Paul Hembrey (Pirelli), David Greenwood (Marussia), Mattia Binotto (Ferrari), Ross Brawn (Mercedes) and Paddy Lowe (McLaren) faced the media at Spa...
Q: Paul, are these ideal conditions and temperatures for you at Spa? Seriously, looking at temperatures though, this combination of dry tyres is the same as we had in Malaysia and Monza, which you can imagine would be similar temperatures to each other and this here is pretty cold.
Paul HEMBERY: I think you have a situation here where the temperature can change very rapidly here. We can easily have 25-30 degrees and you can obviously have what we have today 11 degrees and full rain. We do have a limitation on the choices, we have four compounds to choose for the season and sometimes you're maybe a little bit more compromised than you'd like to be. Having said that, the harder tyre will work reasonably well in cooler conditions. If it gets near 15 degrees that will be right at the lower end of the area we'd like to working at. Here the challenge is normally for integrity reasons - the loadings on the tyre, which are our real challenge.
Q: What about the rest of the season? People have talked a great deal about how unpredictable the championship has been. Has there been a policy change? Are you going to stay very much with the way the choice has been so far this year?
PH: Yeah, pretty much so. We're certainly not making any changes to the tyres. Last year we did make a few changes during the season. This year, because it's so close with 10ths of a second between the teams, it would be wrong for us to have changed anything because if one team had started then maybe performing better we would have been accused of favouritism. So we've had to leave it. The choices probably going through to the end of the season are pretty logical now and I'm sure the teams will guess what's used.
Q: Have you been happy with the way things have gone so far?
PH: Yes, absolutely. It's been an exciting season. I'm sure the headaches for the technical guys here have been quite big. But the racing's been fun - very interesting. I think we're seeing a pattern emerging now in terms of results.
Q: Dave, have you been happy with your season so far, from the Marussia point of view?
David GREENWOOD: Yeah I mean, obviously from the start of the season we knew we had a long way to improve. That's mainly what we've working on with recent upgrades. I think it's easy sometimes to look at the classification sheet and see the gaps and the positions at the end of the race and not think that there are improvements being made but that's not the case. But if you look at the underlying pace that's getting a lot better. We started the season around 4.5% off the leaders in the race and it's somewhere around 2-2.5% now, so that's a good improvement and going forward that will look even better when we have these upgrades and at the end of the year the gaps will be significantly less.
Q: Now, you've already announced Cosworth continuing for next, plus you'll have KERS next year as well. Are you feeling that's heading in the right direction?
DG: Yeah, I mean one thing this year, obviously we haven't had the KERS. Conscious decision to concentrate on aerodynamics. That's all happening now and we're much happier with progress on aero and correlation to the windtunnel etc. So logical step with 2014 in mind and the new powertrain that's coming along is to take KERS for 2013, get operational and sort of start the next stage of our journey.
Q: Mattia, quick question about Felipe this morning: what was the problem there?
Mattia BINOTTO: Obviously the engine failed. We'll need to analyse it. I don't think we have a clear answer at the moment. The engine was quite close to the end of its life, so it's something that can normally happen on a Friday even if you never expect to have such a problem during a Friday practice session. We have been lucky due to the weather conditions so we have not compromised the programme of Felipe. The engine will be back in Maranello, we expect, next week.
Q: Now, Ferrari are very much developing the V6 already. How difficult is it to work with the current race engines and the new engine?
MB: That is I think the real challenge of the new power unit. Designing it, developing it is quite difficult but having two types of project in parallel, overlapping is quite difficult. From the facilities point of view, at some stage to put the V6 engine means using that dyno for V6 and no more for the V8. It means that all the dynos need at some stage to be transformed from V8 to V6 and you need in terms of scheduling to choose the right moment to do it. We are running the V6, that's correct and in some ways that means we have one less dyno for the V8s, and that will be more and more. So it's really difficult. Moving on the facilities is a real job, in terms of investment, in terms of timing, in terms of schedule. To shorten up that timing is very challenging and very important because each day you gain in that respect will be one more day you can spend on the development of the V6. You need to push on the current season, on the next you can obviously not slow down on your development of the V8 but at some time you have to move to the V6.
Q: And you're also having to manage the use of eight engines in 20 races. How does that work as well?
MB: You need already to create your pool at the start of the season and then you need in some way to decide when to fit a brand new engine in the car and at which race. Normally you make your choice based on what is the power effect, circuit by circuit. So the circuits where the power is more important in terms of lap time you'll fit a new engine. It is normally the case for Belgium and Monza. I'm expecting all the manufacturers will do as we do in some way. Looking at the current situation we have so far used four engines, five for our competitors, which we believe can in some way be an advantage at the end of the season. Fitting new engines in Belgium and Monza means that everybody else will be at seven engine already used and then you need in some way to manage the end of the season. Having a brand new engine compared to an engine having already done one race, it's some horsepower, not a lot, but looking at the power effect it can up to one tenth per lap in qualifying. Knowing that the grid is very short, everything is quite important at the moment.
Q: Nico (Rosberg) was quite interesting recently in saying that both he and the team have learned from the barren patch that you've gone through. Tell us what was learned during that time?
Ross BRAWN: I think our season has in many ways improved over previous years. We've won our first race this year. Michael was fastest in qualifying in Monaco. So, we've had some highlights but we've not been consistent enough. And I think the consistency has been amplified by the closeness of the cars. There's been a few tenths between cars and often a few tenths have been extremely significant. So, I think we're working towards better consistency, both of the car and how we use the tyres. Tyres have been a very interesting challenge this year: the same challenge for all the teams. But getting the most out of the tyres is where we want to improve. I think we still want to... as everyone does, we're fighting hard to make progress with the team. So we strengthened the team considerably last year and the first half of this year and I think we're going to see the benefits of those changes start to feed through into a stronger, competitive position for the future.Q: Does that translate into a specific aim for the second half of the season?
RB: Well we're still very hard on this year's car, given the rules haven't changed very much for next season. Anything you do this year will be relevant for next year. We have started next year's car, as I think most teams have, but we're not so concerned about continuing the push this year because we know things we run this year can be carried over into next year's car. There's still a strong push this year and there probably will be until the end of the season.
Q: Paddy, I can ask you pretty much the same sort of thing: how do you manage next season and you're still in contention for the championship as well? How much of a juggling act is that?
Paddy LOWE: It's very difficult actually, although in this particular season, as Ross said, it's less difficult than it can be. If you have a big rule change then you're faced with a dilemma as to how much resource you put into the current season relative to the following year. But as Ross says, in this season the rules are very similar in 2013, so most of what you develop now will carry across, so it is easier. We have quite a few teams who would still believe they're in the running for a championship and I think we will see a lot of development carrying on right through for the next two or three months and that will make it tough, because inevitably you do have to put significant effort into next year's car at some point, if only to get it out the door in March.
Q: And yet at the same time we've got four double-headers, just one standalone race, so everything has to be timed presumably for those double-headers and then you get, as you pointed out, three Fridays that have been complete washouts...
PL: Yeah, I mean that doesn't make life easy at all because now, with no in-season testing, what we've grown used to is using Fridays as effectively our tests for all the new parts - very difficult when they're rained off. But it's the same for everybody I guess.
Q: And what are the drivers saying now about the car? What are they looking for mainly?
PL: I think it's the same story we always have: they need balance through the corner and between the high and low speed - and to keep that consistent, that's a matter of getting the best out of the tyres through the various stages of the race. It's the same formula it's always been but I think particularly with the tyres this year, that has proved to be very difficult.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) Ross, I believe after the last race the FIA circulated a multiple-choice proposal about the RRA. With entries closing on the 30th September, with it being effectively a month away, what's your prognosis of the situation?
RB: We've always been strong supporters of RRA. We're also strong supporters that there should be correct procedures and policies followed in Formula One, so on that basis, the existing Concorde Agreement, it's difficult to see the FIA RRA being introduced next year unless there's unanimous agreement. We believe you should still follow the policies and principles that have served Formula One very well for a number of years - but our feeling is also on that basis, because there was a strong majority, that it should be something which can come in for 2014, the FIA-policed RRA. Because we have an RRA at the moment but it's an inter-team agreement and probably we'd like to see some more strength in terms of the application of the RRA, some more consistency between all the teams on how it's interpreted and I think that's the next step we have to make with the resource restriction.
Q: (Oana Popoiu - F1 Zone) Question for both Ross and Paul: what is the connection between the Mercedes engine and the degradation of the tyres? How does the characteristics of the engine influence that?
RB: I think any engine, whether it's Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes or Cosworth, can have an influence on the tyre's behaviour and tyre degradation and every team in the pitlane is looking at their setting-up on the engine, the tuning of the engine that we're allowed to do during a weekend to make the best of that. I don't think there's any evidence we're in a more difficult or better position than anyone else. I think undoubtedly the more power you try to deliver, the more stress you put on the tyres, so it's a balancing act at always. But I don't think we have any unique issues - but it is a challenge for all the engine engineers - and Mattia can probably comment with more experience than I can - but you're always seeking over the race weekend to find the best setup of the engine as well as the chassis. Hot track, high temperatures is where you can feel perhaps the most sensitivity to the engine characteristics.
Q: Mattia, would you like to comment on that?
MB: It seems that Ross already commented. Mainly it's very difficult to work on the engine in some way to improve the durability of the tyres. Setup-wise you can do a lot more [with] mechanical grip of the car itself. We can try to help: we do it by fine-tuning and calibrating the mapping but at the end, the things you can do from the mechanical parts of the car are a lot more important that what you can do with the engine.
Q: Paul, anything to add?
PH: Not really anything to add to that.
Q: (Pierre Van Vliet - F1i) Question for Paul. A couple of months ago your test team came here to test the 2013 tyres, I believe. Do you plan any other tests this year and what about the future? Because I read somewhere that you consider the Renault you are using is becoming a bit obsolete now.
PH: We have some more testing planned, yes. When we were here we had much better weather than we've got here now, so it was a very useful session. We were meant to have been at Monza at the beginning of August, but unfortunately for some reason we weren't able to test - but we are going to Barcelona in a few days. So we do have a number of sessions still planned before the end of the season. The Renault car that we're using has been extremely good, very reliable. Going forward it depends of course whether we're going to be in the sport beyond the end of our contract - because anything we did next year would be related to cars for 2014, not 2013. And also, probably the Renault is the right level of car going forward, because the cars of last season were quite substantially different. So, at the moment we're happy with what we've been doing with the test plan. Very reliable, good engineering support and we've been able to achieve what we want - so at the moment we're happy.
Q: (Stephane Barbé - L'Equipe) Ross, 300 GPs for Michael [Schumacher]. You've been alongside for most of them - can we have your comments? And also, has Michael been still able to surprise you over the past two years, compared to the previous times?
RB: I've been very fortunate to be a part of Michael's racing career in Formula One. It's been... there's so many records that Michael has established that will be extremely difficult for anyone to match. It may happen one day, as with all records. But quite the exceptional performance, quite an iconic performance that, as I say, is going to be extremely difficult to match. I've been privileged to see most of those race wins. And I think Michael's achieved it, not just from his raw ability - which of course is exceptional - but from his attitude and his approach. Being part of a team he's always been very committed, and enjoys being part of a team. So, he understand that part of it. And that's why I think he achieves such consistently good results because he was able to motivate and incentivise the whole team to achieve the results, not just for him but for the other car as well. So I think he's been the most - in my view - the most complete racing driver of my generation. Does he still surprise us? Of course he does. In Monaco he was the fastest driver in qualifying. It's a shame that because of the penalty he wasn't on the front row. So he's still producing exceptional performances and still a privilege to work with.
Q: (Sven Haidinger - Sport Woche) I have a question for Ross concerning your Ferrari era. It was a time you were very successful and that success was very much based on the testing and the tyres. At that time McLaren already focussed very much on simulation and that turned out to be weakness of Ferrari recently - was it on your agenda that Ferrari has to improve in that area at the end of your time at Ferrari - or wasn't it a big topic at Ferrari?
RB: I think Formula One does evolve in different directions to suit circumstances. It's possibly correct that we had a very heavy commitment to testing when I was there. We had two test tracks of our own and of course we focussed on the most effective way of improving the performance of the car. Which for us during that period was intensive testing. Also, there were a lot of battles between the tyre companies and that needed track testing. If we had... all the stuff Paul's finding out, it's pretty challenging to develop the tyres without every car in the pitlane out there testing them. I think if we had a tyre war at the moment, that would be very, very difficult without track testing. But I think we also recognise, the period I was at Ferrari, the need for modelling, simulation - and the driver simulator is only a portion of all the simulation that's going on within the team, it's obviously an important part because it does involve the driver - but there's a huge amount of simulation going on in aerodynamics, in the mechanical behaviour of the car. And all of those things I believe that my time there, Ferrari were pretty strong. And, the driver in the loop simulator was something we were starting to look at, and I think most teams are in a pretty good position now with that sort of technology.
Q: (Luigi Perna - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Two questions to Mattia Binotto: first of all, at what stage is Ferrari in developing the new V6 engine, and how much can it influence the performance of the car aerodynamically in 2014?
MB: So, at what stage are with the V6? We are on plan, our plans. We don't know what that means to the others. In Formula One, it's always a matter of being better than the others and not being good in absolute. We are on schedule in that respect. We are happy. Each day there is something new to be learned. 2014 is just around the corner, so in some ways it's really difficult, very challenging and we cannot be happy at the stage that we are. We are pushing every day, trying to do more than what we are doing at the moment because we know that 2014 is nearly here. At this stage of development we are quite worried because you don't really know what will be the latest stage of your engine. It's really early days. You are mapping it, you are trying to know it better than what was on the paper at the very start but as well, in terms of reliability, I think it's an entire work that needs, in some ways, to be understood. We are pushing, we are on time, we are on schedule but it's never enough. In Formula One, you cannot be satisfied, you can never be satisfied. In terms of aero, I think it will in some ways modify the car. I think that my friends beside me are more expert than me, but the power unit is quite different to what we had so in terms of layout and architecture it's quite different. It will have big implications for the gearbox as well and I think that even now, maybe we have not chosen what will be the final architecture of the new engines. As well, in that respect, we are still developing.
Q: (Tom Clarkson - Tom Clarkson and Assocs) As a follow-up to the earlier question about Michael's 300th Grand Prix, Ross, were you here in 1992 when Michael won his first race and if you were, what are your memories of that weekend?
RB: Er, yes, I was here. I think it was a mixed weather race from memory. Again, it's completeness that I think Michael has a racing driver, his ability to make the most out of those mixed conditions. I think his ability to work with the team, to come to the right decisions from the pitwall on what to do with strategy, what to do with tyres and giving you the information, giving you the pointers that you need to help come to a conclusion. Yeah, I think those first few race wins that Michael had were probably opportunist wins in the sense that we perhaps weren't the fastest car on the day but he managed to put it all together in difficult circumstances. Then of course as the car improved and we were able to give him a better car then the wins became more consistent.
Q: (Tom Clarkson - Tom Clarkson and Assocs) Could you just elaborate more about the B192, its strengths, weaknesses, what it was like to work on?
RB: I'm getting old now. I think most of the people up here would know that you forget your car almost as soon as you stop racing it and get on with the next one so I can't remember that well quite frankly, but obviously it was the start of my working with Michael, working with Rory Byrne and the start of that era that started at Benetton and then continued at Ferrari. Each year is an evolution when you stay together like that. When you stay together as engineers, when you stay together as drivers then you evolve well, I think, from year to year. I can't remember the B192 specification but it obviously wasn't a bad car but not as good as the cars we were able to do after that.
Q: (Tom Clarkson - Tom Clarkson and Assocs) And the fact that Michael was so quick in that car and is still quick today, just talk us through the versatility of the man who's been able to drive both?
RB: I think it relates to what I said about variable conditions. Michael looks to get the most out of every situation. He's extremely competitive and obviously hugely talented, so it's not looking upon those situations as a problem, it's looking upon those situations as an opportunity. When those situations get difficult, then how can you get the most out of them, how can you extract a result from that, get a race win? I think Michael stated this as one of if not his best favoured track and he's had some sensational results here. I think it is that all-round ability and most importantly consistency. You can count on less than one hand or one hand the number of bad races that Michael has over a season and there's not many drivers who can say that.
Q: (Michael Doodson - Honorary) Ross, you just spoke most eloquently about Michael's ability to incentivise a team but only yesterday Michael himself told us, rather surprisingly, that the lack of reliability that he's had this year, was no big deal for him. This suggests to me that perhaps he's rather less ambitious now than he once was. I wonder if this is going to affect your decision about whether or not to re-employ him next year?
RB: I think you need to separate the opinions Michael gives to the media and the opinions he gives to the team. They are sometimes quite different. Michael's tough, Michael's very demanding in terms of within the team, but he does that in a very positive way. He demands things of the team and he commits himself to the team in return, but that's not something Michael shares outside of the team. As I say, he's a good team member so when we do have a problem, Michael's as disappointed as any of us, perhaps more so and will express that disappointment. But quite honestly he doesn't express that to the media because that's not part of being a team. It's as simple as that really.
Q: (Sven Haidinger - Sport Woche) Ross, you know this year's Mercedes car very well; where do you see its biggest weakness and where do you have to improve the most to be fighting for the championship next year?
RB: It is very close this year. A few tenths seem to make a huge difference. Sometimes we've had qualifying where there is a very small amount between the whole top ten so small differences are pretty significant this year. We've had some good races with the car and some more difficult races. I think the more difficult races - for instance the most recent one was Hungary, we struggled with the balance. Paddy mentioned about what you try to seek with a racing car and it's balance, consistency of balance through a corner: entry, middle, exit. We've been struggling a little bit to find the right balance that also gives the consistency we need with the tyres so we can get consistency with the tyres, but then we don't have the quickest balance, the quickest car. When we have perhaps the balance we need for the quickest time then we perhaps struggle with the consistency of the tyres so it's just finding that... yeah, optimising the car around that has been difficult. We've got ideas, we've got our theories and views on what we need to do with the car and some of those will be implemented this year in order to understand what we need to do for next year's car. But it is this question of finding consistency of balance against tyre consistency and tyre durability. I think at the beginning of the year we had a very quick car but we were damaging the tyres too much. As we've improved our usage of the tyres, we haven't necessarily taken the performance forward and that is what we're focusing on now. But these challenges, these aspects of the car are what all of us here faced, it's what we're fighting all the time. Sometimes your car becomes a reference point; with no changes, after a period, it's not quick enough, because other people have improved, so it's a constantly moving target.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) For all three at the front, it's a question about the V6 engine. The V6 is on the dyno for everybody. With the current test situation, not being allowed to do any testing; what will happen? Are you discussing a new open session just for the V6 and is it a possibility to put the new engine in this year's car or next year's car for some testing?
PL: There have been a lot of discussions about whether we might make what is called a mule car to run the new engine next year. It's very expensive to make a mule car, especially when we have other programmes running as well, not just expensive in money but in terms of the people you need to design it. We talked earlier about the challenge between different seasons; then you're adding a new challenge. Actually, most of the teams are agreeing that we will not have mule cars. The regulations wouldn't currently make a mule car of any benefit anyway but we're not agreeing to introduce any new test sessions that would use mule cars. So then the question is: can we enter a new season with a new power unit, without that track testing? That will place great reliance on the laboratory testing, using dynos, transient dynos. I think that compared to previous points in time when new power trains were introduced the technology is far more sophisticated now in the lab, so I think generally the manufacturers and the teams are feeling that it is realistic to bring in these new power units without needing to introduce special cars to get that earlier learning. But we will see. As we get closer to the time and the fear builds, maybe different agreements will be reached but at the moment, that seems to be the consensus. Ross, I don't know if you have some comments on that.
RB: I think Mattia should answer this one as well.
MB: It's clear that from an engine point of view we are very keen to run the new power unit earlier because what you can find on a car is never equal to what you can find on the dyno: all the dynamics of the car, gearchanges, running on bumps, whatever, is quite different to the dyno itself so we are all afraid that by the start of the season you find out that you have a big issue with the engine and the power unit, and you have no time to sort it out. On the other hand, I think it's very equal for all the manufacturers so whatever will be the decision, and it will be the decision of the teams, we have to accept it and we will try to do our best from that.
RB: I think the points have been expressed absolutely correctly. I think the only point I would add that rather like Paul is doing now with testing of the tyres, he's using an old car to test the tyres and my understanding is that there's nothing to stop a team testing an engine with an old car if they want to. Whether that is the most effective thing to do is a different matter, because it's a huge resource to do that and as Paddy said, there's a lot of improved technologies there since we last introduced a new engine. We have lots of ways of trying to understand the engine and the complete power train and the systems will work together, so I think there's going to be a lot of laboratory work but I think a team can chose to use an old car and put the engine in it, but it's a pretty massive programme.
Q: (Ben Edwards - BBC Sport) Paul, some teams did have issues with blistering here last year. I just wondered if you could just run through what Pirelli have done to look at that and what the teams have been asked to do in terms of that as well?
PH: Yeah, we've obviously got a similar issue to last year, in that we haven't been doing any running today in the dry so replicating what happened last year there's always that risk that the teams don't have a chance to run at what is a very very difficult track for the tyres. Here we've made some slight changes. We've got a slightly thinner tread to reduce the material in the shoulder area which is subject to blistering, reduce the camber levels for the front tyres. We ran here earlier, as I said, in testing and that seemed to give us a positive result so if we get some dry weather we will see.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Ross, there are rumours of Mercedes thinking of quitting the team and AMG becoming the owner of the Formula One team. Can you say something about that?
RB: We don't comment on rumours as you know but we're very committed to succeeding in Formula One and the level of commitment that's being made in the team is indicative of what we want to achieve. As I say, we don't comment on rumours but Mercedes has been in Formula One for a long time through good years, through bad years and we're committed to succeeding.
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) I'm not sure to what extent this follows on from what you were saying about mule cars, Paddy, but in light of the WEC (World Endurance Championship) rules, is anyone tempted to put some bodywork on an F1 car and try testing your engines at Le Mans?
RB: I think it's a good incentive because obviously it's a huge investment in a new engine and I think the technologies on this new engine are exciting and much more relevant now than the engine we have. I think it's great that the initiative is carrying through into different forms of racing but I don't think any of us would be ready to undertake such a programme plus obviously the needs for an endurance engine can be a little bit different to an F1 engine, although we do have to make the engines last longer again than at the present time so we are moving in that direction, but I think the idea of having a cross-usage of the engine in different categories is very good and could certainly help with the investment that's needed in new powertrains.
Q: Has that been mooted at all with either McLaren or Ferrari?
PL: No, I haven't come across that idea before, but as Ross says, I think the point of the new power unit in Formula One is that it's supposed to introduce a technology which is relevant to the automotive manufacturers. It is a positive direction, so if that is the case, then it must also be true for any other form of motor sport so if we can find ways of using the same power unit in other formulae then that must be a great idea.