. It has been presented two or three weeks ago. The manufacturers have been invited to comment on this and to bring in their own ideas and there is a sequence of meetings scheduled for the coming months and I am quite confident that we will come up with something finally very interesting and useful. Obviously, it will take a lot of money to develop this power train and so in my view it is essential to know about the final regulations as soon as possible before the end of this year in order to be able to stretch development and do it with the resources available. That is our view on the power train side. At the same time it was announced that the impact of aerodynamics should be brought down because it is not road car relevant. If we talk about that, it is not just about the solutions we find but about the technology and the tools we develop for Formula One and also in aerodynamics Formula One has pioneered what we do on the road car side. If you look at the wind tunnels we have they are much more sophisticated than road car wind tunnels used to be and only now is this technology taking over for the future in road car development. And in CFD simulation, here as well F1 is at the forefront and we make developments that are used for road cars in the future.
Todt: From now to 2011, we move in three steps: 08 when we will be using a standard ECU which will be supplied by McLaren Electronics and we will have one gearbox for Grands Prix, that is the first step; the second step is 09 with restriction of the KERS, for the engine, and with the new aero package; and then, 2011, we got first the proposal of the discussions held among the manufactures and the FIA and we must bear in mind that it has been said now for a certain time that when we move into a new rules for Formula One we have to consider four principles which are the cost reduction, the improvement of the show, the safety and the link to road car technology. So we have a first draft and I think it is a good draft for discussion. Mainly it is addressing the power train situation, so the aerodynamic and the chassis are not well covered and we are now at the end of May 07 and I hope things can move forward and we can write regulations that suit Formula One and which will correspond to the four parameters we agreed on.
Dennis: I agree with everything Jean said. His analysis is very accurate. To add, there are two categories of Grand Prix organisations, those that have equity control from a manufacturer and those teams whose core business is Formula One. I don't feel comfortable with regulations designed to favour manufacturers who at any time can stop because it is not their core business. History shows they do choose to stop at short notice for different reasons. So, to construct therefore Formula One for the manufacturers is fundamentally wrong. I see the need for an F1 that embraces many of the things that are part of the paper, I am not opposed to it at all, I am supportive of it, but inevitably change is always considered a good solution to un-competitiveness, so cynically I look at a variety of teams saying 'great' because they are uncompetitive and cannot make competitive cars with the current regulations and I hope that the thing that has driven virtually every decision of value that is taken over the last five years, which is cost, is kept firmly at the top of the list because this is going to cost a fortune and there isn't anybody that can argue against that. This will cost a fortune. We need to be mindful of the fact that this could see the demise of several teams who will not be able to pursue development programmes or receive the support of a manufacturer, so going from one minute a situation where we are effectively going to have four cars of the same make most of which will be produced by the core manufacturing companies to a situation where the manufacturers are heavily favoured against those core manufacturers, I don't think that is correct. But that is an opinion.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Special) Is it fair to say that with testing restrictions the team with most cars has an advantage and that a top team therefore needs a customer team running the same cars?
Theissen: I would say that with the current situation with one tyre manufacturer we are fine with what we do in terms of testing. If there is a further cut of testing mileage, it could happen. It would happen...
Todt: Definitely, if you have eight cars, which are the same specification, it will help. Not so much for the chassis or for the aero, because very often, well, you take Barcelona, we do four days testing in Barcelona, then we arrive in Barcelona and we change all the set up of the car. And we start again on Saturday, we change again all the set up of the cars. So it depends on the temperature and many other components. Considering we are going to reliability components, like engine, gearbox and all that, if you are able to do testing on more cars it will allow you to test them better, things like engine, gearbox, electronics and definitely it will be an advantage.
Dennis: It is a question of what cars people want to buy. If you want to buy competitive cars, then competitive cars are from competitive teams and a competitive team will seek any advantage that will come from it. But one team thing that is apparent is that it is not so easy to raise the sponsorship for a second team and that in itself might be a dissuader. People, sponsors, prefer to have cars that are from a manufacturer, even if they are a little slower, they want their team. It will be interesting to see over the next few years what level of take-up there is and whether these teams can be financed even though the budges fall between 30 and 40 per cent of the principal team which obviously makes the challenge of finding the money less, but still it is very difficult.
Fry: Although, as Mario said, within the constraints of the current rules there is a reasonable amount of testing available to us and notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the work is done on rigs or in simulated conditions, at the end of the day having a greater number of products on the track doing that last residual validation test has to be an advantage. I think it would be something that would be an advantage for the teams with more cars running.
Q: (Sal Zanca - Associated Press) Question to Ron and Jean: the future of Formula One is also night-time racing. Ron, what is your view on it and did Bernie or the FIA consult you beforehand? And Jean, do you think there is anything from Le Mans you could carry over for night-time racing?
Dennis: The analysis that the teams put into their own process of what the future should hold was very supportive of having the flexibility to change race start times. The economic model sees us seek the biggest television audience, and if that can be achieved through varying start times, then I think all the teams are very supportive of it. To go the next step, have a start time which is at night with a lit circuit, is, I think, imaginative and as a team we support it, providing, obviously, there's the right level of competence put to the process and that the danger to the drivers is not enhanced beyond where it is at the moment. I think it would be good if we could start with one race and get the comfort zone a little bigger, but as a team, we are supportive of it.
Todt: As long as it does correspond to some of the parameters, as I was talking before, we don't have any problem with that. Considering the synergy that is possible between the Le Mans racing and Formula One racing, I see a big difference. At Le Mans, you have lights on the cars and in Formula One, you would have lights on the circuit, so I don't think it's something that can be comparable.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Question for all of you: could you comment on Lewis Hamilton in his first four races; what do you think of him?
Todt: If I speak with some sense of humour, I see him as having a good school last year! Ron is enjoying that, which is part of the truth. He had a very good season last year, and he's a very skilled, talented driver. I must say he has been fortunate enough to drive one of the best cars. We know that in racing you need to have the car, you need to have the team and you need to have the drivers. If you miss one of those components it cannot work. He has a good car, he has a good team and he's a great driver, so I would say that I'm not really surprised but I'm full of respect for this young guy and I simply hope that Formula One won't damage him too quickly.
Dennis: First of all, whatever it is, it is because of his own efforts, his own commitment, his own sacrifices. Obviously I've known him for a long time and like to feel that I've contributed to where he's arrived at, family being a very crucial factor in the development of him as a Grand Prix driver. We have the enviable task of managing his performance in the sense of in the car, out of the car and of course, the phenomenal media attention. We are very aware of the frustrations that the media has because we try desperately to have a position which is supportive of their objectives but not to the detriment of keeping Lewis focused on getting the best results out of the car. I would say that there are a few things that are negative. I'm amused at how some magazines have tried to position the team as having conflict in it. There is absolutely nothing further from the truth, and if you can see the body language, how they compete playing video games, all of these things, you would realise that yes, they are competitive and they want to win, but not to the detriment of the relationship that they have with each other, or the relationship within the team. The other thing which I find - let's say - slightly annoying is that there seems to be a rash of so-called experts, some people who have never really run a competitive Grand Prix team, who suddenly profess to be so knowledgeable about what is and isn't right for Lewis, what is and isn't his character strengths and his weaknesses. I think they should just be quiet, concentrate on their own business, which I'm sure would be better for them. I don't want to be too aggressive to those people but they know who they are. They're failures in many of the things they've done and this is a success story and their opinions are obviously sought by those members of the media that suffer or struggle with our own position, but my job, as team principal, is to be supportive of the drivers and try and moderate what is a high demand from the media, and we're doing our best, but we will never do anything to the detriment of the principal objective which is to try and win races and put Lewis in the best possible position, and Fernando, to do that.
Fry: I think expectations of Lewis at the beginning of the year were high and I believe he's exceeded those expectations. He's done an outstanding job and from the minimal contact that I've had with him, seems to be a really nice guy to go with it, so I hope he continues to be successful. I'm sure he will be and I just say well done.
Theissen: Quite simple: very talented, very focused and certainly the best prepared driver who has come into Formula One since I've been around.
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) Just to follow-up to Ron: can you just talk us through Lewis's incident at Ste Devote this afternoon?
Dennis: He lost some time this morning because a bearing in the starter motor failed and there was a part of that bearing that was blocking the hole in the back of the gearbox. To put in an undamaged start motor, we had to take the floor of the car off to get to that. That sort of put him in a situation where he had not tried the option tyre this morning, stayed all the time on prime tyres in the early part of the session. I think that in the back of his mind, having two sets of options to try, I think he just got a little bit enthusiastic, entered the corner a little bit quicker on his first lap on that tyre and had a bit of a moment. This is a mistake that all drivers make at all standards. This isn't anything I will ever give any criticism to. I would rather it would be in a practice session where he's finding the limits of the car than in qualifying where he takes a penalty on the grid or hampers his race. Finding the limit at this circuit is a bit challenging for any driver. I would rather not have a bent racing car but I think, in the circumstances, we're pretty comfortable with his contribution to this year's season. He's got a few brownie points still in hand.
Q: (Ian Parkes - The Press Association) Ron, bearing in mind what we've seen of Lewis this season and all the expectations that you've mentioned, are you glad that this is a mistake he's now finally got out of the way? And then a question to Jean, you mentioned that you hope Formula One doesn't damage Lewis too soon. Could you just expand on that a little as to what you mean by that?
Todt: Formula One is among the sports that attracts a lot of media. If you want to stay at the highest level for a long time, whatever your position, I think you have to remain with your feet on the ground, focused on the important things rather than consider things which are not important but which could just distract you.
Dennis: This wasn't some sort of stone around his neck, that he was waiting to lose. It's immaterial, it's not his first mistake, he made one in testing and at the end of the day, this is completely normal. Competitive drivers who are pushing hard, finding the limits, they are going to make mistakes. It's not the first and it's not going to be the last. Obviously, you don't like to see racing cars bent but I think it's a small problem when taking into consideration all the benefits that having him and Fernando in the team give us.
Q: (Bob McKenzie - The Daily Express) As you touched on it Ron, and we're discussing the incident - access to Lewis. I've just tried to talk to Lewis as he walked down the paddock, as you do with drivers from all teams, walk and talk, and he wasn't allowed to do it...
Dennis: No, that's not true. There's no question that Lewis has any... Lewis has no instructions from the team. His behaviour is his choice. He does not turn round to you, I'm sure, and say 'I am not permitted to talk to you.' He...
Q: (Bob McKenzie - The Daily Express) Two McLaren men with him, I'm sorry, said you have to... you cannot do this.
Dennis: Whatever surrounds Lewis is by Lewis's choice and fully supported by myself and we are trying desperately to manage the media. I fully appreciate, fully appreciate the level of interest there is in Lewis in England and how disproportionate it is to the rest of the world, but the reality is that we are inundated, inundated beyond... you just can't believe the various organisations that are looking for exclusivity, etc. etc. We're not against the media and we are not trying to protect him from the media. We're trying to give him every opportunity to concentrate on his job. We have always tried to be co-operative to the media and we will continue to do it, but he's got his way, and he's got his style. He's phenomenally mature and sensible about everything and how his approach is and we are supportive of his desire to concentrate and to focus. Don't see this as some heavy-handed McLaren decision. It's just not. It is what he wants and it's the same with Fernando. They're not any different. They want desperately to try and maintain some degree of privacy in their private lives. I won't bother you or bore you with how much effort has gone into both Fernando and Lewis to interfere and dig into their private lives and they are trying to be professional racing drivers. And I fully appreciate that part of being a professional racing driver is dealing with the media and maybe we should be criticised but we are doing our best, but not to the detriment of him trying to win races, or Fernando trying to win races.
Q: (Bob McKenzie - The Daily Express) Yeah, but I'm just talking about the walk and talk stuff.
Dennis: I understand, but honestly he's not... It's very simple, this particular walking fellow is still kicking himself. Mentally he's kicking himself. He made his first mistake. He doesn't particular feel comfortable about sharing that moment with you guys. That's just his desire, and I'm supportive of it. He wants to get his calm, think it through, and be as co-operative as possible to the media.
Q: (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Special) We were talking earlier on about the spectacle of Formula One, and the need to improve that. To what extent do you think the spectacle needs improving or the TV coverage needs improving, because some people think the spectacle is good enough if we can portray it properly? That's for all of you.
Fry: I think the spectacle, especially at a circuit like this, is fantastic so I'm not sure that is a particular issue. I think the future regulations may help the overtaking which we all aspire to. I think the media coverage could always be improved and when I look at the coverage of other sports, including some other motor sports, Moto GP, some of the American motor sports, I would say that on average it seems to be of a higher standard, but I'm talking from a very limited base of just the countries where I watch Formula One. There may be others that cover it to a greater extent, but I think we should work on that. I think the viewer, to properly understand the complexity of Formula One, could do with more information, and some of that maybe should come from the teams, in terms of what actually is happening behind the scenes. And although I do accept the points that Ron's making with 'we have a job to do and it's difficult to satisfy everyone's requirements,' I think access is part of that and people, fans are not prepared to sit on the outside and just look at certain selective things that we allow them to. They really want to be part of the experience and I think it's our duty to try and provide that. And, again, going back to some comments that were made earlier, I think that it's not just car manufacturers, it's all the investors in Formula One will remain in Formula One if the value equation is a good one, and the value equation has to have the technology part of it for technology companies like ourselves. But it's also got to have an entertainment side to it too to attract the fans and it all becomes a vicious circle. So I do think we've got to work hard on both.
Theissen: Well, I cannot comment on TV coverage too much because all I see are the screens at the track but as far as I understand, compared to other sports events, coverage is already quite strong worldwide, especially, and that makes up a big part of the strength of Formula One. To improve the show at the track, I think we can do a lot, but it's about the races themselves. It's about access for spectators... spectators are a bit isolated from the guys who really run the show and do the job. We can get better on that. I think those are the main issues.
Todt: Each Grand Prix is different. It gives a lot of fascination. One of the reasons there has not been a very good movie about racing is that nobody can do better than (the reality of) a single Grand Prix, as a story. So each story is great. I would say that of course it depends on the director, because they change for each Grand Prix, so sometimes we have a better one, but again, it's like a movie director that has delivered a fantastic job. I feel we miss overtaking, I think we all feel we miss overtaking. But you can explain that, because for two days you fight to put the quickest car ahead so can you expect a lot of overtaking. On top of that, in any category of car racing there is little overtaking except on some very specific circuits. If you watch a Moto Grand Prix race there's a lot of overtaking because they're on two wheels, but on four wheels, with one line, with very tight braking distances, it means it's almost impossible. As I've said before, we try to find solutions, but I must say it's very difficult to find solutions to improve overtaking. But otherwise, Formula One is an outstanding show.
Dennis: Clearly, we're in Formula One. The objective is always to be better every day at everything we do and we can be better, as teams, and the TV coverage can be better. Many of the points Jean made, again, are very accurate: changing directors, the nature of camera positions, based on the nature of the circuit. Here you get very close camera positions. At some of the other circuits you're a long way away, and therefore the actual imagery is quite challenging to edit together. It's a live coverage which means it's so easy to be retrospectively critical of not being in the right place at the right time. Perhaps there should be a situation where there is a so-called executive director that sits alongside and guides the national director, so that there's a sort of... somebody that's got a complete overview and an understanding of what's most likely to happen as the race unfolds, and perhaps suggesting to the director in that particular country that there's a specific action that could potentially... But these are all small things. Generally, the show is an issue which involves many factors, not just TV and we could always be better. But I'm not comfortable in this being the format or the forum in which to express my point of view because I think it is far more complex than just one cherry-picking TV. It's many things which we need to consider to make the show better. One thing that is true, in my opinion, is that there is no team that is resisting anything that can make the show better. Teams all want the same thing, which is to make it more possible to make the economics of Grand Prix racing better and that is show, cost, etc. etc.
Q: (Fredrik Af Petersens - Honorary Media Pass) Question for Ron Dennis: why isn't it allowed to read the Red Bulletin in the Communications Centre?
Dennis: Well, I think it's a piece of rubbish. I feel that if we all focused on humorous magazines that criticise the other teams, I think the likes of Ferrari, with the support of Marlboro, could spend a lot of time and energy writing humorous things about other teams and individuals within the sport. I have a simple view that if people want to come and enjoy the hospitality of McLaren, then they should respect the fact that I don't particularly like what I consider to be a controversial document coming into our facility. They can go and sit in Red Bull and eat to their heart's content and enjoy their hospitality. But I don't like it, I don't like what it stands for, I don't like the quality of it, and I don't like the way it tries to make fun out of individuals from every team and their efforts to try and do a good job. So I think that's a pretty straightforward answer and leaves you in no doubt about my feelings. I don't think it has a place in Grand Prix racing.