Christian Horner, Claire Williams and Vijay Mallya talk to the press at the British Grand Prix.
PART ONE: TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Christian HORNER (Red Bull), Claire WILLIAMS (Williams), Vijay MALLYA (Force India)
Q: Vijay, the target for this year was to match, or even improve, on last year’s Constructors’ standings. So far you’re pretty clearly in fourth. Tell us about that and the upgrade you have on the car this weekend.
Vijay MALLYA: Well, there is a specific upgrade for Silverstone. We take this particular race very seriously because it’s our home race and there’s no question that development must continue through the season, given that this is a brand-new car, and we are in fourth with a fairly comfortable lead over Williams but nothing can be taken for granted and we wouldn’t like to be complacent. When I launched the car I said we must retain fourth or even aim higher. That still remains the objective – because I believe in setting the bar high – but whether we can actually catch Red Bull or not remains to be seen, particularly towards the tail-end of the season but we are pretty focussed on getting the job done.
Q: What’s the strategy, could you share it with us, with regards to the name and the brand of your team going forward?
VM: When I bought this team ten years ago – and we’re all very proud of the fact that, as an independent team we have survived amidst a great amount of speculation for ten years and are still going strong. It was Force India because it was the first time an Indian team showed up on a Formula One grid. It met the aspirations of millions of young Indians who never thought that would be possible but then we were running around in P23 and P24 and the then management seemed very happy about it. Since we have consistently now improved and are a serious contender on the grid, it’s time to broaden our horizons, attract more international sponsors and sadly there is no Indian Grand Prix any more. Indian sponsors seem to be passionate about putting all of their money into cricket and so we must appeal to a more international audience and so the idea of changing the name of the team was mooted. We’ve had several discussions, no decision has been taken but we have listed a few options and we’ll take it forward at the appropriate time.
Q: Christian, Daniel was here in the press conference yesterday, talking about the upgrades situation, saying a decent step is expected for Budapest. From what you’re seeing from your relative development rates to the top two teams, are you likely to converge, do you think, in the second half of the season?
Christian HORNER: I think certainly since the first European Grand Prix in Barcelona we’ve consistently managed to chip away and get closer to the front of the field. Daniel’s had a great run: five consecutive podiums including a victory in Azerbaijan, and I think our most competitive race of the season to date was actually last weekend in Austria, finishing within six seconds of the leader without any safety cars and obviously beating a Mercedes. So, incrementally, we’re getting the performance on the cars and hopefully that can continue over forthcoming grands prix.
Q: You were with your peers in London at the live event this week. As the boss of a leading team and particularly one that has a strong marketing background, give us your opinion of that and what it all meant.
CH: Well, of course, as Red Bull we’ve done an awful lot of those kind of events around the world with a team that we have dedicated to running show car activities but I think the London event was fantastic: it was taking Formula One to the public, it was free of charge, it was combining a music festival with running the Formula One cars, under the background of Big Ben, up to Trafalgar Square, around, y’know, from Whitehall. It was fantastic to see it so well supported and so many people coming out and the enthusiasm and passion and excitement. I think also to see the drivers having fun and enjoying it as well was a great advert. So hats off to FOM and the Liberty guys for putting the event on… As their first big statement of promoting Formula One.
Q: The same question to you Claire, really. Your thoughts on what it did for Formula One in the UK – and is there open support from the teams for this kind of thing?
Claire WILLIAMS: As Christian said, it was a fantastic event for all of us to be involved in. It’s great to see the new owners are thinking and having that kind of vision and involving all of the teams in doing something like that. And to come to London, it’s an iconic venue for us. To have all the teams there, the cars, the drivers, was just great to be able to take Formula One to a new audience and I’m sure a lot of those people probably haven’t been to a race before or watched us on TV, so hopefully it will extend our audience but the activities going on ahead of the actual running itself were fantastic as well – the education pieces that are so important as well. We had Dare to be Different, Formula One in Schools was there, we had a presence there, it was just really good to see all the children there as well.
Q: Big weekend for Williams at the moment, for the team and for the family with the anniversary, with the film. Tell us what the feeling is about where the team – and the family – is at this major milestone.
CW: It’s been quite a busy week! We launched the Williams film on Tuesday, which was very nice. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been about three years in the making. We had 300 people in London watching that on Tuesday night. We had a bit of rain which kind of dampened things a little bit but it was reviewed really positively, which is nice to see, and obviously it doesn’t tell the traditional story that that you might expect: a chronological tale of Williams and our track performance over our four decades in Formula One but rather the human story and the kind of story of my parents’ involvement in the team over those 40 years. So it’s a very personal account of Williams and one that we just hope Formula One fans, and fans maybe that aren’t fans of the sport, will enjoy seeing as well. Then, obviously, we’re celebrating 40 years here, so we seem to be celebrating 40 years a lot this year! The marketing team at Williams have been really busy but it’s been really good fun and it’s just great to be able to do all of that, and this weekend we’re showcasing a couple of our heritage cars: Nigel’s 1992 Red Five and the six-wheeler as well. Great to be able to show those to the fans here.
Q: Just a quick one, Felipe Massa seems to be going along well, are you both thinking of going again next season?
CW: Yeah, there’s a lot of talk already isn’t there, about drivers across the paddock. For us, we’ve decided we’re going to hold off a bit on our driver decision. We’ve got a fight on our hands on the race track at the moment and to be distracted by those kinds of conversations isn’t something that we want to be happening at the moment. As Vijay said earlier, they’ve got a nice points haul on us at the moment we need to focus on, rather than anything else.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Given that the mission of a Formula One team is effectively to market performance and Wednesday in London was actually a major marketing exercise, both for the teams and for the sport, would you ever consider making attendance at an event optional for your drivers?
CH: Good old Dieter, he gets stuck in. Look, all the drivers were there, bar one. I thought it was a great turnout from the drivers. We didn’t insist our drivers had to be there, we asked them to attend and they were very happy to turn up and take part and I think they actually really enjoyed it as well. So, it was a shame there wasn’t a full complement but I don’t think it detracted from the show. The reaction from all the fans to pretty much all the drivers was fantastic.
Vijay, your thoughts on that?
VM: I thought it was an excellent event. I’m glad to see, at least in my ten years of time in Formula One, some very serious marketing that Liberty has commenced. Whether it’s social media, whether it’s the F1 event in London, I think Chase Carey summarised it when he said he wants every Formula One weekend to be like a Superbowl final. That can be only good for the sport. It will only promote the sport, get more revenue and hopefully we’ll get a share of it too.
And on the subject of drivers turning up being optional Claire?
CW: Yeah, I don’t want to get sit in judgement on anyone who didn’t turn up on that day when I don’t know the real facts behind it. I’d rather focus on the drivers that were there and the great job that they did. Ricciardo did a fantastic job – I think breaking a lot of the rules that all the drivers were told in the briefing!
CH: They were controlled turns!
CW: They were great turns. I thought they were fantastic turns! He did a great job, they all did a great job and to see our drivers… when Lance came in and was able to do the controlled turns, etc., the grin on their faces was great. I think they did a great job to promote Formula One, the drivers out there. To see them all in one place and to see them walk down Whitehall was a fantastic event. Talking about that, and the positives rather than anything else is what I would rather do.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action / Speed Sport) Vijay, now that you’re spending all of your time in the UK, have you changed how much time you spend on the day-to-day running of the team?
VM: In the past I used to be at the race track but, as I’ve always said, in any enterprise, there’s the front office and the back office. Both the front office and the back office are equally important. The team has enjoyed considerable success, particularly over the last two years. I’ve been more a part of the back office than the front office over the last year or so – but I’m delighted at the way things are going for us.
Q: (Marc Surer – Sky Germany) Question for Christian. What is your opinion about the start of Bottas in Austria?
CH: It was the perfect start. He had an unbelievable reaction and didn’t get caught – so in that case it was the perfect start. Daniel came on the radio and said that he thought Valtteri had jumped the start because he saw a little bit of movement. But I think a little bit of movement has been permitted because sometimes when the cars select a gear there’s a bit of movement, etcetera, etcetera. I think perhaps it’s something for the FIA to look at, the tolerances that are allowed because of course because sometimes a precedent gets set and then engineers try to grab that little bit of an advantage. Of course if you are moving slightly then it helps to pick up traction, you can see exploitation happening – so hopefully the relevant guys in the FIA will look to tighten it down so there’s very little tolerance.
Q: (Pierre Durocher – Montréal Journal) Question for Claire. We made the trip to follow naturally Lance, I would like to get your comments on the progress Lance has made since the Canadian Grand Prix and, the second part of the question, it’s a weekend of celebration for Williams but at the same time I would like to know how you feel about the recent comments that Jacques Villeneuve made about Lance. He’s been quite hard on him. I wonder how you feel about it?
CW: Hopefully I’ll have forgotten the second part of your question by the time I come to it. Lance has done a fantastic job in the last few races but he has actually all year. You may have only just seen the results on the race track but if you could see the hard work he’s put in behind the scenes over the course of the year, it’s been really impressive. We came out at the start of the year and said he, as a rookie, is going to take some time in order in order to familiarise himself with Formula One. This is a big step-up from the junior formulae. I think people can underestimate that step at times. So he’s taken the first few races to get used to Formula One, acclimatise himself, acclimatise himself with the engineering side of things, with the new circuits that he hasn’t been on before. And that’s taken some time but as you saw in Canada he broke that duck and scored his first points and then went to Azerbaijan and had a fantastic race and similarly in Austria after a really difficult weekend for the team, both our drivers managed to score points. So he’s delivered against everything we expected of him and I’m looking forward to seeing how he’ll move forward for the rest of the year. It’s great to now have two cars that are scoring points for us in the Constructors’ Championship. With regard to Jacques’ comments, he’s obviously been pretty vocal in the media. I don’t want to go into a huge amount of detail about it. I don’t think there’s any need. The way that Lance describes it, he just wants to get on and let his track performance do the talking. I think that’s what we should do – because that’s when the critics will stop: when Lance proves he deserves to be in Formula One, which we all at Williams believe anyway.
Q: (Rob Harris – AP) Question to Vijay. Is removing India from the name of the team some sort of retaliation? Because obviously you have been charged with money laundering and they are fighting your extradition.
VM: I’ve been charged with a whole variety of things – but let that be kept to one side and let the legal process take its own course. The potential removal of the word ‘India’ from the team name is nothing to do with the events surrounding me. As I’ve said before, we need to appeal to a more international audience. We need to cater to the needs of sponsors who have global businesses – and sponsoring Formula One isn’t exactly cheap. It was ten years ago that the team was named Force India in the hope that there would be an Indian Grand Prix, which took place but sadly stopped after that, in the hope that we would have a whole bunch of Indian sponsors – but they preferred to put their money into cricket. So I have to look elsewhere. And in doing so I also need to give a more international platform for the team for the next ten years. You can’t keep thinking of name changes every year or every other year. So, this is in a work-in-progress stage right now but certainly it’s something we are seriously thinking about.
Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) To shift gears a little bit, this is for Vijay Mallya. As well as the success of the team you’ve also brought in a new sponsor and with that you’ve brought a unique colour to the grid but along with that it has allowed you to bring in a great organisation like breast cancer care. What is it like working with that group and what about your new sponsors this year?
VM: Well, the car is pink because the sponsor, BWT, wanted a pink car. They sponsor other forms of motorsport and if you notice they also insist on pink cars. Now, at the end of the day I think that pink looks pretty attractive. As far as association with the breast cancer initiative is concerned, I have always supported charities. I have supported more than 20 different charities in my life. It came naturally to us, with a pink car, so we are very happy to be able to assist in this initiative.
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday) A question to all three of you: you’re sitting third, fourth and fifth in the race for the world championship and none of you are works teams. A question in two parts: one, what would you name as the single thing you most want to take you to that next step to fight Ferrari and Mercedes constantly, and second, with the new engine formula for 2020 are you looking further afield to bring in, possibly, new automotive suppliers to make you into works teams. Is it something you are discussing?
CH: I think the first part of your answer is, we would love the engine to be a non-performance differentiator. Obviously there is still a pecking order and these engines are also extremely expensive, so as a customer it’s disproportionate the amount of money we are spending on these engines. I think what’s really interesting is that Formula One is effectively at a crossroads with the new regulations, because those regulations theoretically come in 2021 and there will be probably and eight to ten-year life on those engines, so what we are looking at is actually is Formula One’s relevance pretty much up to 2030. Now, by 2030 how many people are actually going to be driving cars? Are they going to be autonomous? Are they going to be electric? The world is changing so fast in that sector. So Formula One has some serious questions that it needs to answer today in the choice it makes for the engine for the future. What is Formula One’s primary purpose? Is it technology or is it a sport and entertainment, and man and machine at the absolute limit? I sense that with the new ownership that has come into Formula One that creating great entertainment, creating great content, the noise, the sound, the exhilaration of seeing the drivers as the star is of absolute primary concern to them. So I hope that with the opportunity there is with the regulation change that is being discussed at the moment that the fundamental aspects of cost, performance and attractiveness to the fans, therefore the noise, the acoustics of these engines, are a key factor in the set of regulations they come up with and I think that in turn will produce good racing, reduce costs and bring back some to the appeal that engines of a bygone era used to produce.
CW: In answer to your first question, which was how would Williams improve on our position, lying currently in fifth. Probably the answer is twofold. We have to make sure that we have the resource in place back at Grove so that we could achieve that, whether that be personnel, equipment or budget. A lot of it is down to budget, as obviously the former doesn’t come without the latter. Budget for us comes through greater sponsor acquisition, a partnership with a manufacturer for example, or the redistribution of income in Formula One. So any of those would be great, they would considerably help us. As much as I always say it’s not about the money, it’s what you do with it, when you are competing with teams with three times the size of your budget it’s always going to be really difficult to make that jump into the top three in the championship. When it comes to engines, I think Christian answered it more eloquently than I probably could. We are looking at a road map for the next decade in Formula One where the engines are going to be and we must make sure that they probably aren’t as dominant as they have been, as much as we have benefited from our wonderful partnership with Mercedes, I think for engines not to play such a role in the performance differentiation would be a good thing and then, equally, as an independent team, for engines not to cost as much money would be really useful for us. But then the wider aspects of fan engagement, having engines that are lovely and noisy is something that we would like to see back in Formula One.
VM: Well, we have always had a limited budget compared to the big teams in Formula One. We have a culture within our team to spend our money wisely and to get the maximum bang for buck and at the end of the day everybody is passionate about pushing that last pound as hard as you can. Having said that, if we get more sponsors we might spend a little bit more money, but I wouldn't spent all of it, I would give some back to shareholders because I don’t believe that money can necessarily ensure that I’m going to be at the front of the grid. There may be people who spend a lot of money and who are able to therefore develop a car that is more easily at the front of the grid than we can, but if somebody turned up and gave me a hundred million more and asked me “well, can you beat Mercedes?” I don’t think I’m going to say “yes, I will”. It's how you spend your money that is more important. The income distribution pattern: I think everybody knows my views, it’s completely lopsided and needs to be addressed. With a little bit more in our pocket we can make that incremental step and certainly fight in the top three consistently. As far as engines are concerned, as Claire has mentioned, we have also benefited from a fantastic power unit with Mercedes. I have been with Mercedes for nine years already and they are a fantastic partner but they are expensive. Going forward, as Christian said, looking ahead to let’s say 2030, we definitely need an independent engine our there at a reasonable cost, which is available to anybody.
Q: (Luis Aguirre – Reforma Group) A question for Mr Mallya. I would like to ask you about the situation between Checo and Esteban in Baku and Montreal. How was it for you to see that fight and to watch your team having the big team’s troubles, no, I mean the fight between them and how is going to be the approach of the team to avoid those kind of things in the future?
VM: You know, what happened in Montreal is not something that really concerns me. Esteban wanted to overtake Checo because he felt he could attack Ricciardo. Checo felt he was better placed to do the same job. Ultimately none of them succeeded in doing that but nevertheless the team scored points. What happened in Baku clearly was a great loss to the team, otherwise there was almost a podium for us. That’s unacceptable with our two cars hitting each other. I don’t think it’s road rage. I don’t think it was deliberate in any way. It was just the excitement of the moment and an error of judgement. Both drivers have been spoken to. We don’t believe in making team rules or giving team orders but at the end of the day I think both of them fully appreciate that is their responsibility to bring the cars home and score as many points for the team, because that’s precisely what Claire is going to be doing with her drivers and we need to stay ahead.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Taking everything that has been said earlier on about the Mercedes advantage, the engine differentiation, going to the next step etc there is a team/engine partnership that appears to have got its calculations wrong and they are looking at possibly taking a Mercedes engine next year. Given that this would require certain regulatory concessions, or so it appears, how do you feel about the fact that Mercedes could actually be supplying a team with substantially better resources than both the Mercedes engines and Christian how do you feel about a team that could suddenly possibly beat you?
CH: First of all, it’s got to happen first. We’ve been there before, from our side of the fence, and it didn’t happen. Speaking to Zak the other day he said he thought he was watching the same movie that we lived through a couple of years ago, so it didn't sound particularly hopeful that there was going to be a Mercedes in the back of a McLaren next year. But whatever issues there are it’s McLaren’s business and if they had that engine… they have had it before… if they had that engine they would be more competitive than they are today.
CW: I’m not privy to the conversations that may or may not be going on between McLaren and Mercedes. Clearly, it would not be ideal for us but I don't think Williams have a place to interfere with that. Those are conversations that need to going on without us.
VM: We all want McLaren to be competitive. It’s a team with great history, a great presence in Formula One and I’m personally sorry to see them struggling the way they are. So it would be good for the sport in general if McLaren returned to being as competitive as they have been always. But having said that, if they want a Mercedes engine it’s really between Mercedes and them. As far as regulatory aspects are concerned well those have to be ironed out, because I don’t believe that the FIA are going to silent spectators to a situation where McLaren has no engine. But that’s a second step. Clearly, Mercedes has to agree to supply McLaren, if McLaren indeed disengages with Honda. But, if I remember correctly, at the last press conference that happened, I believe in Austria, both McLaren and Honda confirmed that they were still together.