European GP: Friday Press Conference
Participating: Gerhard Berger (Toro Rosso), Nick Fry (Honda), Norbert Haug (McLaren Mercedes), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber).
Q. Nick, would you like to clarify Honda's position regarding the McLaren-Ferrari situation?
Nick Fry: Yeah, our position is as it has been for some time. As everybody knows, we've interviewed rather a large number of senior engineers over the last two or three months, if not a bit more and hired a few that people know about now. Nigel Stepney was one of those people who applied to us, so the first correspondence was from Nigel to us and he asked to be considered for a position.
I saw Nigel and it was the first time I'd ever met Nigel in my life in fact, so it was a perfectly normal get-to-know-you-type of discussion, nothing confidential, nothing was offered, nothing was received but he did mention at that time that there was another person who might also be interested and told me it was Mike. I subsequently saw both Mike and Nigel together and the second conversation was principally with Mike, as I'd already had a discussion with Nigel.
Again, Mike was not someone I knew, so we again had a get-to-know-you-type of discussion, not in great detail, more about what he'd done in the past, about what the issues with our team were. And that was the end of it. Again, in the second conversation there was nothing at all that made me vaguely suspicious at all.
Neither of them said anything inappropriate, they were both loyal to their teams, obviously not overly happy with various circumstances, but there wasn't any finger-pointing or anything and subsequent to that, that was the end of it. There's been no contact with either of them since that discussion.
I was asked by Jean - I'd obviously spoken to Jean and Ron about it more than once – and was asked by Jean, in fact, to write a chronology of those discussions which I did, which I sent the Monday before last – what's that? July the ninth - to both Jean and Ron and also to the FIA saying that was the chronology of events, and if they required any further information, then obviously we would be happy to provide it.
Since then I've heard nothing at all, so I can only assume that the matter is now between Ferrari and McLaren. From our point of view, I think I wouldn't be doing my job if, when you have offers of the chief designer of one of the top Formula One teams and the person who has been involved in probably the top Formula One team over the last decade, saying they want to work for you, I think I would be somewhat remiss not to at least see them.
But I emphasise that neither of those two gentlemen said anything or offered anything or nothing was received or asked for on our part. It was very straightforward.
Q. So how is the building of the technical team going?
NF: I think making some progress now. We came to a very sensible arrangement with Williams over Loic Bigois and he's been with us now for one whole week and has already made some small suggestions which we are in the process of implementing. I think he will settle in very well.
He knows a number of our aerodynamic people quite well from past jobs, so we're not starting from scratch. There will be other people joining but they are (joining) between now and the end of the year. I'm sure we can make a little bit more progress this year but obviously a lot of work is now going into making sure that we have a better car for next season.
Q. And do you still have a technical director, you still have Shuhei Nakamoto?
NF: Yeah, Nakamoto-san is senior technical director, that's his official title. We're reinforcing some of the skills underneath Nakamoto-san. Jorg Zander who will come from the BMW team is someone who has worked again at BAR, as it was in the past, (and who) will deputise for Nakamoto-san and I hope that he also can make a contribution.
Q. Gerhard, an ex-technical director of Honda has joined the Red Bull technical team. Do you expect Geoff Willis to have an effect on your team?
Gerhard Berger: Well, I have to say that I'm not directly involved in the Red Bull technical side but obviously they thought they have to strengthen their technical director position and they decided that Geoff is going to be the right guy for them.
Q. There still seem to be stories around that the team is for sale; could you just clarify that situation? Where they came from?
GB: Well, I don't know. It's very simple. I didn't offer anybody to sell something and nobody asked me. So on my side, I can only say it's speculation and it's been going on since the beginning of the season so just let them go on!
Q. Now Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel; perhaps you could clarify the situation with the two Sebs.
GB: Well, we're just coming into the second half of the season and obviously we are looking to improve our situation on the technical side and we are also looking at what is the right decision for the future on the drivers' side.
There are a couple of names that we're interested in, where we know they are able to do a good job and one of them is Sebastien Bourdais, another one is Sebastian Vettel and hopefully we're going to see some more possibilities and we're going to check everything very carefully and then make a decision: what is the right thing for us for the future.
Q. Mario, what plans have you got for Sebastian Vettel?
Mario Theissen: I can't say anything about it at this point of time because we are talking to the drivers, we are evaluating the situation and certainly we will do this internally. As soon as we have a decision, we will announce it.
Q. Now we're halfway through the season; are you looking forwards to try and catch Ferrari and McLaren or are you looking back to try and defend your position?
MT: No, we are absolutely looking forward. It looks to me like the gap between the two strongest teams and us has stayed about the same since the very first race which is a very good achievement for us already, because it means we are developing during the season as quickly as the strongest teams on the grid.
I think we have not only had a strong first half of the season securing the third position as a team, but we can also be confident for the second half. We have some improvements here and in the coming races and this should give us the opportunity to keep this position and to look forward and try to shorten the gap.
Q. You still seem to have a problem with the gearbox. Is that the case?
MT: We had two problems at Spa in the test and a problem at Silverstone on the Friday. They were not related to each other but it was about the environment of the gearbox, about the gear shifting and around the gearbox itself.
I have to say it is quite a complex thing and you have to get in-line mechanical things which are activated hydraulically, then the hydraulic activators are controlled electronically. And you have to get that right under all possible driving conditions. It takes some time to sort everything out, to get all the bugs out of the system, but it shouldn't hamper us in the races.
Q. Norbert, as an engine manufacturer are there still engine challenges to be had in Formula One? Everything seems to be pretty much the same, it doesn't seem to change.
Norbert Haug: I think the first challenge is really to be fully reliable which is still a massive achievement. For example if we stay in a normal rhythm we have a race in Monza then a race in Spa, so the same engine for those two... I think that is the highest stress you can think of. There are small improvements possible outside the engine, basically everything you can see, airbox, pumps, whatever…
Of course there will be a plateau after a while. I'm not so sure that all the engines are very much the same. There are driveability issues, fuel consumption issues, lead running issues etc. They are probably a little bit different. But I think it is remarkable how reliable all the engines are. We very rarely have an engine failure in the whole field. It just shows the level in Formula One.
Not so long ago when you finished a race you could be quite certain to be in the points, only ten years ago when only the first six got points. Now it has changed a lot. Sometimes, like Monza last year, you finish with all the cars, maybe just one car had to change the front nose, but everybody finished and that circuit, together with Spa, is the highest stress for an engine. So it is a really high level that we have achieved.
Q. Looking at McLaren-Mercedes, the two drivers that you have, can you just comment on their respective performances so far this season?
NH: I think we could only have dreamed of the results we have had so far. The points' standings after nine races… I would be a really happy guy if I knew whether we could achieve that in the next races as well. It is good. The engines, the cars, everything was reliable. We had one small problem in Fernando [Alonso's] car in Magny-Cours having to start from tenth on the grid.
That was a big handicap for him because you just can't overtake on that race-track. But otherwise we are fully reliable and have completed all the race laps in all the races, which I think is a good achievement. We haven't been that strong in that respect in the past but I think we have improved. Today was quite good as well. It is difficult to see who is going to have the edge.
The weather will play a role as well, but whenever we were on the race-track I think we played a good role. Everybody can see that towards the end Kimi [Raikkonen] was strong and fast. But Lewis was on a fast lap and had a spin on a corner in the second sector. It was not a huge problem because he recovered, but I think he could have done a quicker lap time. Whatever that means. We ran our planned program, we had consistent lap times and we are looking forward to the race and to qualifying tomorrow.
Q. Finally any comment that you would like to make about the Ferrari-McLaren situation?
NH: Not really. I have my opinion and I think maybe Ron [Dennis] said this from my side. I am very much convinced that this is an issue between some persons who have an interest in using the ideas of another team but certainly not an issue that our team is interested in. I think that is what was stated, and I think that is what will come out next Thursday. We are not interested in getting material or ideas from other teams.
Most definitely not. I think we should have a fair hearing next Thursday, then we will see what happens. I think everybody who has an idea, everybody that can look at a car with a technical expertise, will easily find out that there are no ideas on our car not created within our team.
I include the engine because, I do not know the material, should there be any doubts on engine issues we are very, very open for a check in that direction as well. I think we will have a fair hearing and then we will see what will happen. I cannot see that we are guilty anyway, because I cannot see what we have done wrong.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Jerome Bourret – L'Equipe) A question for Mr Berger. Sebastien Bourdais is expecting your decision in the next few days? Do you confirm that and were you happy with the job he did for you?
GB: Yes he did a couple of tests for us and he delivered what we were expecting from him. He was quick, consistent and good with the engineers. So I think he has good potential and yes it is right that we have an option on him until the end of the month.