HRT's Luis Perez-Sala, Paul Hembery from Pirelli, Eric Boullier from Lotus, Merc's Ross Brawn and Adam Parr from Williams attended Friday's FIA press conference in Melbourne.
Q. Luis, it must have been an extraordinary experience coming here, you had so much work to do. Just give us some indication of what it's been like?
LP-S: For us it has been almost a success just to be here in Melbourne because it has been very tough. We missed the crash test at the beginning of February and then almost until the end of February we were working to try and pass the crash test. Then, once we have done that, we went to a filming day at Barcelona, this helped us a bit, and here we have been working last night, the whole night, to have ready at least the second car. And in P1 we were running only with one car, several laps, three or four laps, and then in P2 we could afford to run at least the installation lap with Pedro's [de la Rosa] car.
Q: How worried are you about qualifying, do you think you can get both cars in [to the race]?
LP-S: It will be difficult for us. I'm not thinking now about the speed of the cars, now we are trying to fit all of things to make do as best as possible to make P3 tomorrow, doing several laps and then we will see on the qualifying. For us Melbourne is like a place where we are going to take certain information from the cars and go forwards for the next races.
Q: Your championship really starts in Malaysia.
LP-S: We hope! I will see. For us the most important thing is to be here as we are and then to try to learn as much as possible. Of course the team is a bit tired as well, they have been working hard for the last month and I would like them to relax a bit and take information and we will see if it's Shanghai or Malaysia-Shanghai, whenever we start to do our real pace and then trying to improve and to get better and better through the season.
LP-S: We need it!
Q: Paul, obviously this is the start of your second season. How different is it this year to one year ago?
PH: I would probably have made similar comments to Luis last year at this time, having to get ready in a short space of time. Obviously experience is great, you understand, even from the small things like logistics, which help a lot in this world because it's a complex world from a logistical side and there's a lot of things that go on in the sport that I guess are invisible to the outside world. So, yeah, it's a much better position to be in.
Q: The teams are saying that the tyres don't seem to be degrading as much, is that the case? What's been the reaction to the new tyres?
PH: I think it's early days to see that. They're certainly degrading - whether it's enough or not I don't know - if the comments are too positive Bernie calls me up and gives me an earful! I think the general balance of the car, judging from the comments of the drivers and the teams is that they're happy with the balance. Part of that is a few of the small changes that we've made. Also I think the teams have had more time to design the cars around the tyres this season. So, I think it's a combination of the two things.
Q: Looking at the amount of running they've had today, very little dry running - where would you say the teams are in preparation for this race?
PH: I think you have to ask them that. When they did do a run in the dry I guess they're all using different fuel loads and they've all got different programmes in mind, what they're trying to achieve in the sessions. But I think the general comment that everyone's seen so far in testing is that the cars seem to be much closer together in terms of performance this year than last year - and hopefully that's going to mean we're going to have a great season.
Q: Adam, first of all, to what extent are we seeing a new Williams team? A number of things have changed, tell us about the team as it stands now.
AP: We have made a lot of changes but hopefully nothing of any importance because Williams, part of the secret is trying to keep what we have as a team - but we've made a number of changes, we've got a new technical leadership who've been able to deliver this car but we have another 500 people who haven't changed. I'm really pleased we've been able to completely redesign the car top to bottom, change engines, and without missing a trick. We did a lot of mileage in testing, so that's all gone very nicely. On the board side Claire [Williams] is stepping up to join our board as director of marketing and communications in early April and we're very excited about that. I think she's going to be a fantastic asset for this team - and the great thing is no-one can poach her!
Q: Another point is that you've got two relatively inexperienced drivers, whereas you had Rubens [Barrichello] with a massive amount of experience. How has that gone and how, in turn, has Alex Wurz been able to contribute?
AP: I think it's very early to say, isn't it? But what I do feel is both Bruno and Pastor are... they're not in their first seasons in Formula One, they are very competitive and I think they can have a lot of fun between the two of them and with the team. Alex is playing the role of a wise head and mentoring them as necessary, and so far, so good.
Q: How much are you asking him to do? Giving him a free rein to talk to the drivers?
AP: Yes, he has an absolutely free rein and he attends the debriefs etc, and how he does it is up to him. He should know better than anyone what he has to do.
Q: Ross, first of all it couldn't be a better start to the season could it - than to be top on the first day?
RB: Well, it's certainly better than being at the back! The only reason I qualify it is that we have no idea what people are running on fuel. We've had little windows of running on the dry. Our cars were doing different things to try to understand and get some information for tomorrow because we've got one hour of timed practice before we have to go into qualifying and, as Paul commented, we don't really know these tyres very well yet, because testing in the winter in Barcelona with a heavily rubbered track is not giving us all the information we need to know how to use the tyres, what strategy to choose and so on and so forth. So we're trying to get snapshots in these weather conditions of what's going on. It's been a reasonably encouraging start but we're not getting carried away because different people were doing different things today.
Q: In terms of preparation you missed out the first test with the new car, you obviously hit the ground running with it for the two Barcelona tests - how different has it been starting this season to last season?
RB: We're much better prepared than we were last year. Last year we were not in good shape at this stage of the season. We'd tried to leave it as late as possible to run the final aerodynamic package and that hadn't gone that well, and we had some cooling issues, some other functionality issues of the car and that takes a lot of resource out of the organisation fixing those things. So, we made a big effort to strengthen the team, do things more effectively, and to arrive at the beginning of this season in a much better state of preparation. I must commend the people who've been involved with that. As Adam was saying, we're keen to strengthen the team without losing the strengths that we already have. So, Bob Bell has been a great asset to the team, Bob's been involved in this car from the beginning. He's done a great job of the organisation, keeping everyone to schedule, getting the right decisions made, so we're not where we want to be yet in many ways but we're a lot better than we were 12 months ago. And if we can keep that rate of progress going, then I'm extremely optimistic for the future. We're in a place now where the car functions well, it cools well, it does all the basic things properly. And all of our resource can be focussed on trying to find performance for the next part of the season.
Q: Everybody's talking about your supposed front-wing stalling system, is there anything you can tell us?
RB: Well, I can tell you it's great for Formula One, because for me the magic of Formula One is not just the drivers, it's the technology, the engineering, the innovation, the stories that fill the web pages and the media. It's something that I think is a great thing for Formula One. When I hear these people talking about how we need to have standard cars and just let the drivers... they miss the whole point of Formula One, which is the magic of everything that happens in Formula One. You know, we've got drivers out there, world champions, who are perhaps not in the best car at the moment and that's a story. That's a great aspect of Formula One. We have world champions in much better cars and the teams without the better cars have got to fix that and improve. So it's great people are talking about different things. Today it's us, tomorrow it will be somebody else. That's why Formula One is so fascinating, why it's so appealing to our fans and enthusiasts.
Q: Eric, sorry to keep you waiting first of all. How much of a setback was losing the first Barcelona test?
EB: Obviously we missed some track time, some development time of the systems and some track time for the drivers as well, as obviously they were not racing last year in Formula One. But I have to say that number one, we have a reliable car and we were able to do a lot of mileage in Jerez and at the second Barcelona test.
Q: Kimi had some problems with comfort in the car in Barcelona. Is he still having those problems now or was it something different today?
EB: It's very similar, let's say. But also it's a new chassis and you have to adjust a little bit his position in the car.
Q: Are you curing that?
EB: Of course, definitely.
Q: And Romain today? How quickly did he learn the circuit and do you feel confident in him now?
EB: Yes, I think he showed in the second session that he was now ready to drive and he knew the track. This morning you could see that the conditions were a bit tricky and this is why we waited for the best conditions for him to go out and learn the track, as we think... the forecast is for it to be dry on Sunday.
Q: Are they working well together, those two? One would say they might be slightly different personalities?
EB: Yes, I have to say it's matching quite well. I mean they are team-mates, they are professional drivers and they work well. We have no issues with this.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Alberto Antonini - Autosprint) May I ask all of you your feelings about racing in Bahrain in four weeks' time?
RB: We want to go there. It's been a great place to race in the past. It has its troubles, we hope those troubles are largely behind them and if racing can help bring things together then we should try and do it. We need to monitor the situation, try and make a judgement. People who've been there are telling us the situation's much, much better than it was 12 months ago. So, as I say, if Formula One can help to improve the situation then that would be a great thing for us to do. But it's certainly clearly a lot calmer situation than it was 12 months ago.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) I believe that a letter was addressed and sent to the Federation regarding the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) being enshrined in the regulations. If so, which teams signed, which teams didn't sign and also, what do you hope to achieve and how, please?
RB: I answered the last one.
AP: I think you should do this one as well.
EB: We have many correspondences with the FIA on many many subjects and yes, one of the subjects was the RRA and trying to find a way to maybe make the FIA involved in the process of reinforcing the RRA through an idea like sporting regs. So we just contacted the FIA and Jean Todt to try to set up a group together to discuss the matter.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) My question was also who signed and who didn't sign the letter. Was it unanimous?
EB: Yes, it was unanimous. Most of the teams have signed it.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) Most. Who not?
EB: Doesn't matter.
AP: I thoroughly agree with what Eric just said, with everything he said.
Q: (Kate Walker - GirlRacer) Eric, we saw that Kimi didn't get very many laps in either session today. Was that just comfort or were there problems with his steering column and you changed it?
EB: Second session was just planned. Because of the rain, we didn't want to run in the wet conditions so we just waited for a dry situation.
Q: (Mike Doodson - Honorary) I was interested by Ross's comments about the excitement of the technical challenge of Formula One, which is obviously an ongoing thing. But it still costs all of you millions. Some of you have more than a hundred people in your aero department. I wonder if there are any savings that could be made which would be acceptable to the technician in you, for example, a standard under-car aerodynamic profile?
RB: I'm a little bit reluctant to have standard parts on the car. I'm a great supporter of the concept of the Resource Restriction Agreement, that we have a certain amount of money, a certain number of people we can use and we try and get the cleverest people to do the best job and we win because those people are doing a better job than other people in other teams, not because we've spent twice as much as somebody else. Certainly Mercedes' principle is not to steamroller Formula One with unlimited resource and win on the power of what we've spent. We're very prudent, we want Formula One to be a good example and we believe that the Resource Restriction and some sensible technical regulations and sporting regulations is the best way. There is an argument that perhaps we need to make sure that as we tighten the resource restriction that we don't end up moving all the activity into the aerodynamic field because that's perhaps the area of greatest return for investment, and we do need regulations to make sure that we keep a spread. So I think there can be quite strong constraints to make sure that we don't have cars which are just purely focused on aerodynamics but I'm not a great fan of standardising parts but perhaps in keeping parts within a closer constraint.
AP: I agree with Ross. The prime area of means of controlling costs should be controlling expenditure and that's what the Resource Restriction Agreement... in part the Singapore agreement which was signed by all teams 18 months or so ago. That's the primary way of controlling costs because in the past, attempts to cure them purely by technical rules just squeezed the balloon into another shape. However, I think there is also a desire to look at areas of the car that have become ludicrously over-complicated. An example is used of the corners of the car. I think we have over 130 moulds for one brake duct now. And I'm not sure that that does genuinely add to the show. What does add to the show is when people come up with clever ideas, and you can only really have that if you control overall spending, because otherwise it is the more money you've got, the more clever ideas you should be able to come up with. So I think it's a combination of both, as Ross said, and I also feel... I read just a few days ago that Mr Ecclestone was commenting that we should introduce budget cuts into Formula One, so I think you could say that there's quite a consensus now about doing something further.
EB: I do share the same visions as my colleagues. Using the restriction on the resources and expenditure is one of the best ways, obviously, and we need to adjust a little bit the technical and maybe the sporting regulations to cut some costs and that's going to be much better. We need to keep the Formula One philosophy.
LP-S: For us, we are maybe the team that has the lowest budget on the grid. It's not going to be easy for us to reduce the budget, no? Even we are trying to reduce our budget more and it's not easy. I'm not sure what we can afford. Maybe we say regulations dictate the budget cut. I don't know.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Ross, before, you were talking of the magic of Formula One. In the last few days, Flavio Briatore has said that for him, this is a Formula One where only cars are now counting. Drivers are not making the difference as they did in the past. They don't have that big a personality. Do you agree with that?
RB: I think there is a good equilibrium to try and achieve. If the car starts to become a totally prevalent factor then we don't want that. Equally, as I say, we want a situation where if there's a great driver in not such a great car then he will struggle a bit. You've always got two drivers in the same team, so there's a competition going on there as well, so if there is a very good car, then you've still got two drivers within that team. There's very few poor drivers that have won World Championships so I think that tells us that the great drivers win the World Championships. Getting an equilibrium is something that we should be mindful of. But I think that at the other end of the scale is let's have GP1: standard cars, all that sort of stuff - and I think we would be shocked how quickly we would lose interest in Formula One if we did that.
Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) I would like to return very briefly to the letter. The four team principles here, did you sign the letter please? It's a very simple question.
RB: Yes, we signed the letter.
AP: Do you think I wouldn't sign a letter to do with cost control?
RB: The teams asked the FIA to continue the process of looking at cost control. It's something which the FIA are very keen to do as well, so it was a letter of support to the FIA to say that we want to continue the process of reducing costs and look at fair ways of introducing the regulations or procedures to keep the costs under control and further reduce the costs. If we had a Formula One where teams like the smaller teams at the back of the grid could be commercially viable - more commercially viable - then I think that's a healthier Formula One, so have to find ways of trying to achieve that.
Q: (Kate Walker - GirlRacer) It emerged last week that the Lehman Brothers' stake in Delta Topco has to be sold by the middle of 2014. Could you confirm whether or not you are interested either individually or as a group in purchasing that 15.3% stake, per team or by FOTA or however you can guys can get a better slice of the F1 pie?
RB: Individually as in me personally or...? It's certainly not something we've considered.
EB: It's not something that has been considered.
Q: (Wei An Mao - La Vie Creative) Yesterday, I asked the drivers - now you - that since 1996 Melbourne has been on the calendar, do you think it is important to keep it in F1 and should it be changed to a night race after 2015?
EB: I think this year the schedule is a little bit later than in previous years, and there are still around 300,000 people attending the weekend so I would say why not?
RB: We very much enjoy being here. It's a great race, the huge enthusiasm from the city and from the fans. It's a really enjoyable race, so we have to find a way of moving forward and trying to keep the race and finding solutions. If the solution is a night race, then we have to find a way of achieving that but personally - and I think as a team - we would be very disappointed if we couldn't continue racing in Australia. It's a great place to start the season.
AP: I was in Western Australia over the last few days and interestingly, WA suffered a 20percent decline in tourism in 2011 whereas Victoria's tourism has grown, and I think the state has a tremendous record of attracting great events and there's no doubt that that puts Melbourne on the map around the world. If having a night race meant more excitement, more publicity, a bigger global audience for the race here, then I think it's something that the state should very seriously consider. As Ross said, whatever happens, we really want to come back, because it is a fantastic weekend, really fantastic.
PH: I agree with the comments made. They've put a lot effort into creating an event for the fans. If you walk around the infield, there's a lot of activity going on and if anybody follows motor sport in Australia, that's something that they do very well. There are other events like the Clipsall which is an amazing event, if you ever get the chance to go there over in Adelaide I recommend that you do so. So I think yeah, as long as it's viable for the promoter and they can make it work and it seems that the fans seem to like it then I think everyone's very happy to be here.
LPS: I've been driving in Adelaide which was a nice track and now here where I drove in the Lamborghini Trophy in 1999, fantastic track, the fans and everything, for us to come here is a nice place to come.
Q: (Naoise Holohan - ManipeF1) Adam touched on Bernie's comments on the budget cap a few minutes ago. I'm just wondering how much consensus there is among the teams to bring it in. Is it a viable option at the moment, and what has changed from a couple of years ago when the vast majority of the teams refused to go with the budget cap option?
AP: I think, to be specific, Mr Ecclestone's comments were about budget capping. The teams have agreed a different process: the Resource Restriction Agreement and the Singapore Agreement. I'm not suggesting that we should change the overall structure at this point. I think there is, however, a very high degree of consensus amongst everybody - the FIA, Formula One and the teams - that we should continue to reduce costs.
Q: (Matt Coch - pitpass.com) Luis, how confident are you that you've got the money to reach the end of the season?
LP-S: I'm confident to reach the end of the season, I'm confident of the money. It's secure.
Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Ross, with the FIA saying that your F-duct system is legal, how long do you think it will take the other teams to copy the same solutions and do you think that this could be an advantage that you could carry on for a while as was the case of the Brawn with the double diffuser?
RB: Innovation is the lifeblood of Formula One racing, I've oversold that point already. Obviously I'm not going to go into detail of what people are calling the F-duct. I'm surprised they are calling it that, because I don't quite know what that means. We have an interesting system on the car and it's not complicated at all, so I'm sure other teams are looking at it and they need to decide if it's worthwhile or not. But it's not in the same magnitude as the diffuser concept that we had or even the exhaust concepts the cars ran the last few years. It's obviously helpful, that's why we're doing it but it's not a massive performance gain.
AP: That's a relief to hear, so we can stop developing ours.
RB: I would like you to spend all your money on it, Adam, and then we can get on with other stuff.
AP: It wouldn't take long!
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