Team principals: Ron Dennis (McLaren-Mercedes), Nick Fry (Honda), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber) and Jean Todt (Ferrari).

Questions from the floor.

Q: (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Special).
Is it fair to say that with testing restrictions the team with most cars has an advantage and that a top team therefore needs a customer team running the same cars?

Mario Theissen:
I would say that with the current situation with one tyre manufacturer we are fine with what we do in terms of testing. If there is a further cut of testing mileage, it could happen. It would happen...

Jean Todt:
Definitely, if you have eight cars, which are the same specification, it will help. Not so much for the chassis or for the aero, because very often, well, you take Barcelona, we do four days testing in Barcelona, then we arrive in Barcelona and we change all the set up of the car. And we start again on Saturday, we change again all the set up of the cars. So it depends on the temperature and many other components. Considering we are going to reliability components, like engine, gearbox and all that, if you are able to do testing on more cars it will allow you to test them better, things like engine, gearbox, electronics and definitely it will be an advantage.

Ron Dennis:
It is a question of what cars people want to buy. If you want to buy competitive cars, then competitive cars are from competitive teams and a competitive team will seek any advantage that will come from it. But one team thing that is apparent is that it is not so easy to raise the sponsorship for a second team and that in itself might be a dissuader. People, sponsors, prefer to have cars that are from a manufacturer, even if they are a little slower, they want their team. It will be interesting to see over the next few years what level of take-up there is and whether these teams can be financed even though the budgets fall between 30 and 40 per cent of the principal team which obviously makes the challenge of finding the money less, but still it is very difficult.

Nick Fry:
Although, as Mario said, within the constraints of the current rules there is a reasonable amount of testing available to us and notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the work is done on rigs or in simulated conditions, at the end of the day having a greater number of products on the track doing that last residual validation test has to be an advantage. I think it would be something that would be an advantage for the teams with more cars running.

Q: (Sal Zanca - Associated Press).
Question to Ron and Jean: the future of Formula One is also night-time racing. Ron, what is your view on it and did Bernie or the FIA consult you beforehand? And Jean, do you think there is anything from Le Mans you could carry over for night-time racing?

RD:
The analysis that the teams put into their own process of what the future should hold was very supportive of having the flexibility to change race start times. The economic model sees us seek the biggest television audience, and if that can be achieved through varying start times, then I think all the teams are very supportive of it. To go the next step, have a start time which is at night with a lit circuit, is, I think, imaginative and as a team we support it, providing, obviously, there's the right level of competence put to the process and that the danger to the drivers is not enhanced beyond where it is at the moment. I think it would be good if we could start with one race and get the comfort zone a little bigger, but as a team, we are supportive of it.

JT:
As long as it does correspond to some of the parameters, as I was talking before, we don't have any problem with that. Considering the synergy that is possible between the Le Mans racing and Formula One racing, I see a big difference. At Le Mans, you have lights on the cars and in Formula One, you would have lights on the circuit, so I don't think it's something that can be comparable.

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News).
Question for all of you: could you comment on Lewis Hamilton in his first four races; what do you think of him?

JT:
If I speak with some sense of humour, I see him as having a good school last year! Ron is enjoying that, which is part of the truth. He had a very good season last year, and he's a very skilled, talented driver. I must say he has been fortunate enough to drive one of the best cars. We know that in racing you need to have the car, you need to have the team and you need to have the drivers. If you miss one of those components it cannot work. He has a good car, he has a good team and he's a great driver, so I would say that I'm not really surprised but I'm full of respect for this young guy and I simply hope that Formula One won't damage him too quickly.

RD:
First of all, whatever it is, it is because of his own efforts, his own commitment, his own sacrifices. Obviously I've known him for a long time and like to feel that I've contributed to where he's arrived at, family being a very crucial factor in the development of him as a Grand Prix driver. We have the enviable task of managing his performance in the sense of in the car, out of the car and of course, the phenomenal media attention. We are very aware of the frustrations that the media has because we try desperately to have a position which is supportive of their objectives but not to the detriment of keeping Lewis focused on getting the best results out of the car. I would say that there are a few things that are negative. I'm amused at how some magazines have tried to position the team as having conflict in it. There is absolutely nothing further from the truth, and if you can see the body language, how they compete playing video games, all of these things, you would realise that yes, they are competitive and they want to win, but not to the detriment of the relationship that they have with each other, or the relationship within the team. The other thing which I find - let's say - slightly annoying is that there seems to be a rash of so-called experts, some people who have never really run a competitive Grand Prix team, who suddenly profess to be so knowledgeable about what is and isn't right for Lewis, what is and isn't his character strengths and his weaknesses. I think they should just be quiet, concentrate on their own business, which I'm sure would be better for them. I don't want to be too aggressive to those people but they know who they are. They're failures in many of the things they've done and this is a success story and their opinions are obviously sought by those members of the media that suffer or struggle with our own position, but my job, as team principal, is to be supportive of the drivers and try and moderate what is a high demand from the media, and we're doing our best, but we will never do anything to the detriment of the principal objective which is to try and win races and put Lewis in the best possible position, and Fernando, to do that.

NF:
I think expectations of Lewis at the beginning of the year were high and I believe he's exceeded those expectations. He's done an outstanding job and from the minimal contact that I've had with him, seems to be a really nice guy to go with it, so I hope he continues to be successful. I'm sure he will be and I just say well done.

MT:
Quite simple: very talented, very focused and certainly the best prepared driver who has come into Formula One since I've been around.

Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times).
Just to follow-up to Ron: can you just talk us through Lewis's incident at Ste Devote this afternoon?

RD:
He lost some time this morning because a bearing in the starter motor failed and there was a part of that bearing that was blocking the hole in the back of the gearbox. To put in an undamaged start motor, we had to take the floor of the car off to get to that. That sort of put him in a situation where he had not tried the option tyre this morning, stayed all the time on prime tyres in the early part of the session. I think that in the back of his mind, having two sets of options to try, I think he just got a little bit enthusiastic, entered the corner a little bit quicker on his first lap on that tyre and had a bit of a moment. This is a mistake that all drivers make at all standards. This isn't anything I will ever give any criticism to. I would rather it would be in a practice session where he's finding the limits of the car than in qualifying where he takes a penalty on the grid or hampers his race. Finding the limit at this circuit is a bit challenging for any driver. I would rather not have a bent racing car but I think, in the circumstances, we're pretty comfortable with his contribution to this year's season. He's got a few brownie points still in hand.

Q: (Ian Parkes - The Press Association).
Ron, bearing in mind what we've seen of Lewis this season and all the expectations that you've mentioned, are you glad that this is a mistake he's now finally got out of the way? And then a question to Jean, you mentioned that you hope Formula One doesn't damage Lewis too soon. Could you just expand on that a little as to what you mean by that?

JT:
Formula One is among the sports that attracts a lot of media. If you want to stay at the highest level for a long time, whatever your position, I think you have to remain with your feet on the ground, focused on the important things rather than consider things which are not important but which could just distract you.

RD:
This wasn't some sort of stone around his neck, that he was waiting to lose. It's immaterial, it's not his first mistake, he made one in testing and at the end of the day, this is completely normal. Competitive drivers who are pushing hard, finding the limits, they are going to make mistakes. It's not the first and it's not going to be the last. Obviously, you don't like to see racing cars bent but I think it's a small problem when taking into consideration all the benefits that having him and Fernando in the team give us.

Q: (Bob McKenzie - The Daily Express).
As you touched on it Ron, and we're discussing the incident - access to Lewis. I've just tried to talk to Lewis as he walked down the paddock, as you do with drivers from all teams, walk and talk, and he wasn't allowed to do it...

RD:
No, that's not true. There's no question that Lewis has any... Lewis has no instructions from the team. His behaviour is his choice. He does not turn round to you, I'm sure, and say 'I am not permitted to talk to you.' He...

Q: (Bob McKenzie - The Daily Express).
Two McLaren men with him, I'm sorry, said you have to... you cannot do this.

RD:
Whatever surrounds Lewis is by Lewis's choice and fully supported by myself and we are trying desperately to manage the media. I fully appreciate, fully appreciate the level of interest there is in Lewis in England and how disproportionate it is to the rest of the world, but the reality is that we are inundated, inundated beyond... you just can't believe the various organisations that are looking for exclusivity, etc. etc. We're not against the media and we are not trying to protect him from the media. We're trying to give him every opportunity to concentrate on his job. We have always tried to be co-operative to the media and we will continue to do it, but he's got his way, and he's got his style. He's phenomenally mature and sensible about everything and how his approach is and we are supportive of his desire to concentrate and to focus. Don't see this as some heavy-handed McLaren decision. It's just not. It is what he wants and it's the same with Fernando. They're not any different. They want desperately to try and maintain some degree of privacy in their private lives. I won't bother you or bore you with how much effort has gone into both Fernando and Lewis to interfere and dig into their private lives and they are trying to be professional racing drivers. And I fully appreciate that part of being a professional racing driver is dealing with the media and maybe we should be criticised but we are doing our best, but not to the detriment of him trying to win races, or Fernando trying to win races.

Q: (Bob McKenzie - The Daily Express).
Yeah, but I'm just talking about the walk and talk stuff.

RD:
I understand, but honestly he's not... It's very simple, this particular walking fellow is still kicking himself. Mentally he's kicking himself. He made his first mistake. He doesn't particular feel comfortable about sharing that moment with you guys. That's just his desire, and I'm supportive of it. He wants to get his calm, think it through, and be as co-operative as possible to the media.

Q: (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Special).
We were talking earlier on about the spectacle of Formula One, and the need to improve that. To what extent do you think the spectacle needs improving or the TV coverage needs improving, because some people think the spectacle is good enough if we can portray it properly? That's for all of you.

NF:
I think the spectacle, especially at a circuit like this, is fantastic so I'm not sure that is a particular issue. I think the future regulations may help the overtaking which we all aspire to. I think the media coverage could always be improved and when I look at the coverage of other sports, including some other motor sports, Moto GP, some of the American motor sports, I would say that on average it seems to be of a higher standard, but I'm talking from a very limited base of just the countries where I watch Formula One. There may be others that cover it to a greater extent, but I think we should work on that. I think the viewer, to properly understand the complexity of Formula One, could do with more information, and some of that maybe should come from the teams, in terms of what actually is happening behind the scenes. And although I do accept the points that Ron's making with 'we have a job to do and it's difficult to satisfy everyone's requirements,' I think access is part of that and people, fans are not prepared to sit on the outside and just look at certain selective things that we allow them to. They really want to be part of the experience and I think it's our duty to try and provide that. And, again, going back to some comments that were made earlier, I think that it's not just car manufacturers, it's all the investors in Formula One will remain in Formula One if the value equation is a good one, and the value equation has to have the technology part of it for technology companies like ourselves. But it's also got to have an entertainment side to it too to attract the fans and it all becomes a vicious circle. So I do think we've got to work hard on both.
MT: Well, I cannot comment on TV coverage too much because all I see are the screens at the track but as far as I understand, compared to other sports events, coverage is already quite strong worldwide, especially, and that makes up a big part of the strength of Formula One. To improve the show at the track, I think we can do a lot, but it's about the races themselves. It's about access for spectators... spectators are a bit isolated from the guys who really run the show and do the job. We can get better on that. I think those are the main issues.

JT:
Each Grand Prix is different. It gives a lot of fascination. One of the reasons there has not been a very good movie about racing is that nobody can do better than (the reality of) a single Grand Prix, as a story. So each story is great. I would say that of course it depends on the director, because they change for each Grand Prix, so sometimes we have a better one, but again, it's like a movie director that has delivered a fantastic job. I feel we miss overtaking, I think we all feel we miss overtaking. But you can explain that, because for two days you fight to put the quickest car ahead so can you expect a lot of overtaking. On top of that, in any category of car racing there is little overtaking except on some very specific circuits. If you watch a Moto Grand Prix race there's a lot of overtaking because they're on two wheels, but on four wheels, with one line, with very tight braking distances, it means it's almost impossible. As I've said before, we try to find solutions, but I must say it's very difficult to find solutions to improve overtaking. But otherwise, Formula One is an outstanding show.

RD:
Clearly, we're in Formula One. The objective is always to be better every day at everything we do and we can be better, as teams, and the TV coverage can be better. Many of the points Jean made, again, are very accurate: changing directors, the nature of camera positions, based on the nature of the circuit. Here you get very close camera positions. At some of the other circuits you're a long way away, and therefore the actual imagery is quite challenging to edit together. It's a live coverage which means it's so easy to be retrospectively critical of not being in the right place at the right time. Perhaps there should be a situation where there is a so-called executive director that sits alongside and guides the national director, so that there's a sort of... somebody that's got a complete overview and an understanding of what's most likely to happen as the race unfolds, and perhaps suggesting to the director in that particular country that there's a specific action that could potentially... But these are all small things. Generally, the show is an issue which involves many factors, not just TV and we could always be better. But I'm not comfortable in this being the format or the forum in which to express my point of view because I think it is far more complex than just one cherry-picking TV. It's many things which we need to consider to make the show better. One thing that is true, in my opinion, is that there is no team that is resisting anything that can make the show better. Teams all want the same thing, which is to make it more possible to make the economics of Grand Prix racing better and that is show, cost, etc. etc.

Q: (Fredrik Af Petersens - Honorary Media Pass).
Question for Ron Dennis: why isn't it allowed to read the Red Bulletin in the Communications Centre?

RD:
Well, I think it's a piece of rubbish. I feel that if we all focused on humorous magazines that criticise the other teams, I think the likes of Ferrari, with the support of Marlboro, could spend a lot of time and energy writing humorous things about other teams and individuals within the sport. I have a simple view that if people want to come and enjoy the hospitality of McLaren, then they should respect the fact that I don't particularly like what I consider to be a controversial document coming into our facility. They can go and sit in Red Bull and eat to their heart's content and enjoy their hospitality. But I don't like it, I don't like what it stands for, I don't like the quality of it, and I don't like the way it tries to make fun out of individuals from every team and their efforts to try and do a good job. So I think that's a pretty straightforward answer and leaves you in no doubt about my feelings. I don't think it has a place in Grand Prix racing.

 

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