Monaco GP - Thursday press conference - Pt.2
23 May 2013
Team representatives: Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing), Paul Hembery (Pirelli), Gerard Lopez (Lotus), Robert Fearnley (Force India), Franz Tost (Toro Rosso), Alain Prost (Renault Sport).
Questions from the floor
Q: (Kate Walker - GP Week).
Question for everyone except Monsieur Prost. Going on the subject of the tyres, one of the things, one of the theories that we've had in the press room is that the part of the difficulty has been the lack of a more modern test car. You know we haven't got the DRS, the KERS, the… everything's a bit different. Have the teams considered investing in a Dallara machine - or similar - that Pirelli might be able to use that you can all agree on? Then that way no one team would have an advantage. Christian?
I guess the fundamental thing is we can never agree. Everybody agreed for Lotus to do the testing when they weren't so competitive. Now they're competitive and probably there's a few teams that aren't so happy that they're not doing the testing. So, it's a difficult one. It's a difficult one for Pirelli, it's a difficult one for the teams but at the end of the day we don't need to make it too complicated. I think the way things are at the moment is too complicated for the fans. It's too difficult to follow races where you've got four stops, going on. It's hard enough when you're in the race. I think we need to just wind that back a little bit and more than anything make sure we eliminate any safety issues.
Q: (Kate Walker - GP Week).
That isn't really what I asked. I was wondering what sort of things you guys as a group could do going forward to try and make sure the focus of the… wasn't necessary criticisms of the tyres but how you could actually improve them as a group so that everybody was happy with what they were running on?
Well, I don't think you're ever going to get everybody happy. You know, that's the fundamental issue and unless you open testing up again, where everybody tests, it's probably very difficult because people's cars behave in different ways. So I can't see a situation where the teams will say 'yes, we'll jointly fund and run a car for a tyre supplier.' I'd be surprised.
No, we should use Friday morning, the first session or the first half-hour for testing new tyres - not sitting around like today, doing nothing. People in the grandstands, no cars out there. We just could use this - it was half an hour or 35 minutes as usually - to test new tyres. This is what I suggest since two years.
Gerard, your thoughts?
My thoughts are… I would agree with Christian on the fact that it's really difficult to get everybody to agree on anything in F1 - be it tyres or be it anything else. And I think it's going to stay that way just because it's competitive both on and off the track and so on. I remember when, indeed, when we were asked to propose a car - and by the way, that car has nothing in common with what we're running now - everybody agreed and now suddenly everybody thinks that's the mystery to knowing how to use those tyres. And as I said, both cars are completely unrelated. So it's very difficult to get anything done that everybody accepts. Maybe a solution like running Friday tests, I don't know - but even that requires everybody to agree and some will and some won't. And so I think that's always going to be part of F1: The fact that this is agreement and disagreement and that's the way forward I guess.
I think Franz's idea's got a certain amount of merit. I'd love to endorse that with the element of having young drivers in there as well, just so that it ticks two boxes. But I think that Pirelli have a great deal of resource, as we all do outside of actually track testing. And for instance, even with the incidents that we've had with the delamination, a lot of it can be done on rigs and everything else - and I think that's where most of it will be done in the long term.
So Paul, how difficult is the job that Pirelli have without the facilities to test in the way that was traditional in Formula One?
Well, it's one of those cases where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. You're clearly not going to get everyone to agree, and with a tyre, certainly if you design it around a certain application you can make a certain vehicle go quicker - and that's clearly why we're wanting to make changes now. Some people want more changes, some people don't want any changes for example. The Friday is useful where you're coming to a point of wanting to actually introduce a change - but you can't go testing with 11 teams on a Friday with various specifications because it simply doesn't work that way. I think a good step forward would be winter testing actually in hot conditions. You know, if we were able to get to Abu Dhabi or Bahrain before we get to Australia, at least you'd have an advanced indication. You've also got to remember, if we do find surprises, and I'm quite sure next season there could be - assuming we have a contract which we don't have at the moment - but assuming we're going forward, you could get to a situation with the new powertrain, which from the indications of the teams will have a lot of torque, and will increase wheelspin, tyre wear, overheating, you could end up in a situation with a surprise again. So there needs to be a balance. Teams have clearly got restrictions on resources. The test teams were got rid of for good reasons from their point of view - but some sort of mid-range solution would be useful to us, even if it means staying on after a few events during the season, then that would be extremely valuable from our point of view.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen).
Alain, as Renault Sport brand ambassador, how do you feel about the fact that the public perception is that in fact Infiniti won the championship last year as the engine supplier because if one looks at the team principal's shirt, there are five Infiniti badges and two Renault badges, yet Renault seems to be paying it all. How do you feel about that?
I know it's very difficult... it's always difficult to answer this kind of question for me. The perception you can have here is obviously the right one, could be the right one. The involvement of Renault in Formula One, is very clear over the last few years. As you can see, the market in Europe is not very good and they're already aiming for having a new image, new visibility in new markets: Russia, Brazil, India and a little bit less in China, those are the big markets for Renault. Obviously everybody would like to maybe have a different situation for Renault inside F1, for example, again, a new team, a Renault team, but the strategy of the president and of Renault is very clear. They want to stay the way they are at the moment and I must say that in this country they were talking about how it's working very well and they're increasing the image of the brand and they're selling more and more cars and they want to continue like this. As I said, the perception you can have here maybe is a bit different to what they achieve instead of having a proper team, more aggravation. Again, talking about strategy, if you see what Renault has done in the last 37 years, they went from the French national team to being a partner with Williams and Benetton and then another team and then now they are supporting a team with whom we have won the World Champion for the last three years. So they could change, they could maybe change in the future, but at the moment we need to keep to this strategy decided by the president.
Q: (Dan Knutson - Auto Action/National Speedsport News).
A question for Alain: there's a lot of talk these days that the drivers cannot drive 100 percent flat out for the whole race Let's take a year when you had a good car, say 1985. How much of the race could you drive 100 percent flat out? When you weren't driving 100 percent, what percent were you at and what parts of the car did you have to conserve, to make sure they lasted the race?
I think it's difficult to compare, obviously, because today the cars are so advanced; normally the driver can push 100 percent in normal conditions. The tyres this year are very soft which makes it a little bit different. In our time, if you want to compare, we had to take care of the brakes and gearbox and fuel consumption and obviously also tyres because sometimes we had to be careful of the tyres, but the regulations were also very different and at one stage we had three types of rubber and we could make changes and I very often ran hard tyres on the left and soft tyres on the front. I even raced in Las Vegas in '81 with qualifying tyres on the front, but that means we cannot compare, but that also proves that you need to adapt yourself, as a driver, as an engineer, to the regulations and obviously we're experiencing complaints this year... in fact it's not that different compared to last year, except that you maybe don't want to see some rubber on the track and having accidents. But apart from that, you just have to adapt to the situation, drivers or engineers. It's typically F1.
Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters).
Christian, I may have misconstrued your comment earlier but do you seriously believe that Lotus have somehow benefitted from the fact that Pirelli are using a 2010 Renault for testing, and maybe Paul could answer whether privileged information has somehow been given to one team?
No, I don't think privileged information or anything in any way has been done underhand. At the end of the day, Pirelli needed a car to test, they originally came to Red Bull. At that time, it was almost unanimously agreed that Red Bull shouldn't provide a car and then it was a matter of finding who could provide a car. Lotus was an obvious choice. Running had to be done by Pirelli with drivers that weren't current race drivers. You can understand that that work has had to be done. I wasn't trying to point out that there was any specific advantage from that, I was trying to point out that you're always going to struggle to achieve compromise and agreement.
Given the changes between 2010 and now, Paul, how different is your test car to what we would see on the track?
They're probably, in terms of performance, closer to the 2011 cars with the blown diffusers. They're going, certainly, a little bit harder than we anticipated this season. We're probably lapping our 2010 car three to four seconds slower, for example. That gives you an indication that we're not stressing the tyres during our testing as much as the cars are today. But there's not a perfect solution to that. We're not going to get unanimous agreement from everybody. Next year, the cars are so different that there's really nothing available today, even including today's cars, that would allow us to simulate the effect of the new powertrain. I think if we just take a sensible approach, in terms as I've already mentioned, of the winter testing and the potential to make adjustments during the season, but bear in mind you need agreement, you need eleven teams to agree to adjustments so if we've something that's affecting eleven teams, then that's really often easy to do. If you're making something that might affect some teams and not all teams or perceived benefit to others then you can imagine that's difficult. So that's a very strange balancing act that we're trying to do. We agree, we set out this year for two to three pit stops over the season, we probably will average that still, we will get some races like Barcelona which was won this time with four stops. It was won two years ago by Red Bull with four stops so it's not exceptional but I guess as commentators it's harder to follow, it keeps you awake, you don't have your afternoon snooze any more, and that's one of the difficulties. It will be easier here for you.
Q: (Jerome Pugmire - Associated Press).
Alain Prost, it's not been since Olivier Panis in 1996 for a French driver. What advice would you give Romain Grosjean, for example or the other French drivers... the frustration about that long spell, what advice would you give to them?
I don't think you can give advice to the drivers to be honest. They know what they do, I'm out of F1 as a driver for the last 20 years exactly and why should I give advice to... we all see what is happening, we see that Romain, for example, has a very good car, he should be able to win a race very soon as I said. But no advice from myself. If they want to have advice they can ask a question and I'm happy to answer but not giving advice like this, no. Mental is a very strong thing for sure, but also we give them a lot of pressure very often, but this is a cycle. As soon as one is going to be winning, it could snowball and I hope it works like this.
Q: (Bob McKenzie - Daily Express).
Alain, every year someone says that Monaco is too dangerous. This week's hero was Ralf Schumacher. I wonder, it hasn't really changed much since your day. Do you think it is too dangerous? Do you think it's still a relevant place for a F1 to be held?
I wouldn't say that. It's as dangerous as another race track can be dangerous. It's different, for sure. You have to be a little bit careful, especially in the traffic with all the cars. Being alone is not being more dangerous than with another car. I must also say that the passive safety, what they do with the marshals and all the work they have done in the last thirty/forty years, is exceptional and yeah, there are some conditions... when it's wet in some places where it could be a bit tough but it's such a fantastic race for everybody, especially for the drivers obviously. That is part of the tradition and you should accept it, even if it was a little bit dangerous, obviously. You should accept that.
On the pit wall, is that a bit of a worry when you send the cars out?
I think that Monaco represents the ultimate of the man and machine around a very difficult circuit and if I was a driver, I would relish the thought of it and I'm sure most drivers do. From a team point of view, it's wonderful to see the cars on the limit so close to the barriers. It's what we should be doing.
Yeah, Romain came close to the barriers too. On another race track we would have gotten away with it, just overbraked and instead of trying to go straight on, decided he could take the corner and just took off a little bit of the left front of the car. I think the drivers love it. It's a different track, they love it for the atmosphere, they love it for the excitement. If you talk to the drivers it's quite an amazing experience. I've driven it myself actually, it's quite an amazing experience if you get really close. I remember one of Robert's laps, he probably thought it was one of the best laps he ever did and it was here in Monaco, so I think drivers love it.
Q: (Rodrigo Franca - VIP Magazine).
Speaking of 2014, what do you think about the improvement of the F1 show and also, what is the biggest challenge for the teams and Pirelli for the new regulations of the V6?
First of all, the new regulation is a big challenge from the technical side, because it's a new engine, new air system, the complete car will be new and then it's a challenge also from the financial side because everything is much more expensive. Whether the show will be improved or not I can't say yet because it depends how good the different engine manufacturers work. If there's one of them finding a special solution then we will not have such interesting races as we have now because these cars will be in front. If they are all nearly equal as is the case in the current races then I'm sure we will also have very interesting races in the future. Nevertheless, this is a new regulation and we have to get the best out of it.
Challenge for Pirelli?
A contract? A contract is probably the first one. If you follow the regulations, on the first of September we're meant to define the specification for next year but as yet we don't really have a full picture of what the cars are going to be like, so you can imagine there's a certain element of shooting in the dark. Having said that, it's a probably a year where we will probably step back, be cautious. There's going to be enough going on for the teams next year as you just heard from Franz, all those changes. So I think it's a year where we'll be stepping back: zero degradation, no pit stops and they can do all the talking.
It's difficult to say. It's a massive change, probably the biggest change F1's seen for probably the last 25 years, I would have thought. It's hellishly expensive, especially with trying to develop a car this year and design and produce a car for next year with the changes that have been introduced, the timing of which probably isn't ideal for some of the teams further down the grid. It's a big regulation change. I think you'll probably see significant differences between the teams early on but that will then converge and engineers will undoubtedly be very creative with the solutions that they come up with. It's going to represent a different challenge, a different type of racing as fuel economy will suddenly become a premium point. We're yet to see what affect that will have on the racing. At the moment, we've very much got an open mind.
I would agree, the timing is... I don't know if it's well chosen. It's certainly odd. We can understand the engine manufacturers who are trying to have a product that is closer to what people are buying out on the streets. At the same time, there comes a point where F1 was doing really well in terms of excitement, in terms of cars being matched, in terms of races being open, so let's hope that it doesn't reshuffle the cards in a way that is... unexpected would be good but unexpected with huge gaps would be really bad. I don't think any of us can really say today what the effect is going to be, so that's it, a little bit of an unknown for everybody.
Yeah, I think that we won't be having discussions about tyres next year, it will be a completely different programme.
Q: (Ian Parkes - Press Association).
Paul, you've talked about changing or tweaking the tyres from a safety perspective yet when we discussed the matter in Barcelona, you said that there had been no more failures this year than in previous seasons, so are you genuinely changing the tyres for safety aspects or are external pressures being brought to bear from other more powerful teams?
No, I think the team pressure is something that is really in the media rather than a reality. I think that if you're a tyre maker and the mode of failure this year is more dramatic because the tyres aren't deflating they're actually cutting into what we have now is a high tensile steel belt, that creates an opening that overheats and then creates what you've seen with the delamination. That's something that's not very good from a tyre maker's point of view and we wish to get rid of so we need to do it for good reason. I think every team would agree with that. So you've got to try and do it, though, with a minimum amount of change because there's a number of teams that have taken an approach this year that's different. They decided early on what the challenges of the tyres would be this year and quite rightly they're saying okay, change but don't make it so dramatic, so that's the situation we're in and we're closer to finalising the changes for Canada and that should be the end of it.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen).
Alain, when we spoke a year ago here you said that what ultimately pushed your team, Prost Grand Prix, out of business was the engine costs. We've heard quite a few people here talk about engine costs next year. Renault, in particular has come out and said that their price will be between 20 and 25 million which is a 250 percent increase over the current price. What do you say to that? Is there a chance, do you think that teams could go out of business because of engine prices next year?
It is a problem, it's first of all part of negotiation and the price you've said is much higher than it is in reality, but again, I'm not the one negotiating. Your reference with my team is obviously a good reference. I was paying 28 million dollars for the Ferrari engine in the first year and I was supposed to give 32 million the year after. I had to pay this money but I had to give a guarantee and pay almost cash before. That was in September, October or November, I don't know. Why I say that because it's always a way of trying to get the best for the general interest and we will see what is going to happen in negotiation but also you need to know that the budget of Renault Sport F1 is 150 million euros per year, and you can imagine... if you just make a very quick calculation about the price you can imagine divided by four teams, for example, and you will realise that Renault is paying a big contribution.