Bahrain GP 2024

FEBRUARY 29, 2024

Thursday Press Conference

Fred Vasseur
© Ferrari

TEAM REPRESENTATIVES: Toto WOLFF (Mercedes), Zak BROWN (McLaren), Frédéric VASSEUR (Ferrari), Laurent MEKIES (RB)

Q: Laurent, start as you mean to go on. Both your cars inside the top four in FP1. You've introduced quite a few upgrades here. Progress so far?

Laurent MEKIES: Honestly, I don’t think we should take too much notice of page one after FP1, obviously we ran a very different program compared to most of the guys, so there is no illusion in the team about what you see on the screen. No, instead, I think it's a continuation of the work we have done at the test, and it's still a bit early to talk about relative competitiveness, but you know what, it's only 24 hours before we’ll all know, so...

Q: Can we talk about you for a moment, Laurent. This is your first race as a Formula 1 race as Team Principal. How different are the emotions coming into this race compared to, let's say, 12 months ago when you were still at Ferrari?

Meikes: Twelve month we were sitting together on a pit wall, and we are still sitting together in a different place, so it actually feels quite similar now! No, seriously, it’s wery different situations. You know, as we said it's a unique opportunity to be associated with the start of a new team like that. So, you know, we are right in the process of trying to build the basis of it. And it feels like very much being part of the start of something very fresh. Last year was a completely different situation. Obviously, Ferrari has extremely high ambitions, and the pressure is very different, and the obligation of results is very different. And we're trying to find our ways around with Fred when we were working together there. So it’s a very different set of conditions, but certainly both very enjoyable.

Q: And in terms of your ambitions for the team this year, your predecessor, Franz Tost, always used to say, ‘we need to finish P5 in the Constructors' Championship’. That was pretty consistent from one year to the next. What is your message to the team?

Meikes: Well, you know, I think Franz and the team they did a fantastic job in these years. And if we really want to do a performance step in the years to come, it's not going to happen by changing a few things and just hoping that the performance will improve, because these guys were doing a very good job, they had a very sharp team and so forth and so on. So we are trying to build what we need in the factory to be able to give us the means to do these performance steps. So we are not quoting numbers yet. We are trying to improve the team in all areas and see where it's taking us.

Q: All right. Well, good luck with that. Thank you, Laurent, for now. Fred, if we could come to you. So the first of 72 practice sessions in this 2024 season has happened. How's progress at Ferrari?

Frédéric VASSEUR: From the first one to the first one? No, I think if you compare with last year, I think that… I don't know about competitiveness and we'll see it probably tomorrow because today for 10 kilos of fuel you were moving from P1 to P6 or 7, and let's wait for tomorrow to see exactly where we are, all of us. But at least we are in a much better place in terms of balance, feeling of the drivers and so on. This is a much better starting point to develop the car for the season, to know where we have to work and to develop the car, and this is a good feeling.

Q: And a personal question for you, Fred. This time last year, you just started the new job. How different does it feel now, 12 months on?

Vasseur: For sure that you have a better understanding of the team, of the people around you, that you develop the relationship during the season. I think over the year, last year, that we made some improvement, that it was also the time for me to understand… Each team is different in the approach, in the culture, in the system and so on, so it was tough work for me in the first 12 months to understand everything, but I'm not sure that I understood everything so far. But I have still room for improvement. No, it's a good feeling that at least last year went pretty well over the season, the improvement. And we are starting in a better shape today.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you've learned as team principal of Ferrari?

Vasseur: Last year? That we have kept to calm down everybody into the team and it was my main task last year to try to not overreact, not to have over-expectation or under-expectation after a poor result. and we have to stay calm in every single circumstance. and it's even more true with a Latin team.

Q: If last year was all about calming people down, is there a feeling of optimism coming into this new season?

Vasseur: No, no, this is important. We have to keep the same approach in any circumstance. You will have ups and down during the season, for sure, like every single season. And we have to keep the same approach, the same focus, and not to overreact in a positive or negative way.

Q: Zak, coming to you. As Laurent says, let's not get too excited about FP1 at the first race but it did go well. It was a promising opening hour for you guys. what were the drivers reporting?

Zak BROWN: Well, they're in engineering right now, so I only heard a little bit over the radio and some first impressions. It was very windy, but it was a good first session. I think everyone's… You know, the track is rubbering in, very windy conditions, it will continue to improve. We were running through, as every team will, the different run plans and it was a good opening session but I think very early to kind of draw any real conclusions.

Q: Now, the technical regulations are by and large the same as last year. How much momentum has McLaren carried through the off-season?

Brown: We've continued our development that we saw last year. It looks like most, if not all, the teams have as well. So that's, I think, the exciting part of it. We all live in a world of prototypes and developing our car every weekend. So I think if we can continue to bring the pace of upgrades that we did last year and they continue to work, we'll just continue to get stronger and stronger. But the three gentlemen sitting alongside me have the same master plan, so we'll just have to see how things play out. It's a very long season, but I think what we demonstrated last year is with hard work and great teamwork you can turn things around and make significant improvements over the course of the year. So we'll continue to do what we did last year and see where the chips fall.

Q: OK, see where the chips fall, but are you confident that you can continue where you left off at the end of last year?

Brown: I am as far as our own development and the pace of our car. What we don't have great visibility on yet is what the nine other teams are doing. Since the hybrid era, every season has gotten closer, and I think this one will be yet closer again. So I think it's going to be a game of tenths. I think drivers are going to make a big difference, getting clean laps in, having the right strategy. So I think it's going to be an exciting season.

Q: Toto, coming to you. Now, there's a feeling inside the Formula 1 paddock that Mercedes was masking its pace last week at the test. How satisfied are you with the work done so far with W15?

Toto WOLFF: Yeah, I would wish we're masking our performance, but why would we? I think it's important to understand where you are in the competitive order, where you're lacking performance and where the car is good and that's why we've approached it as every other pre-season test. So we will see where, as Zak said, the chips fall down.

Brown: So, you're masking?

Wolff: No, no, no masking. What happens later today, I think it's going to be a much better performance picture because it's the representative conditions. And tomorrow is when the bullshit stops.

Q: George did mention last week a recurrence of bouncing with your car. How much of a concern is that?

Wolff: Bouncing obviously has been a feature in our car for quite a few seasons, but I would say it's more what is inherent to these regulations. We can see some degree of bouncing in other cars, less severe, more severe. And I think ground effect has as a consequence that you want to have those cars close to the ground and ride, and bouncing can be an effect of that. And we've seen that once the track ramps in, the faster it goes, the more it becomes a feature. But I hope we've found some tools to tune it or dial it out as good as possible.

Q: And Toto, can you just describe the atmosphere inside Mercedes at the moment? How have two frustrating seasons changed the mentality of the team?

Wolff: What is very nice to experience is being part of a group that is very positive in terms of the approach. It reminds me of the 2013 and ‘14 years, when I was lucky enough to join the team. What a buzz the whole organisation had. And after those two difficult years, this is very much what I feel at the moment. The spirits are high. We have a good ambience in the team, very collaborative. trusting, empowering, and just a lovely place to work at the moment.


Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) For Toto and Zak. What’s your reaction to Red Bull’s statement yesterday?

Wolff: Well, I just read the statement, which was pretty basic, I would say. My personal opinion is we can't really look behind the curtain. At the end of the day, there is a lady in an organisation that has that has spoken to HR and said there is an issue and it was investigated and yesterday, you know, the sport has received the message, it's all fine, we've looked at it. I believe that with the aspiration as a global sport on such critical topics it needs more transparency and I wonder what the sport’s position is. We are competitors, we are a team, and we can have our own personal opinions or not, but it's more like a general reaction or action that we as a sport need to assess what is right in that situation and what is wrong.

Brown: I read the statement. I think from what I've seen there continues to be a lot of rumours and speculation, questions. I think the sanctioning body has a responsibility and authority to our sport to our fans. I think all of us in Formula 1 are ambassadors for the sport on and off the track, like you see in other sports and so I think they need to make sure that things have been fully transparent with them. I don't know what those conversations are and it needs to be thorough, fully transparent, and that they come to the same conclusion that has been given by Red Bull and that they agree with the outcome. But I think until then, there'll continue to be speculation because there are a lot of unanswered questions about the whole process, and so I think that's what's needed by those that run the sport to really be able to draw a line under it. Until then, I think there'll continue to be some level of speculation by people, and I don't think that's healthy for the sport.

Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Bearing in mind you've just answered that last question, to either Toto or Zach, bearing in mind what you've just said, should pressure be brought to bear on Red Bull's parent company to reveal more details, or is this a double-edged sword and fairness and privacy has to be respected to the parties involved?

Wolff: Again, as I said, we are being asked questions as competitors here. And are we talking as competitors? Are we talking with the right moral approach, with the values based on the speculations that are out there? But I just simply think that as a sport, we cannot afford to leave things in the vague and in the opaque on critical topics like this. Because this is going to catch us out. Eventually… We are in a super transparent world. Eventually things are going to happen. and I think we have the duty or the organisation has the duty to say well we've looked at it and it's OK and then we can move on. I think it's sometimes very short-sighted to try, you know, suppress it, but not saying this has happened, we're standing from the outside and looking at it, but just looking at statements or press releases or timelines, it just seems that it's not as modern as things go in this world, in the real world out there. But maybe in Formula 1, we just have a little bubble and we think that's OK.

Brown: Yeah, I think, I mean, as I said earlier, I think it's the responsibility ultimately of the organisers of Formula 1, the owners of Formula 1, to make sure that all the racing teams and the personnel and the drivers and everyone involved in this sport are operating in a manner which we all live by. So I don't think it's the teams’ roles and responsibilities. So those questions you mentioned I think that's up to FIA and Formula 1 to ultimately decide, and to ask what they feel gives them the level of transparency that they need to ultimately come to their conclusion And we just have to count on them that they fulfil that obligation to all of us.

Q: (Jon Noble) One of the topics of discussion and controversy before the season has been the issue of alliances between teams and customer parts and where we go in the future. Just on that general topic, to Toto and Fred, what do you think about the issue? Is it something that should be debated for 26? And for Zak, I know you've been quite vocal on this, but there have been some counterarguments put forward about Champions League teams being able to play against each other with the same ownership and the gardening leave situation not being as it is and teams still struggling to make profits, which means we need these arrangements. Can I get your thoughts?

Vasseur: I think there are two different points. The first one is the ownership of the team and the second one is the Technical Regulation. You could imagine to have a collaboration even if you are not owned by the same ultimate company at the end and this is possible. There is a clear cut into the regulation and it's up to the FIA to decide if it's white or black and for me this is clear and so far it was always respected. The ownership is that, for sure, you could imagine the extreme situation of the football and the Champions League, for example. But we have also to keep in mind that two or three years ago or four years ago, we were very happy that Red Bull was there to finance a team when we were struggling. And we have to keep it in mind also.

Wolff: Yeah, I think Fred's arguments are very valid and so are Zak's. I think there is a legacy situation with Red Bull that the sport owes them a lot. They have two teams, they finance them, they have a great junior program, a track and lots of brand value. And so they are not like any other smaller team. So I think on the shareholder level, it's quite a difficult discussion based on that contribution. But on the other side, we are a constructors’ sport and I believe same shareholding, same location, share of facilities, it's clear that some ambiguity is always going to be left with competitors and I think what we need to look at is the regulations. Are the regulations robust enough? Are they policed well enough for us to feel in a safe place? Are we seeing some potential loopholes? And what is it we need for 2026? And I think that is the main question. Define regulations that feel everyone comfortable with the situation. From the small teams that use such collaboration, like Haas, because it's going to be very difficult for them to stand on their own feet, to the teams that have no relationships with any other, or no customer-client relationship, to the big teams all the way on the other end that have joint shareholding and same locations. And I believe that is the thing we need to be tackling, that everybody is fine with the situation.

Q: Toto, let's look into that then. Do you think the situation between RB and Red Bull Racing is similar to Haas and Ferrari?

Wolff: No, I don't think you can compare them, because there is more, how can I say, boxes that are being ticked, because with Haas we have an organisation that couldn't be standing on its own feet with its own staff, and it's clearly that they are a client of the Ferrari infrastructure, but I don't think that Ferrari would ever see great benefit, and I'm sorry for Haas, but in utilising or in extrapolating any information or so. And I don't say that anybody else is doing it, but you can clearly see if you are in the same place, with the same management, with the same structures, that there are reasons why people are being sceptical. And I think this is just what needs to be safeguarded. But having said that, all teams are in a different position. And as a sport, we need to have all of the 10 teams happy with the situation, so we are not excluding the small ones that need such corporations, to the ones that by sheer shareholding are sister companies, and that's fine, and to the big ones that have no relationships, you know, like McLaren, to us, which has a relationship with many. So, you know, just 2026 is the point where we can reset that.

Brown: Yeah, I think, first of all, Red Bull's been awesome for Formula 1. I think Formula 1 has been awesome for Red Bull. So there's absolutely no issues there. They hold Grands Prix for us. They have two fantastic teams. But I think the sport has moved on in this budget cap era. So I don't think we can go, well, this happened 15 years ago, and therefore, there should be a different playing field, if you'd like, because of the rules. My issue, as I've talked about before, is the rules. I think the Champions League, which was brought up, I think is a good example. They brought it up. If you look at what happened in the Champions League, it was quite controversial, and they had to prove total independence. And when you have sharing of facilities, you watch on Netflix and the Red Bull team principal is making a decision on the driver that's going in the AlphaTauri. When you hear Helmut saying we're going to do everything we can within the rules to bring the two together. When you hear their CEO say we need to use their suspension because that's the second most important part of the racing car that doesn't strike me being independent at all. So I'm much more interested in independence of the 10 teams than the actual co-ownership itself, even though you do get into things around governance and voting. You know, now with the budget cap, their CEO made a comment that no team is profitable. That is factually inaccurate. You can go to company house, the seven teams in the UK, four of them were profitable this past year. I don't know about the two in Italy and the one in Switzerland, because they have a different sort of reporting. [To Fred] I presume you're profitable. So that's probably half the grid. When I started at Formula 1, we were losing a tremendous amount of money. And through the combination of the budget cap, which was put in for financial stability, and the hard work of our commercial team, we're now profitable. So we've come from ninth in the championship when we started and losing a tremendous amount of money to nine podiums last year and being a profitable business for our shareholders. We've just simply done that through, it hasn't been simple, but we've done it through hard work. And I think in sport and any other sport, if you're in football and there's the best team and one that's struggling, the game doesn't start one-nil. It starts nil-nil and then you got to work a little bit harder. So the issue I have is with the rules. And I think 2026 is the right time to address them because the sport's evolved.

Q: Laurent, we're talking about your team. I feel you deserve a right of reply. What's your reaction to what's been said?

Meikes: No, thanks Tom. I think first there is a clear set of regulations today and we operate 100% within that set of regulations and we take every single extra precautions with the FIA to make sure they have zero doubt about how much we operate in within these regulations. and I invite anyone, if they have any doubt on sporting, technical financial regulations, do we comply with them? They can go to the FIA and ask them to further investigate anything. This is a state of play in terms of how clear the regulations are today. I'm not saying that they are right or wrong, but certainly I'm saying here that we operate in a black and white manner within these regulations. Are the regulations fit for the sport? Well, these regulations today, they mean, for us, that we are an independent team, that all the development we are doing to make the team stronger tomorrow with that set of regulations is to make the team more independent. So we are growing the team. We are growing our infrastructures. We are growing our facilities in order to be more and more independent tomorrow, because that's the way we go faster. We are here to compete with the nine other teams, that they be owned by the same shareholders or not. We will compete as high as our competitiveness will allow us to do so. Then, are the regulations fit for purpose? Again, we said many times why we can today share some components. We can share components in order to avoid to have too much of a spread between the guys at the top and the bottom two, three, four teams. And we share some components in order to make sure that we have more sustainable business models for the guys that are at the bottom. As Zak said, for those who are at the bottom, it is a very different equation in terms of balancing the accounting. Now, if the regulations change tomorrow… there will be a discussion for the Concorde Agreement, and if they change tomorrow, if we think that we don't want any more close racing, that it's OK to have a more spread field, and if we think that the business is so good, as to ask every single team to be bigger tomorrow because today we're already between 500 and 600 people in Faenza. So if we want to say, look, we think Formula 1 teams should be even bigger because they should do everything – suspensions, gearbox, PU – that's a decision that would be at a Concords Agreement level and it feels strange to be that optimistic about the economics of the years to come.

Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Toto, as mentioned, we've got 72 practice sessions this year, and it's a very long season. I know you, as a Team Principal, have always placed well-being at the heart of a lot of what the team does. Could you talk about the importance of that, not only from a performance point of view, like looking after your people, making sure they're fresher for a season, but also doing the right thing morally as well?

Wolff: I'm not sure I understand everything, the acoustics are bad. What the free practice session does for the sport, is that the question? How many schedule, 24 races? OK. Yeah, 24 races. I mean, when you look at the calendar and the first two months, you're already looking at it with fright. But we need to take the positives. The sport is very popular at the moment globally, and we need to treasure it and be careful with it because it could also not be the case. And from a performance standpoint, it's a balance you need to get right as a team. And I believe everybody's different in the organisations. How much travel, how much strain are you putting on your people versus their mental wellbeing and therefore also their performance capability. And that's something that we are looking at very carefully. There are people that want to travel to all the races. This is the lifestyle they feel really happy about. And then there are others, they want to, you know, maybe not do all of the races and spend more time in the office or with their families. And fundamentally it all comes down to the same objective and this is performance. No one in in our team would be part of the racing team or part of the organisation if they wouldn't be 100% focused and passionate about performance. They're senior people. We empower them. So it's important to have a close understanding of what is it we need to do to have everyone in a good place. And it's key.

Q: (Molly Hudson – The Times) Question for Zach and Toto. If you were in the position of Red Bull and there was an investigation into a senior member of one of your staff, are you confident that you have the structures in place for a transparent outcome of that? And is that where you feel the FIA and Formula 1 need to step in to help you with that too?

Brown: I'm very confident at McLaren. I think like most companies, we've had issues that we've had to deal with, and we deal with them in a very transparent, fair, and swift manner. And that's all I can say is, you know, on behalf of McLaren, yes, we're well equipped. I actually have my head of HR people here this weekend. He and his team are an important part of our racing team, not just for these types of reasons. That's not why he's here, but really for the mental health and wellbeing. You know, our HR department is very much a part of our racing team because having your race team in a good place – race team, whether it's here or back at the factory – ultimately drives performance. And that's not about working them harder, it's about giving them the support they need to work at maximum performance. And then I think I said earlier, I think the other topic is one that really needs to be dealt with by the regulator. They're the ones that have the authority and responsibility to do so.

Wolff: I can also only talk about us and maybe we have a different starting point or different benchmark because we are Mercedes. We are one of the 10 most important brands in the world and compliance, good governance, transparency, D&I is all part of what we do every day. And therefore, sometimes for us, it's difficult to understand another world. And in our organisation, it's just we keep the finger on the pulse all the time because it is not only the right thing to do, but it's also where you need to stand in terms of your values as a company today. And this is where Mercedes and the Formula 1 team stand.

Q: (Matt Coch) I just wanted to go back to the common ownership and shared technical resources and parts. And I guess, Zak we know your views. So Toto and Fred, do you think it's fair that there's organizations that are able to freely transfer staff with seemingly no gardening leave where other teams can't? I guess, Laurent, a right of response to yourself for the same question.

Wolff: So, you know, I'm talking about our own business here because we are earning good money in supplying parts. We are selling suspensions to Aston Martin and to Williams and gearboxes and aerodynamic services in terms of the wind tunnel to Aston Martin. And that is quite a, you know, that's quite a profit contributor. But I'd rather not have any of that and have all of us being constructor. Because then we can stop all of these discussions. Because like Zak brought it up, if one guy takes all the decisions, or a small group of people for two teams, what does it mean for our good governance in the sport? You have two votes in a 10-group F1 commission. You already have 20% of the votes. And none of us has that. I know there's the argument always, ‘yeah, well, Williams is going to vote like you’. But look at the stats. That's not the case. Certainly not the case for everything that's chassis-related. I haven't seen any of different voting on chassis-related topic or any other voting between AlphaTauri and Red Bull. Because it's one person that probably decides what the vote is.

Vasseur: Yeah, but again, as Toto said, I would separate completely the technical approach of this, that the FIA has to put a place in regulation and we have to follow the regulation. I think on this case, we have to also to avoid to be arrogant and to remind that at some stages, a couple of years ago, some teams they were not able to produce parts. On the vote side and the governance side, it's true that it's a bit unbalanced to have someone with two votes compared to the other teams, that when you know that you need to have the supermajority on some decision and you need to have eight votes, it means that you are almost there to block the decision.

Meikes: Maybe just answering on the personal movement. Unlike what you may have heard, the regulations are clear also for that. You cannot use personal movement to go around the regulations of the IP of the technical parts. You cannot do that. How is that practically applied? In a fairly simple way, when we hired somebody from Red Bull, in that case, we go to the FIA, we say, ‘look, we are planning to hire that person. You guys need to define what you feel the reasonable gardening leave is for that person, and we stick to it’. In the other direction, I think it never happened that one of our guys went back, or if it did, it follows he… I'm not sure why, but if it did, we will have to follow the same process. So ironically, I can agree with Fred to get one of his guys probably the next morning, if we find an agreement – probably won't find an agreement, but we could. We cannot do that with Red Bulls because we are over-respecting the regulations and making sure that the FIA is on board on every single of these calls.