Belgian GP - Friday - Press Conference

Gerhard Berger, Belgian GP 2007

Gerhard Berger, Belgian GP 2007 

 © The Cahier Archive

14 SEPTEMBER 2007

TEAM PRINCIPALS: Gerhard BERGER (TORO ROSSO), Flavio BRIATORE (RENAULT), Nick FRY (HONDA), Christian HORNER (RED BULL), Mario THEISSEN (BMW SAUBER)

Q: To all of you: your reaction to the hearing yesterday and the penalty, and also your reaction if you've read the final judgement published today.

Nick FRY: We were just joking outside that you were going to ask us that question because I think it (the final judgement) was released when we were all sitting on the pit wall, so we suspect most of the audience have read it and we haven't, unless Flavio read it while he was on the pit wall, so we have not seen it. I think it's very difficult to speak about the judgement itself. My personal perspective is that it's good that McLaren are racing. I think from the Formula One point of view it would be extremely disappointing for all of us if a competitor of that calibre was missing from the grid, so I think that's the good news. I think we all hope that this is the end of it. Obviously there's a danger it won't be but I think we would be better off focusing on the sport, the entertainment, getting the rules right to help that, getting the engine rules worked out and getting on with life. I hope it doesn't continue to perpetuate.

Q: What about the size of the penalty?

Fry: McLaren are very rich, I guess.

Q: If somebody hit you with that penalty?

Fry: I don't think I'd be sitting here.

Mario THEISSEN: Well, what Nick just said is exactly what I said to him outside before. In fact I'm in the same position. I haven't had the chance to read the final judgement, the detailed judgement. I haven't been involved... we haven't been involved in the case at all. We haven't been there at the hearing. What I know I know from you guys and I'm sure you know more than I do at this point of time. It certainly is a big fine and I can only hope it is over now, although I don't really believe in that.

Christian HORNER: Yes, hopefully it brings this issue to an end and everybody can focus on the last four races and on the Drivers' Championship. Obviously the FIA has acted with the evidence that they had to hand and have made the decisions that they feel are obviously appropriate. One can only feel slightly sorry for McLaren in that the actions of a few reckless individuals have obviously hit them with a pretty Draconian penalty. But the evidence was there and the FIA have acted accordingly. But it's a big cheque.

Q: You talk about a couple of individuals; how can you prevent that happening within a team?

Horner: I think it's very difficult, but when an employee comes to work for you, they sign on the dotted line to abide by the rules of that company and part of those rules, certainly in our team, is that they don't bring written down IP (intellectual property) or IP from other teams with them. Those actions have obviously been fairly reckless by those individuals involved and the company has picked up the can for it.

Gerhard BERGER: I think everything has been said. I think that the guys said it just now - I just agree.

Flavio BRIATORE: Same. I'm with Christian completely. I was on the pit wall - maybe you are too far from me so you didn't see me - and I'm very... What is more important is that everybody knows the truth. Now everybody has the script (WMSC Decision) which they are able to read and we need to go on. We need to stop talking about this story and talk about the sport. If McLaren has been found guilty, it is because of the evidence at the World Council, only that.

The size of the penalty depends. It's important.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (James Allen - ITV) Flavio, I understand that McLaren have brought to your attention something involving your team, and a similar sort of situation. Have you been told that there's going to be an investigation into that and do you expect a similar sort of penalty if there is?

Briatore: First, if somebody tells me it's the same, I sue somebody, quickly. Second, it's not an investigation regarding myself and the team. Third, we give all the information to the Federation, at least when we found out something, and this is it. It's as simple as that. And I give the evidence as well to McLaren, nothing to... And I don't think that in this case McLaren said to bring this case in the World Council as well for more confusing is possible, I think this result was not achieved. There was no confusion, there was just the fine for McLaren but it was important to try to take rocks in the direction of everybody. This I try with Red Bull for what I know. It's as simple as that. I think McLaren was judged by the World Council, and there was enough evidence to find McLaren guilty, it's as simple as that. I don't want, at this moment (to talk) about Renault because first we are not being investigated, second we give all our evidence to McLaren and to Mr Mosley and to the Federation.

Q: (Miran Alisic - POP TV) I read a comment in a newspaper today that $100m for a normal human being is a huge sum of money, probably not for Formula One teams. You are representing five teams. What is $100m for you as a team? What would happen if you lost $100m?

Berger: For me it's very simple: I'm bankrupt.

Briatore: It's a lot of money for everybody because... $100m, for example, you have three or four Alonsos, three or four Schumachers in the team. This is what you have. It's a fairly high penalty. I'm sure it's very high.

Fry: I think in Formula One, because the numbers are big, sometimes people talk about millions as if it's trivial. I can assure you, certainly in our team and I suspect in all the others, the budgets are worked out very carefully, we try and allocate the money as effectively as possible and $100m is a vast amount of money for any of the teams, I believe. The results of having to pay that, if it was actually cash, would be very significant. It would mean that we would have to find it elsewhere or whatever. I don't really know... It's not happened to us and I hope it never will but it's a vast amount of money even by Formula One standards.

Theissen: Well, it's quite simple. If you are running a team during the season, you get aware of being fined $100m, you certainly don't have it put aside before, so if there is no one to open his pocket, you have to wind down your operations.

Horner: In terms of monetary, it's obviously an inconceivable amount of cash. However, in proportion to budgets, I'm sure the FIA thought long and hard about the size of the fine but certainly from our perspective, I don't think our cheque book is that big. We can't fit that many zeros on it, so from our point of view we certainly wouldn't be in a position to be able to cover a fine of that quantum.

Q: (Stuart Codling - F1 Racing) Gerhard, a quick question about Sebastien Bourdais. I was wondering if you could say a few words about your personal expectations for him for next year, what you expect him to do for your team, what qualities he has that have got you so excited about him and have made you hire him?

Berger: Well, Sebastien, as you know, is going to start next year, start testing after the last race. We've had him in the car three times already and gave him quite a lot of mileage, so it was good for him to get used to the car and to show us his potential and also good for us. We got a lot of data to study his strengths and weaknesses. He showed us good performance. He also showed good performance back in America, winning one championship after the next, so overall we got the picture from him which makes us feel confident that he theoretically can do a good job in Formula One. We're just going to know next year when he's in (the team) and after we've given him a little bit of time to get used to everything, but until now, in the way how he worked with the engineers and the way how he's driven the car - long runs - he did very well. So obviously we're expecting that he comes here (Formula One) and proves that he can do what we expect from him.

Q: On the driver market, Flavio, when can we expect to hear about your second driver?

Briatore: The second or the first? I think we are working on that and maybe before Japan, maybe, because really I believe that we need to look carefully at what's going on, what's happening, and then afterwards we decide. For the moment, we are not really ready.

Q: Are there fewer options this year? There's nobody who has dominated GP2, for instance.

Briatore: I think last year it was much easier because last year you had Hamilton who was really superior and you had Piquet, they were the two fighting. This year is much more equal, it's difficult. I don't see anybody this year who is a strong winner in GP2. You see the points as well, you have three or four drivers who are basically the same. We don't see a Hamilton, a Piquet, a Kovalainen or Rosberg. This year is the first year. Still, Pantano, who is ex-Formula One, is doing a good job. It's not like the years before though.

Q: (Alberto Antonini - Autosprint) To Christian and Gerhard: a few months ago your teams were involved in a case of apparently storing blueprints from another team. How come it did not lead to an investigation by the FIA? It was back at the time of the Malaysian Grand Prix, around then, and someone came into the possession of blueprints from your teams, stating that there were similarities between the two cars. I just wonder why there was no investigation at all from the governing body.

Berger: There wasn't. I think there was no reason for an investigation.

Horner: I think they were Toro Rosso drawings I think you were referring to, so I don't think it directly involved us. A totally different scenario to what you're referring to has just been investigated.

Q: (Dave Smith - Evening Standard) Given what you know about the McLaren case, if one of the McLaren drivers goes on to win the Drivers' Championship will that title be tainted in any way?

Briatore: The drivers are in the car, this is what we know. If the car has any advantage because of some information or whatever, if the car is competitive because of some information, I think the driver has some advantage as well. It's quite simple. I think it's like that. But the driver has no fault about all this but I still believe that the driver has some advantage.

Berger: Well, I think you can see everything from so many different angles and try to find explanations and try to find some clever ideas but at the end of the day, there was a decision made yesterday. I think we should put it (the affair) off from the table, we should get on with the sport as before, and obviously the two drivers have a good chance to win the championship. The better one of the two should win it, but still, I would say Ferrari is still in the game also, so the fans can see a couple more good races and I think we should just forget all the other business.

Horner: I totally agree with Gerhard. I think we've got four races remaining. We've got four drivers in contention for the championship, it's been one of the best Driver Championships in many years. There's still a great deal to play for and hopefully the focus, now that this incident has been dealt with, will now turn to the circuit and hopefully we will see Formula One at its best over the next four races.

Q: But you see the point being made by the questioner.

Horner: I can understand the point. I think that for your average fan the driver is the star at the end of the day and whilst it will be painful for the team and for the manufacturer involved, I think ultimately the emphasis of Formula One is on the drivers, they're the people's heroes at the end of the day. It's been a fantastic championship to date and hopefully it will be a very exciting run into the finish.

Theissen: No bad feelings about that if one of the two drivers wins the championship. We have found out, throughout the season, that there are four cars ahead of us. They are stronger than us, quicker than us and we want to beat them fair and square on the track so in my view, we are number three this year and we are proud of that, and the drivers in front of us deserve to win the championship.

Fry: It would have been, in my view, extremely destructive and almost vindictive to penalise the drivers. I think that we can easily slip into self-destruct mode here of trying to ruin everything. I think we've got a great Drivers' championship, it's being fought out on a very even basis between those drivers and I believe the decision was exactly right to leave them out of it. I can see the point, I can see the purist's point of view, but I think it was a very sensible decision in my view.

Q: (Julien Fabreau - RMC) Flavio, how much do you think the FIA's decision yesterday against McLaren was important for you to see Alonso come back in your team next year?

Briatore: This decision was made by the World Council, it's a decision made whether I like it or not. It's a decision made by the World Council and it's nothing to do with Alonso. The fact that the World Council made its decision, I guess everybody here accepts the decision and we go on with the business. I don't believe for one second that the decision made yesterday will influence Alonso, drivers or us. It has nothing to do (with us).

Q: (Miran Alisic - POP TV) We are talking always about the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship. How would you draw the line between the importance between the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship?

Theissen: Well, I'm here for a manufacturer's team. So obviously there are two perspectives. Formula One has always been a driver's championship and in the early days this was the only thing that counted. But in the early 90's when the manufacturers came in, it was for a certain reason. And in our case certainly the reason is to demonstrate our core competencies in Formula One, on this stage. So to a manufacturer certainly the Constructors' Championship is equally important. It still is the case that the Drivers' Championship is much more popular and that will always be and that is ok. But to us the Constructors' Championship is important.

Fry: If I put my corporate hat on I think I would agree with Mario. Obviously for a car manufacturer to win the Constructors' Championship is immensely important. It can be used in advertising... But if I speak from the heart and as a fan I would say sport is about people and I think it is about, for most of us, the Drivers' Championship and if I had to rank one of them as the top one, I think for most people it would be the Drivers' Championship.

Briatore: For us, the company and the people working in the team surely the most important is the Constructors' Championship. Financially as well because what is counting in the finances is the Constructors' Championship and I have to agree with everybody that it is important as well the Drivers' Championship. I believe the best is to win both.

(Laughter)

Berger: I think we are all doing this mainly to please the fans and the people watching us and for them it just counts more or less, the Drivers' Championship. So it is fine what Flavio says and what Mario says for us inside, yes, for certain reasons the Constructors' Championship is important but for the millions of fans I would say that the main championship is the Drivers' Championship. The star is the driver.

Horner: I think Gerhard summed it up perfectly there when he said the driver is the star. Where the Constructors' Championship does get important for a team such as ourselves is when you are not competing for the Drivers' Championship. We are fighting in a group of constructors. Toyota, Honda, Williams and so on... and for the people that work for you, where you are in the pecking order amongst your nearest rivals is important. But ultimately people remember who win drivers' championships. Constructors' I would say people probably have less memory for.

Q: (James Allen - ITV) You are all the top managers in your organisations and those organisations have grown very big over the last few years. Obviously the top managers at Ferrari and McLaren clearly weren't aware of what was going on to cause the incident that was going to happen. To what extent has this been a kind of cautionary tale for all of you? And have you changed anything in your systems to make sure that you would know if something like this were to happen within your team?

Theissen: Certainly we have taken some measures to prevent this from happening. On the other hand if there is a criminal element, you cannot rule it out. You can do what you want, criminal energy can always overcome the obstacles. But we are reviewing our internal processes and we will have a closer eye on that, possibly come up with some new procedures and rules.

Fry: Certainly the laws in the UK are very clear. You are responsible for the actions of your employees. An exception might be called if someone is extremely reckless or goes out on their own agenda. The law caters for that as well. There isn't anything specifically that we are planning to do at the moment. We think we are well covered in this area. It is something that can get checked very rigorously as part of the auditing process. I think our internal processes are pretty strong in that area but it does show how difficult it is, and I do somewhat sympathise with Ron [Dennis], when you have an organisation that big, to know what is going on right through is pretty difficult. But then that is why you have a management structure. But obviously you have to rely on people feeding things to you. It is difficult, but if you have an organisation of 20,000 people the same rules apply and there is no reason why we should be an exception.

Briatore: The same feeling. I hope this is a good lesson for everybody. I hope that this stops all this litigation behind and everything and the people still understand... I mean we have signed a contract with a lot of people and it has a confidentiality agreement and this and that... but you know that in Formula one it is very hard because you try to have the best. You look at this happen to McLaren and logically to Ferrari, this story. Firstly there is nothing good to follow put it this way... And in the beginning it was two employees, an employee from Ferrari and an employee from McLaren start talking information. First I think these people need taking out of Formula One immediately. Maybe now everybody is much more careful and like you said Nick, it is so difficult to protect stuff because every engineer is moving from one company to another and a little bit of experience he takes with him etc, etc... Everybody at a laptop, everybody business. But maybe this is a good lesson for everybody and I hope maybe in the future it never happens again and we can be glad we are talking about the sport and the result and the champion. Maybe the result is positive stuff that has happened - only if we make sure it never happens again. Now everybody is much more cautious and of course you be careful because it is done for stupidity as well. It is not done because somebody wants to cheat you or whatever. I believe that if you take this like a good lesson, it is good for Formula One.

Berger: I think everything is said. It is very easy to be sucked into a situation like this, so I think it is a good wake up call for everybody to be sure that his process is better to be not in the same situation.

Horner: Formula One is a small world at the end of the day and people do inevitably move from team to team. But what we do rely on is the integrity of the people you employ and not to abuse previous IP that they have been exposed to. Certainly at Red Bull we have reviewed our auditing processes just in order to doubly protect ourselves against anything like this happening in our team.

Q: (Mike Doodson - Auto Action) Gerhard, you have been a driver, you have had the girls chasing you...

Berger: That must have been a long time ago.

Q: I suspect not. You have worked for a big organisation and been a fairly big cog in it, and now you are a 50% owner of a team. I wonder if you could tell us which have been the highpoints of each part of your career and which are the lowpoints?

Berger: Nice question. There is one thing that you cannot beat in this business and that is driving a racing car at the limit. To be able to be a Formula One driver and then driving for many years as I did, driving these cars around and working with these people and putting it on the road - that is the best thing that can happen. Unfortunately that time, one day, is over. Luckily enough for me I could stay in the business in different roles and it was fantastic for me to get out of the racing car and have immediately the chance to go with BMW into a kind of managing role. Together with Mario I had fantastic years and to be able to work in a big company and to see how the other side of the business looks is very interesting and you change your mind in a lot of areas. Whereas a driver you think everything is you and every day you are the big star and, as you say, the girls come and are happy to stay next to you... suddenly they are not there anymore because you are on this side of the pit wall. But you find a lot of pleasure also on this side of the pit wall. Now to be co-owner of Toro Rosso is also great. The difficult side of everything is... To be a co-owner you start to realise how difficult it is to move a team from the back into the midfield and to the front because the teams are quite different between a big manufacturer team and an independent team. You have a lot of time with the back on the wall, you know what would be the next step to do but you just simply cannot do it for budget reasons, for racers' reasons, for infrastructure reasons or for people reasons. That is the tough side of it. You are staying in the back of the field. You know that this, this and this should be done but how can you do it? It is challenging, it is very nice, it is great but also sometimes very difficult. But the best is driving the car.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) I have found, I can say, a controversial version about the Constructors' and Drivers' Championships. I mean before you said it was correct the penalisation of yesterday, even if those guys used the car with an illegal advantage. But at the end you said that this championship is a drivers' championship, they are the star. So I mean the people around the tracks don't know exactly what happened yesterday. I mean they can think that nothing happened yesterday because the drivers were not penalised. I would like to know your opinion about it and Nick I would like to know if you agree with Ron Dennis that the two guys, Coughlan and Nigel Stepney, wanted to use the information in some other team? I mean they were in contact with your team.

Fry: The documentation from our contact with Stepney and Coughlan was offered to the teams involved and the FIA. The FIA's response was a very nice letter from Max [Mosley] saying that he didn't really think it was really relevant. The information was provided by me on personal request by Ron Dennis and it wasn't used at all or mentioned. And I can only assume it wasn't because it had no relevance. As we have always said they were perfectly ordinary interviews and nothing inappropriate was either offered or said. So on the pure facts I can only say nothing was asked for, nothing was offered or proposed. I can only guess like you, I think it probably would have been very nice having a lot of documentation in the upstairs bedrooms, so you could come to a new team and become a hero. If we would have known that information was there we would have taken the appropriate action. And certainly we would not countenance anything like that in our team. But I can only guess like you. If you work backwards to your first question... I understand that point of view, the difference between the drivers and the constructors... but I stand by what I said earlier. I think it was the right decision to leave the drivers to their own championship.

Theissen: Of course it is very difficult to differentiate between the driver and the team in this matter because of course the driver uses the car in order to be successful. But this is just not the way we look at it. There are four cars in front of us. Apparently all the four cars and their drivers are able to drive quicker than us. There is a gap and we have to close the gap no matter if it is two or four cars. We don't want to gain any position in the championship by someone in front of us being removed. It is just not relevant to us.

Horner: Just to go back to the first part of the question. Every TV channel I turned on last night showed Ron Dennis leaving a court in Paris looking fairly forlorn and having been awarded, I think, the largest ever financial penalty in sport. So in terms of are people aware of it? Yes, I think they are. It was broadcast around the world and that as a penalty in itself, I think was right that the team were judged to have acted inappropriately, the drivers had no influence over that. Why should they be penalised? I don't think it has affected their performances this year. I think the FIA made the right and appropriate decision to leave the Drivers' Championship uninterrupted and, as I said earlier, I hope we see a classic end to this year's championship.

Berger: I think that what Christian said is right and I understand that on top of it the drivers have been extremely cooperative in the whole court case, putting evidence onto the table and I think that has helped them to be finally not penalised.

Briatore: I completely agree. Half with Mario and half with Gerhard. Half with Mario because for sure they are driving the car with some benefit, I think they had some advantage. Secondly, I think the drivers are very important in this case because they gave the evidence to the Federation when the Federation asked about everybody including myself and including the team managers that if you have any information regarding that... I believe they were very cooperative in this case to put the evidence on the table and give the possibility for the World Council to judge. I believe the drivers Fernando and de la Rosa have done very well, for me, for sure to give the Federation the evidence it was looking for in this case. I think the driver was correct, you cannot penalise the driver. And in the other case I think like Mario that if your car has any advantages over a competitor the driver has a similar advantage because the car is performing better. It doesn't matter if there are three cars in front of me, five cars or eight cars, I think this is logic.

Q: I missed an important thing when I asked the question. The two drivers asked their technician to get some information from Stepney, so they are an important part. If you read the paper you can find it. So they didn't just drive, they participated in some way in these action. This is what we have understood from reading all these books.

Theissen: It sounds a bit to me that you think the fine was not big enough, is that correct?

Briatore: He is looking for drama.