Chinese GP: Friday Press Conference Participating: Ron Dennis (McLaren Mercedes), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber), Jean Todt (Ferrari), Frank Williams (Williams).
Q. Can I have all your thoughts on the Japanese GP last weekend?
Mario Theissen: Our drivers got into a collision with another driver and it was very difficult to avoid this under the circumstances. Apparently we had two special occasions, both with Robert, when he touched with Lewis Hamilton first and when he had the final part with Felipe Massa. You can always argue about race situations and if you ask 10 drivers you will get 10 versions. What struck me was that only Robert got a penalty of all the drivers who had a collision. I think that was not justified.
Jean Todt: First of all we were completely unhappy the way the information was given about the tires which had to be taken to start, which compromised our race. We decided, rightly or wrongly, to take intermediate tires and after two or three laps we had to go and change the tires and then move from the second row to the last row.
I just feel it is completely inappropriate to start the race and to spend 19 laps out of a race of 67 laps behind the Safety Car. It was the right decision to start behind it but I don't understand why you do 30% of the race behind it. I can understand two, three or four laps but not 19. The race should have been delayed. They are my two main comments.
Ron Dennis: It was apparent to everyone it was appalling conditions. There was communication between Charlie (Whiting) and some of the teams, certainly our team. Our drivers were very concerned about visibility more than anything else and of course there were incidents, some of which may or may not be ongoing, but I think the reality is we should look at that race and say that we were fortunate no driver was hurt.
It was a race in probably the worst conditions and all drivers tried to do the very best they could in those difficult circumstances. We should learn from the race but realize there was no perfection about last weekend. I think everyone has comments which could be made but in the end I don't believe any driver did anything other than his best.
Frank Williams: I am well aware there were visibility problems behind the Safety Car. Our drivers were calling in about that but to take a positive note away, I think we should understand that what we were looking at were superhumans in racing cars, because the conditions were unbelievable. I think if you were riding as a passenger, you'd opt out within a few seconds of getting going.
Q. Frank, your feelings about your drivers' performances this year, including Nakajima, and where he might go on to in the future?
FW: I think Nico is a star of the future, Alex has been very reliable but I am not sure whether he is going to race again next year. Nakajima -- too soon to say if he will have an outstanding future or a medium future in F1, but I think he is Formula One material.
Q. Might he stay with you next year?
FW: No comment.
Q. Ron, how close did Lewis come to not getting the Formula One drive this year?
RD: The decision was taken, I honestly can't remember, but I think it was in November and questions that followed on through to March, everyone that was asked I tried to answer truthfully. But I can't remember when the turning moment was, I think November.
Q. Much has been said about Fernando Alonso potentially changing teams. What is your view on that?
RD: Both Lewis and Fernando have contracts that extend beyond next year, we have made it abundantly clear to everyone involved inside and outside the team that we are focused on the balance of this season, trying to give equal opportunity for the drivers to compete for the world championship. That is the way it is going to be until after Brazil. If there's necessity for discussion then that is the time it will take place, not before.
Q. Jean, Kimi is in with a chance of the championship but not Felipe. What has happened to Felipe, was it early in the season he lost his points?
JT: It's mainly due to reliability problems. Our drivers have not made mistakes and have done a good job and as a team we did not do a good enough job to let them finish every race. If you want to compete for the championship you must be quick and get to the end of the races. Felipe had a few problems with reliability and had DNFs and it was the same with Kimi. On performance they have been very close and competitive and we are pleased with both of them.
Q. Robert Kubica yesterday said he is disappointed in his own performance. Are you disappointed in him or is he just disappointed with himself?
MT: I would say he is disappointed in the results he achieved and it is not just down to him. He suffered several technical problems in the early season, then the Montreal crash and then he missed the next race. It was clearly not his fault. It took him quite some time to acquaint himself with the new package, especially the standard spec tire, but I don't see a weakness in him. Every driver has ups and downs and certainly Robert didn't have luck on his side this year. I am convinced he will be stronger next year.
Q. And in comparison to Nick Heidfeld?
MT: Nick had the upper hand. He had less technical problems although he had two today, and the season went much more smoothly for him and so he is ahead on points. To compare both drivers in terms of raw speed or performance, I don't see a big difference. It depends on which track a driver prefers or who has a strong day. They are quite close to each other.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (L'Equipe) Did you ever imagine that a rookie could be fighting for the world championship in the way that Lewis is?
FW: Not to the level of competitiveness that Hamilton is doing. He is very special. Once every ten years they come along, like Ayrton and Michael. It is a very rare event and a fantastic event, and a story for Formula One.
MT: I am surprised too at how strong he is. I expected him to be able to win races in a strong car but to dominate the season in the way he did is quite exceptional. Although it is his first year in F1, I don't really see him as a rookie. In my view he is the best prepared driver who ever entered F1.
JT: Normally a very talented driver in their first year in F1 doesn't drive for a winning team with a winning car. That was the opportunity he had and he used it very well. We can only have respect and admiration for what he has achieved this year.
RD: That's the way sport is. He has broken more records than any other young driver and I think the records speak for themselves. We can all eulogize about his achievements but I think actions speak louder than words. He is just an exceptional talent and I am sure he will set many more records in the future. I hope they will all be in McLaren Mercedes.
Q. (Marco Degl'Innocenti - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Apparently the Sunday weather forecast is not too nice, if conditions are more or less the same as in Japan will you find it wise to let the race start again?
RD: It's a decision for the race director and that is the way the regulations are. You always have the choice of not competing but the fact is that the team principals are not the deciding factor in these things. And also the race director is better equipped, has sight of all the corners and has an understanding of the situation regarding helicopters, etc. He is the best equipped and has to take the decision.
FW: It is a driver matter between themselves individually and as a group if there is time to talk about it beforehand. And, of course, the race director.
MT: At the pit wall we are not in a position to have the entire picture. It can only be dealt with between the drivers and the race director and I would ask for close co-operation in the decision.
JT: We hear there is 70% chance of rain for Sunday and we need races handled properly. I think it should be a good show. Just the right decision at the right time. I know it is not easy but we hope it happens.
Q. (Jia Chen - King Sports) Mr Todt, both you and Felipe have mentioned reliability problems. How do you evaluate the possibility of Ross Brawn returning to Ferrari next year?
JT: Ross decided last year to take some time off, which he did, and we said that we would speak around this time to evaluate the possibility for doing something with Ferrari. We are still in this frame of mind and are still discussing and evaluating that opportunity.
Q. (Flavio Vanetti - Corriere della Sera) To Jean And Ron. How is the relationship between McLaren and Ferrari? Will peace come again between the two teams?
RD: It's been very difficult for both of our teams and I don't think there has been any pleasure in the process for either of us. I have a firm view on the future. I don't think any team feels bigger than F1, certainly McLaren doesn't, and I am trying to take all the right decisions.
Of course they are not solely and exclusively with a view to doing what's right for F1 but it is a key factor in the thoughts and deliberations that we have. Only time will tell if relationships between all the teams will strengthen or weaken. Time is a good healer of these matters but there has been no pleasure for McLaren, as you will appreciate.
JT: It has been a tense situation. I will say unnecessary, but it has happened. We move forwards by doing our job. Definitely it is an unpleasant situation and I think it will be a good thing when the season is over and we can focus on the next one.
Q. (Marco Evangelisti - Corriere dello Sport) To Mario Theissen. What is BMW Sauber still missing to make the ultimate step forward and challenge Ferrari, McLaren, whoever, for the title?
MT: About half a second per lap. I wouldn't say there is one big area in which we have a big deficit. That used to be the case last year when we had a car which was quite competitive on fast tracks, but really not competitive on tracks like Monaco. It has changed over the winter.
This year's car is quite well balanced but we are lacking a bit everywhere, so what we have to do now is try to take the next step over the winter, improve the car and it is an evolution rather than a revolution in order to find the ultimate three to five percent which are missing.
Q. (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Question to Mr Todt. I've read the letter that Mr Stepney has sent to the president of the FIA, Max Mosley and a copy to you and also to Mr Dennis where he is saying how, at the beginning of the season, he was talking to some engineers at Ferrari, telling them about the lower floor of the car. Is there any answer that you want to give to this?
JT: You know I'm not dealing in the same league as Mr Stepney. Mr Stepney has been acting in a very inappropriate manner and we still have the penal case against him in Italy which will go forwards but I read quite often in certain press some credit given to what he's saying and writing.
I would not commit or give any credit to this gentleman who I said before... you reported that quite properly this morning in your magazine when I say he has lost his head. When a guy puts powder in the fuel tank of his team (car) I don't think we should give credit about the letter he writes. His attitude has created a lot of damage unfortunately.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Mr Todt, McLaren is putting in new systems to help control information in and out of the team. Is Ferrari going to do something similar?
JT: Total control does not exist unfortunately. Today I was in my office wondering if some microphones could be hidden in the office, in the motorhome. You could have a defense plan, it can happen in the defense environment. I know that Formula One is a competitive environment but you need to have people responsible enough.
Each one has its own computer, mobile phone, so if you really want to do something and if you're in a position which allows you to have access to private information, there's really nothing we would be able to do to protect our privacy and our confidentiality, if somebody wants to betray the company.
Saying, that we are trying to see how we can improve what can be improved and it's always a marginal improvement everywhere, which is our daily challenge but we were quite well organized but we will try to be even more organized. But as I said before, if somebody wants to do something he should not do, he will be able to do it.
Q. (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) I have two question for Mr Dennis. One is referring to Mr Stepney when he was saying that according to him, not only was some information going from Ferrari to Mr Coughlan but also some information from McLaren was going to Ferrari. Are you concerned that something like that might have happened?
RD: Nigel Stepney was a former employee of Ferrari. We've had no involvement with him, we don't intend to have any involvement with him and his involvement in this affair is a thing of the past as far as we are concerned.
Q. (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) The other question regards Lewis Hamilton. Yesterday he was called by the stewards for his maneuvers during the safety car period which might have also caused the crash between Vettel and Webber. What is your opinion about this procedure? Is it too late or...? How do you see it?
RD: At the Japanese Grand Prix, after Lewis had left the circuit, the stewards wished Lewis to see some of the footage relating to the race. We called him at the hotel and by the time we located him, the stewards advised us that they didn't need to see him and we have thus far not received any formal communication from the stewards that they wish to see him again.
Q. (Steve Cooper – Autosport) Question to all four of you. At the moment there seems to be a feeling of resistance towards customer teams and customer cars in Formula One, particularly with regards to the Concorde Agreement and the finance and points and rewards that can be given to them. Given that there will probably be more customer teams next year, and they will be more competitive, what's your stance on customer teams and their rights and rewards in Formula One next year?
FW: There is a court of appeal concerning this matter on October 23 or sometime around that time. Certainly as we are concerned, it would be wise to make no comment which might prejudice our position.
RD: Perhaps I can just say that we have not entered into any contract with any team at this moment of time and if a team wishes to enter the 2008 World Championship and that team does not have complete clarity as to whether it is or is not permitted to enter then it is a matter for that team and certainly not for McLaren.
Q. (Flavio Vanetti – Corriere della Sera) Again, to Jean and Ron. It's possible that on Sunday evening McLaren wins the Drivers' title. Referring to the spy story of course, the situation will be one-one: one title for Ferrari, one title for McLaren. Which one is the cleanest or are they both clean?
RD: Well, I think the word spy has been introduced by the media. I don't agree with the word being used. We know very clearly what happened, the transcript of the Formula One World Council made it very clear. Their findings made it very clear as to what the opinion of the World Council was.
It related to specific things some of which McLaren clearly appreciated took place. A subsequent decision saw McLaren heavily penalized in respect of the Constructors' and a fine and we feel today that our cars have always been one hundred percent McLaren intellectual property and as such, whilst we accept the findings of the World Council in respect of the penalties that we suffered, we feel that the drivers have been competing in completely eligible and competitive McLaren Mercedes.
So I feel that as unsatisfactory as it is, yes, they can be separate and clean and clearly not everybody holds with that point of view but that's the way we feel about it.
JT: We feel that it was important that the World Council took a decision. They took a decision. We respect the decision, so I feel it would be inappropriate to decide or to evaluate whether it's clean, not clean. The result will be related to the performance of the teams, of the drivers and to the decision of the FIA and we will respect it and then we will let you comment about it.
Q. (Gaetan Vigneron – RTBF) A question for all of you. After the Japanese Grand Prix I received quite a few e-mails from viewers saying to me 'you are sometimes quite severe about cycling and doping affairs and so on, but when you see your sport, Formula One, we have spy scandals, we have ranking changes, we have penalties for drivers, we have a lot of affairs.' So what would be your answer to them, because it was quite difficult for me to answer them, or, in other words, is it not time to go back to racing?
JT: If you are talking about the last Grand Prix you are making a mixture. It has definitely been an intense year with a lot of things happening, in my opinion too many things, and I feel it is very important that we learn from it, in order to face – as I said before – a healthy and good championship in 2008 and for the future roles. I think it's very difficult to make everybody happy.
As I said before, we are talking about several different items and if you talk about the race last weekend, which was the latest chapter of the 2007 story, as I said before, I feel that some decisions were not taken in one appropriate way but otherwise the race... when the race was on, it was a good show, there was a lot of overtaking and for people who like racing they could really enjoy the show.
Where we should put a lot of effort in the future is really to give a good show to all the viewers and all the Ferrari fanatics.
MT: Well, you drew a comparison between Formula One and cycling. Certainly we had quite some incidents or occurrences – however you might call it – in Formula One this year of various kinds, but all of them were dealing with individual cases whereas, on the other hand, at least as I see it, cycling has left the ground of sport and that is a very different thing.
It will be necessary therefore to find the way back to what sport is about, which is fair competition and healthy competition, so I don't see the parallels between these two situations.
FW: I think many sports have their problems. They all have their remedies. Certainly my attitude is if it's been dealt with as very distant, in the past, one would be a bit happier about it.
RD: I echo most of the thoughts... most of the comments that have been made. I think you're mixing a lot of issues together. There is a strong desire for transparency from the governing body and when you have this level of transparency a lot of people can have a lot of opinions about all the issues that have been going on but there are few team principals – in fact, I know of no team principals or in fact any other member of a Grand Prix team – that aren't in the sport because of the passion for it.
It takes a lot out of you, it takes you away from your families, and you've got to feel all the right values to be in Formula One, and that applies also to the media. So we want it to be the best sport it can be and when we get these problems, we just have to try and deal with them and move forward and I think that's what everybody in Formula One wants to do is move forward and it's certainly what I want to do and all the other members of the McLaren Mercedes team.
Q. (Ed Gorman – The Times) Ron, yesterday Fernando was asked whether he thought he'd been treated fairly by the team in Japan and specifically whether his car had been doctored by the team in terms of tire pressures and wing settings and he specifically declined to answer the question which gave the impression to most of us in the room that he feels that there may be some grounds to believe that the team is interfering with his car. Could you comment on that please?
RD: Well, you introduced the word doctored. I don't think that was a word that was used in the question or the answer to it. Going into the Japanese Grand Prix Fernando was two points behind Lewis. I think the Grand Prix season so far, in respect of our two cars, their reliability, their competitiveness and the way that our team has conducted itself leaves nobody in Formula One with the view that we do anything other than provide equality to both of our drivers.
There are numerous equality clauses in our contracts. They are reciprocal in both drivers' contracts and it is a well known fact that we do not favor – even in very very difficult circumstances, even in the level of competitiveness and the spirit of competitiveness that sits between our drivers – we never will, never have and certainly are not favoring either driver at the moment.
This is a straight fight and I'm obviously disappointed that someone who really has all the knowledge should not be more direct and open with the response which is: equality is how we run our team.