F1 - 2024 Chinese Grand Prix - Friday Press Conference Transcript

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TEAM REPRESENTATIVES: Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), Mario ISOLA (Pirelli), Andrea STELLA (McLaren), Alessandro ALUNNI BRAVI (Kick Sauber)

Q: Andrea, can we start with you, please? Let's start with a progress report about McLaren’s season so far, have you met your expectations?
Andrea STELLA: I think in terms of our expectation, we are happy that we consolidated the development trajectory that we started 12 months ago. I think being part of the first group of cars was important to see at the start of the season. The third position in the classification, at the moment, is something that we are happy with. But ultimately, we want to be competing for winning races. And this means that we need to, if anything, improve the development and bring upgrades to the car. And I think if we are able to do so, if we are able to continue what we have achieved over the last 12 months, like I said, before we can compete for winning races, this is the ambition. But so far, happy with what we have achieved.
Q: The metric for the last few seasons has been the gap to Red Bull, hasn't it? Were you expecting to be a little bit closer given the trajectory that the team had in the second half of last year?
AS: Not necessarily to Red Bull, because I think, like I've said before, Red Bull, they haven't developed their car very much last year, so we were kind of expecting that they had cashed in some important learning through last year’s season that could have been capitalised on with this year’s car. So in this sense we were happy that we consolidated, if anything, this gap to Red Bull. But now we want to try and reduce it if possible. We have to acknowledge that, if anything, over the winter break, Ferrari, they might have made a slightly bigger jump forward than we have done. So they consolidated themselves as the second best team. And that's definitely something that we want to try and challenge Ferrari with in the near future.
Q: Let's bring it onto this weekend. Lando Norris said yesterday in the press conference that he expects it to be harder for the team here than it was at Suzuka last time out. Can you put a little bit more flesh on the bone as to why that's the case?
AS: The reason for this kind of anticipation is that so far, statistically, when we see where we lose time, compared to some other cars, we see that when you have low-speed corners, long corners, like more than 90 degrees, then we have tendentially lose time compared to, definitely, the cars around us. And we don't gain that much also compared to cars that overall in a lap, we may be quicker but in this type of corners, we lose time. And in China, you have many of these long corners and low-speed corners. So that was the reason of our expectation from a competitiveness point of view.
Q: It's the first Sprint of the season. How do the changes to the parc fermé regulations change the team's approach to Sunday's race?
AS: Firstly, let me say that the changes in terms of parc fermé, I think they are logical, they are a good step forward in terms of regulation of a Sprint event. If anything, they give you a bit more margin to be aggressive, I would say, from a set-up point of view, trying to see if there's the last millimetre that you can exploit, for instance in terms of ride height, just to be a little specific with one example, because you know that you can adjust it after the Sprint. But in general, I have to say right now through simulations, you get already normally a decent starting point, even though here in China, because you don't have historical data, it's a little harder to do so. So definitely it's very welcome that you have the possibility to reopen the performance.
Q: Andrea, thank you very much. I'm sure there'll be more questions for you later. Mario, why don't we come to you next. Pirelli stayed at Suzuka last week for a couple of days testing. What was the aim of the test and how did it go?
Mario ISOLA: We wanted to finalise a new construction for 2025, because we know that all the teams are developing their cars and so the stress on the t¥re will be bigger by the end of the year and next year as well, before the big jump to 2026, and now the next step is to push more on the development of new compounds to reduce the overheating. These are the two main targets for 2025. But we want also to anticipate the start of the development of the 2026 tyres that will be different in terms of size and characteristics. And so hopefully we can start testing by September, October this year, and try to get a few information starting from this area.
Q: Can you give us a chronology of the testing plan for the season? Suzuka was test number three, I think. What is the plan for the remainder of the year in terms of focus on ‘25 and then ‘26.
MI: We have now a Wet tyre test in Paul Ricard. We have a number of tests after the races where it's possible, as well as some standalone test, until October in Mugello. We have a test after Monza. We have a test after Silverstone. We have several sessions already planned. But we know that time is running fast and we need to finalise as much as we can in advance, because then maybe the weather is not good enough. We have very limited possibilities for testing of Wet or Intermediate tyres. That's the biggest issue for us at the moment,  because we want to finalise the development of an Intermediate tyre, able to work without blankets, as well as extreme Wet tyre with a better performance. We know that we have to improve the extreme Wet but we don't have many options for wet conditions. We can we can test in Paul Ricard, we can test in Fiorano, but not many other opportunities. The first day in Suzuka was raining but not enough for Wet tyres . So we were not lucky enough. We had a back-up plan for Wet tyres, but the level of water on track was not enough. And that's the biggest issue for me. The dry test has a good plan and if we can follow the plan, I'm sure that we can achieve some good results. For Wets it’s a lot more complicated.
Q: Mario, you touched on 2026. What can you tell us about the dimensions of the tyres that we're going to be using?
MI: We agreed with the FIA and the teams that we want to stay on the 18-inch tyres, for a number of reasons – load capacity of the tyre, characteristics of the tyre. We believe that the first 16-inch tyre that was the initial idea was not enough. If I look at the estimated performance of the 2026 cars, with the risk of having a lot more overheating and also durability issues, that means that we have to raise the pressure too much and that's why we made some analysis with data provided by the teams and the FIA and we came to the conclusion that staying on the 18-inch, narrower tyre and a smaller diameter, especially on the front, is the right approach for 2026. And teams agreed at the end.
Q: Mario, final one for me. There's been a lot of discussion ahead of this weekend about changes made to the track surface here in Shanghai. Can you clarify what's new and how it will affect tyre performance?
MI: What's new is this layer of bitumen they put on top of the track. There was no resurface, no changes, a few changes to the kerbs but not to the track. As usual, we measure the track roughness and the level of grip with our system and we found some, let's say, inconsistencies in the grip around the circuit. I believe that also drivers highlighted this. And the most important information is that I believe the track is going to change quite a lot during the weekend, because this layer of bitumen is disappearing, especially on the race line, and not on the other lines. When they run over this layer, the level of grip is good. So I'm expecting that on the race line it will be a bit worse compared to the other parts of the track. But it's just an assumption, because we were not informed of this kind of work on the track. So, we are trying to understand ourselves what is going to happen, but a lot of track evolution is expected.
Q: If what you say plays out, it could be good for overtaking.
MI: Maybe!  
Q: Thank you. Alessandro, can we just come to you next because you were one of the teams working with Pirelli in Suzuka last week. How did the test go from your point of view?
Alessandro ALUNNI BRAVI: As always it was a good opportunity also for the team to perform the Pirelli test. It’s not just the work that we provide to our tyre supplier, but we always have the opportunity, especially after a race weekend, to do some checks on the car, to see a correlation. Of course, we cannot change the car set-up during the day, but from one day to another for us it was important to understand something. We came up after the weekend with some doubts about, you know, for instance, the level of downforce for the rear wing that we have tested, especially in day two when the track conditions were more similar to the one during the Grand Prix weekend. And for us also it has been opportunity to perform a pit stop practices that is now one of our weakness. And we found some, you know, additional measures that we can apply in from this weekend. So overall, a good learning from all the team, as always, when we go on track,
Q: So more consistency with the pit stops this weekend or faster pitstops?
AAB: Consistency is our target. We know the issues that we add. We know that we are working hard back in Hinwil to fix these issues, that all the measures will be ready, you know, not for this race and I don't want to give a timeline just because, you know, we are working hard and we try to anticipate and reduce this lead time. We have other mitigation measures here that should allow us to be more consistent. And then of course the target is also to reduce the pit stop time, but I think that the main target is to not have any problem. last race, unfortunately, we know we lost the possibility to score points in the second pit stop with Valtteri, because we came in ahead of Tsunoda and we rejoined the track after four drivers, so we know that there is an issue. We are working on it. This doesn't of course affect our determination to fight for points here.
Q: The driver silly season has gone into overdrive following Alonso's decision to stay with Aston Martin. What is Sauber’s position? When can we expect a decision from you on your drivers?
AAB: First, let me say that there are a lot of speculations, you know, around our teams and comments. And, of course, I don't want to comment on speculation, because we are focused on this race weekend. But there's all the teams, you know. There are 14 drivers without, let's say, a contract fixed for next year. So, as all the teams, we are speaking with different drivers. And you know, it's not the time for us to take any decision. It's time to you know, provide our drivers with a performing car. But let me say that we are happy that it seems that we can play a role, a different role in the drivers’ market for the future thanks to Audi’s announcement and all the investment that will be done in order to improve our team. So I think that is good news for our team. Finally we are attractive and we are not spectators, we are a player in the market.
Q: Christian, coming to you now. Can we start with the driver market as well? How close is Red Bull Racing to confirming its line-up for next year?
Christian HORNER: Not very, I'm afraid. It’s incredible that we’re at race five and there's so much talk already about drivers for next year. So we're in a situation where we're very happy with our two drivers. But we don't need to make a final decision about the line-up until much later in the year. So, obviously Max on a long-term contract anyway, Checo out of contract this year, but he's been driving exceptionally well so far this season.
Q: Why do you think Checo has made such a step forward this year?
CH: Probably because he's out of contract! No, I think he's worked hard over the winter. He’s come in with a change, perhaps, slightly to his approach to Grand Prix weekends and he's been very close in the four races so far this season, particularly at a track like Suzuka where last year he struggled quite a bit, but certainly this year he was very competitive.
Q: Can you elaborate on that what's changed in his approach to the weekend? Less focus on Max, more focus on himself or what?
CH: I think that pretty much sums it up that both of guys get the same equipment at their disposal. I think Checo has been working hard behind the scenes. He's put a lot of a lot of hours in on the sim and his approach going into a Grand Prix weekend and set-up and so on has converged with his team-mate. So, he's applying himself well and has driven some good races so far this year.
Q: Final one from me. While we're talking drivers, can we talk Daniel Ricardo. He won here for you, Red Bull Racing, back in the day. What's your assessment of the season he’s putting together so far? And do you think we'll see a return to form here?
CH: It’s still early days, isn't it? I mean, his season hasn't really got going yet. He's had some difficulties. And I think by his own admittance he would feel that he's underperformed so far this year. But we're only at race five. So this is a track that he’s historically been strong at, he won here for us in great fashion in 2018, so let's see how things unfold.
Q: I know he's an RB driver, but how much contact do you have with him?
CH: Well, they’re all Red Bull Racing drivers, so they're all on Red Bull Racing contracts and we loan the drivers to VCARB or Visa Cash App RB Formula 1 Team as they are now known as. Obviously, we keep a close eye on the drivers, we keep a close eye on their development. And I have to say, Yuki, conversely, has had a great start to the season and is driving very well. So, for us, as a sister team, we take a close interest on those drivers.
Q: (Ian Parkes –New York Times) Christian, you've just said that you don't have to make a decision on your driver line-up until later this year. Checo has made it quite clear, speaking to him yesterday, that he thinks he's going to be in a position to announce something quite soon. So does that indicate that he might be leaving the team? And second question, and Alessandro you might want to comment on this as well, Helmut Marko mentioned yesterday that Audi has made Carlos Sainz an offer that Red Bull cannot match. So where does he stand in your thoughts going forward as a potential driver for the future?
CH: What? Helmut as the driver for the future? Oh, Carlos! Right, OK. Well, firstly on Sergio. Of course, he would like to make an announcement tomorrow, undoubtedly. But we as a team aren't in a particular rush. We're in a fortunate position where many drivers would obviously like to drive for the team, but we're happy with the pairing that we have, we just want to make sure that the level of consistency that Checo has started with this season maintains, and in due course, we'll evaluate those options. But, as I say, at this point in time, we're very happy with the line-up that we have. So there's no imminent rush to announce the full driver line-up for 2025. As for other drivers, it's pure speculation. We have no idea if and what Audi have offered Carlos, who's a key driver that's on the open market. So it's only natural that there's going to be significant interest. And I'm sure Audi would be foolish not to consider a driver of his quality amongst others that have seats available, but it would be improper to disclose what offers are made. That’s something that's not been disclosed to us, as to what offers have been made other teams.
AAB: Yeah, as I said, I don't comment about speculation. I think they are mere speculation, because, every driver, I think, is speaking with a lot of teams to understand the situation, to understand if there could be a common vision on the project, especially for a team like us that is in a full transformation process ahead of 2026. But we are focused on our drivers and we respect our drivers. We know that we need to deliver better performance as a team. And this is the first step to start deciding what will be the driver line-up for the future. First, we need to consolidate our performance. So far, we didn't score points. So I think that the main target, and the priority for the team, is to start scoring points and then to approach the drivers’ market, starting with discussion with our drivers and then having, of course, open eyes on the market. As mentioned by Christian, and I fully agree with what he said, it's not appropriate to discuss or to disclose what could be the discussion in place. No one really knows what other teams are offering to the drivers, are discussing with the drivers. And sometimes we don't want to be part of a game that is done by others. So let’s focus on this race. And I think that the car performance now is our priority and there will be time to take the right decision for the future.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) Alessandro, Valtteri said yesterday that the pit stop issues may not be solved totally until Imola. Can you give us a bit of background about what the specifics of the problem are? And why is it taking so long to get on top of it?
AAB: It’s a hardware problem, as we said. We need to redesign certain parts and of course, when you need to redesign, it takes time, also, for the manufacturing process, especially in certain areas. In this case, we immediately take the problem, the issues that we disclosed, that we found in Bahrain, we start redesigning the parts, and now we are in the manufacturing process, and there is some lead time for those parts that are not just depending from our production department in-house. We are trying to reduce this lead time. And of course, Imola is the target, but we try to do our best if we can have something before that, but we want to have something that fixes the problem without any doubt. But for the moment, we can apply some mitigation measures that in our opinion can reduce the risk of a failure in the pit stop. Of course, we need to be consistent, but the target is not to be the quickest. The target is to have a clean pit stop.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Christian, again on drivers. You mentioned that Daniel would admit he's underperformed a little bit. How do you see his situation? Is he kind of out of contention as a future Red Bull Racing driver? Is there the possibility he could therefore be replaced in RB this year, particularly with a driver like Liam Lawson, who Helmut Marko has said he would like to see on the grid. So how do you see that all working?
CH: Well, I think that it's pretty much in Daniel’s hands. He needs to show the kind of head-turning form to make not only ourselves but potentially to make others take notice. And we're only at race five. This is a track that's gone well for him previously. He's got a Sprint race as well. So it'll be interesting to see if he can really kick his season off here. Now, obviously, waiting in the wings is a driver with the talent of Liam Lawson, who naturally is champing at the bit to get an opportunity. But there's nothing pre-set or preordained as to when or even if that would take place. The priority is for sure for the drivers that are in the race seats at the moment and we'll see how that pans out.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) Christian and Andrea, we're 10 weeks out from the ’26 regulations getting finalised. Are you happy with the progress being taken? We've heard a few stories about the recent active aero tests of the FIA to found out what did and didn't work with the developments.
AS: Yes, we are happy that the level of collaboration is intense among the teams and with the FIA. I think when you explore new regulations, it's normal that you have some ideas, that you may have prove-outs, that you may want to validate properly. So I think so far we are happy. It's important, as we said before, that we nail the regulations so that we avoid unintended implications, like to some extent we might have had with this generation of cars. We didn't call them problems, we called them challenges, but for instance, the porpoising was definitely a bit of a headache, also in real terms for the drivers, not only for the engineers. So happy with the work so far. Good collaboration ongoing. Still some time to come to the first version of the regulations. And also I think some clarification will happen later. So there's still some time, but clearly it's important that we converge soon because the one and a half months can run pretty quickly.
CH: Yeah, I mean, obviously, it's a massive change for 2026. Slightly unprecedented to be changing both chassis and engine at the same time. So, of course, there are unknown factors in that. But there's been a lot of work done by the FIA. They've been collaborating with the teams. We've been quite vocal, even a year or two ago, about some of the issues, which have been listened to and have been taken on board. So there's been solid progress, I would say, that's been made. It's a clean sheet of paper, a completely clean sheet of paper, with all aspects of the formula, so it's going to be fascinating to see how the engineers interpret the various regulations and 2026 could look quite different.
Q: (Henry Clark – Daily Mail) A question for the team bosses. Very limited running so far, only FP1. How close to what you saw out there, how close did it match up to what you were expecting to see, both from your car's performance and also from the track, with so many unknowns about this circuit?
AS: I think the first session confirmed that some of the uncertainties manifested as such, like the grip level. It was certainly not the highest we have experienced. The tyre behaviour as well seems to be interesting for the weekend. We have seen some high degradation. We have seen also a variety of tyre usage by the teams. Some teams have used the Hard, some teams the Medium, some others the Soft. So I think everything we expected in terms of uncertainty is happening. And hopefully this will mean that we have an entertaining event here in China with some actions and some opportunities.
CH: Yeah, I think it's going to be all action. Because as I was walking here it was raining. So there's some weather around as well. The engineers are feverishly working on set-up for qualifying and tomorrow's Sprint race. But unlike previous years, we've got the opportunity to change the car. So I think, as Andrea was saying, you can perhaps focus more on the Sprint element of the weekend at the moment before addressing the Grand Prix element after the Sprint race tomorrow. So it's got the probability of throwing up quite a few variables and perhaps a mixed bag of results here.
Q: (Henry Clark – Daily Mail) We hear from Pirelli that they didn't even know quite what to expect from coming to this circuit. As team bosses, what is that like, coming to a circuit where you really don't know what to expect? You haven't been here for so long. You haven't been here with this generation of cars. Does it feel like you're coming to this circuit almost blindfolded, and it's quite an unusual experience and feeling?
CH: I wouldn't say it's that different, to be honest. It's only four years since we were here, all the corners are the same. The circuits a different colour. But the rest of it… There's a few more buildings around the outside. But most of all, it's just great to be back in China. It's been a long time since we've been here and seeing the amount of fans for, obviously, their home driver as well has had a massive impact. And it's a great track. It’s a track that the drivers enjoy. It is brutal on the front left tyre around here, so whoever can look after that that tyre the most… Who is looking after best by the way? The front left.
MI: You want me to say who is best in controlling?
CH: Yeah.
MI: Because it's you.
CH: Okay! So, yeah, it's a tough challenge. But everybody has simulators, they've all got a lot of historic data from this circuit. So it's not like turning up at a brand new venue and having to learn all over again.
Q: Andrea, anything you can add?
AS: Teams are equipped to go to new venues. So here, we have the benefit of actually having been before, which is useful to some extent, but like I say, nowadays, even from a simulation point of view, you already, like last year, we went to Vegas, which was a very unique layout and somehow we were able to cope with that. So uncertainties but nothing that teams are not equipped to cope with.