Press conference of Team representatives organised by the FIA.
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – James Key (Toro Rosso), Toto WOLFF (Williams), Bob Fearnley (Force India), Jean-Francois CAUBET (Renault Sport F1), Martin WHITMARSH (McLaren) Tony FERNANDES (Caterham).
James, welcome back, new shirt, you’ve had your feet under the desk for a week or two now, what have found at Scuderia Toro Rosso? What are the strengths and weaknesses?
James KEY: Thanks for the welcome Bob, I think – it’s early days obviously – but I think one of the big strengths I noticed very quickly in the team is the enthusiasm everyone has and the ambition to make it succeed. Everyone is desperate for it to work, there’s a real passion there, as you can imagine, being Italian in the team’s origin. Primarily it’s a very good atmosphere to work in, something a little bit familiar to me in a way, there’s a bit of family atmosphere because it’s a small team that’s grown very rapidly. As a result of that with the rapid growth it means that it needs a little bit more gluing together in a way. There’s still separate departments doing a very good job but it needs to come together – and everyone recognises that. It’s just a case of going through that process. So, the strength, I think, is the will and the ambition of everyone. On the weakness side, I think it’s just still a team that’s growing. There’s no lack of effort from everyone, it just needs to be given direction. There’s certainly some work to do on the aero side, which is very clear and mechanical, for that matter, from a technical point of view. There’s some pretty clear steps. Some of it takes time, some of it’s fairly obvious for next year.
And what can you do for this year’s car? What can you do for next year’s car? Can you still put your stamp on next year’s car?
JK: I think for this year, obviously time is short, and this is a time of year when you’ve really got to prioritise and so we’re doing what we can with this year’s car. What we can do now is obviously carried over to next year too. I think for next year, the architecture and a lot of the suspension geometry was already defined before I arrived, so it’s a case of picking up what I can, together with the guys in Faenza and at our wind tunnel in Bicester from this point forward. I’d say there’s probably 40 per cent of the car still to go, so certainly we can work on that. But I have to say a lot of very sensible decisions have already been made for next year’s car, exactly what I would have done. Which is good. So, we’re all aligned in our direction and we’ll do everything we can in between now and Melbourne.
Toto, obviously a very competitive car this year: we’ve seen it in the top ten in qualifying quite a lot and of course it’s won a race as well. How easy is that to preserve and to keep on, and improve on for next year?
Toto WOLFF: I think that most of the teams are going to have a carry-on car for next year. It’s not going to be a massive development because everybody is looking forward to 2014, which is a big change. So, I hope we can carry the momentum and keep the good base of the car and then carry it over for next year.
And looking at your drivers but particularly one you have an interest in, what is Valtteri Bottas’ future?
TW: I think Valtteri Bottas’ future is Formula One. We have not decided yet where we are going to head to because we go on to give maximum support to the two current drivers. He has been with us for a couple of years now, so he is definitely part of our thoughts – but no decision has been made until now.
Bob, first of all, I think you’ve moved on already to next year’s but already you car looks very competitive here. Last year here we saw Paul Di Resta do a phenomenal run of 31 laps on the soft tyre. Is this looking like a good result for you here? What are your thoughts? It’s very early days I guess.
Bob FEARNLEY: It is early days. You don't know what fuel levels everybody else has been running on today. But it is reasonably encouraging for the first two sessions.
Looking at Jules Bianchi, his performance in the Magny Cours test. What’s his future with the team?
BF: We’re looking for stability for 2013 with all drivers, that’s our first goal. But I think from the young driver test, it just goes to show how beneficial running the FP1 programme was, because Jules was very quick all three days, particularly in the Force India car. So I think it’s a testament to the team’s effort to having a reserve driver who is really up and running and competitive all the time.
Jean-Francois, I’m sure you’re expecting a question about alternators. What is it about Sebastian Vettel that it seems to happen to him and nobody else?
Jean-Francois CAUBET: First of all we started to have a problem in Valencia with two drivers Sebastian Vettel and Romain (Grosjean). It was not easy to detect or find because both alternators were completely melted and destroyed. So we were thinking it was an electric problem and probably the levels of power in the car, so we decided to change a bit the levels of power in each car. Spa was OK but again in Monza we have a problem with Sebastian two times and another driver also. We had a bit of fortune because we stopped the Lotus car just maybe some problem with the alternator and at the end it was not an electrical problem, it was a mechanical problem, a bearing probably. So, we are trying to change something. It is not easy because we detect that a few days but I think we are quite optimistic. The problem we have is that we are running the new solution in the dyno but only the race will give us an answer.
Do you think the heat is going to be a factor here?
J-FC: I don’t know. P1 was OK, P2 was OK. We cross our fingers for P3, qualifying and the race.
Recently, you lost Monsieur Arbiteboul to Tony over here. How important a loss is that and what can he expect from his new CEO?
J-FC: I think it is good news for Tony. I was working with Cyril for eight years. He was working with Flavio in the team. We sold the team. We built a new strategy on the engine side. I think after eight years at Renault I think this is a fantastic opportunity for him to do something probably more concrete, more challenging but why not he will be back one day in Renault no?
Q: Martin, there's been a lot of speculation about the team, how much of a distraction has it been?
Martin WHITMARSH: No, I don't think it has been. I think over the last three races we've got stronger and more focused. I assume that the distraction you refer to is Lewis but I think anyone who knows Lewis and witnessed Lewis last weekend (in Italy) and actually also this weekend would say he's very very focused on doing the job. I think he realises that this year we have a strong opportunity to win a World Championship and I think we all realise that the right thing to do is focus and improve the car, don't make mistakes and maximise the points you can get from each race. I think that's what we're very much focused on. I know that there are stories and speculation that swirl around and I guess that's Formula One and I think we're content to get on with the job quietly.
Q: Excellent performances in the last three races; you must be favourites to win a World Championship even though there is that huge gap, and there are seven races to go.
MW: I think you've got to be cautious. I think we were firm favourites going into the season, we were firm favourites coming out of Australia and it can change. I think we're very pleased that the last three events have been on very different circuits and we've been competitive at all of them. I think we're cautious here. Hopefully we can be competitive. What we haven't done is just pile in the points that we should have done, given the competitiveness of our car. I think after 12 or 13 races, I think we've been on the front row eleven times. We've clearly got a strong package and therefore we should be disappointed in the number of points that we don't have rather than the points that we do have. But you don't look back, you look forward. I think we've got quite a good development momentum so we're making the car quicker. I think we've got two great racing drivers who are very much focused on trying to win races and other things, so we're hopeful that we can get a result here and keep the pressure on. You've got to say that Fernando's done a great job to be where he is and that's going to take some effort to overhaul but it's certainly do-able and we're going to keep pushing as hard as we can.
Q: Tony, you've got a new CEO in Cyril Abiteboul, what was the thinking behind hiring a CEO when you seem to have a lot of chiefs already?
Tony FERNANDES: Well, I think we're evolving into a little bit of an auto group with the cars division and technology division that we've put together which Riad (Asmet) is looking at, and I am not as involved so the team needs leadershi. Cyril has been someone that I've courted for a while and we've finally persuaded him - with Renault's blessing - to come over to Caterham. It provides us with a (inaudible) for the F1 team going forward.
Q: So will he be the team principal?
TF: Not at the moment, no. I will still remain in that job for a while. Eventually, maybe.
Q: And your thoughts on your drivers for next year; is Heikki staying? What's the situation with Vitaly?
TF: Well, it's... I don't know. We will have to have a discussion at some point and we also have options on that front. I would like Heikki to stay, very much. He's been great for us over the last three and a half years. We'll have to sit down and decide where we go from here.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Paul Weaver - The Guardian) Martin, you described as fantasy reports that Lewis might be joining Mercedes. Do you still describe that as fantasy or did you seriously under-estimate the situation?
MW: I don't remember that but...
Q: (Paul Weaver - The Guardian) I do.
MW: ...good! I think if you told me that he had signed the deal as you said that was fantasy so in answer to the same question I would give the same response to that.
Q: (Simon Cass - Daily Mail) Martin, do you accept that Lewis has had an offer from Mercedes?
MW: I suspect that Tony here has made him an offer as well, he's a very good racing driver.
TF: I haven't!
MW: He's not ambitious enough, you see.
Q: (Benjamin Hunt - The Sun) Martin, you risk losing a driver, potentially; have you started even thinking about a replacement yet?
MW: No, as I said earlier, I think we're very focused on trying to do a good job here.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) To Bob and to Tony: there's a possibility that the regulations from next year onwards will be decided by the six top teams as opposed to the Formula One Commission. How do you people, as team principals of teams that don't fall within those six, feel about that possibility?
BF: I think that we would like the stability to stay where it is, with all teams being represented at the F1 Commission, Dieter, so I don't think there's any doubt about where we would like to be. Tony will have to speak for himself, but I think it's a much better balance when the teams are fully represented.
TF: I share the same view obviously. The one thing is though... the key is that all of us have to find a way of standardising regulations and having less changes and less irregularities but I think there is a danger that the six teams are hyper-competitive and sometimes things go on and on and on, so I do think that there could be an imbalance here but the key to me is not whether there are six teams or twelve teams or two teams, the key is to have simple regulations that won't have a tremendous amount of debate and we just will go racing.
Q: (Byron Young - Daily Mirror) Martin, why has it taken so long to solve Lewis's situation? Even by Formula One standards it seems to have taken an age.
MW: I think it seems a long time because of the speculation that people have made, but when you sit down and seriously put your mind to entering into a new contract it doesn't take too long. I think it's a question of priorities and other things we've been doing.
Q: (Simon Cass - Daily Mail) Martin, are you actually trying to pay him less money for his new contract?
MW: I'm sure he will want more money and I'm sure we will want to pay less - that's how business normally works.
Q: (Matt Coch - pitpass.com) Tony, you've moved into the new Leafield facility, an immense complex. It's much bigger than what Caterham as a Formula One team is. What's the long term plan with the spare capacity there?
TF: I think over the next few months details will evolve as to what we're planning. It's not a hidden secret that I got into Formula One to manufacture cars and Lotus was my initial objective which went spectacularly wrong in many ways, shape or forms but the ambition and the vision is still the same and Leafield will play a part in that vision. The brand may have changed but the vision and the idea of what we're trying to put together still exists. I think we are putting all the infrastructure in place to have a reasonable Formula One team. We have a reasonable car now, we just have to optimise it as much as possible. I think we've got some good people together, we're in a facility in a location which attracts other people into it, plus with our other two divisions it will all come together. I think in the next few months you will see some clarity as to what we're trying to achieve.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) Jean-Francois, certain people continue talking about retaining the current V8s for an additional year or two after 2014. In addition to that, you'd said that you people wanted to possibly supply six teams with your 2014 technology. Where do you stand on these two points please?
J-FC: I think the V6 will be on the track for all the teams in two years. I think Mercedes, Ferrari and us are all changing our dynos from V8s to V6s so now it's impossible to make a change. For the teams, the strategy is to keep four teams and I don't know if it's possible to do more. I think that if you want to have good reliability, good performance you need to keep four teams, but if there will be a need for more, we don't want to close the door.
Q: (Ian Parkes - PA) Martin, I can understand why you would want to laugh through some of the questions facing Lewis and put on a bit of a brave face but is part of you seriously appreciating the fact that there could be life without Lewis from 2013 onwards?
MW: As I said earlier, it's not a question of putting on a brave face, it's a question of focusing on doing our job, and we're concentrating on this year's championship. I think speculation on next year is something that we don't need to entertain or respond to so we're focusing on the here and now.
Q: (Bryon Young - Daily Mirror) So does that mean there won't be an announcement until after the end of the season, because you've got to focus on all the races haven't you?