Abu Dhabi GP – Friday press conference – Pt.2
30 October 2009
Team principals: Bob Bell (Renault F1), Mario Theissen (BMW-Sauber), Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing) and Ross Brawn (Brawn GP)
Questions from the floor:
(Ian Parkes – The Press Association) Ross, just on that. You mentioned in a radio interview on Sunday that you were 99 per cent certain that Jenson would re-sign for the team. Jenson remarked yesterday that he would not want to put any kind of percentage on it. What makes you so certain that you will actually re-sign him at the end of the day?
I see the way Jenson works with the team and I see the way we work with him. I think we have given him the equipment this year to show what he can do and he knows our plans for the future. We have got another little matter that we have got to sort out, but I am sure we will find a resolution to that, so that's why I am reasonably confident. Of course I want to keep Jenson in the team, so we are working hard to find the solution to keep Jenson in the team. He has done a fantastic job this year and I think he will be even stronger in the future with this championship behind him.
(Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Mario Theissen answered this question in a press conference earlier this weekend, so can I ask the other three gentlemen to give a brief assessment of the direction you would like to see Formula One take now that Jean Todt is the president of the FIA?
I think that one of the things that Formula One needs desperately is good strong leadership and direction. I'm not necessarily suggesting that we didn't see that in the previous regime – we did, but perhaps it wasn't always in the direction that we agreed with, but I think the thing we would want most from Jean is clear direction, positive dialogue with the teams, to ensure the direction that we take is in the best interests of the whole of Formula One and is sensibly balanced to meet the needs of the teams that are supported by manufacturers, the manufacturers' requirements, all the stakeholders, the public, the sponsors, the circuits. There's a lot of diverse requirements in Formula One and I think the FIA has a role to play in showing strong leadership that marshals all of those needs and does its utmost to ensure that they are all satisfied and I hope that's what he brings to it and I have to hope that he will. His governance of Ferrari was obviously exceptional and if he can apply the same to Formula One in general then I think we will be in reasonably good shape for the future.
I think I agree with Bob to be honest. I think that the really reassuring fact is that Jean has sat here, he's had the problems that we face in running a team, so he can relate to the issues that we face in Formula One as he can in World Rally, as he can in sports cars, so his experience of motor sport is quite unique, he's proved to be a phenomenal manager and achieve great success in his competitive career. He now steps into a different role and one where he's responsible for fair play, for stability within the rules, for reducing costs, for improving safety and I think he's a great candidate. I think there's a real opportunity for the Formula One teams to work closely with Jean and his team, whomever he appoints to really focus on those aspects. Hopefully we can see a renewed close collaboration between the teams and the FIA.
I think he's an incredibly worthy successor to Max (Mosley) in that role. As Christian just mentioned, he's experienced our sport and other sports at all levels. He was a navigator and won the World Championship as a rally navigator, ran a World Championship-winning rally team, ran a World Championship-winning Formula One team. There are very few people with that experience. Jean's very good at bringing people together and finding solutions to difficult problems and finding solutions when there are a lot of different interests involved. He steered the ship of Ferrari over 12 or 13 years, I think, and particularly through the early periods it was very difficult and he managed it extremely well. He's got a great ability to manage situations, and he particularly likes working in a team environment. He's very strong at bringing out the qualities of people in a team environment and I know that he's building a very good team around him at the FIA, so I look forward to the future with a great deal of optimism. A huge amount has been achieved over the last period: safety in Formula One is at a very high level, lots of things in Formula One are great and I think Jean will take that forward.
(Walter Koster – Saarbrücker Zeitung) Quite another question and therefore it's an unusual one: Mr Theissen, a short test of your memory after ten years in Formula One. Do you remember your colleagues the first time that you were sitting on such a podium as here and do know your first answer to the mediator's question?
No idea. Have you ever heard of the Alzheimer disease? But I'm sure the mediator knows… (He doesn't).
(Joris Fioriti – AFP) Question to Bob Bell: we heard that Heikki Kovalainen or Timo Glock could join Renault next year, or perhaps another driver. So could you tell us more about this? And the second question which links to it is what would that mean then for the French driver Romain Grosjean who comes from its ranks? Would it mean that Renault can't keep a guy who comes from its own programme after six or seven races?
It is a fact that there are quite a few drivers on the market at the minute, and I think, to do justice to the team, we have to look at all of the options, which is what we're doing. We're in the process of evaluating all of the drivers that are available and we will make a decision on which driver we attempt to reach agreement with as rapidly as we can. It's important for the team to do that and we're not ruling out any possibilities. Romain still remains a possibility but, as I say, in fairness to ensuring that we deliver the best driver line-up to the team, we need to look at all the possible options. If Romain does drop out of the equation, yes, it will be sad to lose him from the Renault programme and obviously he's French, so that carries some consequences for the team but ultimately, and I think Renault fully support us in this, we need to put the best drivers in the car that we can afford for next year and if that's Romain, fine, if it isn't, if it's someone else, then so be it but our objective next year is to have the strongest line-up.
(Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Question for Christian: have you, in your mind, already decided your engine for next year?
We've had, as I said earlier, tremendous support from Renault. We have a great working relationship. It hasn't just been this year, it's been for the last three years and we're reaching a critical path now where we're going to have to make a commitment, taking everything into account. We believe we have all the facts in front of us now and we will be looking to make a decision pretty much imminently – immediately following this race, I think.
(Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Ross, have you met Luca di Montezemolo here as the new World Champion?
No, we've spoken on the phone. He's been very gracious in his congratulations to me. We've had a quiet word on the phone but no, he very kindly spoke to me and sent a note both before and after the race, and then we spoke a few days ago.
(Ian Parkes – The Press Association) Christian, you joked at the start about Silverstone, but that track now appears to be the only option for a British Grand Prix next year, bearing in mind that Donington has fallen by the wayside, given its financial difficulties. Bernie said this week that Formula One does not need a British Grand Prix but I'm sure yourself and Ross and Bob as team principals of British-based teams would disagree with him.
Absolutely. You also have to consider the difference in resources available to the different circuits. This circuit has a nation behind it; Silverstone is effectively a private entity. I think Silverstone and the British Grand Prix is a very important and significant part of the calendar. It's a historic race, it's been there since the start of the World Championship, it's a great circuit, the drivers love it, it's a local Grand Prix to probably more than fifty percent of the teams and I really sincerely hope that now that the Donington bit appears to have stumbled, that a solution can be found between Silverstone and FOM, and I'm sure that every effort is being made to achieve that. We would certainly see Silverstone as a great loss from the calendar should it not be there in 2010.
We saw what was a fantastic event Silverstone was this year, the huge support it had. I think it was Damon Hill who made the point, which I completely concur with, that Formula One is what it is because of the balance of races it has, the history it has, the heritage it has. And the reason that Formula One as a championship and as a series is so attractive to countries like Abu Dhabi and the new races we're going to is because of that heritage and that history, and if we destroy that, then perhaps we don't remain as attractive for countries in the future. So we've got to get a balance between keeping the history and heritage of Formula One and the new opportunities we have at fantastic circuits like this, so I think it would be a tragedy if we lost Silverstone and I hope Bernie can find a solution with Silverstone to keep the race there. The Donington episode has been an unfortunate distraction but let's hope that he can find a solution for the BRDC to run the race at Silverstone in the future.
I totally agree with Ross that I think one of the great strengths of Formula One is its diversity and it would be very, very wrong to threaten that with an all new era and so that's important and equally, as Christian said, it is the home Grand Prix for probably the majority of people who work in Formula One. And I know how important that is to the ordinary members of staff in the factories that turn out the pieces for Formula One and provide the entertainment, and I think it would be a great shame for all of those people and their families if they weren't able to enjoy it locally. So I'm a great supporter of it, the team is a great supporter of it, and it would be a great shame if it was lost.
(Amina Bentoutah – Al Dhafrah Magazine) What do you have as a project in the future concerning Formula One here in UAE, because we heard that they built a school for learning how to drive this kind of racing cars here in UAE on Yas Island, so will you send your drivers for six months or so next year?
I must apologise, I'm not aware of driver training. What is very interesting is the technology side. There is a lot of interest from a number of countries to set up technology bases and I understand Williams have set one up in Qatar and we're very interested in that sort of opportunity to share the technology and get benefits from both sides to train people. I'm very keen on the strength of Formula One as a medium for training engineers and developing technology, so I think there are great opportunities in those areas. I'm not so sure about the driving side. I'm not so aware of that, but certainly on the technology side, there's huge interest in that side.
The main thing is that you've got world-class facilities, not just here in Abu Dhabi but in Bahrain, there's a fantastic circuit just up the road in Dubai. Motor sport in the region is obviously taking off, and that's not just the circuits, that's the infrastructure behind it and I think karting infrastructures have been put in place and out of that will come drivers, will come technicians and any incentive to help youngsters to enter the world of motor sport we would fully support, and I think it's only a matter of time before that happens.
We have established Formula BMW in Asia/Pacific some years ago, including a racing centre for driver education in Bahrain. Initially it's been quite difficult because there was no racing infrastructure. Young talents in Europe usually go karting for four, five or even more years before jumping into a formula car. This is different or has been different here but meanwhile the series has come along quite strongly and so we will continue next year.
We're not involved in any specific driver training facilities here or elsewhere but I certainly feel that Formula One can benefit and it can benefit the countries that it visits by a technological relationship. For example, we have some partnerships with academic institutions around the world where there are circuits, and I think that's great for the local community, great for Formula One. It goes on quietly in the background, but it's part of the business that we do and it's important.
(Joris Fioriti – AFP) Back again to Mr Bell: same topic, pretty much. Apart from the fact that he's young and quite inexperienced, how would you grade Romain Grosjean's performance this year so far? Apart from the fact that he's young and inexperienced…
Well, one of those points is fairly key and that is the inexperience. It is genuinely a fact that it is extremely difficult for a young driver now to enter Formula One mid-season with no real testing experience behind him. If he's fortunate enough to be introduced to the team before the season starts and can get through a winter testing programme then that's one thing to be dropped (into the team) in mid-season as Romain was. It's very hard for any of them and so that's a problem that Formula One has put upon itself, quite rightly so. The reduction in testing was done for good reason, I'm not being critical of it but it does make it difficult for drivers, so he's had an uphill struggle. He's done a sound job in dealing with that. He has two problems that he has to confront. Firstly, his team-mate is a double World Champion and that's a hard metric to judge yourself against as a young driver. And we haven't given him a particularly good car and that is equally hard for a young driver to come in. So it hasn't been an easy birth for him in Formula One but that doesn't deny that he's got a lot of talent and I'm very sure that in the future we will see that talent exploited.