Toto Wolff and Mattia Binotto were among the star-studded group of team principals to face the media in Abu Dhabi.
Here is what they had to say on the eve of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix…
Q: Mattia, I’d like to take you back to the last race to start with. You’ve no doubt studied the footage of the crash between your two drivers. What’s your verdict?
Mattia Binotto: Hmm… what’s the verdict? I think there may be different versions. If you listen to the drivers, they may have their own version. I think at the end there is one true version, which is that they damaged the interest of the Scuderia Ferrari, and by doing that, damaging themselves. We discussed altogether, we looked again at the video. I think what’s always important when that type of thing happens, there is always something which is triggering it. And more important is to understand what’s triggering it. It’s the only way to make sure that in the future it’s not happening again. And that’s something that certainly we discussed – between us.
Q: Charles spoke yesterday, when he was summing up 2019, saying it’s been a weird season. How would you describe it?
MB: Should I clarify what he said? I don’t know. Weird… I would say it has been an intense season. Many things happened. If I look from the team perspective or the technical point of view, I think it has been a linear season, somehow. If anything’s weird, I think it’s we were expecting a better performance after the winter testing, and I think that we never really understood what happened from Barcelona to Australia. If anything, those guys certainly made a jump ahead. I think that from our perspective, then we had performance weaknesses in the car that we improved all through the season, as I said, in a linear way – and I think the car in the second half of the season was certainly better, compared to the first part. We are still not the best car in the race. I think that other cars are still faster in the race. We are not certainly the best car in cornering and at least we know our weaknesses, working on it and from that respect it has been a bit linear. Weird, I think, from Charles’ perspective, very first year for him in Ferrari, a lot of emotions, a lot of things, he is the driver that has started most of the time on pole position this season, which is a great achievement. Two victories. Up and down, as well in his performance relative to his team-mate, not always so consistent, if you look from the start to the end. But I think it has been a season where an entire team, the drivers, we learnt and I’m pretty sure it will make us even stronger in the future.
Q: Toto, you miss a race, look what happens! How difficult was it to watch events at Interlagos from afar, and how did you stay in touch with what was going on?
Toto Wolff: Yeah, it was weird, because it was the first race that I missed since Williams times – Barcelona 2012. I did it because there’s just so much business going on at the moment and I had a Formula E weekend the following weekend and obviously Abu Dhabi and things needed to be done. Normal office work. It was also for me an experiment to see how I would take it. I know the team is perfectly capable in doing that without me. There were voices that it would actually be beneficial for me not distracting anybody around the racetrack. So, what happened, would have happened with me there. I was hoping that it would be a perfect weekend and that I could miss some of the bad ones next year – but at the moment I am off that plan.
Q: It’s been a cracking end to the season with three teams battling for wins. Does that make you nervous for next year? Do you expect it to be the closest battle in the hybrid era?
TW: Yes, I think so. We have always defended the standpoint that by letting the regulations alone, performance convergence would happen – at least there’s a high probability that convergence happens rather than throwing the dice and introducing something new and I think we have seen that. It’s fair to say that there are three teams capable of winning races today and probably winning championships if things are being put together. McLaren has massively caught up, probably the steepest performance slope of all teams and will be there or thereabouts, in my opinion. So, yeah, I see this very much as being a much tougher season. I don’t think we are going to see the kind of 10 race wins or 12 race wins per team for next year any more – but obviously we will be trying everything to optimise our weaknesses and continue to perform well.
Q: Zak, the team has sealed fourth in the Constructors’ Championship. Given where it was a year ago, in P6, and then P9 the year before that. How much of an achievement is that?
Zak Brown: I think it’s been a big achievement, given where we’ve been the last couple of years. I think the team’s done an excellent job, both at the factory and at the race track. Everyone is contributing. Renault has played a big part in us getting more competitive again. They’ve been a fantastic partner. Drivers are doing a very good job, bringing the car home and in the points often, so it’s certainly been a pleasure racing this year, when I look back to Abu Dhabi last year.
Q: If the past 12 months have been fruitful, can you just tell us a little bit about the next 12 months – because you’ve got a harder split programme than most teams: preparing a Renault-powered 2020 car and then a Mercedes-powered 2021 car?
ZB: Yeah, everyone’s going to be in the same boat, in the sense of the ’21 is going to be such a change from 2020 that everyone’s going to be starting from a clean sheet of paper – but we’re up for it. It’s one of the reasons we made an early decision, to give ourselves as much time as possible. I think ‘21’s going to be exciting for Formula 1 and for the fans because when there’s a big change like that, someone’s going to get it right; someone’s going to get it wrong and, as Toto said, tends to converge over time but I’m excited for the ’21 season – but also excited for ’20, of course.
Q: Claire, if we could talk a little more about that 2020-2021 split from Williams’ point of view. How difficult a juggling act is it when there’s such a huge opportunity in 2021?
Claire Williams: It’s clearly not easy. I think we’ve all talked about the challenges that we’re all going to face next year. I think everyone in the pit lane is going to have a challenge on their hands. I think it will be slightly easier for the top three teams with bigger budgets. For us, it is a real challenge back at the factory, trying to run those two programmes, for next year, for ’21 – but obviously we’ve been trying to run this year’s programme, when we haven’t let development slide. We’ve got to continue to bring upgrades to the car over the course of this season, which we’ve been doing, and really we’re looking at ’19 and ’20 as one long campaign. So, it is difficult – but we wanted the ’21 regulations to come in. We lobbied hard for them, so we’ve just go to deal with the problem head on and do the best job that we can.
Q: News yesterday on the driver front. Just a word on Nicholas Latifi. Why have you chosen him to partner George Russell next year?
CW: I think it was probably a fairly obvious choice. We’re pleased that we’re able to make an announcement. It’s been a long time coming and probably an obvious choice for us. Nicholas has been with us now this year, as our reserve driver. He’s done six FP1s for us and some test sessions. He’ll run next week at the Abu Dhabi test, and he’s just become a really great part of the team. He’s got a great personality – and from a track performance perspective, he’s done a good job in the F2 campaign this year. He’s obviously hoping to close out P2 this weekend, and I think he’ll be instrumental in driving the team forward. He’s got a very similar personality to George, and George has proved how motivating for everybody in the team, and I think Nicholas will fully mirror that next year.
Q: Cyril, Renault is involved in a very tight battle with Toro Rosso for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship. Just eight points the difference. Given the nature of this circuit, how confident are you in your car’s performance?
Cyril Abiteboul: If you really ask me for this circuit, I’m very confident. We were competitive last year. FP1 is not much to say because FP1 is very particular here, given the conditions but no, I think that indeed Toro Rosso with different circumstance that they’ve benefited, and that also managed to make happen in the close fight but I think it’s also fair to say that, on average, we are a clear P5. The target was to be P4 so we have not reached that target but average we deserve that P5. We didn’t benefit of any particular result that have helped in that respect. No podium when it could have been possible again. It’s our own fault, so I’m not blaming anyone in particular. But no, I think we will have a good fight tomorrow and Sunday, but I believe our chances… I want to believe our chances are high to finish P5.
Q: Now, overall it’s been a difficult season for you guys. What have you learnt from the really tough moments – and when were they?
CA: There’s been many tough moments. There’s been good moments also. I think it’s important to take a bit of distance, so if you ask me, it’s really to manage, to learn about the resilience that you need in that sport. Sometimes people believe how difficult it is as a sport, as a business also, given the difficulty and the way that the world is changing. We are on a ramp up. Zak has just mentioned a good trend that they have: P9, P6, P4. It’s exactly the trend that we had also: P9, P6, P4. I think all of that is possible, but the difficulty first is to maintain that P4 position now that McLaren has been able to come back from where they were before and the main difficult will be not to stay P5 or P4 because we should not be content with that, and I’m sure Zak is not content with that – but also to bridge the gap with the top teams. That will be the next difficulty and still the target for us. It’s a target for 2021. Everything in our programme has been built around that long-term target of 2021 because, in accordance to our strategy, that’s really the first opportunity to make that happen. But before 2021, there is ’19, there is ’20. And there is a short-term result and a short term pressure that everyone is putting on all of us. And that’s fine. Again, that’s part of the sport.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Mattia, what guidelines or rules or instructions have you given the drivers in terms of racing going forward from this point to stop what happened in Brazil happening again, if indeed they are allowed to race?
MB: There are no answers here; it’s something we discussed internally. They are both very good drivers, they know exactly what to do. I think it has been somehow unfortunate what happened but it will not happen anymore.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines/Racefans.net) Zak, you’re obviously delighted at finishing fourth in the championship, but if you look at it Red Bull finished third with the engine you people rejected. How do you feel about that? Is there any regret? Equally, Cyril, how do you feel about being beaten by your engine customer, given the fact that you both have similar resources?
TW: Such a nice fellow.
ZB: Look, I think, first of all, congratulations to Honda, it’s great that they’re going to be staying in the sport. I think that’s positive for the sport. I think you’ve got to give credit to Helmut Marko for making a good strategic decision to first put Honda into his B team and that works our well, so he puts it into his A team and he’s got two good lieutenants in Christian and Franz running those teams and you know, they’re winning races now and good on them and good for the sport.
CA: Well, you know, we were beaten by our customer, OK, but when I’m not beaten by my customer I’m beaten by McLaren, and McLaren is a great team. McLaren has had its difficulty but I think maybe something that Zak has not mentioned, but he could have mentioned, is the fact that sometimes you need to change some stuff to really understand where you’re at and what needs to be changed and what needs to be made stronger and I think the fact that when they came to Renault we were a benchmark. Not a benchmark in the sense that we were the best but at least McLaren knew what was the Renault engine capable of doing with Red Bull at the time. I think that really put a light on what needed to be changed in their organization and they have done that. They have taken action, based on that information. I think we are doing the same, in fairness, a bit later, but we are still doing the same. We know what our engine is capable of doing. In my opinion it is the engine that most progressed over the winter, right there, probably at the top in race conditions. So that’s good, but obviously it’s not enough. So we had to take action and we have reacted with exactly what we’ve done. We restructured the aerodynamic department. We recruited someone who actually is no stranger to probably the resurrection of McLaren – Pat Fry – and that will not stop there. I think that what matters is being able to constantly assess where we are strong and where we are weak. That’s what McLaren has done and that’s what also we have done and react, that’s also what we are doing.
Q: (Lawrence Edmonson – ESPN) A question for the whole panel: F1 is planning to become carbon neutral by 2030 but when you consider that entire countries have got a similar plan in place, is F1 being ambitious enough and is the whole sport going to face a losing battle over the next 10 years?
CW: I think the very fact that F1 have come out and launched a proposal in this area is the best starting block. I don’t think we have talked about what we do already do. I think there is a lot more that we could communicate in order to demonstrate the very fact that our sport is probably a whole lot more sustainable than the generic perception of it out there at the moment. These new hybrid engines being the perfect example. We have never talked about them being as relevant as there are. But I think that the sport does need to become a whole lot more sustainable. It’s a wider conversation in the rest of the world and it’s a very relevant and important one at the moment and this sport needs to be doing what it should be doing to tackle a whole lot of issues that we haven’t been tackling and there probably is an enormous amount of low-hanging fruit that we can all contribute to as a collective. I think as individual teams we have started down this pathway many, many years ago, but again it’s something that we don’t necessarily talk or shout about. At Williams we have a whole business division, about 350 people, that tackles or that takes some of those issues and uses battery technology in order to address them and again we should probably be doing a better job to talk about it. But I think the very fact that F1 have started this pathway and it is only the very beginning, but I think a 10-year plan is probably the right amount of time in order to tackle it.
TW: Yeah, what Claire said about the engines, we are having the most efficient hybrid power units and we need to, I think, talk more about it. This is a hybrid race series already and how we can see the future going in the automotive world going, hybrid is definitely the next defining step over the next few years. Having said that, Formula 1 was always the pinnacle of motor racing in terms of the engineering and innovation and lots of the things we do have found their way into road cars and continue to find their way into road cars. A big part of that is efficiency of course. I think we have a role to play in order to facilitate innovation at Formula 1 and at the same time be part of that climate movement that is absolutely necessary. We are all living in the same world and we see the air and the oceans getting more polluted every day and I think the more we support the movement, the more we tackle it with the small steps – banning plastic bottles, like the one you have next to your chair, from our hospitality – changing the way we fuel our dynos, not with diesel anymore but with something more sustainable, we are going to better the world. I’ve read something that I liked a lot, which was: ‘what difference does one plastic bottle make to the world said 8 million people’, and this is the kind of mindset we need to embrace.
MB: Nothing more left I would say, as they touch all the points. We are all on the same page. It is certainly a key topic. It is a challenging objective. I think as F1 we have to be, and we can be, an important platform for developing in that respect, on sustainability. I think we have a lot engineering background that we can use as well to somehow develop and improve that situation. I think that is an overall global effort of all the teams, F1, FIA, all together, but it is good. Great, at least, that we set the objectives and I’m pretty sure that for the future of F1 that will be key and important.
ZB: I think as everyone has said before me it’s a very big topic, it’s a very important topic. I think it’s a journey with a never-ending road. You know, all of us are tackling it in different ways, in similar ways, not only as a grand prix team but in our businesses. It’s great to see Formula 1 put such importance on it and I think it will be something that many of us are already doing today and will continue to do and improve upon because it’s an important topic for everybody.
CA: Yeah, not much to add, apart maybe from the fact that if Formula 1, or cars in general, are seen as part of the problem, Formula 1 can also be part of the solution. I’m not aware of any other sport that can contribute in any shape or form to the solution and I think that’s really important to mention. We created lots of expectation with that collective announcement, so we will have to deliver against those expectations. One figure I would mention. We are talking about this engine but to put things in perspective the average increase in power of the F1 engine is 3% per year. If you put that in perspective to UN target figures of CO2 emission in order to reach the COP21 target would be 2.5%, so on the basis that we have stable fuel consumption, it means that we have actually exceeded what the UN is commanding from the world industry in general. I think it’s a good benchmark. Obviously it comes at a huge cost and lots of technology. It can’t be transferred to all cars on the planet but still I think it does represent and element of an answer to the problem.
Q: (Jonathan McEvoy – Daily Mail) To Mattia Binotto. So far there hasn’t been a great deal light shed on the incident with your drivers at the last race. There have been a lot of words but not much light. I was wondering whether you fined them, whether you thought one driver was more to blame than the other and a) I’d like a straight answer to that and b) if I don’t, why do you bother showing up at these events?
MB: Is there one driver more to blame than the other? I think it’s even not important, because maybe that time it could have been maybe Seb, next time maybe Charles. They are two drivers, they are fighting, they can both of them make mistakes. I think that at the end what’s important is to make sure that whoever he is, the one in Brazil, or the next time, it’s not happening again. And again, I don’t think there is much to discuss. That’s something that is something that is in between our factory, between us, something we discussed and I’m happy to keep it between us.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Toto, Lewis in Brazil suggested that his future at Mercedes would depend on your future at Mercedes. I just wondered if he has had sought any assurances from you and if whether you have been able to offer those to him? And to Mattia, if Lewis Hamilton is available to sign in 2021 as it stands, would you like to sign him for Ferrari?
TW: Lewis and I have grown close over the last seven years. We ended up in Mercedes at the same time in 2013 and I think we have built up a lot of trust. At the same time, the two of us are part of a wider organization where everybody is playing in their relative field of competence. I think for him to say that is nice. I’d also like to know where he goes or if he stays in the future. And we are having those discussions about the future and I think it is very important between the two of us, like between many others that have played an important role within that team. Can I shed more light? No, for me it was important to finish the season in Abu Dhabi. There are many things to be decided on and we will see over the winter.
MB: Lewis is certainly an outstanding driver, a fantastic driver. Knowing that he’s available in 2021 can make us only happy, but honestly it’s too early for any decision, so we are happy with the driver’s we’ve got at the moment and I think certainly at one stage next season we will start discussing and understanding what to do.
Q: (Joost Nederpelt – NU.NL) What was your favourite moment or anecdote of the season?
CA: I guess my favourite moment has been qualifying in Montreal with Daniel in P4, I think it was, something like that. That was, let’s be honest, unexpected, not totally deserved. I think Valtteri had a problem in qualifying so I think it was one position better than what we would have had but clearly finally the demonstration that what we were seeing – I was personally also claiming since a while which was that the engine had made huge steps – and was actually true. So it’s not an anecdote, it’s a story and a very high moment of this season.
ZB: Well, it would have to be Brazil, wouldn’t it, with it being our first podium and clinching fourth in the championship so that and Lando qualifying in Q3 in his first race in Australia and us coming out and being in Q3. You only asked me for one, but I gave you two!
MB: Many moments. Obviously this season we have been celebrating our 90 years of Scuderia Ferrari so I would say at first the event where we celebrated in Milan, Piazza del Duomo, with all our fans and tifosi. And in the same week, let’s say the first row on the grid in Monza.
TW: For me the… I don’t want to talk about the best moment because the overshadowing event was Niki’s death. That is kind of the big theme of the season for us, so I was thinking whilst they were answering when I had a moment which I felt like being the best and I didn’t, of course… we are very grateful to win the championship but this one moment just overshadows everything else.
CW: Mine probably, as you would expect probably, didn’t come on the circuit this year but for me, the real highlight has been our pit stop crew. You probably will track progress… unfortunately Red Bull have just pipped us to the best pit stop and crew for the year but the way that our pit stop team have worked this year has been… gives a capsule of the resilience that our team has shown throughout the entire year. They go out there each and every race and fight for our drivers and for the rest of the team like they’re fighting for podium position and that for me has been a true highlight.
Q: (Beatrice Zamuner – Motorlat) Zak, how would you describe and assess your drivers’ contribution to McLaren’s 2019 improvement?
ZB: I give them a lot of credit, both of them. Early in the season our car wasn’t as competitive and I think it’s the team, the drivers for bringing the car home constantly, not really making any mistakes and then the car’s developed well over the course of the year and we’re able to give them a faster race car but I think credit to both of them. Carlos has definitely shined (sic) this year and I think Lando’s been an excellent rookie that has shown a lot of maturity for a very young driver.
Q: (Aaron Deckers – Racingnews365.nl) Toto, what was your impression of Nick de Vries last weekend and in general of the Formula E; is it going to be together the Formula One and Formule E, do you think?
TW: I really enjoyed the experience, I must say. I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia before and launching our Mercedes Formula E journey was very special. The crowds were phenomenal, seeing how this country is opening up – something I didn’t expect in that way. And the racing is very different to Formula One, clearly you can say that. For me it’s Super Mario Kart with real drivers, but it’s absolutely valid to give that a chance. And Nick has already contributed a great deal to the team’s performance. He’s very mature and the way he’s – as a personality and as a racing driver – been able to slot into the team with Stoffel is really nice to see. We have set our ambitions or our expectations on a realistic target, which we have overachieved and both of the drivers contributed to this happening.
Q: (Cezary Gutowski – Przeglad Sportowy) To the three engine manufacturers: is engine power convergence really possible given what’s going on around the Ferrari engine now after so many years, given you will have budget caps since 2021 which I guess does not include the engine development?
TW: I think you will see, over the long-term [the] trend on engine performance is that it will stabilise. I think we have seen outliers in engine performance, we have seen very good races with Ferrari, we have seen Renault doing a step up and then the same way that has stretched us so I think, looking over many years’ cycle, these gains will get smaller, like in any mature industry, the marginal gains tend to decrease and I have no doubt that this will happen.
CA: I think that the stability of regulations is showing that actual performance is converging which is good for the sport. I continue to believe that there are some breakthroughs to come that will come with new processes, with new materials, so that’s interesting, so you should watch this space and see what it still has to offer and going back to what I was mentioning before, there is an awful lot of innovation that I wouldn’t… it’s a bit unfortunate that we can’t really talk about because of all the secrets, of all the IP that’s involved and all the investments that are associated. Our engineers keep on having lots of ideas and that’s great to see. We’ve recruited a lot of young guys, coming from university. They are not necessarily passionate about Formula 1 but I can tell you that they are passionate about doing what they are doing in the field of the internal combustion engine and power in general and that’s good and extremely refreshing so I think it’s good that Formula 1 keeps on having this field of innovation for engines in general.
MB: Will convergence happen? I think we are all convinced on that. The reason that we are all convinced is that the rules that we have all accepted are defined. There will be lines of restriction and therefore we believe that there will no longer be the necessity to develop as we are developing today and there will even be some freezing opportunities, also the power unit and the fact that we are starting freezing some of the components is that believe that there is only a very marginal benefit at some stage in developing and it’s good for the sustainability to start freezing and reducing the dyno activity so yes, we are all convinced that it will come to a convergence. I think we are already converging and in the next period that will happen, certainly.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines, Racefans.net) Given the uncertainty of commitment of at least two teams to Formula One after 2020, should Formula One actually actively go out now and try and attract new teams?
CW: I’m not sure I know a whole level of detail about two potential teams leaving this sport but clearly we want a grid of 10 teams. That promotes great racing and we need great racing to ensure that our fans keep tuning in and watching us and clearly we want to be growing that audience as well so whether it’s down to F1 to actively go out and promote that or whether it’s down to those teams to make sure that they secure buyers… all I can say is Williams certainly isn’t one of those teams.
TW: All the numbers that are coming in – from audiences in the conventional TV, digital space, sponsorship – are growing. I think this is a sport that also with the spending cap coming in in 2021 is an area of growth. There will be certain thresholds that will come into the rules about joining the sport, concerning certain franchise value. Leaving the sport now would certainly not be the right thing to do from a commercial perspective when it’s just about to turn into a new opportunity. Should we be looking out for new teams? If there is interest in joining the grid with a solid foundation, big brands why not have the discussion but I think we should all 10 of us be proud of being part of the limited grid, we should be conscious about the opportunity and the possibility that lies ahead and concentrate on making it a good business for everybody.
MB: Not really much to add. I think the first objective should not look around but try to retain what we’ve got and only after, eventually.
ZB: I think it would be great to see another team in the sport. I think that (indistinct) we’ve got a new race market, that creates excitement and so as long as it’s a quality racing team I think it would just add excitement and opportunity so it’s not the teams’ responsibilities to be looking for the next team to join but Formula 1, as Toto said… television’s up, sponsorship’s up, fan appeal is up and therefore the more the sport can grow the better.
CA: I entirely agree. I would just add something that’s not been mentioned which is driver and driver development and access to Formula 1 for young drivers. That’s maybe an area where I think maybe one team ought to provided that they are solid teams project with good backing, not just opportunistic interest because it’s possible that the business model will become better but a good sporting project could be interesting because we all see that sometimes even good drivers should make it to Formula One and we all remember the time of teams like Minardi this type of team which were doing an excellent job in facilitating access to Formula 1 for those kids. We have a young driver programme and right now, even though we’ve got great talents, I’m not totally clear on how we will make it to Formula One. I think Toto experienced the same difficulty without opening something that is still touchy.
TW: We will talk about it.
CA: But we sort it out now. So I think you can see where I’m going at. I think it’s important to have stability of top ten teams for us and for most but think also about the dynamic of accessibility of Formula 1 to drivers.
Follow all the action from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with the PlanetF1 live centre