Spanish GP Friday press conference
Participating: Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Christian Horner (Red Bull), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber)
Q: A question to the two team principals: you're both involved in promoting young drivers, you've had varying amounts of success with young drivers, but third drivers seem no longer part of your programs at Grands Prix, no third drivers on Fridays. What are your feelings about that, has it been that the way that everyone else has tackled it has meant that you've got to tackle it the same way and just use your race drivers?
Mario Theissen: It's not so much about doing things as the others do, it has been a careful evaluation after we had Sebastian in the car in the first races on Friday mornings. We sat down with the engineers a week ago and had a look at what we achieved and I have to say that especially in Malaysia where we were not well sorted on Friday, we came to the conclusion that it would have been more beneficial to have the race driver in the car for the entire day.
It was really a tough decision for me to take because with this year's test restrictions, you can hardly bring a young driver up to Formula One any more. There is just not enough opportunity. You have the Friday but then only a few days testing and those days only with one car, so there is really no comparison and we normally have a big program at a test.
So I think it would be good for next season to re-think the test restrictions and do something for young drivers.
Christian Horner: I agree fundamentally with Mario's comments. I think that track time is at a premium now for the race drivers in the way that the test agreement with the single car and reduced days has obviously gone.
The moving away from running a third car on a Friday and obviously with the Friday running that we currently have - again being limited track time - you want to put your race drivers in to optimize the amount of time they're on circuit and in the car developing it.
I think we need to think carefully about testing regulations going forward because for sure, it is losing the ability to put youngsters in the car, from a team point of view. It's something that does need careful consideration and again, how we go about things with Friday practice.
Q: So it's something to be considered, basically, for next year but nothing you can do particularly for this year.
CH: Fundamentally, yes. I think it's going to be very tough for youngsters under the current regulations and testing agreement to actually break into running in the car because track time is at an absolute premium and I can't see us putting youngsters in the car before the end of the season.
Q: Christian, quite a lot has been written about the fact that you have two of the older drivers and it has even been suggested by your owner, Mr. Mateschitz, that the ideal partnership would be an older driver and a younger driver; what are your feelings about that?
CH: I think that age is largely irrelevant. I think it all depends on performance at the end of the day. We're totally happy with the driver line-up we have and yes, as I say, it's all about what happens in the car.
It doesn't matter whether you're 26 or 36 at the end of the day. We're interested in drivers performing and delivering. The line-up that we have brings a lot of experience to the team. Both drivers are obviously highly competitive, highly motivated and obviously a lot has been made of comments about David's age and whilst he's motivated and delivering, why shouldn't he continue?
I think there are drivers who have been older than him that have won World Championships at the end of the day so I, and certainly the team is not too worried about age at the end of the day.
Q: Can you give us an update about the legal developments regarding customer cars?
CH: Obviously there's a debate going on regarding next year's Concorde Agreement, regarding the situation for this year. We firmly believe that the structure that we have is clear and concise and complies with sporting technical regulations and the Concorde Agreement and I think it's reasonably straightforward and obviously a lot has been discussed and talked about.
Q: And finally can you tell us about the developments on the car here which have come out of your wind tunnel. Was it true that the wind tunnel wasn't well-calibrated and there was a problem with its findings?
CH: We've had a few issues with the Bedford wind tunnel, with the calibration of that tunnel. We've learned a lot during the first part of the year.
Having conducted runway testing as well has given us the opportunity to analyze what results the tunnel is giving and we've pushed the boundaries of CFD (computational fluid dynamics), so the upgrades that have come onto the car subsequent to Bahrain have been a mixture of areas that we've worked on within the tunnel and CFD and basically we've got a reasonable upgrade here, aerodynamically, and mechanically we've got a step forward with the transmission for this weekend.
Q: Mario, can you tell us about the developments on your car for this Grand Prix?
MT: Well, due to the long gap between the last race and this race, obviously we have lots of things on the car, primarily on the aero side, but also suspension, chassis. As far as the power train is concerned we have optimized the gear shifting and the mapping of the engine/shift operation.
Q: How do you feel about other changes to the rules, which we haven't covered, have worked?
MT: The primary issue has certainly been the standard spec tire, and it looks to me that the field has come closer together. The tire is still an issue but it's not the predominant factor any more, it is one of several engineering factors and I think that has been very good and only this has allowed us to cut back testing in the way we have.
So other than that, we have the homologation engine which obviously didn't cause big concerns to anybody, because everything is based on last year's engine. We feel that engine development is scaled down after we came up with the homologated engine, so that will save money, as long as we stick with this engine format. So those are the two major issues.
Q: Question for both drivers: looking at the session today, particularly this afternoon, we saw that the final sector seemed to be crucial. How is it from the driving point of view?
Mark Webber: It's a long sector, to start with, so there's lots of slow speed corners, so you're in those corners for quite a long period of time, so that can have some effect on the ability to make mistakes, or to have cars that are not quite as well balanced as cars that have different characteristics, to have a bigger discrepancy.
The first sector's basically the straight and turn one and turn three. Turn two is a corner but it's just arriving into three. The third sector is incredibly different from what it used to be in the past and you have a different asphalt and blind entry into the new section.
I think it's more a frustrating thing for the drivers to continually try to get through it as quick as they can because you always think you can go through there quicker and the next time you come there and you try something a little bit different and you screw it up. That's probably the reason why it's giving a bigger spread across the field.
Nick Heidfeld: I think there are a few reasons for that. First of all, as Mark said, it's quite difficult to get it perfectly right, especially the chicane. The first part of the curb is flat and you try to take as much of that as possible. If you take a bit too much you go on the high part and you lose out quite a lot.
On top of that, it seems to change a lot during the day because the surface is new, it gets rubbered in and it's changing constantly. And on top of that, I feel that the first two parts of the circuit are more driven by the aero, and this is more consistent, lap to lap.
But the last part is so slow that the tires are more important and that's where you might find bigger differences, for example, lap to lap, or even at the end of the first lap, if you are unlucky and get some graining, you might lose also.
Q: Nick, we just spoke about third drivers not being used on Friday; presumably you're happier about having more running?
NH: Of course. I've said that before. I'm really happy that I've had the time, especially today. I feel it was important. Although we've been here testing for four days, I drove the first two days, but the second one was wet all the time and actually, I didn't even try both specs of tires when I was testing here so it was crucial for me to do both sessions today.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your time on the Nurburgring?
NH: It was definitely one of the nicest experiences ever. Unfortunately, it's probably going to be a one-off but if BMW decides to go there again I would be there to do it, and I would even enjoy going for the lap record. Everybody was really afraid and told me to be careful of the circuit. It was so much fun and I felt a lot more confident than I expected beforehand.
In the morning of that Sunday, I drove a Formula BMW which was a bit too slow for that circuit and I was pretty sure that going in a Formula One car would be too quick but then I saw it would be just ideal, really, for the circuit. There are a few jumps where I was very careful but overall it's a real quick circuit.
There were just a few jumps which were too big, even though we raised the car to its maximum, but it was definitely an unforgettable experience. We have a lot of coverage and actually I'm waiting to see it all. I will watch it again.
MT: There will be a DVD of that later in the year.
Q: Mark, how are you settling into Red Bull Racing?
MW: Well, I would say. I think the transition has been pretty smooth from my side. I was very fortunate and thankful to Frank to let me test for the team before Christmas, so that helped me with my engineers although I have a new engineer with me here this weekend because my normal guy's wife is expecting a baby.
But overall, I have settled in very quickly and working with Christian for the first time - although I raced against his team in F3000 - and Adrian and Rob Marshall and Mark Smith and these guys and Paul Monahan on the racing side, it's still not a young team but we are definitely getting better as every month goes by.
We are learning a lot as a team and you cannot take on McLaren and Ferrari and of course Mario's guys have done a great job - with a clean sheet overnight and there are no free meals in this game and it is very competitive and for us to be in a position, from where we started testing, when we were in trouble really, the car didn't come out that well and for us both, David and I, to be on the fringes of the points in Bahrain with retirements in front of us, or not really because that does not happen these days and you have to earn your results, so that was ..
You get checked out, how your team is performing, every fortnight, because of what you do on the track. Everyone can talk about what they are going to do and x, y and z, and that doesn't mean anything as everyone knows and we have to do the business at the weekends and the scores on the board tell you where your team is at...
Q: What do you feel about the new developments on the car?
MW: I was surprised with the gearbox that they made as much progress as they did in the time that they had. We are going to race it here for the first time and touch wood it should be ok for us.
Even if you are on the fringe of the points, there is a difference between 13th and ninth, you have to start taking a few risks to get some points, so they are all calculated risks not suicidal risks they are correct for us to get to the finish of this race this weekend and so gearbox-wise it was very impressive from the guys and obviously Adrian is pushing hard on the aero and stretching production quite hard.
It is a part of team where we need to improve a bit. We are definitely going in the right direction, no doubt about it. In the last race, we were hanging out with the Renaults and they have just won two world championships and they are going ok today but it is so, so competitive and any small stuff-up you are nowhere near the points and if you have a good weekend you can get some so we need to get away from that middle group.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Christian, what caused your repeated fuel flap problem?
CH: Yes, I mean basically we had an issue with it in Australia at the first stop when the flap didn't open and a huge amount of time was lost and it cost Mark and the team a seventh place finish.
The flap and mechanism was redesigned and unfortunately a repetition of a different failure happened culminating in the flap failure in Bahrain which again cost Mark a huge amount of time because it destroyed the airflow to the rear wing. So a total rework has been undertaken on the whole system and we think we have nailed the problem now.
Q: (Murray Walker) Nick, do you think there is any possibility of running the German Grand Prix at the old Nurburgring again?
NH: No, I don't think so. It would not be sensible to do a race there. I find it very hard and I am very sorry to say that because it was so enjoyable. I was asked if I thought the Formula One drivers in the old days when it was very unsafe... if I was sorry for them; but it is the other way around. I am jealous of them. I am jealous they were able to race there. I had so much positive feedback afterwards. It was really crowded and for the spectators, the noise was just amazing.
Q: (Heinz Pruller - Kronen Zeitung) Christian, was it the seamless shift gearbox you used today?
CH: Yes, the team are working extremely hard and the introduction of a new engine partner threw up challenges but the whole group has worked methodically on this program and the new gearbox ran over 1000 kilometres last week in testing, so we are reasonably confident from a reliability point of view that there won't be any issues with it which is why we are using it this weekend.
Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Regarding a possible night race in Singapore, do you think that commercial considerations are taking precedence over driver-safety?
MW: We always said you need to do the homework. I mean you never say never. But something can be done. There are other categories that race at night.
There is not much artificial lighting around at places like Le Mans, or...and I am not massively up to speed with what they do in America with the oval racing, but we obviously don't have lights on the car and the power of the lights you would need to light the place up artificially for visibility for the drivers and for flag marshalling and the other things that go with it...
I think you could light the place up, but it is a question of the rain and the other bits and bobs that you can take over embarrassingly if you don't do your homework, but I am sure that the FIA will do that and we all know the repercussions of having so much egg on face if it doesn't work, so there is going to be a massive amount of publicity if it does go ahead. You don't want a blackout either.
I think it is good to go to Singapore because then I get more time in Australia, so the more races we have over there I might be able to move away from England and live in Australia. Street tracks are very challenging for the driver but obviously we want them to be safe. I have done a few laps of a track in Singapore and there were a few races that needed to be made safer.
NH: Generally I like the idea of night racing and street circuits, but as Mark mentioned I see some issues about safety and if that is sorted, I am fine with it. But obviously normally street circuits are more dangerous because there is no run-off area and the light system has to work perfectly as Mark explained, because it is not like a soccer game where if the light turns off nothing happens, but if you are doing 300 kph then it is a bit more of a problem... I hope they will manage everything for it.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Mario, could you give us a brief outline of BMW's involvement in the America's Cup yacht?
MT: Of course, we are, and with BMW Oracle it looks good, we are one of the challengers, and we have a chance to become the challenger for Alinghi and for the final round and for the original America's Cup and both of us Nick and myself had the chance last year to be 18th man on the boat and it was a great experience, so I am really hoping they will make it and we all want to see them challenging Alinghi.
Q: And Red Bull are involved too, aren't they, Christian?
CH: Yes, Adrian (Newey) was there last week in Valencia and Red Bull are involved with the Swedish challenge and he was the moveable ballast as the 18th man - or he was supposed to be, but I think the weather was too bad in the end. We don't want him too excited about boats at the moment.