Abu Dhabi GP - Friday press conference - Pt.2
11 November 2011
Team representatives: John Booth (Virgin), Ross Brawn (Mercedes), Stefano Domenicali (Ferrari), Saul Ruiz de Marcos (HRT), Frank Williams (Williams) and Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren).
Questions from the floor.
Q: (Heikki Kulta –Turun Sanomat).
Frank, 10 years ago you were interested in getting Kimi (Raikkonen) to your team. Now, 10 years later are you still interested to get him now you can do so?
I knew this would come up. But my view, as you might well expect, goes as follows: a lot of supposition and I cannot make any comment about supposition, sorry to be so unhelpful.
Are you following his rally career?
I am not a rally fan.
Q: (Joe Saward – Grand Prix Special).
Just to follow up on that question. Martin and Stefano, Kimi drove for both of you, what advice would you give to Frank on this subject?
Try and sign him. Kimi, we all know he is quick. I think people underestimate how intelligent he can be. I hope that he is hungry. I am sure he hasn't lost the capability to thrill us in F1 so I think it would be fantastic for F1. I wouldn't ordinarily presume to advise Sir Frank who he should sign but I think it would be exciting if he did.
Of course, I would not give any advice to Frank. He has long experience. A lot longer than me. For sure, I know Kimi very well. He is very talented, very strong, and if he wants to come back he has something that wants to show to everyone about him, about the fact that he was the last driver to win the World Championship with us and he will want to show he is still one of the strongest.
Q: (Joe Saward – Grand Prix Special).
Can I follow up with a question for John and Saul. You are both moving your teams shortly. One is going into motorsport valley and one is going away from it. Who thinks they have got it right?
Both are going south so it is something in common. Valencia is a wonderful town, but we will settle for Banbury.
Can you go into some details as to why you are going to Banbury?
We just feel it is the right thing for us to be under one roof now. We made a pretty bold move, in June I think it was, when we decided to take our destiny into our own hands and I think it is the right thing to move under one roof instead of the three we were in before.
Saul Ruiz de Marcos:
I think the decision is something positive. Normally, because of being one of the slowest cars and also because of that we have to go and look for something a bit different to the rest of the teams. They are in the same area, very similar background. In some time we will see if I was wrong, but I think it is the right strategy to do an approach which is slightly different to what everybody's doing. If I was one of the (inaudible) I wouldn't do it, but I have to try and do something different.
Q: (Simon Cass - Daily Mail).
Stefano, what is more difficult to cope with; the pain of losing the World Championship in the manner that you did here last year or a season where basically you haven't delivered what was expected of you?
Well, I think that with regard to your first question, for sure from the sporting point of view when you come back to a place where you were really fighting for the championship and you have lost it and you have seen in your mind so many times that race that you can remember every little metre it is natural that the first time you come here you think back. But the nature of the sport to not look back, it is look ahead so it is already back and the fact that we didn't deliver really a good season this year is the most relevant point at this stage. All the focus is, as Ross mentioned before is to try to do everything that we can in order to make sure that we do the right move and the right step for the next season. That's why we have anticipated a lot of things that we could have waited, but that's the only target we have so that's the (inaudible word) we are living now.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen).
Two part question for Saul. The first question is about the time-line of moving to Spain. Last year you had a car that was designed and partially built in Italy, finished at the circuit, then it moved to Germany. This year it's the same car, which has been upgraded, also done in Germany. Now you talk about moving to Spain. What sort of time-line are you talking. Part two is why is Thesan in Formula One in the first place? Is it here for the long haul? Are you looking to sell the team? How did you get into it?
Saul Ruiz de Marcos:
With regard the first question I think the difference compared to last year is, I don't want to enter into what happened as we were not here but I think that it was not part of a plan. Things were happening. Here it was a plan and our policy is to be very discreet in the things that we are doing so we are only announcing things that we have already been working on for some time and we reach a point where it is obvious that somebody will notice like we have a headquarters in Valencia so we have to tell. One thing is we are moving the race and test team and most of the back office to be under the same roof to this very nice building that we will have in Valencia. The different thing is that the technical office, we will still keep it in Munich where the car is being designed and developed since the end of August. Also, different to last year we hope not only be at the first race but also the first test with the new car. That's the answer to the first question. Regarding the second one we are financial investors. It is obvious. If you enter into our website you can see. But I think F1 is a totally different business for us as it brings business itself so here we have no urgency at all. The investment is not in one of the funds that have a definite exit so we could be here for ever or sell it. I wouldn't say before three years as we have to do this project. Of if we like it we can keep it forever.
Q: (Manuel Franco - AS).
Saul, will there be a Spanish driver in your team next year, for sure?
Saul Ruiz de Marcos:
I hope so. I don't know yet what we can guarantee. Our rookie test driver for next week is Dani Clos who is a young talented driver, who was second in qualifying for GP2 today. He will probably win GP2 next year so if it's not next year – in the next two seasons – eventually the team will have one Spanish or Latin American driver.
Q: (Kate Walker – Woman Racer)
I am curious about the details of the (F1) Commission meeting last week in Geneva, particularly with regard to the problem with Q3 and extra tyres. Could you tell us what was discussed?
I think firstly, I should qualify something by saying that within F1 we have a variety of different meetings and I think inevitably there is a lot of interest in what happens behind closed doors, a strange amount of interest in my view. I think we have to respect that some of these meetings are and should be private. But I think to try and answer and be helpful to the questioner, there has been a debate, not just in the Formula One Commission but there has been a debate in F1 about whether there should be extra tyres for Q3. And this is based upon – as I think we all know – the fact that some teams have tactically chosen not to run in that session. I think, generally, when that's been discussed, it's been the view of the teams that actually qualifying is quite an interesting format now. Some of us will remember that we went through a stumble of changes for qualifying over a number of years and I think often they weren't thought through and we made it worse. So I think we should exercise quite a lot of caution before we change what is, frankly - certainly for those of us sat on the pit wall – pretty gripping. Even if you think you're a top team, the opportunity to go through Q1, potentially, on the harder, slower tyre makes it quite a tantalising session, whoever you are and I think that's quite a good format, it seems to work quite well and makes it a little bit more interesting. I think that by the time some of the middle teams have got through to Q3 they've typically done more running than maybe some of the faster teams, so on balance, I think the consensus view appears to be that we shouldn't change the format. We don't think there's a fundamental problem that some people choose to run tactically in Q3. So there has been a discussion, as I would summarise it, but if any of my colleagues want to elaborate. I hope that helps.
I think Q3 is very exciting. Quite honestly, when you get into Q3 the fans' focus is primarily on the guys at the front and I think the ability for other teams to take a more tactical approach to try and compensate their performance is an added dimension. As Martin said, we should be careful not to fiddle with it because it's actually quite a good show. I think that last run in Q3 for pole position or whatever it is is a great show. I think the fact that some teams choose not to run in Q3 is not really very significant.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters).
Question for Frank and the three in the back row: you've all got Middle Eastern backers of some sort. With what's going on in the Eurozone at the moment and the risk of Europe falling into pretty serious recession and austerity measures, I was wondering what your take was on the impact on F1 finances and sponsors and whether it's going to force you more and more to look beyond the Eurozone in future?
Working backwards I've no comment to make as I'm not knowledgeable enough about where the money will come from in the long term future. I believe it will still come from Europe because the sport is based in Europe, most people who watch it are from Europe but I think the people behind me and the people who have gone before and come after me, they're very adept at sniffing out the dosh. There will always be money to keep their teams in business. The determination within those teams is immeasurable.
I think the teams will find solutions. As Frank said, they're incredibly resilient. I daren't bring it up but we're working hard on the Resource Restriction; if we need to, that can be tightened even further, if we see that it's justified. So I think the teams are incredibly resilient and we will cut our cloth to suit the climate and that's what will happen.
I think that it is not only a matter of F1 but the world is moving, changing and that F1 as another business company has to – let's say - adapt or try to anticipate the move in order not to be the last to arrive where potentially there is a new market of new potential interest. So in that respect, I think that, as you know we were one of the first companies that had the opportunity to receive investment from this area and now we are looking also in the other parts of the world because we as Ferrari, as you know, we have a business that is not only F1 but above all is a car manufacturer that is selling cars in different markets and this is for sure one of the most important areas at the moment that has a future and it is important to keep the attention of this new world in F1. I think, on that, that F1, generally speaking, has a great potential and has to react in anticipation to all the other sport businesses to make sure that we capitalise the brand that we have at the moment.
Firstly, it is incredibly tough out there for any team to go out there and get the funding to come racing, which we all love to do. I think one thing I would observe though, is that we had a crisis – or the world had a crisis – but F1 had a crisis at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. We had Honda, Toyota, BMW exiting right at a critical moment for the world economy. In some ways, those of us that were involved at that time, I think it brought the best out in F1 because for a while… we react well in a crisis and I think we did react well. Perhaps we are all a little bit too comfortable now - some of the teams - and another bit of a crisis might focus some minds on what we need to do together.
Q: (Stephane Lemeret – La Derniere Heure).
John, what does Jerome d'Ambrosio have to do to stay with you next year?
Well, Jerome has been doing it all season, he's done a fantastic job all year in his rookie season and I'm sure he will continue to do it in the last two races. If he keeps performing like that, he will put himself in the frame for a drive.
Q: (Joris Fioriti – Agence France Presse).
I would like to talk about the RRA; Stefano said a couple of weeks ago that there was a big lack of trust within FOTA and that this question was endangering its very existence. I would like to know what you two think about it, Ross, and anyone else. Is there a solution to this question, to solve it, and when do you think that will be?
Firstly, I think you have to put this in context. The technical regulations, sporting regulations of the sport are well developed, it's a pretty thick tome. I guess it's the nature, the competitive nature, the creative nature, the paranoiac nature of F1 – there will always be questions about whether a car is legal, is the wing too flexible – sorry Stefano – or other parts of it, but that's the nature of our sport and I think occasionally we have some moments of tension and I think that now we've tried to act responsibly and controlled the amount of resource, and inevitably we're going to push and probe and see what we can do. I think the nature of F1 is that we have some very creative people who will try to find the loopholes and that's in the nature of the competition, so whether that's trying to find loopholes in the technical regulations, the sporting regulations, financial restrictions, resource restriction etc. Occasionally people will push that boundary and some tensions will occur. I think we can focus on those tensions, I think we can also focus on a lot of things that have been achieved in the last few years. There is some challenge. At the moment the teams need to want to co-operate for this to work and I think at the moment there are some tensions but I suspect we'll find a way through, we'll find ways in which we can have greater levels of trust, but this is a continuum, this will continue next year, the year after, just as if that's on the regulations, any aspect of this sport. We're all competitive, we want to beat each other, we're going to try and find out if we can maximise our performance within the constraints that are applied.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen).
Frank, you were the first team owner to have Middle Eastern backing back in the late seventies, early eighties. Did you ever imagine that the Middle East would embrace motor sport and F1 in particular to the degree that it has now, two races on a F1 calendar?
(Holding) Races is quite different to being a sponsor of a team but I am surprised that there are presently two taking place. I think they could last a long time, because the people who live in this area want to be a part of the entire world and they certainly are mostly – in the main – wealthy, they like travelling a great deal, they want the best of everything and I just think they always will be wanting to have, as they have here, to try and demonstrate that they can make the best Grand Prix in the world happen and there will be enthusiasm to do that for many years to come.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat).
Frank, what kind of plans do you have for the future of Valtterri Bottas?
Depends how quick he is. I don't know enough about him. He looks very good, he does look very good, but beyond saying that, I don't know him. We have to keep testing him, I guess.
Q: (Gaetan Vigneron – RTBF).
John, to eventually start 2012 with a rookie would mean that once again you would start from zero, so in which way do you see that it could improve the team, knowing that normally stability is a good platform to improve?
First of all, the stability we have in Timo, a guy with massive experience and committed to the team's long term future, so we have stability there already. I know the question you're referring to but as I said before, we'll assess where we are with the drivers after the young driver test and they we will look to make a decision after Brazil.
Q: (Naoise Holohan – Manipe F1 ).
We've got a young driver test coming up next week with some teams treating it as a quick payday and then we have McLaren running a driver who it's difficult to call a young driver as such. Do you think the concept of the young driver test should be revisited?
I think Gary still thinks he's young and as far as I know, all of us still think he's young. I think he's still young enough to be in F1. Incidentally, he's a very talented driver. He's someone who deserved and still does deserve an opportunity in F1 so I think we are very proud to be able to showcase him. He has been driving for Mercedes and McLaren for a number of years. I'm sure if one of the teams below or elsewhere want to sign him, I suspect we would be releasing him.
I think the format for the qualification for a novice driver or a rookie driver works pretty well. I don't see any reason to revisit it.
Q: (Joe Saward – Grand Prix Extra).
Gentlemen, from a business point of view, the fastest way to improve your revenues is to get hold of the revenues of the sport. Can each of you tell us if it's possible that you can get together and buy the commercial rights and divide up the money between you, and borrow the money from a bank, because that's what CVC did, and if not, why not? Martin?
Well, it depends on who you talk to whether F1's for sale or not at the moment. I think anything's possible, but I think making public pronouncements really doesn't generally help create the environment to do the right thing. What we need is co-operation between the teams, the FIA and whoever owns the sport. We can't rule out the teams being equity participants at some stage in the future. I think it would be healthy, I think it would be good but I think we've got to make sure that there are the right economic conditions to provide that.
On my side, you know that we have certain obligations not to speak about sensitive subjects, any kind of declaration we may make can be used and – let me put it this way – manipulated for the wrong reasons, so I would say that I cannot comment on that.
I think that what's involved is a kind of natural order of things, in terms of the teams being focused on their racing, and the commercial rights holder being focused on the races and the promotion of those races, and the governing body being responsible for making sure that the sport is run properly and fairly. Of course, the issue is the division of the income for F1. If we can find a good solution, a compromise in the future for that division, then I think that role and function of the various parties works very well. I think the problem will come if that division isn't fair, then things may change, but fundamentally we're happy with the way things are but like all teams we want to see how we can improve the income for the teams.
I would like to compliment Ross on being extremely perceptive and accurate on what he said. He is absolutely right.
I think the only comment I would make is that it may be worthwhile looking at how other major sports in other countries are run to see if we can learn any lessons from those. It might be interesting to see those results.