Monza: Friday Press Conference
Participating: Mario Almondo (Ferrari), Willy Rampf (BMW Sauber), Pat Symonds (Renault), Geoff Willis (Red Bull).
Q. Geoff, welcome back. What are your first impressions of Red Bull Racing?
Geoff Willis: Well, first of all, I am very glad to be back in F1 and very happy to be at Red Bull. They have certainly got quite a different flavour from some of the other teams I have worked for. There are a lot of good things about the team and also a lot of things to do in the team to improve it.
But certainly over the first few weeks that I have been there I have been pleasantly surprised by what I have found and hope and feel confident that we can make quite a big improvement next year.
Q. What is your main function there?
GW: My role is technical director and I think that role is quite varied among the teams. Essentially it is split between myself and Adrian and it is very much that Adrian's looking after the direction of performance development, and my job is the execution of all the rest of the engineering to support that so it's the design function, manufacturer operations.
But of course, you can't do one in the absence of the other, so there has to be quite a lot of overlap between myself and Adrian and it's obviously a great benefit that I've worked with him for quite a number of years many years ago at Williams. I'm certainly enjoying it, yes.
Q. Pat, is there any development still taking place on the Renault now, or is it purely concentrated on 2008?
Pat Symonds: We're very much on 2008 at the moment. At this time of the year most teams are focused on the following year and how you're approaching the following year depends, in turn, on how much you can then translate into the current year. If you have a very evolutionary development to the following year, there are chances you can be trying things in the wind tunnel and you can say this will work on the current car, so you bring it in.
We've got a reasonable few differences in the layout of our 2008 cars, so we believe that there won't be much translation back into the 27, so we're not going to see a great deal of development on the car between now and the end of the season, as we really put our concentration into 2008.
Q. Now you're involved in what I believe is called the overtaking working group. Can you tell us how that's coming along? What it's doing? Give a general update?
PS: Yeah, it's coming along well, I think, in that the four wind tunnel sessions have now finished and yesterday we sat down to discuss the final results and to really pull out the parts that are needed to be the framework of the regulations. The next steps are to write some of those regulations and to test the results on a simulator, which is happening, I believe, next Wednesday.
We're meeting - as the technical working group - at a special meeting for a report from the overtaking working group on October 12, I believe, and at that meeting, we will present the results of the work that has been going on over the summer and decide how we progress it through with a view to writing regulations in 2009 that will produce an aerodynamic solution or a car solution, let's say, that will improve the possibility of cars overtaking.
It's not going to lead to saloon car racing or NASCAR racing or anything like that, but it's certainly going to take away, I believe, some of the difficulties that the drivers are experiencing at the moment.
Q. And it really could happen, because we've heard about it for several years...
PS: Well, the overtaking working group was actually only formed in January, our first meeting was in January. It's been an exemplary bit of work I think, in that all the teams except one have contributed to it.
The FIA has contributed to it, it's been a very co-operative effort but guided by quite a small group, and I think it's a little bit of a model for how we might do some other things. I think it's good that the stake-holders of Formula One actually put their money in to doing the research that's needed to do these very complicated jobs - what I'd like to say is - properly. I hope that we do more things like this.
Q. Willy, obviously BMW have had a fantastic season this year. Presumably in 2008 you're aiming to catch the two teams ahead of you.
Willy Rampf: Yes, the target for next year is to be position three or better. For sure, we're aiming to get one of the two teams in front of us but that will be overall quite difficult because there's still a noticeable time gap but anyway, this is our target.
Q. Are you studying specific items throughout your performance to make sure you make that gain, is that how you do it?
WR: I think currently we have quite a good, quite a competitive car, quite a solid car with a high level of reliability. As the regulations are not changing for next year, next year's car will be to a certain degree an evolution of this year's car and currently we are concentrating to improve all the areas, not only the aerodynamic but also the mechanical side because we see that it's quite important to use the maximum performance of the tyres.
Q. Mario, looking at this year's championship, are you confident that the future circuits are going to be better suited than say Hungary, Monaco – the tighter tracks?
Mario Almondo: Of course, I believe that we are making a lot of effort in the right direction. Since the beginning of the season, we knew we would have some circuits which are more difficult than others, and up to now what we probably saw is almost exactly what we were forecasting.
By the end of the year, I think that we will have a good possibility of winning races and the development that we are still pushing is something that gives us a bit of extra boost in order to be really competitive and winning because what we have to do is just that.
Q. Pole position seems to be vital – qualifying is vital to be on the front row, preferably on pole. How much can you concentrate on that, how much are you concentrating on that, in comparison to the race effort itself?
MA: I have to say that it is always difficult to answer in the proper way to this question because every race is a balance between being on the first row and having the right possibility of having a good strategy. Monza is a good example. It's very important to be on the first row but it's also important to make the right decision in terms of fuel, so this is what we are thinking about very deeply for tomorrow.
We have several possibilities to explore. We are going to do that. Of course, we had some indication from the qualifying, from the tests of today, and we will see what the best option is and will decide tomorrow.
Q. A question now to you all: you've all done a fantastic job in your various teams to make the cars incredibly reliable, as we saw here a couple of years ago: 22 cars finished; as we saw two weeks ago when 21 cars finished. But it does mean that, as Pat is very fond of saying, you spend two days trying to put the fastest car on the front of the grid, it's very difficult for anyone to overtake and if you start 14th, you're not likely to get any World Championship points. Is there any engineering challenge, is there a balance somewhere where perhaps engineering is more challenged to make better racing, to make more interesting racing, to give everybody a chance of winning points? Is there an engineering challenge to perhaps shake up the order during the race itself?
PS: Well, it's interesting that you say 'is it an engineering challenge?' because the link between the sporting and the engineering challenge is often a very interesting one. The engineering challenge can be simplified to producing the car that's going to win races. It's a very simple thing to say but actually if you look at it in a little bit more depth it's perhaps not quite as apparent as it may seem.
At the moment, if you consider, for example, the aerodynamics of the car, we all spend a great deal of time in our wind tunnels and with our computational fluid dynamics to make a car that has the best possible aerodynamic efficiency because we know that that will give us the best lap time and at the moment, winning races is all about having the best lap time from your car.
Now if you imagine a situation where you had sporting regulations such as they have in GP2 where, if in your first race you produced a car that was fast, you won the race and that meant then that you were placed further down on the grid (for the second race), then the sporting challenge, and the sporting regulations would lead you to develop your engineering in a slightly different way. In other words, you wouldn't spend all your time in the wind tunnel, just trying to get the best possible efficiency and making the car achieve a minimum lap time.
You would actually spend some time looking at overtaking because you would know that no matter how successful you were at making your car fast, you were at some point in the weekend going to have to do some overtaking, and therefore you had better study it, you had better find out how to make it happen. So I think part of the answer to your question is that the sporting regulations will perhaps determine how the engineers approach their problem, and maybe that's the way to think of these things.
GW: Well, to answer your question directly: do I think that the very high levels of reliability - and I wish our team shared those high levels of reliability - but does higher reliability lead to bad racing? I think the simple answer is no, it doesn't. I think it's disappointing to people watching a race if half the cars don't finish the race.
For example, MotoGP is very successful with very high levels of reliability. I think the problem is - and I'm making an additional point to Pat's point - I think the problem is that the cars are too easy to drive in that the drivers are able to drive at pretty much 95-99 percent of their one lap potential and they do that for two or three stints throughout the race, so there are very few mistakes being made and that is one of the reasons why we are seeing such processional races.
If we could make the cars harder to race so that you often found yourself in a position of running wide, going off the track, having to come back, having to pass the person in front, then, as Pat said, we would be starting to think about designing our cars to do more than just race against the clock.
So there is something in the way that we… I think it's a regulation thing. If we can think of making the cars fundamentally harder to drive, mistakes happen more, drivers simply can't drive at 100 percent because it's too risky for them, then we can see more mixed up and probably better racing.
MA: I have to say firstly that I share what my colleagues said because starting from the sporting rules, I have to say that the sporting rules gives you the boundaries of your technical problems. Then, once these rules are clear enough, you have to develop and do your engineering in order to achieve the fastest car.
So this is the first thing. I think the second step then is that you have to do your best job in terms of technical effort, investing your money in the direction that is defined in the sporting rules. Secondly, probably it's better to say that once you have your clear direction, everything is related not only to the reliability, because having reliable cars is just giving you in reality the possibility to see a race where all the cars are reliable and finishing the race.
The point is that also in this case probably the sporting rules have to be more difficult in order to give the possibility to everyone to be reliable. If you, for example, impose a rule that is all the weekend long with a car that can be, in a certain way, changed or parts changed, I'm sure that the reliability, as aside from the engineering point of view, is more difficult and then the reliability will have another level, so it's something that is always a two-way problem.
WR: I think it's correct that this year most of the overtaking is done with the pit strategy, basically, when you're coming in for your pit stop, and the reliability of the cars is very high. But I don't think that it's correct just to make some rule changes to make a penalty for a quick car and he has to move back or some artificial penalty, just to mix up the grid.
When we look forward to next year, there will be no traction control, so for sure it's more difficult to drive the cars and the year after the car concepts will be quite different and I think then racing will be quite different as well because of a completely different car concept with much less downforce. Teams will take different approaches to the development of the car and I think there will automatically be more overtaking with the rule changes.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Fabritsio Lazakis – Four Wheels Magazine) Question for Pat, you mentioned there was a meeting to get rid of the fuel-burning laps in Turkey; have there been any developments?
PS: Yes, the Sporting Working Group met here in Monza on Wednesday and among the items on the agenda was a proposal that just slightly modified the qualifying procedure, but in so doing got rid of the fuel-burning laps.
The way it did it was to have a more limited time in Q3 in the final part of qualifying and to still re-fuel before that so you still had to put in the fuel that would do your qualifying and your race, but because the qualifying was shorter and because you got no credit back on Sunday morning, you simply put in what you needed for qualifying and the race. That achieved a majority vote in favour of it and it will therefore go to the World Council for their October meeting for application next year.
Q. Are we expecting two runs in that session?
PS: I think – and I must admit haven't really sat down and thought exactly how well do it but there is absolutely no doubt at many circuits apart from Monaco that for sure we will do two runs, but may be others where it is just not worth it and you think that a lap of fuel is worth a tenth of a second and you have got to do your out-lap, your in-lap and your timed lap then your first run is two or up to three-tenths slower than the potential of your second one and sometimes it is not worth doing it, but it will vary from circuit to circuit..
Q. (Stéphane Barbé – L'Equipe) To all of you, as technical directors who are working very hard to get performance from the car how high would you rate in terms of cheating the fact that a team could have obtained technical information from another team?
GW: I suppose I have the advantage of having looked from the outside… (This is) a very difficult question to answer. When you are designing a car, particularly when you are looking at your competitors, it is certainly one of those things that you want to know – where is the other person's advantage – is the aerodynamics better, or is the car lighter or is the centre of gravity lower or is the engine more powerful.
So, in some ways, knowing that information or some of it helps you to focus a bit more on where you develop the car and in the absence of that information all the teams are doing a lot of competitor comparison analysis to try to focus on exactly where their shortcomings are. We do that all the time.
If you were to take the extreme condition of having detailed information about somebody else's car, in some cases it would be a huge advantage and in other cases it would just be enabling you to produce what that team had already produced and therefore you would always be playing catch-up, however good your manufacturing and design and operations loop is, it is going to take you four to six weeks to get those sort of components on a car and fundamentally what you want is an understanding of why you have come up with those engineering solutions and not what those solutions are…
So, for me, if an engineer comes to me from another team, I am not interested in his specific technical knowledge about that car, because it should already be out of date. I am interested in how he arrives at that design and what made the car go fast. So, ignoring all issues about the morality and legality of it, I am not sure how much use in certain cases some information is. In other cases, it is a lot of use.
PS: I agree very much with Geoff. What makes a car go fast is reasonably well known and reasonably easy to simulate and therefore the way in which we approach our development is weighted with respect to the lap time improvement one can get in different areas.
In other words, we all know that good aerodynamics makes a Formula One car go very fast, so we put a lot of effort into that. We know at the moment, there is very little we can do with the engines, so that effort is scaled down. Even when it was free, we know that for each million Euros you spent on the engine, you produced less performance than a million Euros spent on aerodynamic development.
We all understand where we should be spending our money and putting our effort in and in what proportion and we are trying to do that as much as we can in the budgets that we have and the personnel that we have. So, information from another team doesn't really help you in that respect and equally neither does detail.
And that is where I agree with Geoff – what's important in a team are the people and the way people approach things and to have even a complete set of drawings of a car, if you don't understand the concept of how it works, then it is not terribly interesting.
WR: The performance of the car is an overall part of a complex system, so if you bring in one engineer from another team and maybe he has some ideas, but overall on the long term I don't think that you would make a big step forward as long as he is not working well in the team or integrated in the team.
Sometimes I think it is over-estimated what input can be made to another team. It is like increasing a team when the whole team has to work well and all with a lot of trust together to make a quick car. So it is not one thing that makes a car go quicker but a huge amount of small details and all the philosophy that has developed in a team over years.
MA: if you get a lot of technical data of another car it is not a matter of single details that you would like or not of the other car, trying to imitate what the other team did, but it is a matter of knowing references… If I know the weight distribution of another car, the efficiency, how powerful is the engine and so on, then I know my references and know exactly where to put our resources.
So I have a higher possibility of arriving at the same result if I am behind or even a better result if I am quicker and with less energy spent, less money and in a quicker time, so for sure it is an advantage to just know things and how the other works because it is a sort of technical gift in this respect.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Geoff, you have had time to work with Mark Webber now. What is your assessment of him?
GW: It has been good to work with Mark and of course I worked with David before many years ago. From where we are, given our level of performance and our current performance problems, it is very useful to have somebody like Mark who can tell you what the car is doing and to tell you what he wants and needs to improve the car. Mark himself is a very straightforward person, enthusiastic and comes to the factory a lot and interacts well with the guys in the factory. A very positive first perception.
Q. (Panos Diamantis – Car and Driver) A question for Mr Symonds and for Mr Almondo: We saw your teams have problems with wind tunnels this year. Do you think that aerodynamics has gone over the limit in Formula One? And, secondly, would you like a second wind tunnel?
PS: I don't think that Formula One should be about limits in that respect. The problems we had with our car this year are largely aerodynamic and I don't think one should read much further than that. Would we like a second wind tunnel?
I said earlier that it is reasonably easy to assess where to spend your money and what you will get back from it and aerodynamics is the way to make cars go faster, so I guess the answer is yes we would, but equally computational fluid dynamics is moving on at a pace where it is challenging wind tunnels and maybe in the future it will be the primary tool rather than secondary and therefore at Renault we have invested in that rather than a second wind tunnel.
MA: A wind tunnel is like several other industrial plants all over the world – something that can be used 24 hours a day and seven days a week – so I don't think we have reached the limits and sometimes we have problems and these we just have to accept. The second matter I think is a balance of how much you want to spend and what is the benefit.
From a general point of view, I have to say that it is more sensible to imagine a Formula One with a limit on spending money and this of course has to be helped from the general point of view, from the rules, because otherwise you have just the budget limited. So a support from the rules is beneficial in this respect because it gives you a picture that is more used in a better way – a plant that can be used by all the teams instead of having bigger and bigger plants that is bringing you costs but not investing in quality, just in quantity.
Q. (Takeharu Kusuda – Lapita Magazine) Pat, what causes the difference in positions of your two drivers after the second practice? Is it anything to do with strategy?
PS: For sure, there are different ways we go about things. It is always wrong to take a snap shot and say that is the way the world is and, certainly, Friday practices are not indicative of how a team is performing or going to perform. If one looks back over recent races, Heikki has come along very strongly indeed and he really is challenging Giancarlo.
In testing here last week, he put in a very strong performance. Unfortunately today, in first practice, he locked up in turn one and damaged a set of tyres and that did put us a little on the back foot. We had to alter the programme around a little bit but when everything shakes up at the end of the weekend they will be as close as ever.