Indian GP: Friday Press Conference
Eric Boullier (Lotus)
Monisha Kaltenborn (Sauber)
Cyril Abiteboul (Caterham)
Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren)
Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing)
Stefano Domenicali (Ferrari).
Q: First a question to all of you: I believe you have had several occasions to discuss your teamâ€™s future in Formula One. How do you feel those discussions have gone with regard to your individual interests and concerns? Eric, would you start?
Eric Boullier: Obviously, as you said in your question if you look at the personal interests there are always some concerns and issues, but I think we had positive and constructive meetings all together with Bernie and the FIA and even if we are still far letâ€™s say from closing and signing any Concorde Agreement, even if I think it should not take long now, we, with a global vision for Formula One we all believe there are some positives.
Q: Monisha, your concerns?
Monisha Kaltenborn: My concerns straight away! I agree with Eric that it was good that the teams were invited to this kind of meeting to get the status on the negotiations between the commercial rights holder and the FIA and what for us is important is that we come to a conclusion which is good for Formula One. We know that each team has its own position in Formula One - you have the bigger ones and the ones who are in the middle and further back - but we need to have something which is good for the sport, the stability of the sport.
Cyril Abiteboul: Pretty much the same thing here as Monisha. Obviously, it looks like the last corner of a long negotiation and as always there are last-minute adjustments and last-minute compromises. Not everyone can be equally happy but you just need to make sure that not everyone is particularly unsatisfied, which is certainly not our case. Weâ€™re making sure to protect our key interests, because obviously smaller teams are fragile and we need to make sure not to be unnecessarily exposed, so thatâ€™s what we are making sure of but we are on a good track.
Martin Whitmarsh: I think in the short term weâ€™ve all got our own self-interests, but in the longer terms weâ€™ve all the same interests and I think thatâ€™s the sport is successful, that itâ€™s buoyant, itâ€™s exciting and that itâ€™s also viable. As a few of the others have said in front of me I think youâ€™ve got to recognize that thereâ€™s a lot of challenge for quite a lot of teams and itâ€™s important for all of us to reach for compromise, find a way forward thatâ€™s going to make sure that we can sustain all those teams. The good thing is this isn't the old era, which was I think very confrontational and probably good for the media but less good for the sport. I think people here are recognizing that now is not the time to have wars, nowâ€™s he time to be constructive, where necessary compromise and find a way forward for the sport.
Q: Thanks. Christian?
Christian Horner: I think the guys have done a tremendous job of telling exactly what wasnâ€™t discussed at the meeting, which is obviously confidential between the parties. So Iâ€™ll follow the party line and say, yes, it was a very constructive meeting and weâ€™re getting close to a conclusion but I think thatâ€™s really all there is to say at the moment.
Stefano Domenicali: Well, the last thing I can say in this spirit is that itâ€™s clear that there was something discussed between the teams and the relevant parties - the FIA President and Bernie Ecclestone, who represented the commercial rights holder. The thing is that at the end of the meeting it was the President of the FIA that left room for discussion for future points that the teams may suggest to improve what we are discussing. But I believe it is the right thing to say that here itâ€™s important to speak about the division of the future of Formula One and I believe that we are starting from good grounds and we need to make sure that we finalize this as soon as possible.
Q: Okay, thank you. Iâ€™m sure there will be some more questions for all on that subject. Now, some individual questions to each of you. Eric, starting with you, if I may. Obviously youâ€™ve done a fair amount of development over the last couple of races, but looking back at the whole season, have you exceeded expectations this year, given that youâ€™ve also lost quite a few points as well? And looking forward, do you think you can make the top three or top four?
EB: That was the target - to be top four this year. Top three would be the cherry on the top of the cake, but obviously itâ€™s tough to fight with the guys in front of us. But Iâ€™m quite happyâ€¦ I should say actually very, very happy with how the team developed and worked this year. Obviously, we had a tough 2011. A lot happened last year which was not in our favor but this year we clearly pushed back and brought back the momentum for us. The team at Enstone and at the track here did an amazing job and both drivers did contribute a lot to the success this year with so many podiums. But yes, we all want more. Obviously being in the fight for the third place is nice. Itâ€™s nice for the team. We obviously want to keep this momentum and keep pushing and take any opportunity. I think the session this afternoon, we had good pace on one lap and on high fuel, so Iâ€™m happy to be the headache of my colleagues.
Q: Monisha, definitely the first lady of Formula One, and of course youâ€™ve recently stepped up to be team principal of the Sauber team. Here you are at your home grand prix. How proud are you of getting that far?
MK: I think for oneself itâ€™s a bit difficult to feel proud about that, I think thatâ€™s for others to say, because I was given this opportunity and I was very happy to take it up. Not much has actually changed for me because I was anyway doing more stuff, for sure. It's just this little step to this title but now you really feel the entire responsibility on your shoulders.
Q: Cyril, a new appointment for you, what exactly is your role, what is the hierarchy now at Caterham F1?
CA: My main role is CEO of the F1 team. As you know Caterham is a large group with many different activities, so my focus is definitely on the Formula One team. As you can imagine, thereâ€™s plenty to be done there. Itâ€™s a position taking care of the day-to-day business, reporting to the shareholders so anything about that but no more and even my experience in the automotive industry, in the Formula One with Renault, over the past seven years had some things that is quite normal as an evolution but a great opportunity. The only thing that maybe is particular is that this is Formula One and one of the shareholders remains the team principal.
Q: And is he the man you report to directly?
CA: Obviously, the two shareholders and the rest of the Group.
Q: Looking at the championship Martin, youâ€™re still there with a chance - itâ€™s not over until itâ€™s over. What are your feelings, what are the feelings within the team now as we tackle these last four races?
MW: I think itâ€™s really business as usual. We have four races and we have to try to do the best job we can. We come to every grand prix seeking to win and weâ€™ll be doing nothing different in these last four races. Itâ€™s an incredibly competitive season as weâ€™ve had ups and downs, I think weâ€™ve underperformed in the last couple of Grands Prix so that gives you a bit of pain but it also gives you some determination to do something better in the last four races. So, I think itâ€™s been an interesting season and thereâ€™s no reason to suppose itâ€™s going to stop being one for a few races to come yet.
Q: Whatâ€™s it going to be about, Christian and Stefano? Is it going to be about development of the cars? Is it going to be about the drivers themselves? Is it going to be about circuit suitability? Perhaps you can talk about your own feelings as we go into these last four races.
CH: I think all of those factors are going to play an element. Itâ€™s going to be about getting the most out of the next four weekends; itâ€™s going to be about being reliable; itâ€™s going to be about being quick; itâ€™s going to be about not making mistakes; optimizing the package that you have throughout a grand prix weekend. Itâ€™s set to be a fascinating run-in to the championship over the next four races. I think weâ€™re set for a real spectacle over the next four events. Iâ€™m sure it will go all the way down to the wire.
SD: I agree with Christian. For sure at the end of the day being pragmatic itâ€™s important to do adding and summing up all of the points Christian was saying, not one point more than the other. So at the end of the day that is the situation that we have to face. And at the moment we are behind and we need to fight believing that it is possible because thatâ€™s the spirit I want to see within the team. And when I speak about the team I speak about everyone but Iâ€™m sure that is really what I feel walking around the garage and also in Maranello. We know that is a very tough job but that is part of the game. If you think where we were the first day of testing, and where we are now after a lot of months, I think that we need to be in one sense not happy but on the other hand very proud of what we did - because the first day when we shake down the car in Jerez was very worrying. So, I just recall my guys, to make sure we keep the momentum with the positive attitude up until the end and then we will see. If, in this case Sebastian - or another one, because as we always say, up to the moment where the classification is finished, we need to respect everyone - will win, they will deserve it, and we need to make sure that we will congratulation with them. But up to that moment we will make sure we will fight with every resource we have up until the end.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Sruthijith Kurupichankandy - The Economic Times) Question for the gentleman from Ferrari. Is it common for your team to use your car to make political statements - and if not, why did you decide to make an exception in India?
SD: Well in that respect I understand what you are saying. There was a press release that was done two days ago, so if you want any clarification of that, our press office is absolutely very pleased to answer to your question. But yâ€™know, if you look behind in the past weâ€™ve done a lot of initiatives but yâ€™know, thereâ€™s nothing that I want to into very specifically because itâ€™s not really the place where I should do it.
Q: (Ajit Devadason - SIFY.com) Question to Monisha. Sauber have traditionally had a tendency to attract excellent talent, groom them and then pass them on to the big teams. Do you plan to change that?
MK: Well passing them on was not really our strategy, it just happened. So I wouldnâ€™t really agree on that and say that we need to change anything on that. Itâ€™s true that historically we have been attracting young talent and it appears to be that we can provide them the right kind of platform that they can show their talent. Of course in the last case now we would have also liked to continue with Sergio but heâ€™s going to fantastic team, one of the more successful teams in Formula One and for us it shows that we can still provide that kind of environment to a young driver to show his talent. And how we can change? Simply by ourselves being more competitive.
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) Christian, it's an open secret that you're in a slightly different position to the other teams when it comes to your stance on the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA). Could you explain to what extent that's made your negotiating or bargaining position a bit more difficult when it comes to the general discussions, the entry, the costs, the potential tax, the new working group, all of that?
CH: I think that they are two separate things. The resource restriction, the concept of the resource restriction was to - and still is to - reduce costs in Formula One, the costs to compete in Formula One, and that's something that we're not opposed to. We are fully in favor of costs being controlled in the sport, we just disagree with the mechanism, at the moment, how they are presented to control those costs and our concern is that different entities, different organizations are treated differently in what is proposed so far. It doesn't include the engine, for example, so there's freedom to spend, at the moment, on the engine, particularly the new power train in 2014. But I think that what has come out of the discussions recently - and with the formation of a new Concorde Agreement, it gives the opportunity to sit down with our colleagues and hopefully agree a strategy on what does work and what does control costs, for the larger teams as well as the smaller teams, for the future, that is sustainable, that includes all aspects of the operation of a Formula One team, because currently, as proposed, the RRA doesn't deal with so many aspects, whether it be KERS, for example, whether it be exhausts, whether it be drivers, whether it be other aspects of spend and cost drivers in Formula One. So hopefully there will be that opportunity over the coming weeks and we remain committed to ensuring that there is a workable solution that's transparent, that's fair, that's balanced for all the participants.
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) Do you feel isolated?
CH: I don't think we find ourselves isolated. We elected to leave FOTA just over 12 months ago so we haven't sat in FOTA meetings. We attend all the technical working groups, we attend all the sporting working groups with the parties that matter, we're present in all discussions.
Q: (Daksh Panwar - The Indian Express) Stefano, the Indian government has criticized the decision to the put the flag (of the Italian navy) on the car. So given that that has created controversy, will you review it for Sunday's race?
SD: Honestly, as I said, I don't think this is a matter for this press conference to discuss this subject, to be honest. And as I said, if you have any questions or doubt about it, we have our press office available to you.
Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Stefano, question about your car: Nick Tombazis said a few things before the weekend about the wind tunnel and updates not working as they are supposed to in the last couple of races. Are you confident on today's evidence that you've got to the bottom of the problem there?
SD: Well, it's difficult to say. For sure, being a pragmatic guy, we need to make sure that with the little of what we expect, today we will analyze the data. It is difficult to see, for example, FP1; the track was changing every lap so we need to take that into the analysis that the engineers are going to do now but for sure, the elements that will make the difference really, up to now, up to the end, if we would like to bring new updates on the car, we need to make sure that they are delivering what we are expecting, saying without doing, but making sure that this will deliver the objective that theoretically we would like to bring and this is a fundamental element that also relates to the fact that we need to work very hard to make sure that the problems that we had this year, mainly at the beginning of the season, will not happen again at the beginning of next season, so it's quite long work that we are doing at home to make sure that we will improve that situation.
Q: (Luigi Perna - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Stefano, about the new elements on the car; what worked and what didn't?
SD: I don't know! We will see when it counts. Today is too early to say. The people will have done a good job if the car has improved in performance relative to our main competitors. If that is not happening, of course that means we haven't done a good job. But it's too early to say.
Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) Question for the back row, please: I understand you might not want to confirm any of your decisions regarding who you might have selected for your drivers for next year, but will you be confirming your line-ups before the end of the season or during the winter?
EB: Before the end of the season.
MK: We as well.
CA: Same thing.
Q: (Shreyas Sharma - Mail Today) To all of the teams; last year we saw that the tire wear at the circuit was an issue. On the evidence of today do you think that has improved; whoever wants to answer that question?
SD: I believe that last year...
CH: Ladies first!
SD: Ah sorry, for sure! Last year was a completely new track, for sure the asphalt was in its first year of life so I'm sure that this year the situation with the tires if you compare to last year is different. And looking at the runs of today, it seems that the tires are more stable than what we saw last year, but that is my feeling after the end of the first day of practice.
Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Monisha, Kamui was saying yesterday that he's trying to find extra sponsorship and he's busy working hard in Japan trying to find some backing. To what extent does his financial situation and backing influence the decision on whether he stays or not?
MK: Regarding Kamui, we've always said that we know his strengths, his qualities as a driver and these kind of aspects have not played any role in it. If you look back, even when we took him up, also then people criticized us for that decision, and everyone knew that he doesn't have any sponsorship package so nothing has changed on that.
Q: (Vanessa Ruiz - ESPN Radio) So, Monisha, does the fact that he's looking for a sponsor mean that he's leaving Sauber?
MK: I don't know. I think you have to ask him that. We've not had any talk like that and, as I said, we are generally also looking at him, talking to him and I think we know him quite well by now, to know what we have if we keep him on.
Q: (Ubaid Parkar - F1Pulse) Martin and Stefano, considering that there aren't a lot of regulation changes next year, are you worried that Red Bull's recent form means that you might be chasing Red Bull again next year?
MW: The fact is that you go into every year with high expectations. I think everyone works hard to improve the car. Red Bull's a very strong team, Ferrari's a strong team, the three teams behind will all be competing next year so if you're wise you go into every year worried about the eleven other competitors. You never know what they're going to spring, you don't know how good a job they've done. Sometimes you don't know how bad a job you've done yourself, so that's the exciting thing about Formula One. Everyone goes off the radar screen. We don't get pace information for a period of time. We all work hard to develop a new car. As I say, during the winter you start to grow confident about what you've done but you've got to be mindful of the fact that there are eleven good teams working hard to beat you.
SD: Well, on my side, with regard to next year, I would say that the situation could be more or less the same as this year. While everyone is trying to catch up the target that in terms of pure performance at the moment Red Bull have set, even in previous years, in my view, 2014 will be a re-set where there is a chance, where once again the field will be split into separate sections because it's a totally new (set of) regulations, it's a totally new power train, so I'm expecting that will be a year when we can see some incredible or interesting big surprises, or we can see the risk of having to field in one group because of this technical challenge that is huge. There's not a lot of time, because of course all the teams will try to push hard in 2013 and then at a certain moment they will need to decide what to do for the year after and bear in mind that this year, I would say, most of the development that you can bring to the next year's car, for 2014, you have to forget it and make sure that you have a good project that has to start from a white sheet of paper and you have no reference with the other competitors so it will be a big question whether... I'm sure that the first day of testing in 2014 will be quite a challenge and quite interesting for all of us.
Q: (Ian Parkes - Press Association) Stefano, I heard your answer earlier regarding having the Italian flag on the car but are you not courting political controversy by displaying such an emblem, bearing in mind that the FIA's statutes states no team or entity within Formula One is allowed to make political standpoint?
SD: I think that if you look at what is written in the press conference (release) it is not really what you are saying. I think that you have to refer to that, to be honest, and look what is written exactly, and the reason why we put that on. There's not any political intention or discussion in that. If you look at that, that's really what is written.
Q: (Ian Parkes - Press Association) I have read it, and obviously you're making a point regarding the two sailors that are in dispute with...
SD: No, no, that's not true.
Q: (Ian Parkes - Press Association) It's on the website. I've read what's on the website. You're saying that it's for the two sailors.
SD: It's not true, to be honest, what you're saying.
Q: (Dhruv Behl - Auto X) Just a generic question to the entire panel: what is India like in year two, compared to last year? So far, how has the weekend been?
CH: I think it's fantastic...
MW: Ladies first.
CH: No, absolutely, you're quite right, Martin.
MK: Go ahead, no go ahead. I could be slightly biased on that.
CH: I do apologize. No, it's fantastic to be back here. It's a great track, it's truly impressive what you've done here in India and I think that the race was tremendously well received last year. I think the circuit has a great blend of fast corners, slow corners, long straights, so it's a pleasure to be back here and it's great to see the evolution that's happened during the last twelve months with what's happened in and around the circuit.
SD: Absolutely. I totally agree.
MK: I fully agree with that. I think last year was really a fantastic event here and the FIA also awarded the promoter here with a special award for promoters at the end of the year. People were welcomed here with a lot of warmth. It's difficult to really top that but to keep that and still get away with all the hiccups that we had in the first year is a great achievement.
EB: Obviously I agree. I just say that when I arrived yesterday the first comment from my team was - as you will see - a lot of details and attention has been done to the track and it's much much nicer and better. That's really proved the commitment of the promoter and the country which is good.
CA: Clearly some additional work has been done between the two years. Last year it was quite challenging work to be done, to deliver on time, which was the case, it was a good race, won by a Renault engine, so a good memory there. This year, we haven't had much time to enjoy the country because we are in the middle of a battle to try and recover our tenth place. We would love to do that in India, obviously, it's going to be challenging so if we could get a little bit of help from the weather, some rain, maybe that would help us in trying to get an abnormal race. Other than that, it's great to be in a part of the world which is important for all the sponsors, all the car makers which are basically starting to appear here. It's good to be here.
MW: I think we've talked a lot about the facilities and I think the facilities are good and they've got better but I think the really important thing was that last year you really sensed that really crazy passion in its first year and it's early days in this year's race, but I think we want to retain that and build on it because clearly India's a new and very important market for Formula One and looking ahead now, we've got to build upon the passion that we saw in its first year and make sure we don't go flat, we don't lose the interest, we've got to maintain that momentum. So the facilities are good but I think that this is such an important market for anyone, we've got to build on the passion we saw.
Q: (Luigi Perna - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Stefano, considering the last three races, the gap of performance of Red Bull compared to your car and the others, how much chance do you have to close this gap and try to win this title?
SD: In terms of closing the gap in performance, it's difficult to say because our main competitors but also McLaren, they are always improving, so it's difficult to say where we are relative to pace/performance but in terms of percentage with regard to the possibility of winning the championship, I think that, as we said before, there are too many elements that are on the table: strategy, race mistakes, problems that we still have - I would say - less than fifty percent because they are in front of us, but the race is full open.
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