Chinese GP: Friday Press Conference
Aldo COSTA (Ferrari)
James KEY (Sauber)
Paddy LOWE (McLaren)
Naoki TAKUNAGA (Renault)
Geoff WILLIS (HRT)
Q: A question to you all. Can you give us some idea as to how things went today for you. James, could you start?
James KEY: It was okay today. For us it was a normal program of running tires, set-up work and so on. We had some test items in the morning. FP1 was a bit slippery to be honest, so there is not too much you can read into the first session, but we got some useful data. It was a normal program and it seems to be alright. It was a bit like Malaysia for us, as we have got a bit of work to do overnight with the balance of the car, in sector one particularly, but otherwise it all went okay.
Q: Geoff, a bit of drama at the end there.
Geoff WILLIS: Yes, little bit of a mixed day. The morning was pretty good. Again, with poor track conditions and the amount the track improved, we were concentrating more on car aero work. We had some aero test pieces and just understanding the car as we play catch-up, not having done any pre-season testing. The morning went well. In the afternoon it went well with Narain's (Karthikeyan) car but we had some problems, which lost us most of the session with Tonio (Liuzzi), so not so successful. Having said that, I think we are a lot happier with the car today and we still have got some more work to do tomorrow.
Q: Tonio mentioned it was perhaps an hydraulics problem at the end of the morning that stopped him. Was that what kept him out of the session in the afternoon?
Willis: Yes and no. It was a hydraulics installation problem. We damaged a high-pressure supply. In the afternoon it was a little difficult to get to the bottom of the problem. We had what we think is a software controls problem, corrupted files into the car, but eventually got it sorted and got it out so no more mechanical problems this afternoon.
Q: Naoki, poor old Nick Heidfeld. He seemed to have a bit of a dramatic day?
Naoki TAKUNAGA: Yeah, but overall I have to say it is a productive day. It is quite unfortunate Heidfeld having to go off twice, one in each of the sessions, but the damage is limited. We lost the two noses which is quite unfortunate but overall it is a productive day. The balance is different in the morning and the afternoon, so it is a mixture of everything but I think we have got good data.
Q: It was mentioned you had quite a lot of understeer in this morning's session. Did that continue in the afternoon or did you manage to iron that out?
Takunaga: No, the balance is quite different in the afternoon from the morning. We suffered a lack of grip, basically, all day, and at the end of P2 the biggest problem was lack of traction so it is a bit of a mixture really.
Q: Aldo, maybe you weren't here all day, I don't know?
Aldo COSTA: It was not a very clean practice session both this morning and this afternoon, mainly with Fernando (Alonso). Felipe (Massa) did his program with no big issues. With Fernando, we experienced two hydraulic leakages on the same detail, zero kilometer, component, so there must be some, let's say, quality or finger problem, so we have to see and solve for tomorrow. About the performance, we did with Fernando quite a lot of test this morning in terms of aero tests I mean. Quite a lot of constant speed, so not a lot of real running to test new pieces and test different configurations so quite interesting to us. We concentrated with Felipe on tires, to try to understand better the tires in this not very hot environment.
Paddy LOWE: We had a busy day, trying to do more things than there is time to do. A mixture of testing new items on the car, mainly in P1, and doing all the homework with different fuel levels, different tires, generally to our normal program for that. I think generally happy. A few issues to iron out. A lot of decisions to take, a lot of data to analyze overnight and then we will decide what we do tomorrow.
Q: Again a question to you all. You have now run the tires in hot and cool conditions. Cool in Melbourne, hot in Malaysia. What have you learnt and what are your conclusions. James would you start.
Key: To be honest it has been a learning process and I still think it is to a certain extent because in winter testing we had pretty cool conditions on relatively green tracks, to begin with at least. We were finding a certain level of degradation and a certain characteristic of the tire and so on. Going to Melbourne was a complete surprise for everyone, I think, as the track temperature was a little bit higher and the surface was certainly a bit kinder to the tires. Pirelli had always informed us that they felt the tires would be better as a race tire in warmer conditions and that is exactly what we found and I am sure it is the same for some others. In Melbourne, it was certainly different and bit of a pleasant surprise for us in the race with Sergio (Perez) particularly. With the hotter conditions in Kuala Lumpur we expected to have a more oversteering car and more rear limited car which proved to be the case but more than we expected by the time we got there and got running so the balance shift for us was quite big between Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur. Now, coming here, it is somewhere in the middle, so if you take Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur as the extremes, then you have got some sort of range with which to work with, but it is a bit too early to say so. I think we are still learning. Predictions are kind of in the right direction but the extremes of those predictions on what is going to happen to the balance of the car is still quite tricky to predict at the moment.
Willis: Certainly we are learning a lot and our experiments are somewhat complicated by the fact that we are changing the car hugely from session to session as we explore the operating envelope of the car and understand the car better so some of the car balance changes that we see since Melbourne practice to here are somewhat compensated by what we have been doing with the car. Certainly we are aware that we have to start from zero again with our understanding of what the tires are going to do and particularly how they evolve during the weekend. It is interesting to see what strategies end up on the race day given what we think we know about them on Friday and Saturday. We are learning a lot and we all as a business will get to understand them more consistently in another two or three races.
Takunaga: I certainly agree with James and Geoff. We are in a very, very steep learning curve at the moment and we found different surprises in different circuits and in different conditions. It is quite difficult to predict precisely how the tire will behave at this circuit, which is again different to any other previous races or tests, so we have to see. It is quite difficult to predict.
Q: Is it the difference in the tarmac itself and the aggressiveness of the tarmac or is it not the temperature?
Takunaga: Yeah, if someone knows the precise answer, I would like to hear that. As I said we are still, together with Pirelli in a learning curve.
Costa: There are several parameters more than that. Track asphalt condition as you said, asphalt type but also track temperature, also car set-up, and driving style, so there are a lot of parameters to play with and quite a lot to learn. You see that in the first two races, even in the same team, there was quite a lot of difference between driver to driver so quite a lot to learn overall.
Lowe: Well I think it is really exciting as we have got a formula now where it seems to be panning out that the tire wear is very, very critical. I think what is particularly interesting, great, really, a big challenge for us on the pit-wall side, is you have got to manage the tires across qualifying and the race. If you were doing four stops you have used five out of six tires, completely consumed in the race, and how you use those tires in qualifying has a big consequence on your race result, which we saw to Lewis (Hamilton's) cost in Malaysia. Crucial phases of the race where he lost out were a consequence of tire consumption that he had done in qualifying so great spectacle I think and a job for us to manage it well.
Q: It was interesting that your two drivers were faster than Sebastian Vettel at different times. Is that the consequence of that or was it Sebastian being slightly slower?
Lowe: I think most of the pace differences you see through the race are as a result of the state of the tire at that instant. Every lap you run, the tire is going off and sometimes at higher rates than others and different with different drivers. If you have done three laps on a tire in qualifying, when you hit the track with it in a race you are already set back that amount. If another guy has come out on a new tire then he is ahead of you, so I think there are phases in a race where you are quicker or slower than the people you are racing but it can come back to you depending on your tire choices. That means the race result isn't really known until the very end as we have been seeing.
Q: Today I think you were testing a new floor and exhaust. How did that go? Has any decision been made whether you are going to run that during the race itself?
Lowe: Yeah, as I was saying earlier, we have got a lot of numbers to look at and we will be boring into those during the night and deciding what to fit. We have learned some things and I am sure some of the things that we have tried today will have worked.
Q: So we won't know until later?
Lowe: Yeah, and there is no big black or white answer. We have quite a few different pieces to try.
Q: Aldo, three of you went back to Maranello. What was the purpose of that and what was the conclusion you drew from going back to Maranello?
Costa: The purpose is normal: go back home and spend a few days at home between one race or another. It was not an emergency going back to Maranello. It was already programmed. Of course, we have to catch up. We are quite behind, as we have seen in the first two races, so at home people are really motivated to progress and we were discussing, as usual, development programs and which bits we can bring to the races, how many parts we can anticipate at what race and all this usual stuff. But being with a good awareness where we are at this moment in terms of performance so people are really, really pushing to catch up and really motivated to come back to the performance we would like to have.
Q: The President has predicted an amazing reaction. Would you agree?
Costa: We are here to do this job and we will try to do it for sure.
Q: Naoki, Renault have got off to a flying start, but the big test really is the pace of development. Do you think you can match the pace of development of McLaren and Ferrari.
Takunaga: Well, obviously, it is a big, big challenge to fight against these strong teams, but I think in the past few years we have proven that we have very good in-season development pace, so I don't see any reason why we cannot do this again this year.
Q: You have been on the podium two races so far. Can you maintain that?
Takunaga: Yes, I hope so. I think one of the big differences this year is that the roll-out performance of the car is higher than the past few years. I think it is important to keep up the pace during the season and to make the point constantly, so I hope we can keep up this pace.
Q: Geoff, the car is still incredibly new. Are you surprised at the pace that seems to be in it?
Willis: I think I am certainly very pleased with the pace. It has had a very short gestation period. We started the design only in mid-December and it is 75-80 per cent a new car, and we clearly have had to take a number of short cuts in terms of its aerodynamic performance. We have got a very limited CFD program, so one of the things we have been doing over the three race events is exploring the aero map. We don't have the sort of level or aero map we would expect to have to optimize the set-up of the car, so we are playing a lot with ride-heights and spring-rates, all sorts of things, to try and reverse engineer what we have got with the car. At the same time we have got quite a new group of people in the garage, so there is a lot of learning to be done there. Usual sort of mistakes and quick improvements. It is very impressive, in fact, over the last three race weekends how quickly it has all come together. We did have quite an experienced group of individuals designing the car but they hadn't worked together and they were certainly working in a distributed network and we have got a new group of people in the garage. Again, I am very pleased that almost on a session by session basis we make the car faster, we make decisions better. We still make mistakes, but I hope we learn from them. It is difficult to say whether it is better or worse than I thought. Starting from the restrictions we had I think we have done an extremely good job but we are all very determined to do a much, much better job. Looking back, there is a lot behind us and looking forward there is a lot in front of us and we just need to keep pushing every session, every race and bringing bits as fast as we possibly can. And building the team, growing as we go.
Q: How worried are you still about the 107 percent rule?
Willis: Looking at today's times, not so worried. I certainly wouldn't want to get complacent about it but I think, judging what we can, with track improvement, fuel loads, tire selection and run length, I think we are probably a little bit better than we were in Sepang.
Q: James, you've obviously had a fantastic couple of races. Very interesting to see how you've managed the tires. You seem to have been concentrating on getting one less pit stop than everybody else. Is that something that was originally designed in the car, or was it something that happened in Australia and you've been concentrating on since?
Key: I think it's a bit of both. Obviously everyone had to design their cars without really understanding the tires. Although Pirelli did a good job of giving up front information to everyone, it was always very provisional, you had to treat it a little bit cautiously because they were still developing the way the tires were going to be and we didn't really know until winter testing what we would get. So from our side, we wanted to try and leave our options open with the way we set the car up, as much as possible. It was a more complicated car compared to last year with the number of options of mechanical set-up and so on. And it has allowed us, to a certain extent, to adapt to using the tires in what we feel is an efficient way. It has its downsides. In Melbourne, for example, we had to use three laps to qualify but then we were able to do one stop. I think with the Melbourne situation, as I said, the tires behaved in a very different way to perhaps what we expected. I think both drivers also did a very good job of saving the tires through that event. We didn't plan a one stop but it became apparent on about lap 45, I think. So from that point forward, we felt that we can genuinely look at less stops because the drivers and the car seem to be able to hang onto the tires. We had a slight hint that we were fairly kind to the tires in winter testing but as I say, it was such a different situation in the winter compared to what we're seeing now that we couldn't read too much into that.
Q: And now it seems that everybody else is looking to do exactly what you've been doing with one less stop.
Key: Possibly, yeah. I think, to be honest, the two stop in Malaysia was kind of on the edge of how far we could push that. Again, that was down to some good tire management by the drivers really, but it paid dividends as well. I think a three stop and a two stop are roughly the same time, but the two stop had less risk and at the end of the race we were twenty seconds ahead of a guy who was doing three stops who we were racing with, so it worked out for us.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: Andrea Cremonesi (La Gazzetta dello Sport) Two questions for Aldo Costa: the first is about the drivers. You talked before that there is some difference understanding the tires between the two drivers. I would like to know which is the driver who understands the tires better, between Fernando and Felipe. The second question is: today Fernando had new parts on the car, new front wing, new brake ducts. It was slower than Felipe; what does that mean when choosing these parts for the race or not?
Costa: Regarding Fernando and Felipe understanding the tires; I think both are doing quite a lot for the team to give feedback, information, comments. At this moment there isn't a big difference between the two in terms of how they wear the tires in the last race. Maybe Felipe is a bit more in difficulty in cold conditions with the harder tires, so we are trying to understand that and trying to help him in that respect.
In terms of the development that we have done today; yes, we have tested aerodynamic components. If it was so easy to decide, just looking at the lap time, we wouldn't be here because we can stay at home and look at the lap times and then decide from there. Fortunately, there are, as Paddy said, tons of data. It's very difficult to test during a Friday with a limited amount of tires and also tires which are not in constant condition. So there is a lot of data to analyze and we will be busy all this afternoon, trying to understand which configuration has got more potential and then make a decision for tomorrow.
Q: (Joe Saward) After the last Grand Prix in Malaysia, the fastest lap list had Sebastian Vettel sixth, one second behind Mark Webber, which suggests that in the course of the race he might have gone a lot faster. Do you think that is a realistic reading of how far ahead the Red Bull is at the moment, or do you think the qualifying numbers are more realistic?
Lowe: That's a difficult question, you know that. Impossible to know exactly where any of your competitors are, but particularly if the guy's in the lead, you don't know how much margin he's left. I don't know that Sebastian was really being chased particularly hard throughout the whole race and perhaps if he had been, we would know more. Certainly, we felt that if Lewis had managed to keep P2 on the first lap, he could have put him under more pressure potentially and we may have seen a very different race. I certainly don't think that Red Bull are cruising. I think they're feeling the pressure, we saw that in qualifying, in particular, in Malaysia.
Q: (Ted Kravitz - BBC Sport) This is for Aldo and James. James, you're running essentially the back end of a Ferrari - minus the rear wing - the engine, the gearbox, the KERS. Do you understand why the Ferrari seems to be essentially a quicker car and Aldo, do you understand why the Sauber can do one stop less than you in races?
Key: I think that what we get from Ferrari... obviously the KERS and engine, which are units which we build into the car. There are some architectural differences or let's say some influences architecturally that they have but fundamentally they are units that we put in the car. The gearbox is probably the biggest part of what we're supplied which influences the way in which we have to deal with the car, so the rear suspension obviously picks up off the gearbox, it's our design but the pick-up points are pre-determined although we worked closely with Ferrari and where they were headed with the 'box for this year and that works out as a pretty good process. I think that the rest of the car is really down to the philosophy that's supplied by the team and I think we would expect Ferrari to be a bit quicker than us, because they are, traditionally, a championship-winning team ultimately and we're not quite in that league yet. I think we picked up what we were given, we had some decent discussions at an early stage with Ferrari, but then it's really down to us to put the rest of the package together, and obviously that's the mechanical side. The aero side clearly plays a huge role in this and you've got to match your mechanical and your aero together to get the car to work properly and so on, and the front suspension needs to work in tune with the way the rear of the car is so the philosophy is that it's the whole car and the parts we get supplied play a part in that, but not a huge part.
Costa: Yeah, not a lot to add. We supply the power train, all the rest is different, so in terms of tire management, for example, you can have different suspension geometry, even if, as James said, starting with the pick-up points on the gearbox have to be the same so you can have different suspension geometry, different set-up as well as different aerodynamic development, so you may have a car that is easier on the tires, thanks to the good job they have done. So it's very possible.
Q: (Joe Saward) I want an answer from all of you this time: how many teams do you think will win races this year?
Lowe: At least two. Is that good enough?
Costa: Let's hope three!
Key: I guess to follow on from that, about five, isn't it? We will see. It's the first couple of races of a long season.
And just going back to your other point, Joe, what Paddy said before about the number of tires you run dictates a lot about how quick your car looks. We did two stops with Kamui, for example, we never really shone with our lap times because we had to string the stints out whereas Webber did four stops or something, I think, so he was able to push a little bit more, so there may be something in that.
Willis: I'm a little bit between two or four, the reason being that I think there are four possible contenders but sometimes the way seasons end up, two get shut out fighting each other for that opportunity. I think you can guess which.
Takunaga: I think I would chose on the higher side, so four and the reason being that this year there are a lot of factors which add uncertainty to the races such as tires, DRS and KERS. I think all of these combined will increase the volatility during the race, so I would expect four teams at least and of course I hope Renault is one of them.
Q: Andrea Cremonesi (La Gazzetta dello Sport) Mr. Lowe, we know that McLaren made a big effort to catch up the Red Bulls. I would like to know if you can describe to us how big this effort was, something that might be obvious to you but not for us?
Lowe: I think this has been written about a fair deal in the press, but we had a philosophy that we followed in conceiving the car through the winter testing. I think that quite honestly, our ambitions exceed our ability to deliver, so fairly late on, through the winter testing, we realized we needed to regroup and consider a different design, something that we would actually know how to make and get on the car reliably. I think it's also worth pointing out that the car was desperately unreliable, actually, through the tests in February but not all as a consequence of this subject that we're talking about, so we had a range of issues which we fortunately managed to sort out. On the exhaust philosophy, we jumped ship, effectively, to a new design concept. I think it's a great credit to the team that they were able to learn how to exploit that in such a short space of time because I think one of the features of Formula One and the development amongst the teams is that we work together as a team, we follow philosophies. It's not always easy to look at what other people are doing and say 'OK, he's quick, let me just copy what he's doing', because a lot of these things are a consequence of actually, at times, years of development and a philosophy that gets you performance that's unique to the style of your team. I think that's one of the things that makes Formula One very interesting. Aldo's car is very very different to my car and yet the lap times in the end are very very similar as a consequence of many years of building up an approach in each team, completely separately. So I think great credit to our team that we can take a completely different design and literally, in a matter of days, turn that into something that was competitive for Australia and then great that the drivers were able to exploit that and we got some reasonable results.
Q: (Julien Febreau - L'Equipe) Mr. Costa, we know how important it is to find the same results on the track as in the wind tunnel. Is it a concern for you at the moment and could it explain your problems a bit?
Costa: In the winter development, in the last test, we have tested a lot of new components and as I already said, some of them are not delivering the performance expected, so we started an investigation so we are doing correlation job between the track and the wind tunnel, trying to understand why that should be. A Formula One car, these days, is a very complex aerodynamic machine so there are a lot of vortices that can interfere one with the other. It's not only happened to us, it's happened from time to time that developments are not bringing the expected performance. So we are doing this investigation and we think that by Turkey we should be able to answer all our questions.