Belgian GP - Friday - Press Conference
26 AUGUST 2011
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES - Ross BRAWN (Mercedes), Andrew GREEN (Force India), Paul HEMBERY (Pirelli), Christian HORNER (Red Bull), Paddy LOWE (McLaren), Luca MARMORINI (Ferrari)
Q: Andrew, interesting comment from the Team Principal Vijay Mallya saying that the car is now a car for all tracks. Of course, we knew it as a low downforce car in a way, so what has been required to make it a car for all tracks.
Andrew GREEN: I don't know if I should tell you that. I think when I started there was definitely a focus towards a high-speed low-drag configuration on the car. Obviously, the car showed its hand on those tracks, especially Monza and Spa. Unfortunately, the season is not made up of Monzas and Spas and we need to be more competitive everywhere. I think we have got a car now that shows good performance in all set-ups, including the low and medium downforce tracks. Quite happy with the way the car has gone and the changes we have made over the last few months and looking forward to the remainder of the season.
Q: So, basically, a bit more downforce and lot of wind tunnel work.
Green: Always a lot of wind tunnel work. That never stops, apart from two weeks in the summer. Yes, and a lot of hard work and a basic change in philosophy. That was the big thing. But these things take time to come through. It's steering a big ship and you make adjustments and these things take quite a bit of time to come through to the surface on the track.
Q: So confidence for the rest of the season?
Green: Yeah, reasonably high. We expect the cars to qualify in the top 10, both cars, for the rest of the season. There is no reason why we shouldn't. That's our target and we'll try and stay on the tails of the big boys as much as we can and keep scoring points. Trying to keep converting performance into points, which is the target for the remainder of the season.
Q: We have seen teams run third drivers before but usually on Friday mornings. What was the idea of running Nico Hulkenberg on Friday afternoon?
Green: It was basically looking at long-term weather forecasts. We had anticipated the rain to come in a little bit sooner. We were wrong. It came in a little bit later. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But I don't think we lost that much by swapping them around.
Q: Paddy, a point made by our press officer here. Every time you come to a press conference your team seems to win.
Paddy LOWE: Yeah, that's happened twice this year. The first time, I was asked the question whether anybody else would win a race this year. At that time Red Bull had won every race. How many other teams would win a race and I said well at least two. We won that Sunday. Well, I hope this is a good omen and we can do the same this weekend.
Q: Well, you have won the last two. Can you keep up the rhythm? What does it take to keep up that record?
Lowe: Well, as you all know it is very, very competitive at the front and we are competing very closely with Red Bull and Ferrari. It is a question of just finding that edge, both in qualifying and through the race. I think we would be happy if we could get both cars performing at the same time. Get the front row. Get the two guys on the podium. That's our next ambition. But we have won three out of the last five races in fact so we want to keep going in that direction.
Q: How much work have you been able to do over this last month, since the last grand prix? Obviously there were two weeks that you had to take off.
Lowe: In effect time freezes for the two weeks. It is as though we have just had a normal two-week race cycle, so in that respect it has been pretty much situation as normal. We have several upgrades on the car for this weekend but that's one of the nice things about the summer shutdown. It is exactly like that. Time freezes. You come back and it's as though you never left in a work sense but everybody had had a great rest and come back refreshed ready to go again.
Q: Luca, there is a certain amount you can do to engines and there's a lot you can't do to them. To what extent is your workload at the moment looking at next year? How much can you change for next year? How much are you looking at 2014?
Luca MARMORINI: We have a lot of activity. Clearly focus on this year not just next year. We know there are not so many chances to modify the engine in terms of hardware but this year the activity on the engine side, as everyone knows, has been quite intense to support aero development. We are going to go on developing this year and preparing for next year as well. Concerning 2014, already a group of people has started to work to develop this engine. Time seems long but definitely it is such a big change in the regulations that this requires a long time. We have started to work intensively on this. We will see some prototype engine run during next year.
Q: Already, yes. So, just looking at this race. Kimi Raikkonen won here in 2009, you weren't necessarily with the team at that time, but it was obviously a very strong engine and you need presumably a very strong engine at this circuit with full throttle at about 24 seconds. Is this thought to be a good circuit for Ferrari?
Marmorini: I think the rate of development we have shown this year has been good. In the last races we have been competing with McLaren and Red Bull, very close to winning several times, so I would say the job we have done is good so we hope we can compete also for a win here as well.
Q: Paul, interesting story about the hard tyre. Can you tell us what the situation is with that, as there often seems to be people that have only used the hard tyre once for example.
Paul HEMBERY: Yes, I think you have to take it in the context of the medium tyre. In reality, the medium tyre has shown enough durability to even think about using it as a hard tyre next season. We have found with the hard tyre that a couple of teams or a few teams have been struggling to get it working and if the medium performs as we believe it will it provides us with the margins that we need.
Q: If people do not use the hard tyre what happens to it? Does it just get thrown away of have you got loads of them back in Turkey?
Hembery: Well, we obviously don't make them. We don't make big stocks. One of the issues we do have, rather bizarrely, is that at the end of the races we have actually got quite large numbers of tyres unused, the harder tyre at least one set per team, so we have been trying to look at ways of using those during a race weekend. It is obviously pointless bringing tyres that are mounted, dismounted and then chopped up. That is something that we have been trying to talk to the sporting working group about, to find a way in which that set of tyres can have a use. We started thinking about it when some of the teams thought about not running in qualifying, in Q3, to save a new set of tyres. That made us think if we swap the volumes of tyres between maybe six of the harder tyres and five of the softer and put them around the other way, change the tyre you give back on Free Practice One so that you end up going into qualifying and the race with a split, not three and three as it is, but having four and two, that would take away that small risk, if you like, of people not running in Q3. In reality very few teams have done it. They could also change the rules to make sure that people run in Q3. That still leaves us with some tyres that I think we still need to go back to the sporting working group and see how we can best use them. At the moment, either we reduce by one set, we have got too many tyres, or we find a better way of using them during the race weekend.
Q: It sounds as though the regulations are pretty fluid, particularly if we are looking forward to next year. Is that the case? What suggestions are you getting for next year?
Hembery: I wouldn't say they are fluid. They are fixed at the moment. They are the same as they are this year. It is quite a complex area as you can imagine. If you make a suggestion clearly different teams have a different perspective depending on where you are in the running order in terms of performance. At the moment every race from the start, we have got sets of tyres that are unused and we would like to find a way that would allow the teams to use them during the race weekend. That's the point. That's where we started thinking about maybe a qualifying tyre. The fans like it but at the moment the teams aren't convinced by that, which is fine. We are here to come up with ideas and it is up to other people to decide if they want to adopt them.
Q: Ross, interesting to hear there was a quote from the team saying the car should suit this circuit. Very often being a low-downforce circuit it has been the fact that you haven't got very much downforce in the first place, so that's why the car suits the circuit. I am not saying that's the case with your car necessarily, but why should it suit the circuit here?
Ross BRAWN: I think we have got a very strong engine. It is a good engine. It has proven here to be pretty successful in the past so that's always a big help. Cars tend to have a sweet spot of where they are developed and where they are at their optimum and from our modelling this is a circuit that should fit into that sweet spot of what we can do with the car. Challenging circuit, particularly this weekend with the mixed weather conditions, the choice of downforce is going to be a crucial decision, because if we get a mixed weather race you want to run high downforce but high downforce in a dry race is quite difficult. We have been playing around, as I am sure other teams have as well, with different downforce levels in the little windows of weather we have had and we will make some decisions when we see the weather forecast for Sunday. I think with the current form of racing we have qualifying is a bit less critical and therefore with more focus I think all the teams will be on finding the right solution for Sunday rather than worrying too much about Saturday which if it's wet and the race is dry could prove... an optimum set-up for the wet on Saturday won't be the best set-up for the dry on Sunday.
Q: Do you feel, not on the weather side of things but the car side of things, that it will be the same thing for Monza. Are these your best two circuits?
Brawn: Well I don't want to hype them up too much. But I think they are circuits that we should be reasonable on. We have got a gap to the top three teams. We are not where we want to be, so I don't think we can do an enormous amount about closing that gap this year, although there is still some work being done as what we have got to do is make a step change for next season. Our balance of work for this year and next year is changing as the season goes on as I think it is probably for most teams. We have got some things coming this season but they are two tracks that we enjoy, our drivers enjoy, and tracks I personally and with the teams I have been with have done pretty well at. They are races I enjoy.
Q: Christian, interesting that Mark Webber is quoted as saying that a Sebastian Vettel-type dominance is over. That the dominance you have seen at the start of the season is over. Do you agree with that?
Christian HORNER: I think, if you are looking at 11 races, six wins, four seconds and one fourth place is not a bad run of results. The target for the team is to continue to achieve that kind of score rate. We have seen Ferrari and McLaren very competitive, not just in recent races, but I think this year has been deceptive in many respects. I think we have maximised our opportunities and our intention is very much to continue that in the remaining eight races. We know the next two events have historically been our weakest venues in terms of our package and obviously the horsepower emphasis that is placed on these two circuits but I think we are looking forward to the final eight races and we intend to attack them just as we have each of the previous 11 so far.
Q: You seemed to be running a very small rear wing this afternoon in the wet conditions; Mark was obviously very quick in the dry conditions; is that part of the difficult balance in these weather conditions that we were talking about earlier or was that for Monza?
Horner: I think the balance that we have to achieve is that if we want to get close to certain engines on the straight we have to run a bit less wing, so we carry less downforce and that's been visible today. We will look at the data overnight and decide what level of downforce to adopt for the rest of the weekend. The weather forecast was probably actually slightly better than initially was forecast for here and it's been uncharacteristically warm as well. At the moment, I think the forecast is to get better throughout the weekend, but as we all know, it changes here very, very quickly.
Q: After the lay-off, do you see a difference in your drivers?
Horner: They've both had good breaks, they've both taken the opportunity to re-charge their batteries - if you call going up Alpe d'Huez or wherever it is on a road bike with Alain Prost re-charging your batteries which was what Mark was doing. I think it's good for the whole team. The whole team has come back looking healthier - as you all do - and I think it's good for Formula One. It's such an intense season, from January 1st to the week following Hungary. All the teams, I'm sure, were absolutely flat out. Ours has been no different and it has been a well-earned rest for team members and travelling members to spend some time with their families, have some time off and come back fully revitalised for the remaining part of the season.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Naoise Holohan) Paddy, could I get your opinion on the ban on DRS that they are imposing on cars in Eau Rouge and if it is necessary to be banning DRS in certain corners, does that prove that it's fundamentally an unsafe system and it shouldn't actually be on the cars in the first place?
Lowe: I think that would be a pretty extreme position to take. I think what's been imposed is very sensible. That is a very extreme corner. Everything on a racing car has some risk. One of the jobs of the FIA and the teams in fact, through the Technical Working Group, is to maintain the right balance between the sporting interest and general safety. The restriction that's been put on there, it's just balancing the risk properly because if the wing were to misbehave through that sector, we know you can have very big accidents.
Q: Some figures that Mercedes have released show that there is a 1G lift as you go over the crest. With DRS, what would the effect be if DRS was open through there?
Lowe: We haven't calculated it precisely but it's one of those things that if the car is fairly near the limit and if you apply DRS or find the degree to which you can apply DRS through that sector by experimentation which is what the drivers would end up doing, by definition they will find a place that is just at the edge and that means there's no margin, so if the wing, for instance, were to be a bit slow, or act when it shouldn't have done, the driver will lose control. I don't think it detracts at all from the spectacle which was the intent of the DRS so I'm supportive of the restriction.
Q: (Naoise Holohan) We've loads of fast corners round this track like Pouhon and Blanchimont; why wasn't it considered to ban it there as well?
Lowe: We weren't involved directly in that particular restriction. I think it's because this is a corner where you stay flat through it so there would be a great temptation to find the limit with the DRS whereas, with the normal corner, I think the drivers are finding that edge as they pick up the throttle. It's a question of balance. There's no right or wrong answer. I don't know what others here on the panel feel about that. It is one of the most if not the most extreme corner in the Formula One calendar, so to take the experimentation out of it in that form is probably a sensible idea.
Brawn: The DRS has been stopped from corner exit so it's also the arrival speed at Eau Rouge which is important, not just the fact that you're cornering through there with DRS activated. It's a fact that you would arrive quite a lot quicker and I think that had to be taken into consideration as well. It's also a corner which, if you get into trouble, there's not much you can do, whereas in a lot of the other corners mentioned you lift the throttle or you ease off and you can normally get the car back under control. That's a corner in which I wouldn't like to have a situation, it's not normally one you can recover from. And DRS is not just a drag reduction system, it changes the balance of the car because obviously it affects the rear. I think it's a good system and I think to moderate it occasionally doesn't do any harm, and I think applied sensibly it's given us a very interesting feature this year. I think all around it's positive.
Horner: I think the guys have summed it very well. If you've ever driven through that corner, which I did a long, long time ago, I can't think of anything worse than opening your rear wing on the way down there. That said, the drivers went through it one-handed last year with a hand over the F-duct but I think that it's a prudent thing to do. As Ross says, it tempers your entry speed to the corner as much as anything else and it's the one place that if you're going to have an accident, you really don't want to have it there. If you open up the car in some of the other fast corners like Pouhon or so on, you've got plenty of run-off there whereas get out of shape going up the hill and you could be in a bit of trouble.
Q: (Filip Cleeren - Autogids) Paul Hembery, an interesting bit of news was that qualifying tyres might return to F1 if the teams agree. What has the reception been so far and maybe the other attendees could shed some light on that as well?
Hembery: In reality it was a discussion point. We're new back to the sport, certain things we have seen and we just wanted to know the teams' opinion. We've listened to fans, listened to teams. At the end, it's the teams' decision and it really went back to the point I've mentioned. We've got Sunday nights where we're having sets of tyres unused and also comments were coming through that fans were worried that teams were trying to save tyres during qualifying so we thought we'd have another look at it. It probably needs a lot more looking at. Initial reaction was cool; I think that's the best thing to say but sometimes these things... because it's very complex, the tyre allocations have a big impact on the teams' strategy so I think we need to go back and discuss a bit more.
Q: (Alberto Antonini - Autosprint) This is for Ross, Paddy and Andy I presume. There were rumours during the summer of Mercedes High Performance Engines at Brixworth working on developing an exhaust layout called the Bagpipe. It would adjust the pressure right after the exhaust manifold. Are we going to see anything like that in the near future?
Brawn: I haven't heard that story, I'm afraid, so it must have been for somebody else, not for us. Perhaps Paddy can respond.
Lowe: I haven't heard that story either and we certainly don't have anything called a Bagpipe that I'm aware of. Maybe someone else.
Brawn: I think perhaps there was your system at the beginning of the season, Paddy, that looked like a Bagpipe, so maybe it's an old story.
Lowe: The one they called Octopus?
Green: We can't afford to develop exhaust systems!
Q: (Matt Youson - Matt Youson & Associates) We've heard about the proposal to return to some in-season testing days. What are your thoughts on that?
Horner: I think this has been discussed with the team managers and I think with the calendar now being available, I think one of the things that has been discussed rather than... what all the teams are keen to avoid is to re-introduce a test team. So what is currently being appraised, effectively, is to look at lessening the amount of pre-season testing by one test and making that an in-season test as well as making the young driver test effectively an in-season test as well. That's under debate within the team managers group at the moment.
Brawn: I think that the point Christian has made is very important. The threshold is not to have to create a new testing team. We must be able to do whatever we want to achieve with the group of people we have and with RRA and the other restrictions we have, we need to make sure we can achieve it, and next year's calendar is creating an ideal opportunity to have one test perhaps at the start or just after the start of the European season which I think would fit very well with everybody, getting the bugs sorted out that they inevitably have in the first few races.
Hembery: We agree if we can have an in-season testing week, that would be fantastic. It depends of course where we go. We would prefer to at least go to a reference track, that would be very useful, thinking only of tyres, that would be very useful to us.
Q: (Mike Doodson - Honorary) Ross, there have been quite a lot of reassuring noises made by you personally and Norbert Haug about your confidence in Michael Schumacher's ability to start winning races again. I don't know whether you know but the history books actually show that over the last 43 seasons, only three drivers over the age of forty have actually won a Grand Prix and that was only one each. Don't you accept that this is perhaps conclusive evidence that F1 is and always has been a game for young men or at least, under the age of forty?
Brawn: Sorry to turn the question around, Mike, but how many drivers have won seven World Championships? He's an exceptional driver so our optimism, our ambition is based on a very exceptional driver. I think that optimism is well-founded. I think there is some exceptional driving going on now. We haven't got a car to support the drivers we have, so once we get the car sorted out, then I think you will see some results.
Q: (Naoise Holohan) Going back to the testing debate, has it been considered to hold a one-day test on a Monday after a Grand Prix weekend as they do in Moto GP?
Horner: I think that a lot of different permutations have been thought about and discussed. One of the options to be looked at is to stay on at an existing venue after an event so maybe not quite on a Monday but as we're doing with the Abu Dhabi Young Drivers' Test this year - a day off, obviously the cars have to be rebuilt and then to effectively be able to run in that week with effectively the same staff, taking away the necessity of a test team, so that's something that's under consideration and something that might be brought in next year.