Monaco GP: Thursday Press Conference
Team Participants: Gerhard Berger (Toro Rosso), Stefano Domenicali (Ferrari), Christian Horner (Red Bull), Vijay Mallya (Force India), Adam Parr (Williams).
Q. A question to all of you about next year, about the future of Formula One in many ways. Budget capping, KERS, next year's regulations, whatever you would like to talk about?
Christian Horner: I think obviously the challenges of next year are considerable. It is a massive change in regulations, obviously heavily impacting the mechanical and aerodynamic side of the car and the first stage of the KERS system, so it is a big technical challenge.
One of the factors that as an independent team, and to a greater or lesser extent I am sure the other teams are trying to balance, is how much resource they commit at this time of year compared to continually developing the current car which is effectively obsolete technology for next year. Slick tires, KERS, different aero, it is almost a different formula.
Q. How much investment are you putting into KERS for example? Or do you leave that to your engine supplier?
CH: We are working very closely with our engine partner on that. It makes sense as part of the drive-train solution to follow the route that Renault are pursuing. We are working hand in hand with them on the solution, but it is a complex solution and there are some real engineering challenges to integrate it within the chassis and also safely.
Q. Stefano, your thoughts on the future.
Stefano Domenicali: I think I can cut and paste what Christian said about the first point. For sure it is a big challenge for all of us and we are in a situation where we are now fully concentrated and devoted to the development of the actual car but of course we need to, the more and more the time goes on, to concentrate above all on the aerodynamic and design office on the new car.
Then, with regards to the KERS project, it is a massive project that we are working very hard on. For sure it is a big, big challenge we face and I have to say there are important points to resolve. We have also the responsibility to be able to offer to our customers something that performance-wise has to be important for them, so it is a big, big challenge. It is very difficult but for sure very important to be able to fight for the championship next year.
Q. Doctor Mallya, your thoughts particularly on budget capping.
Vijay Mallya: I have been very clear in my mind that small independent teams like Force India would welcome a budget cap otherwise the difference between independent teams like ourselves and the teams that are backed by big automobile manufacturers will only widen as time goes on. Take the KERS system for example that we just talked about.
I am determined that it really is not worth our while to try and develop a KERS system on our own, so since we currently use the Ferrari engine I am dependent on Stefano for the KERS system and I am hoping he will give it to me at an affordable price. Whether it is KERS or whether it is the 2009 car itself I am, for one, a huge supporter of the initiative to cut the costs.
Q. Gerhard, your thoughts.
Gerhard Berger: Vijay, you did not have the last message from Stefano. He gives it to us free for next year. Did he not tell you that yet.
VM: Fantastic, you heard that right.
GB: Well, I think it is very clear in F1 that a budget cut is more than welcome. Budgets are going through the roof and I think it should be reduced by a big way. But it is always through which glass you see it. If you look through the glasses of a manufacturer you have a completely different view than an independent team. But for teams like us and Force India and Williams it is very, very difficult to get on the markets the budgets that you need to be competitive.
It is a very important role that the FIA has to play to find the right compromise, so that F1 in the end ends up again with 24 or 26 cars instead of 20 or maybe 18 and having a nice full field with competitive cars from the beginning to near the end. It is going to be very difficult to find the right rule, but sure it has to happen and it is going to be good. On KERS we are fully relying on Ferrari and hoping we get the right support from Ferrari for next year and using a Ferrari KERS system.
Q. Adam, you are in an interesting situation with KERS in particular, but also your thoughts on budget capping and anything else about 2009.
Adam Parr: As Christian said, 2009 is going to be a phenomenal challenge I think for all the teams with the changes that are coming up, but for us it is actually rather exciting. Whether it is on KERS, the new aerodynamic regulations or indeed budget capping we think there is a kind of rather exciting revolution going on at the moment. The sport is thinking very strategically about where it is going.
The need to be seen to make a contribution on the issue of climate change, which is obviously a very important issue for everyone at the moment, is something which I think we are making a contribution to.
A genuine contribution. And from an engineering points of view it is very exciting after years of relative stability to have a very challenging new project, so Patrick (Head - Director of Engineering) and Sam (Michael – Technical Director) and our engineers are relishing it although we don't have, needless to say, as much resources available to do it as we would like but nonetheless it is exciting.
I think on the environmental side, on the KERS side, on the engineering challenge it is very welcome. Budget capping is still a moot point. We haven't quite got there yet but we believe very strongly that it is essential for the future of the sport.
Just for your reference we are probably spending three times more than we did 10 years ago and as you probably know there are teams that are probably spending three times as much again as we can afford to do. We just do not think that is sustainable for anybody in the sport.
Q. Christian, the performance and the reliability this year have been getting better. What is your target now for the rest of the season?
CH: Reliability was a huge factor which we looked to address over the winter. Touch wood so far we have enjoyed good reliability at all the events so far. We have had a points scoring run of four races and the car has grown in competitiveness at each event.
We are looking to continue on that trend but it is a very competitive part of the field that we are in. Immediately behind the big three teams if you like are Williams, Toyota, Renault, Honda and ourselves and it is a very, very tight group and the battle for fourth in the championship is every bit as intensive as it is at the front of the field.
Q. Stefano, after the Turkish Grand Prix you made two points. One was that your rivals, McLaren, had been particularly aggressive in their strategy and almost taking it to a new level. Similarly you said you were preparing for this race in a different way. Perhaps you could expand on those two points?
SD: As we all know, unfortunately last year, Monte Carlo and Canada were not really very good Grands Prix for us and we had to consider that situation and try to understand the reasons why, on top of the philosophical decision on the car. But we need to think how to do a different approach. We had a long study of the set-ups that we had in past years and tried to better understand the tire usage and tire pressure.
That is the way we are preparing for this weekend and I would say that after today for sure it will be very tough. Our main competitor is very, very strong, no doubt. It seems they are getting better with the single lap straight away. We will target a little bit more on that but we need to think that, for sure, the general gap, if I may say, is small, so we will fight until the end. We don't forget that it seems on Saturday and Sunday the weather will be very, very tricky, so a lot – above all in those conditions – will maybe be very different. It will require a lot of concentration.
Q. Doctor Mallya, can you tell us a little bit how Formula One is going down in India? It is a huge country which is new to F1 and you are leading the way in educating a huge country.
VM: India has a huge population of about 1.2 billion people. I think if you just look at the acknowledged size of the middle class which I think currently is 300 million and projected to grow to 400 million by 2010, and you look at how things are changing for the middle class in India with higher disposable incomes, higher aspirational values, greater discretionary expenditure, a very positive movement towards Western trends, all of this propelled not only by robust economic growth but by the young demographic that we have in India, where we have over 500 million who are under the age of 25 and 400 million under the age of 18.
With youth comes a whole new level of aspiration and a whole new challenge of excitement. Cricket is for everybody and is the reason why the Indian Premier League has been a complete blockbuster, I think not just for India, but for the world. But there is a section of India that says that cricket is something we have lived with, it is almost like a religion, but we want something new, something exciting, something that has a bit of glamour in it as F1 represents.
So the fan following of F1 in general and Force India in particular is fast and furious. I think that is good for the sport, I think that is good for F1 in general and it is good for every single team and for all the sponsors of all the teams because India is potentially a very large market. Of course the pressure is on us to demonstrate that we have to move up the grid.
We bought a team that was languishing at the back, if I can put it that way. I think we have made significant progress in less than five or six months and we are now getting up to the midfield. We only hope that we will play catch-up in 2008 and we can take advantage of the fact that everyone will have a brand new car in 2009 and hope to be somewhat competitive and in the points by then.
Q. Gerhard, you brought a new car to Monaco. A lot of people would say that's a very risky operation. Is it a very risky operation or a very exciting operation? Was there a possibility of delaying it until Canada?
GB: We are not happy to be here the first time with the new car. It was planned for the last race but unfortunately we couldn't finish it, so we had no other choice. We could have moved it back to Canada but the quicker we get into it, the quicker we understand it, the quicker we get mileage with it and the quicker we will know how the driver feels is better. Obviously it is not an ideal situation but we have to cope with it.
Q. A steep learning curve obviously for the whole team?
GB: Yeah it is. Monaco anyway is very difficult to judge and as Stefano said before even the weather is a big question mark. So let's see what happens. We had a good day today because we run a lot and we had no reliability problems. We had a lot of issues of course setting up the car but reliability-wise it was fine and we have already got quite good mileage. That's good and let's just pace it.
Q. Adam, this is the first time you have come to one of these press conferences. Give us some idea of what your role is and what direction you are going to take the team in your role as CEO.
AP: Well, as something you probably know this weekend we are celebrating Frank's 600th Grand Prix in F1, so there is a fair bit of history in Williams and none of that is going to change anytime soon because Frank (Williams – Team Principal) and Patrick (Head) are very much the leaders of our team and both are, I am very pleased to say, fit as fiddles and they love every day that they do F1 which is about them about 14 days a week.
So in terms of the future direction I think you can already see the things we are trying to contribute to in F1. We talked about them earlier on today and that is just us as a group feeling that those are the right things to do. In terms of on the track there is obviously only one thing we want to do and that is to win races and anything I can do to help that I will do.
Q. Would any of you like to make a comment on the fact that this is the first Grand Prix of the year that Max Mosley has attended?
GB: Well, I never commented because I think it's an entirely private thing. I think there is nothing to comment on. It's something that has happened with grown-up people, nothing which is against the law and I have to say I'm very surprised how many angels there are around here, especially in Formula One. Suddenly everyone seems to be very clean and very nice.
But to connect this to the job of Max Mosley, as an FIA president, I don't think is right. I've been in Formula One a long time now. I've seen many things. I've been racing in the Max Mosley era and in the position that I'm in now. I think there are very few people – maybe nobody – who has had such an impact on safety for motor sport as Max. If you think back, especially after what happened in '94 at Imola, it needed a very strong guy to change a lot of things: race tracks, crash tests, etc and to see an accident, like Kubica's last year in Canada for example, before, you would have had no chance to survive.
I think he has had a lot of input even in road car safety, in the Euro ENCAP, all these improvements in the crash tests save a lot of lives. I think it's not fair to see it through the glasses as some people have tried to see it at the moment. I think it should be totally decided by the automobile clubs and by himself, how the future of the FIA goes, but it should not be run by newspapers or us.
I just know one thing: the sport needs a strong guy, a competitive guy, a strong guy who understands the business, and we definitely have this with Max and hopefully we will have in the future. That's all I want to say.
AP: No, I don't have any comment.
CH: I think that obviously a lot has been written, a lot has been said and ultimately we're here to go racing, we're here to focus on the sport. It's very much an internal issue for Max and the FIA, so there's nothing really further for us to add or for me to add other than that. As Gerhard says, he's done many, many good things and this is very much an internal issue as we see it.
SD: I think that we already stated our position at the moment. As I've said, it's a matter of responsibility; mine at the moment is really to keep the focus on the team.
VM: Well, you know I've known Max as president of the FIA because I happen to be the chairman of the two ASNs in India. I think he's called a general assembly in the first week of June and I guess the FIA membership will decide what the next step should be.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazetta dello Sport) I would like to ask everybody if you believe that a war is starting between Max and Bernie (Ecclestone) because I think you have received a letter, or you have read a letter that Max sent to the branches (ASNs) and the answer written in The Times by Ecclestone about it.
GB: Again, from my viewpoint, it's not our business. I think we have to see it, as I said before, from the sport's side and I don't want to add anything more than I said.
AP: I think it's a question that no doubt interests people a great deal but I think it's very, very difficult to understand what's going on. It's a bit like during the Cold War, there were those Kremlinologists who used to watch whether someone's eyebrow was a millimeter higher or lower when they were watching the May Day parade in Moscow, and they tried to conclude from that whether Russia was about to invade Yugoslavia. The answer is I don't have a clue what's going on, actually.
CH: I haven't really got anything to say on the subject, I think a lot is obviously made of various correspondence but as I say, we're here to go racing and that's what we're focused on.
SD: I saw the letter to the automobile clubs but I didn't see Mr. Ecclestone's reply, but in any case, a war is always not really good for anyone, so that's the only thing I would say.
VM: Well, I've seen a letter that Max has addressed to all member clubs of the FIA in which he stated his position very clearly and he has left it to the members to vote as they think best, and as far as any sort of perceived rift between Max and Bernie is concerned, I think they've both known each other for years, they've been together in this sport for years and I would leave it to them to sort out whatever needs to be sorted out.
Q. (Marco Evangelisti – Corriere dello Sport) Stefano, I would like you once again to explain clearly Ferrari's position concerning the budget cap proposal and then a question to everybody: I wonder if increasing oil prices can become a problem, and if it gets more and more difficult to have oil companies supporting motor racing?
SD: On the first question, regarding budget capping, we basically have always been very clear with the FIA and all the teams. From the principle point of view it's not a bad idea for sure. But we have a lot of concerns related to the mechanism of control that is put in place in order to be sure that in such a competitive world, everything is controlled. And the other subject that we are discussing is the fact that if there is a cap, it has to be a cap.
It's not a cap with a lot of exceptions because otherwise within these exceptions you will find a way to spend the money that you have. Second question, relating to the oil companies; for sure it's a problem for everyone. Luckily our situation with our main partner, Shell, is really good and we are in the process of re-negotiating the contract and so far, let's say, on our table it's not the big problem, but for sure, from a worldwide point of view, it's a problem that will affect other things, hopefully not our relationship with them.
VM: I'm more concerned about the rise in oil prices and how it affects Kingfisher Airlines than I am concerned about the impact on Formula One. In any case, we don't have any oil companies as sponsors but yeah, this unprecedented rise of the price of oil, which President Bush says is on account of the rising consumption in India and China – I don't entirely believe that – but nevertheless, it's pushing up costs worldwide and is a cause for concern.
GB: Well, the best thing for Formula One is to have a very strong economy, best worldwide and the high oil price surely doesn't help it. I see it negative, but anyway I hope it doesn't affect us too much.
AP: The point that I was going to make is simply that we have a number of sponsors who are significant corporations around the world and a number of those feel very strongly that their involvement in Formula One depends on us demonstrating that we are not just burning fossil fuels for fun, and that's why we support KERS and our sponsors have made it very clear, many of them, that without that sort of initiative then they have a limited future in Formula One. Everyone's entitled to a different perception but I think the people who are talking to us are in a good position to judge that. And I think that includes not just energy companies but everybody.
CH: Looking at the size of the boats in the harbor here it doesn't seem to have had too big an effect so far. But obviously rising oil prices tend to dictate world economies and Formula One is dependent on marketing budgets, marketing spend and that tends to be the first area that's raided when hard economic times come upon us. But at the moment Formula One seems to be as popular as it's ever been and the interest in the sport is extremely high.
Q. (Will Buxton – Australasian Motorsport News) Question for everyone: can you just let us know how negotiations are going on regarding the Concorde Agreement: whether there are any sticking points from your perspectives and how you would like to see things ultimately resolved?
SD: Maybe it's easiest for me because as we have already announced since January 2006, if I remember well, we already have a binding agreement with the FIA and FOM about a new Concorde Agreement. That's it. For the next five years.
AP: It was 2005 and we also signed an agreement a few months later. It's very clear that a number of the teams, including Williams and I believe Ferrari, have a binding extension of the Concorde Agreement for five years and that's the basis on which we conduct our business with the FIA, FOM and the other teams.
Q. So where does that leave Red Bull, for instance?
CH: Red Bull were just ahead of Williams and just behind Ferrari to sign the extension, so obviously that is a basis, and I think it's important that everybody is part of the same agreement ultimately and that is obviously what's being discussed at present. I think ultimately it is important for the sport to have a Concorde Agreement because each team has its own reasons for being in Formula One, and hopefully through a Concorde Agreement, it does enable consensus and a rationality of various different issues.
VM: We are always a supporter of the Concorde Agreement. As you may know, the only element in the Concorde Agreement that we have disagreed with is the status of constructor, or non-constructor where we have very clearly said that customer chassis should not be allowed. We've had discussions about this before. A compromise was arrived at that informally for 2008 and 2009, this would be sort of overlooked and that from 2010 it would be a Constructors' Championship. Other than that, I completely support the idea of the Concorde Agreement.
GB: Everything has been said. Obviously, there are a couple of issues over which there is a question mark but they are details, so let's see what the final solution is going to be but I agree with them.
Q. (Pascal Dro – Auto Hebdo) One question for Gerhard about budget capping. Is it possible today to float a Formula One team, to put it on the market, sell some shares, like making the floatation of any other company?
GB: I didn't think about it, honestly I cannot give you an answer. I don't know. Look, the problem is not who is owning which shares, the problem is how you finance the running budget and the development of a year and we are facing enormous budgets, development costs, and it's quite difficult to re-finance a private team, getting everything from the market.
Q. (Pascal Dro – Auto Hebdo) But usually flotation helps to get you the money to develop the company. You don't get the money to rule the company but to improve the company and make some developments.
GB: I don't really understand the question.
Q. (Pascal Dro – Auto Hebdo) If you float the company, you get some money to develop the company, not to rule the company from day-to-day.
GB: Look, the main issue for all of us, I think, is the yearly budget that you need for developing the car, to run all the resources and that's what you need to save and that's what you need to fix, so obviously, with a big manufacturer, with all the resources, it's quite easy – or it's easier – but as a private team, yes, you're right, it's one thing to get the resources, to buy the resources but then to run it is even more difficult.
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazetta dello Sport) Stefano, I know that yesterday Rory Byrne met Mr. Mosley. I would like to know what it was about and the role of Rory in Ferrari now. I think somebody else met yesterday...
SD: It was just a meeting to discuss the technical regulations briefly and discuss KERS and stuff like that. It was also planned to see Charlie, nothing special, I would say. Within our group, Rory is a consultant but is working on special projects, for example future regulations and he's working on a specific thing under my responsibility. But he's still very passionate, he's really fully involved even if he can spend some of his time in Thailand.
Q. (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Gerhard, before Super Aguri went bust, they were talking to investors from Dubai and they were talking about a significant amount of money. Your team, according to Mr. Mateschitz, is up for sale and you've been in the Middle East recently. I just wondered if you've been talking to the same investors and if you are looking for money from the Middle East?
GB: Honestly, we are not talking with anybody at the moment. I don't know the people from Dubai. Obviously, we are still waiting to see how the situation is in the future with developing the customer car or no customer car. I don't think it's totally clear yet how it's going to be in the future.
But as Mr. Mateschitz says, if customer cars are not going to be allowed as it looks, then he will not be prepared to develop a second team in the same way as he's doing in England and to grow in Italy in the same way and then I think maybe he's going to sell the shares but I still think it's still a little bit unclear and for this reason we're not having any discussions and we're not in contact with anybody at this moment.
Q. (Panos Diamantis – Car Driver) Mr. Horner, about three weeks after Red Bull did a World Rally Championship sponsorship deal with Citroen, Citroen said that it's considering going circuit racing. Does that have anything to do with Formula One?
CH: No, the sponsorship of the World Rally team is something that's dealt with by the Red Bull Group in Austria. There's Red Bull sponsorship across different sports. I don't think you can pick up a motoring magazine without seeing a Red Bull logo in most categories of racing and WRC was an area in which they've lacked a presence previously.
I'm not aware of any plans for Citroen to enter Formula One. We currently have an engine partnership with Renault that we're very content with, so I would say that it was purely speculative if that has been mentioned.