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Friday's FIA press conference

Friday 13th April 2012

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Friday's FIA press conference

Friday's FIA press conference

Technical chiefs Matt Morris (Sauber), Antonio Cuquerella (HRT), Dave Greenwood (Marussia), James Allison (Lotus), Paddy Lowe (McLaren), Pat Fry (Ferrari) faced the media in China.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q. A question to you all. If you'd like to give a swift appraisal of where you feel you are in the pecking order after two grands prix, and what you think the potential is, where you think you can be?
Matt Morris: I think it's very difficult to tell. I think there are five or six teams that are all very close, and I think we're one of those teams, but exactly where we stand, we probably need another couple of races.

Q. What about potential?
MM: Yeah, I think we've clearly shown that we've got a competitive car, but we also need to keep our feet on the ground, remember who we are and who we're competing against. But, for sure, we feel we can be scoring points on a regular basis.

Q. Toni, a very difficult start to the season for you.
Antonio Cuquerella: Yes, it was indeed. For us we came later, we started later than the others and it's a race to catch up for us. We are just trying to bring the car to the performance it was supposed to have in the first race, so that's where we are. It's quite clear, everyone can see that, we are at the back, we are the last ones. So we are just trying to get closer to the rest.

Q. And the others?
Dave Greenwood: A similar situation to Toni for us, a late start to the year, which is not what we wanted. Again, we're towards the back end, which is fairly obvious, and we're just working hard to catch up to the guys in front. I think there's a fairly big gap between us and the front, there's no disputing that, but our main job is to close that gap and we've already seen from last race to this we've closed that slightly and we've just got to keep going like that.

James Allison: I think the first couple of races would suggest we're Q3 material. I would hope that we're towards the front of Q3 but, as everyone will say, it's very tight this year, the gaps in the grid are very small and the tiniest error makes a lot of grid places at the moment.

Paddy Lowe: We're obviously over the moon to have had the qualifying results we've had in the first two races, front row in both races. That's what you dream of really, with all the work you do on a new car that starts early the year before. It's a great result for the whole team. A bit less satisfied with what we've delivered from the races but in terms of overall performance - very pleased.

Pat Fry: I think our performance here is likely to mirror the first two races. We've got a few small upgrades here that should improve it a fair amount but then I think this track suits us less favourably than the last one really, so I expect the gaps are going to be similar. We have a lot of work to do to catch the others, particularly in qualifying.

Q. Matt, a more specific question to you. Now you're very close in that midfield and one of the teams that perhaps can improve by using a Mercedes-type device, they cal it a DDRS. Have you got the time; have you got the money and the budget to do that?
MM: We're looking into the system to try and assess it fully, to work out the lap time, or qualifying lap time gain, versus costs. I think at the moment for us it doesn't balance out. We're probably better off spending our money on more conventional lap time.

Q. A question related to last year, when perhaps you're exhaust-blown diffuser didn't work. Was there any advantage in that this year?
MM: It's not really been an advantage; I think we've just lost less than some of the other teams maybe, because, by our own admission, we didn't have the best exhaust blown diffuser last year, so for sure we had more to lose.

Q. Has that had something to do with the performance do you think?
MM: I think it's brought us closer to some of the other teams, yes.

Q. Toni, it's an uphill struggle for you. Just give us some indication of the sort of facilities you have at the moment, the staff you have etc?
AC: It's clear that we are changing. From last year to this year there has been a big changing hands in the management of the team and we are even relocating to a different country in Europe. Our car has been designed by different clusters around Europe, with not everybody in the same room. Now we are trying to centralise everything and work as a team, which has not been the case in the last two years. The main goal then... we still need to get organised and that will bring performance and the development we want on the car.

Q. That sounds like the sort of think that will take an awful long time to do, like a whole year almost, a whole season.
AC: Of course we are making some appointments and we are trying to hire more people to reinforce ourselves but it is not going to be something we expect to be working in two or three months. It going be, as you say, probably more thinking of next year but some results need to show this year, in the second half of the season.

Q. Dave Greenwood, to some extent you've been doing the same thing because the whole factory has relocated as well. Where are you in that process?
DG: I think we're basically in the process where we now have a solid design team and an aerodynamic group that's expanded rapidly over the last six months. We're in a process now where we're using a wind tunnel on a regular basis, matching that in with the CFD, so if you like we're further along that process. We're still very much at the start of it but I think it's bringing improvements to the car much better than we've seen before in the previous two years of how we worked. So all in all a positive.

Q. And the development is on course? Is there a programme for that?
DG: Like every team you have a development programme and ours has been perhaps a little bit delayed in how it started from winter testing but we've hit the ground running now we're racing and we've brought developments to the last two races and today we ran new developments as well and we're happy with how they're progressing.

Q. James, yesterday you took a protest to the stewards. How disappointed were you with the outcome of that?
JA: It's been no secret that our team has had some disagreements with what we saw Mercedes to be running. We thought there were strong arguments against such a thing. That's been rumbling along gently in the background, as everyone knows. We made what we hoped were strong arguments both to Mercedes and to the FIA but didn't prevail and so with some regret we decided it was worth bringing it before the stewards to settle the matter one way or the other.

Q. I have to say we got a very fair hearing yesterday. The stewards took a lot of time to listen to our arguments and what I hoped were very strong arguments didn't prevail - but that's the process and it's fair enough, just get on with it and accept that we were wrong in our earlier view.

Q. What is the reaction to that? What do you do now? Are you doing to do the same thing?
JA: Just die like a man! Get on with looking at what possibilities are open, having accepted that this is a perfectly OK system to put on the car.

Q. Is it something that you think every technical director will now be looking at?
JA: Well they'll certainly need to decide whether or not the cost and expense... well it's not so much expense, the opportunity-cost of doing that system is higher than developing the things they had in mind otherwise. And that's exactly the same choice we'll face in our team.Q. Paddy, a question about Lewis' gearbox. How come it was only discovered yesterday?
PL: Well it's a bit of a disappointment. We were able to notice a problem as a result of analysing some oil samples that showed a problem that's developing in the rear of the gearbox. It could still work but the risk of a failure during the race itself is too great and a much greater penalty from that than would come from a five grid-place penalty. So very disappointing for everyone, particularly Lewis, to start a race weekend in that way on the back foot. But, y'know, we'll do the best with what we have. Try to get pole position so that at worst he'll be in sixth.

Q. On a completely different subject, we have a Mugello test coming up, we haven't had an in-season test for several years now, to what extent has simulation etc overtaken that? Or is it still invaluable?
PL: It's still very, very valuable. Simulation has grown a great deal in the last few years and we do depend a lot more on in. In fact it pushes the testing in a slightly different direction, in the same way you saw this morning we were running on Lewis' car a big sampling array for aerodynamic pressures. We're using these tools in order to validate our simulations. So we increasingly use testing in order to calibrate the simulations we're doing in the office. So, it's very, very important still. I think what's happened is that we've moved the testing bias towards Fridays rather than the tests that used to occur between each race. We get the job done, we just do it probably more efficiently really by using the race practice. Mugello will allow a few other things. It's a redistribution of where we put the effort. We used to have that test in the pre-season period. That's been moved to April. It allows us to do a few different things mid-season that we wouldn't have been able to do. It's a lot more work actually, that we haven't been used to but it helps us make a step mid-season.

Q. Pat, obviously the problems with the car. How fundamental are those problems?
PF: I think we have a reasonable understanding of them and the areas we need to be working on. It's like all these things, there's never a golden bullet, it's not a light switch you can turn on. You might have the idea of, 'OK, that's the problem' but it's hard work to try and fix it. And you're not going to change it around in a week. Everyone is working very hard to fix all those issues and then get back on a sensible development curve.

Q. And really you discovered those problems some time ago. Is it a surprise not to have seen more bits on the car since the last race?
PF: I think there's a number of different issues that we've had, the most obvious one from the early testing was the exhaust system where we were struggling with what that was doing to the rear tyres. I think we now understand that and are on top of that - though we haven't run that style exhaust system since the first Barcelona test. The other areas have come to light where we knew we had the problems [but] we didn't know where and we were really learning that through the last Barcelona test. And then to fix problems it's not the work of a minute. Here there are quite a few new parts on the car. There will be another set of updates, bigger updates, coming through for Barcelona. It's a race of upgrading. We've got a lot of upgrades coming through but so does everyone else around this table.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q. (Dan Knutson - Honorary) Following up on the question on the pecking order, from first through twelfth, where do you see yourselves now and when you get the car more sorted, where do you have the potential to be? For the front row.
PF: I think here the grid will look quite similar to that at the last two races. I don't think the pecking order is going to swing around that much. We're going to be somewhere around seventh to eleventh or something. Obviously we need to get a better car so that ultimately we're qualifying on pole. It would be nice to be able to sit and say we're qualifying on pole, take a five place penalty and start sixth. That would be quite a luxury really.

PL: As I said earlier, we're very pleased to have taken the front row in the first two races. Also, as Pat said, the upgrade war which is a relentless one through the season has already begun so we can't rely on maintaining that performance even to this race; we've all brought upgrades this weekend, so we hope to be able to maintain that through tomorrow and take the front row again, but we certainly can't rely on it and certainly can't rely on staying there throughout the rest of the season. It will be long and very tough.

JA: I think our best car was third in Australia, sixth in Sepang so I guess that puts us P four and a half. I've got no idea where we will come in this race. I think, like the other two, that the pecking order is likely to be largely unchanged. We're all pushing similarly hard developing our cars and I see no reason why there should be any substantial change to the running order. What will make the difference is very small errors during qualifying because the grid positions are separated by less than a tenth of a second.

Q. (Ted Kravitz - Sky Sports) This is for everybody except for James: did you agree with Lotus in their assertion that the Mercedes system was against article 3.15?

MM: I don't think it's really for us to comment on the argument that James has had. We've got our views on it but it's not really for us to discuss that.

AC: I think we have the same point of view. We understand both parties and we accept what the FIA has said.

DG: Exactly the same. I think it's a matter for the FIA and the other two parties involved.

PL: For us it was a point of quite tricky interpretation so what we mainly wanted was clarity, so we have a clear decision from the stewards and I think that's better than the uncertainty that we've had in the last few weeks.

PF: I think there's always different ways to interpret the rules, we've seen that going on for years. At least now there's a clear decision; we obviously respect that decision. People are always trying to stretch the limit of the rules. We had a wing that was legal in Barcelona on a Friday, Friday night it wasn't. Again, we respected that decision and took it off the car.

Q. (Dan Knutson - Honorary) Pat Fry has talked about 'no golden bullet to fix the Ferrari'; McLaren is very quick so this is for the other four guys: what one area of the car do you really need to work on to make it even better?
MM: I don't think there's one particular area to be honest with you. I think we continue looking at every part in the car, both aero-wise, mechanical set-up-wise and also the way we go about our race weekend in qualifying and in the race, so I don't think there's one single item that we specifically concentrate on, it's just an overall group effort on the whole car.

AC: In our case I think it's very clear. From the teams that we are close to in qualifying, especially in our case, the difference is aero. Ninety percent of our lap time gap to the front row is aero. Of course there is a difference in aero programmes and budgets, so we just need to get more with less money, so it is possible.

DG: The same for us really: aero is the key at the minute and that's what we're working hard on, but in lots of areas though, not just finding parts that we think have got more downforce but correlation and understanding flow structures and all that kind of stuff. We're on a steep learning curve and that's where we're heading, basically.

JA: I'm with Matt, you fight the thing on all fronts and try to pick, across the whole gamut of bits you could put on the car to improve it, the ones that will bring the most improvement the fastest, but there isn't a family of parts that you pick from. It just depends on what ideas you've come up with in the factory, what the team has come up with in the factory.

Q. (Luigi Perna - La Gazzetta dello Sport) For Pat Fry and Paddy Lowe in particular: are you going to develop a solution similar to Mercedes for your car in the next few races - I mean the F-duct?
PF: We've been looking at it for a while. I think it's just a case of weighing up what the performance is on our car. It's bound to vary differently from car to car and particularly if you've had that system in mind and developed your car to work around it, you're further up the development curve so it's not just a case of applying it to our current aerodynamic characteristic, it's then trying to exploit it further after that, so I expect there will be a two-fold thing: we will know instantly - or we know instantly - what it's worth in terms of lap time and we can weigh that up in the cost performance and the effort needed. And then we also need to look at what's the ultimate potential of that device. We've been looking at it for a month or two. Now it's clear we can at least start working for sure, weighing up everything properly.

PL: In these days of really very limited capacity - whether that's people or time in wind tunnels - to develop aerodynamics, you do have to carefully select where you put your effort to make the most profit in performance, so this will fall into that camp. We have to decide how much we can get from it, how it ranks compared to other areas we may work on. It does have the immediate downside that it really is only a qualifying benefit as far as we can see, so immediately it has to earn quite a lot to make that worthwhile.

Q.(Cheng Liang Zong - China News Service) Antonio, we know that the Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua joined HRT recently. How do you describe his future at HRT and what do you think he should do to ensure that he becomes a real Formula One driver? And secondly, after nine years of Formula One coming to China, Chinese people are still concerned that there is not a native Formula One driver or team so do you think it's just a question of a lack of money or lack of some kind of culture or is it just about timing?
AC: We still don't know - the driver hasn't jumped into the car yet, so we still need to know his capabilities and as soon as we have an opportunity, he will drive in the young drivers' test so we have hopes of him and of course he's a part of our young development programme. We don't know how much we can expect from him but of course there are big hopes.

Regarding China, I think there are many countries, including India and China, that are far from Europe where the centre of gravity of Formula One has been in the past. They are just becoming important and we can see that China is an important country for the future. There are many countries that were not important in F1 and now they are becoming important in the last two years, so why not China in two years?

Q. (Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) Pat, could you explain why you think the car is so far off the pace at the moment, notwithstanding the exhaust problem which presumably can't account for all of it? And why the team decided to take such a different design approach when, if you look at Silverstone last year when the blown diffusers were taken off, you were actually quite competitive?
PF: I don't think you can use Silverstone as a benchmark for the car performance this year. Obviously the exhaust effect is reduced a huge amount from what we had last year. As I said, the exhaust is one of the more obvious changes that we've made, but that's quite a small part of the problem that we've got. I don't really want to go into where all the problems are - it's not just a case of us trying to build a quicker car, we need to fundamentally be changing the methodologies that we use to select, design and manufacture so that we are competitive long term. There's work on all fronts, not just work going into what we're taking to Barcelona, there's also a huge amount of work in just trying to change the fundamentals of what we do so we can actually take a step forward and be competing with everyone else.

Q. (Andrew Benson - BBC Sport) As a follow-up, can you just mention briefly what areas you think specifically the team is lacking in as opposed to the specific design features of the car?
PF: The biggest performance differentiator - as people have mentioned earlier - is aerodynamics. We've got some issues there that we're trying to resolve. The areas you need to be working on is everything from the way you run the wind tunnel, the accuracy of your wind tunnel, the simulation that you use to decide what components to take forward, so we're not leaving any stone unturned. We're actually trying to review and revise our methodologies through the whole process and that carries on into the design office for trying to get weight out of various parts, make other bits more durable, so there's work going on absolutely everywhere within the company, on the basic fundamental methodology as well as just trying to upgrade the car.

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