Canadian GP: Friday Press Conference
DRIVERS AND TECHNICAL DIRECTORS: Fernando ALONSO (Renault), David COULTHARD (Red Bull), Pat SYMONDS (Renault), Geoff WILLIS (Red Bull)
Q: Pat, I can remember in Barcelona you were very happy as you felt you'd taken a step forward. In Monaco you were going to spring a surprise. What's been going on?
Pat SYMONDS: I never said we would spring a surprise in Monaco.
Q: Somebody did.
Symonds: On the car we certainly had some improvements in Barcelona. I think the car ran well in Turkey as well. And Monaco was a very strange race. It is hard to read a lot into that. We are still confident that we made a step in Barcelona, there is no doubt about that I think. It is not a big enough step yet and we are not really clear of that midfield. We are certainly not fighting at the front and that's what we are after, so we are a still working at it and we still want to make the car better. There is a lot to do.
Q: What is the next step There is a test next week. Will you have some new bits there?
Symonds: It's Barcelona next week. More bits there. Every week there are new bits on the car, new bits we are testing. Some aerodynamic updates for the French Grand Prix, some quite big ones, so keep on moving.
Q: What about Nelson? What can you do to help him?
Symonds: I think we need to support him. It is very easy to be critical of drivers in a situation like that and I think people have very short memories in motor racing. Of course you can look back exactly a year, to this very event, to the problems Heikki Kovalainen was having. He was having a dreadful season and really finding it difficult. I think on the Saturday in Montreal last year it was very hard to imagine a driver having a worse day. He had two big accidents, one in qualifying and he finished fourth in the race and he never looked back from that Sunday onwards. So much is in a driver's psyche that once they break through there is no stopping them. What we have got to do with Nelson is help him break through that barrier. Just one good result and it will come on from there.
Q: Do you remember what you did with Heikki a year ago?
Q: Are you going to tell us?
Q: Fernando, tell us about the track conditions today.
Fernando ALONSO: I think we had a little bit of everything. This morning a wet track to start with and it was dry just for the last 10 minutes but it was not completely dry, so we found a different track in the afternoon with more normal conditions. It was okay, a normal Friday in Canada with a slippery track and we tried to put some rubber down with the laps. I am sure during the weekend it will be better and better every lap we do on the track.
Q: So what is your personal thing going with turn two?
Alonso: Well, probably I tried to be too quick. It is time to try new things. I spun two times there. The second one was the unlucky one as I put the rear tires on the curb, so I could not start again and I finished the session there. But better that these things happen today and not on Sunday.
Q: There are a lot of words being written about what you might be doing in the future. What is your own personal comment on that?
Alonso: Nothing really. The same comment as always. It is too early to speak about the future and too early for me to think about the future. It is only the sixth or seventh grand prix of the championship this year and there is a long way to go to the end. First of all I want to improve the results and the performance we are having now. The aim for the next two or three months is to be closer and closer to the podium which is the real target. There is enough to do to reach this target that I don't want to lose too much time on the future.
Q: David. You went to Dover to see the NASCAR race. Can you tell us a little bit about your impressions of that style of racing?
David COULTHARD: I have watched it on television and have always enjoyed the spectacle. It is obviously a lot easier to see all the action if you are standing inside a one mile oval than it is standing at a grand prix track. The challenge the drivers have there is that there is a lot more going on - 40 odd cars on track, a lot more incidents and accidents and pit stops and all the rest of it. It is just a different type of motor racing. It probably goes on a bit too long, it was like four hours of racing. I don't know how anyone can sit and watch it for that long but I am sure for the drivers it is good fun.
Q: What are your feelings about this season so far?
Coulthard: Well, I am clearly disappointed not to have scored any points. That's the way it goes sometimes. I've obviously been involved in a few incidents which is unusual but again when you are in what I call the ugly part of the grid there seems to be a lot more contact. And clearly the goal is to keep out of that. In the first six races I have been in the top 10 three times in qualifying and clearly that is the key area to be to avoid a lot of the concertina effects especially somewhere like here in Montreal. We have seen that many years with cars getting out of position.
Q: And your feelings about today?
Coulthard: As Fernando said it was a normal Canada Friday with the exception of some wet running thrown in. The track is pretty green but that is the usual gig especially when you come from Monaco as you have got a lot more speed on the car and a lot less downforce, so stopping it through the chicanes is a bit more of a challenge. Usually the cars that have good curb ride tend to show their lap time here and the grid can be a bit more spaced out, so we just need to review our performance after qualifying tomorrow and hopefully we will have a strong one.
Q: Were you quite encouraged by where you were today?
Coulthard: I was neither encouraged nor discouraged. We got on with our program, trying to check the car. I think that, as I said, because of the nature of this track and the way the tires are, it is a lot more inconsistent lap to lap. The balance that you get from the pure driving experience point of view is a little bit more frustrating than, say a Monaco or an Istanbul or somewhere like that where you have an element of consistency that you can work on. But that is largely influenced by the high speeds, the low downforce and also if you have got a tail wind or a head wind it can have quite a big effect going through the corners.
Q: Geoff, I seem to remember a year or so ago when you first came into the team that you got involved very much in the reliability side of things. Just give us some idea how you have gone about that as it does seem to have been successful.
Geoff WILLIS: It takes quite a lot of components to answer the process to improve the reliability. For one thing this is the second year where we have had the same engine installations and the same engine partner. That has made quite a big improvement on the engine installation of the car, working with the same people. The technical team has settled down a little bit more and has more experience of working with each other, so that already is a good thing. The sort of areas I have been looking at are the process and the way we sign off design. Do we have a good review process? Do we understand why we are designing what we are designing and the operation of how we get parts to the car? On top of that it is understanding the faults and why do we have the faults and do we properly understand the solutions. Some of the problems last year were that we thought we had identified the fault quite quickly and found a solution but really we had not done the work well enough, so we ended up repeating the same fault. Then we had some rather weak processes, so although we had some development components that solved the problem we did not actually manage to get them on the car consistently because we didn't have the process to ensure the car build was exactly what we wanted. There are three or four stages - there is pure design level, the competence and quality, there is organizational process making sure that you are actually putting on the car what you really want on the car and then there is that overall culture of saying that faults aren't things that just happen out of the blue. There is an engineering reason for them and if you do not understand what the reason is then you haven't solved the fault and it will come back again. It is changing that culture and at the moment we have had a reasonably good run of reliability but I have to keep saying to the engineers at the factory every race that just because we have been reliable the last few races doesn't mean we automatically expect to be reliable this week. We have to keep working on all the processes and that's the important thing.
Q: So that is a continuing, ongoing thing?
Willis: I think, and I am sure Pat will agree with me on this one, that reliability is something you have to work on all the time and as soon as you relax your guard you will find some problems creeping up onto the car.
Q: To what extent are you already working on the 2009 car?
Willis: Certainly we are already underway aerodynamically with the 2009 car, both wind tunnel programs and the CFD program. We are clearly looking at the tires as there is a big regulation change there next year, one part of which is the slick tires. We are still waiting until the last July team test when we will get the final specification of those tires. Some of the main car lay-out will have to be delayed a little longer but we have done quite a lot of work. At the moment we are juggling that balance between the 2008 car development and 2009 and certainly where we are in the championship, and as David says, we are in that ugly area where a small performance improvement can give you help to get that one or two points. We do certainly have to divide out time as efficiently as we can between the 2008 championship, trying to turn an equal fourth place into a secure fourth place, but at the same time not penalizing ourselves for next year.
Q: As far as you are concerned are the regulations for 2009 perfectly clear?
Willis: I think on a technicality the final things we have agreed in the last Technical Working Groups have to go before the World Motor Sport Council which I think is on 30 June but to all intents and purposes, as far as I understand, the regulations are fixed for 2009.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: David, I believe this is your 15th Canadian Grand Prix. Does it get easier for you? Does it help you to adjust to this particular track with its slipperiness and corners?
Coulthard: If the regulations had remained constant through those 15 years then I am sure it would. But, if you follow it closely, then although it is still called F1, it is significantly different to the F1 that I started in. So basically you adapt each year to the regs, to the way the cars are. These formula cars with the grooved tires require a different driving style to the 3.5 liter, slick tire and wide track car in which I started.
Q: (Will Buxton - Australasian Motorsport News) Pat, last week Carlos Ghosn said that Renault are in F1 for the long haul. Today there have been reports online that Renault is due to cut 50% of its staff at Viry. Can you let us know the thought process of what is going on at Viry? How that is going to effect the team? Is it due to the engine freeze or something more?
Symonds: It is absolutely that. I think that something we are very conscious of at Renault is working efficiently and making the most of the rules as they stand and the budgets that we have. Budgets are not a bottomless pit, far from it. With the engine freeze it would be very nice if the budget was a bottomless pit as you could keep everyone employed and you could keep working on blue-sky research for the day when the freeze comes off. That is not the way we work at Renault. We have reduced the size of the engine operation.
Q: Will you still be outsourcing to Mecachrome? Or are you going to keep it all in-house at Viry?
Symonds: No, no. A lot of outsourcing at Mecachrome. Always has been and will continue to be.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Fernando, what sort of advice have you given or can you give Nelson Piquet to help him along?
Alonso: Well, as Pat said before I think we can support him as much as we can as these things can change very quickly from one race to another if you have a good result. I have been with Nelson now for a couple of months and I have a huge respect for him and I know that he has a great talent. Testing in the winter and in the races, some races have been difficult because they have been new tracks for him. Barcelona was one of the tracks he knew and he was easy to feel free and he showed his potential there. I am pretty sure that he will have had a good season at the end of the championship when we look back. It has been a difficult start but we need him and he will get there.
Q: (Daniel Bastien - Radio FM 103.3) How far ahead are you with the energy recovery systems?
Willis: Reasonably well underway. Clearly we know what the architecture of our energy recovery system is going to be and we know the type of technology that we are using. In our program we will be able to test parts of the hardware in a few months time and then look towards final track testing at the end of the year in time for next year's car.
Symonds: We are probably in a very similar position. We have run the motor generator unit on a dyno connected to an engine. Layout of the car is going ahead with the positioning of batteries and stuff like that. There is a lot of software and a lot of simulation done. We are well into the safety aspects of the car which are very important on hybrid cars. There is a lot left to do and there doesn't seem much time to do it but I guess like always we will get it done.
Q: (MC) Geoff, can I come back to you on that: are you doing it yourselves, as Red Bull Racing, or is your engine supplier doing it?
Willis: It's certainly being done in close co-operation with Renault. The system is quite tightly connected with the whole powertrain. The battery technology itself is something that we're developing independently but we're using very similar solutions to Renault Enstone, and as Pat has said, we have the same - as most of the teams using this type of technology are going to be using - we have the same challenges of safety, of appropriate packaging. The battery packaging in the car will be quite a challenge. The sheer volume of battery we have to package is not trivial, even with next year's aerodynamic regulations, it's still a bit of a struggle to find a safe and aerodynamically effective place to package it, so it's quite a big challenge, for sure.
Q: (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Special) Pat, to follow on from what was just being said about the new systems being developed, and about what's been happening at Viry Chatillon, it's a strange time to be cutting back on engine R&D when we have new systems needing to be developed and then ultimately new engines in 2013 and perhaps even 2011. Can you talk us through exactly what's going on, what changes are being made and how long it takes to work on a new engine?
Symonds: Yes, there are two separate things here. The Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems are very much an Enstone-based development group. Now of course they have to work with the engine, it is a powertrain project but it's largely Enstone-based, so there's not a huge knock-on effect on the engine. We are of course allowed to modify the engine to fit the KERS systems, and there are designers involved in doing that.
The other part of the question, new engines, yes, it's quite a difficult thing. At the moment the plan is for a new engine in 2013. As you quite rightly say, there's talk of moving it forward. At the moment it has just been talk rather than discussion, I would even say. I think that if we want an integrated approach, and we've got to get this one right, we've got to integrate a modern engine, a cheap engine - because at the moment, unfortunately, we've frozen a very very expensive engine, an engine that's capable of doing much more than it does at the moment. So we've got to get the price down, the integration with Kinetic energy recovery and indeed thermal energy recovery. I think, to do all that, and move it to 2011 is over-ambitious, bearing in mind that we haven't even run kinetic energy recovery on the track yet. So I think quite wisely the teams have made a - I would call it a statement rather than a decision - that they would like to get a year's running with kinetic energy recovery under their belts before they really start looking at a new powertrain for a future Formula One. I would say that if we wanted to move the engine change forward, we could move it forward to 2012 and in fact I would welcome that because it is a way of reducing costs. We could make a much longer-lasting, much cheaper engine in 2012 if we chose to do that. And yes, of course, that requires designers and engineers and people doing calculations. What I would say is that at Viry we have kept the core of those sorts of people. What we've probably lost is more the development people, because there is no development going on in the powertrain at the moment.
Q: (Joe Saward - Grand Prix Special) So would it be fair to say it's a bit like the design modules of the late eighties when Renault cut back a little bit, but kept the core for the next project?
Symonds: Yes, it is very similar to that and as you saw then, they were able to ramp it back up very quickly when they needed to.
Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) Pat, can you just expand on packaging and positioning of the battery for KERS? Obviously, you don't want any failure close to the fuel tank.
Symonds: Yes, the KERS project is actually quite fascinating. It's rare that we get a chance in Formula One to do something really different. We've spent many years producing cars that are ultimately similar. We may have changed from turbocharged engines to normally aspirated engines. We may have had slick tires and grooved tires and things like that, but KERS has introduced a lot of new things and the battery technology is a very interesting one. I think batteries recently, particularly lithium ion batteries, have had quite a lot of bad press from laptop computers catching fire and things like that. It's a very real worry. The management of the state of charge of the batteries is very very important. As Geoff said, they are very difficult to package. There are a lot of little batteries that we've got to put in the car somewhere, trying not to have too much aerodynamic deficit. We've got to keep them cool. Even if you keep the state of charge good on them, you've still got to cool the things to get efficiency. The whole thing is quite an interesting project, it's the sort of thing I like to see.
Q: (Mark Danby - Auto Magazine) A question for David and Fernando: there's talk of the tire warmer ban being delayed until 2010; could you comment on driving the cars without them?
Coulthard: As we said at the time, and especially if we consider that a lot of our development is done during the winter, in moving to a more green Formula One, to have to spend five laps warming up your tires to stabilize pressures - because without blankets you'll go out with 15psi waiting to build the tire temperature up to whatever the running pressure will end up being - so you're effectively doing laps to create that stability to then develop the car. So if we do go to banning tire-warmers for racing, then it would seem sensible to keep them for testing, which I think is what happens in Formula 3 or GP2. And then when you typically get to Grand Prix tracks for the racing season, track temperatures are higher. Obviously the tires will be designed to cover low temperature to normal operating temperature, so you'll adapt to that, but I think we use the example of ChampCar where basically what it does there is force late pit stops, because if you're the guy out a lap or two early with cold tires, you lose so much lap time that instead of what we've seen recently, guys running short strategies to get qualifying position, they might start to run longer and it will be back to the older days in Formula One when the last guy to stop within his relative group of pace will be the guy that wins, because you'll maximize your lap time up until that pit stop.
From a technical point of view, I think it's always interesting to have people comment on whether it will be a problem or not, when they don't actually have to drive it. I think that there's a real valid reason to ask the drivers what their point of view is and I accept that in other formulae they don't run - it's a bit like having traction control and not having traction control - you adapt to what you have. But in the short term I think that with all the other things that are changing, I think we should keep some things constant to reduce the variability, reduce risk and then once you've got over a season then fade it out, because you will all get excited for about a year and then you will see real drivers, and then you'll see no difference!
Q: (Walter Buchignani - The Montreal Gazette) I wonder if I can get each of you to talk a little bit, maybe in non-technical terms, about the changes that the fans might be seeing on the track as a result of the coming changes in the regulations as well as maybe a cap on the team budgets?
Willis: The main regulation changes for next year are the aerodynamic regulation changes and the background to those is work that was done over the last two years by the Overtaking Working Group, trying to get an understanding of what are the primary drives that make it possible or not possible for race cars to overtake. And there's a perception that it would improve the viewing potential of Formula One too, if not see more overtaking, see more chances of people fighting to overtake, and certainly processional racing is not particularly exciting to watch. So quite a large wind tunnel program and CFD program has been carried out, and a number of teams were involved in more detailed work and Pat can probably explain more. This helped to drive the regulations that we're working with next year. The problem is that all the teams have now got a set of regulations that they are going to be trying to find loopholes in and trying to develop, and we have to hope that we've done the work well enough in the regulations that we haven't left any subtle loopholes open that we'll suddenly end up with the type of car characteristics that we don't want to have. What we were trying to achieve is a small advantage for the following car, so that cars can get close to each other in quick corners and that we don't have to rely on revised circuit design to allow overtaking. So the theory is we should see more overtaking. We really won't know that until we've seen close running, possibly in pre-season testing or possibly not until the first race next year.
Symonds: I agree with what Geoff said. Certainly I think the aerodynamics will help overtaking and there is a perception that overtaking is something that the fans want. Personally I like watching rally cars and they never overtake, so I think there's a bit more to it than that. The other thing of course is we were talking earlier about KERS. That has the potential to be used strategically. It's not just about fuel economy and things, so that will change the face of racing a little bit. I think you asked about budget-capping as well. That, of course, is longer term and I think it's a little bit more difficult to say how that's really going to affect the racing. It's much more a question of survival to be honest. The only thing I think it might do is close the field up a little bit. The bigger teams will not be able to do as much research as they have done and I don't think for one minute that that will change the pecking order but what it might mean is that just occasionally the little team will have his day. They will be that little bit closer, so if something happens, a little bit of an oddball race, rain, whatever it might be, it gives a chance for the little teams to maybe get a little bit further up.
Alonso: I think everything has been studied in simulations and things like that. We trust all of these and we hope to have some more opportunities to follow cars close enough to allow us to try overtaking maneuvers a little bit more often than we are doing now. I think it should be a better possibility next year to follow a car, also to brake later than him (the other competitor) probably because you have more grip on the tires, you can afford to really brake a little later than normal without losing the car. It should also be safer for us because with slick tires we should stop quicker if we go off at a corner on tarmac, so I think it's looking good and we are really waiting for next year and all the new rules have been very welcomed by the drivers, I think.
Q: (Will Buxton - Australasian Motorsport News) Another one for Pat: in Barcelona, you made a number of upgrades to the car. It was reported that one of them was a J-type damper, the new suspension concept. The team's been very clear not to confirm or deny whether it was a J-damper. I'm wondering if you can tell us if it is a J-damper or J-type damper, and if it is, how you've legally been able to do that given that at the end of last year, Renault said it wouldn't develop nor install a J-type damper in its cars after seeing drawings of McLaren's J-damper?
Symonds: Yes, I don't know. What's a J-damper? If you can tell me what that is, I can tell you whether we've got one, I guess. It's not an engineering term.
Q: (Will Buxton - Australasian Motorsport News) Under the explanation given to the World Motor Sport Council at the end of last year that you had a drawing of what was termed to be a J-damper, that you were now running a concept that was similar or had influence from that.
Symonds: All I can say is that everything on our car has been checked by the FIA. We don't develop new technologies on the car anymore without asking the FIA and asking very, very clearly. I think that was a lesson that we learned from the tuned mass dampers that we were running earlier where I think we just simply hadn't really asked the question clearly enough. So now everything that goes on the car that there might be even the slightest doubt about, we do check with the FIA, whether they are happy with it. It is true that we ran new suspension components on the car in Barcelona and I can confirm that we checked very carefully with the FIA whether they felt that those suspension components infringed any technical regulations, sporting regulations or indeed the laws of the land.
Q: (Carlos Miquel - Diario AS) Fernando, are you happy with the car today and do you think it could be more difficult here in Montreal to get into Q3?
Alonso: Today has been a difficult day for everybody, for me as well, even more difficult because I didn't complete the second session, so I don't have as much information as we planned to have. Apart from that, the result, P18 is not entirely real because we missed the last 40 minutes of the session and I'm pretty sure that my finishing position would be a little bit better than that. It's true that this is not one of our preferred circuits because of its characteristics but I'm confident that tomorrow we will be in Q3, hopefully without too many problems, and after that it will be down to how the lap is in Q3 and what strategy we choose. I think it will be quite similar to the last three or four Grands Prix, going into Q3 and then we see after that. Hopefully we can be on the grid, in the top seven or top eight and scoring points on Sunday, which is the main goal of the weekend.