Toto WOLFF (Mercedes),
Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing),
Zak BROWN (McLaren)
Q: Zak, you published a letter yesterday outlining what you feel needs to happen to continue Formula 1’s growth. Why did you feel the need to write that now?
Zak Brown: Well, I think Formula 1 is on a great trajectory. Liberty has done an excellent job since they have acquired the sport, of continuing to move us forward. We have a variety of new agreements in place, which I think are all much better than they have been previously – but I think we still have a long way to go. I’m excited about all the opportunities Formula 1 has ahead of it – but I think it’s important as CEO of McLaren and very committed to the sport that we put out there our opinions on what we think is in the best interests of the sport, to ultimately grow the sport, to get more fans, which will have more countries wanting races and more sponsor partners etcetera. So, I though we’d lay out what I see as a handful of issues that still need to be discussed and addressed.
Q: And what sort of response have you had from teams?
ZB: I’ve had a lot of positive response from our partners, fans. I’ve not spoken with many of the teams specifically about it. Those various topics, I’ve spoken to the majority of teams on over the last two, three, four years and I would say, a lot of support for various agenda items in there. Certainly I’m sure not unanimous because of the interest all of the individual teams understandably have – but that’s why I think we need to change some governance to put a little bit of power back in the hands of people that are exclusively working in what’s in the best interest of the sport – because it’s understandable teams will always try to work as hard as they can to retain what they perceive to be some sort of competitive advantage.
Q: And just looking at your on-track performance Zak. Great to see Lando going so well, at Imola in particular. Daniel seems to have struggled a little bit more. What are his issues?
ZB: I just think he needs a little bit more time in the race car. Winter testing was cut in half this year. We had the disadvantage, if you like, of having to change power units. So we had to learn, that was a very smooth transition, Mercedes was very well-prepared and easy to work with, so that went seamlessly – but we did have to spend some time on integration. So I think he just lacks a little bit of seat time. We’re only two races into it, so I’m not worried whatsoever.
Q: A question really for Toto and Christian now. It’s so tight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. They’re only separated by a point for fastest lap. Is this battle upping the level of intensity for both of them?
Christian Horner: I think it’s… look, we’re two races into a 23-race calendar, so it’s fantastic the first two races have been as close as they have and I’m sure for all the fans and followers of Formula 1, they’d love to see another 21 races like the first two have been. I think that adds, hopefully, an additional pressure and it’s going to be interesting to see how it pans-out. I think it’s far too early to get a clear statement of form at the moment. That’s going to need another couple of races but by the time, I think, when we get to the end of Barcelona, we’re going to have much more of a clear pattern. I think the main winner out of this will be Formula 1 if it is a true head-to-head contest between the two teams.
Q: Toto, your thoughts?
Toto Wolff: Similar sort. I enjoyed – and all of us in the team enjoyed – the first two races. With all the glory and the drama narrative, that is interesting, and we’ve seen a good momentum. Particularly the audiences have grown and the interesting target groups, because there is excitement, not only at the front. You can see that in qualifying, times are pretty close and probably Lando could have been part of the top three if not for the mistake, so overall very exciting.
Q: The Constructors’ Championship is tight as well, only seven points between your teams. It could be decided by the fortunes of the drivers on the other side of your garages. How important do you see the roles of Checo and Valtteri?
TW: This first free practice was a good example of how important it is, because feedback on the two sides of the garage was similar but not as, let’s say, bad on one side versus the other one. And you can see that the car… Valtteri has done a tremendous job in also setting the times during the sessions. I think qualifying went particularly bad for him in Imola but we know that he can do these laps.
CH: Well both cars obviously score so it’s important to have both as high up as you can. I think with Checo finding his feet within the team, he started well, he drove a great race in Bahrain, qualified extremely well in Imola. Sunday obviously didn’t go his way – but I think as he becomes more familiar, he’s starting to play a stronger and stronger role within the team and, of course, the technical direction. He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge as well so, yeah, Formula 1 is still very much a team sport.
Q: Christian, this one’s for you. I’d like to ask you about the appointment of Ben Hodgkinson as technical director of Red Bull Powertrains. Why Ben?
CH: Well, obviously we’ve done our research. I think setting up the powertrain facility on campus, within Red Bull in the UK, you don’t have to look very far to see obviously the talent that there is, certainly based within the UK and, of course, the outstanding job that Mercedes have done, not just during the last seven years but the last 15 years in reality. And I think this is the first serious engine facility that’s been set-up in the UK, other than HPP maybe in the last 50 years. So, it’s a tremendously exciting opportunity and for us it’s a matter of identifying the right talent, attracting that talent, exactly as we did with the chassis side. Obviously, proximity within the UK as well is very convenient for that. So having identified the right guys, Ben was a standout-candidate for us and we’re delighted that he accepted our offer and decided to join the team.
Q: And to be clear, is this you committing to building your own Red Bull engine for 2025?
CH: I think it’s a very clear statement of intent that we’re obviously investing heavily within the facilities on campus. It’s probably the single biggest investment that Red Bull have made in Formula 1, certainly since acquiring the team from Jaguar back in 2004. It’s a great commitment and of course we’re gearing up to take on, embrace whatever the new regulations are for, whether it be 2025 or 2026.
Q: And Toto, is this an unsettling time for Mercedes, with James Allison about to stand down as technical director, Ben now leaving HPP?
TW: Well, I think the right strategic steps have been, as far as I can see, set in motion from Red Bull. I think they are going dual track with their own power unit and maybe with a new OEM joining in, and that’s certainly intelligent and the arrangement that has been found with Honda in the carrying over the IP is also clever. It’s clear that they are going to hire English engineers because it’s in the United Kingdom and there is not a lot of companies that can probably provide those engineers. So absolutely understood what the strategy is.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Toto, I wonder if you could explain the thinking behind the way you handled the situation between George and Valtteri after Imola. On the one hand, I wondered whether there was a risk George might be left in a slightly confusing situation with regard to what’s expected of him on the race track, in the sense of, don’t you want him to be out-performing his car and other drivers. It’s hard to imagine a 23 year-old Lewis Hamilton not going for that move – but equally, was it a chance for you to lay down some ground rules for him before he gets into a Mercedes full-time?
TW: I think I want most of it to stay confidential because I had discussions with both of the drivers. Drivers have to go for a gap. Sometimes it’s evaluating whether it’s taking a risk or not. I guess that a young driver will always go for the possibility and nothing else is expected. The question is, is there enough reaction time to evaluate who is the other car? I think not. In a way, there is never 100% blame on one and zero on the other one. It’s probably always much more nuanced and I’m really happy about the conversation that we had. There is no confusion on any side and there are no rules for any of the drivers. It’s just us giving feedback.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Question for Toto and Christian please. Tom mentioned Zak’s open letter yesterday, one of the calls within that was to implement immediately secret voting through the F1 Commission rulemaking process, wherewith the idea being that team affiliations have got unhealthy and it would stop strategic alignment on voting. I just wondered what your respective opinions were on that please.
CH: I heard about that and I can only assume it’s because of pressure applied from the supplier. If that is the case, it is a shame. McLaren are one of the most historic teams in Formula 1, they’ve always had a big voice. Certainly when I came into Formula 1, Ron Dennis was extremely passionate on every topic and had something to say everything that obviously involved the sport. So, it would be a shame to need to go behind a secret ballot – but a team has a right to request that. But it that’s what it needs to take independent votes, then we don’t have a major issue with it.
TW: Yeah, I read the letter this morning. I didn’t know that Zak could write as presidential as he did – but it was a good letter overall. I think he addressed all of the important points. I really find it very positive that McLaren and Zak have expressed their opinions. Also, on controversial topics. I think it needs more outspoken-ness like Zak has done in this letter. I found it overall very good. In terms of the secret ballot, it’s very easy. You have seen in the past that Toro Rosso has voted like Red Bull, probably without any exceptions, and Haas has gone the Ferrari way. In our case, we have never tried to influence a team. Obviously things have been discussed when it was a common topic, like on the power unit. It’s clear that teams vote with each other and none of the teams would vote against their own interest in terms of chassis regulations. So, the idea of the secret ballot is good. I doubt that Franz is not going to take instructions, and neither will Guenther not take instructions but the attempt is obviously good: no team should be really being influenced by any affiliate or any supplier.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Question initially for Toto and then I’d like to follow-up with Zak and Christian as well, please. Toto, yesterday, in the press conference, George said that he’d used Lewis and Valtteri as much as his team-mates as he does Nicholas Latifi. If that is really the case, and assuming it’s a two-way team-mate situation, why wasn’t Valtteri instructed to let his team-mate through cleanly and safely at Imola? And then I’d like to ask Zak, who doesn’t have an associate team, what does he think of what many would view as collusion between two teams? And Christian, you have an associate team: could you ever imagine instructing a driver not to overtake the other one – either a direct or an indirect instruction?
TW: I don’t know what I should really respond to such a question… I have no response.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Could you try a straight answer please?
Q: Let’s go to Zak please.
ZB: I didn’t catch Dieter’s question. Could you repeat that? I’m sorry Dieter.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Zak, how do you see what could be viewed as collusion between two teams – in other words, saying to one driver that he couldn’t overtake another one, or shouldn’t?
ZB: You’re muffled there – so I think your question was around…?
Q: Collusion. What are your thoughts about collusion between teams on track. George Russell said that he viewed Lewis and Valtteri as a team mate.
ZB: I don’t have an opinion on what goes on in other teams and collaborations between drivers. To me, that looked like a racing accident, two racing drivers fighting for the same piece or tarmac in tricky conditions, so my own view on that was, that was a racing incident.
Q: Christian, did you catch the question?
CH: Yeah, I think I understood the question. In Red Bull’s case, all drivers are Red Bull Racing drivers and they’re assigned obviously to AlphaTauri – but there’s no instruction to work effectively as one team. There a request to respect the fellow members but that’s it. They’re free to race, and race each other hard – as we’ve seen on numerous occasions. There’s no instruction to collude or anything along those lines.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Toto, Paddy Lowe as a guest on Tom’s Beyond the Grid podcast that was published earlier this week. Interestingly he revealed that a lot of the discussion inside Mercedes in the first year of the hybrid era was about not looking too fast to the outside and turning down engines all the time to avoid knee-jerk reactions, in terms of the regulations. What is your personal memory of that early phase of the hybrid era?
TW: I think Paddy must have been in a different place that I was. There is no such situation that you turn back an engine just to have regulations tweaked in your direction. We were very competitive in 2014 and I think everybody could see that. It was the start of a regulatory environment that wouldn’t have been changed anyway. So, yeah, maybe Paddy had that impression.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) A question to Toto and Zak in particular, as their drivers are taking part of it, but if Christian wants to give his input that’s fine. There’s a social media boycott happening, it started with the Premier League and it’s moving across various sporting organisations. Do you think that F1 has missed a bit of an own goal here (sic)? Obviously you have your End Racism campaign and various other things going on, but should F1 not have copied their blueprint going forward and taken part in this boycott. The reason I ask is obviously because Lewis is taking part, as is George, as is Lando. I just thought maybe F1 should as well.
TW: I think Formula 1 and Mercedes have shown commitment to the fight against racism all year long, not only with visible initiatives but we have launched several campaigns to increase diversity. We have invested considerable resource in setting up these programmes and we would very much leave it to the drivers to decide if they want to take part in a UK-based boycott. I think fighting against racism with the very different tools is necessary. We are Formula 1, a global sport, and it’s up to everyone to decide whether they want to join this UK initiative.
ZB: Yeah, just building on what Toto said, Lando is doing that this weekend. I believe Daniel is. We totally support our drivers in decisions and giving them their freedom to express themselves. As Toto mentioned we have a lot of initiatives around mind and mental health and supporting We Race As One. I don’t thing necessarily everyone has to do the same thing to convey the good that they are doing around the world in promoting a variety of issues. I don’t think… in this world one size fits all and people should have the freedom to express themselves when and how they feel is most appropriate and I think Formula 1 does a good job. We can do a better job, but I think we are making good progress.
CH: Not a great deal to add, Obviously, it’s a very much a UK-centric driven thing. We don’t condone racism in any way, shape or form. Obviously we follow the commercial rights holder on this and the drivers have the freedom to follow whichever action they feel suitable. So I think everything has been said.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) A question for Toto. We were talking about Red Bull Power trains earlier. Are you concerned that you are losing more personnel from HPP to Red Bull Powertrains and are you concerned that you are losing a lot of IP going there ands this is spicing up the battle with Red Bull, even on a different level?
TW: I guess it was expected that this would happen and this is just a battleground such as the one on track. You need to acknowledge that and the last few weeks were certainly very much…
TW: …Pulling on… how do you call that? Pulling on both sides of the rope, which I enjoyed. It’s part of the competition. You need to take it as a sportsman. Sportsmanship.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) We’re now a few races into the season and it’s first season operating under the cost cap. Looking up and down the pitlane, how much does it seem that everyone is on the same page compared to the cost cap. Have you seen everybody take a noticeable step down in terms of what they are bringing to races? In terms of any sanctions or penalties, I don’t know how much that has been discussed between the teams, but is everyone on the same page for that because one would imagine that a sporting penalty would obviously be a consequence for any breaches?
ZB: I think everyone is on the same chapter. I’m not sure everyone is on the same page but we will get there. The cost cap has been a challenge for everyone that was racing over what was allowed to be spent, ourselves included. It’s not easy. You have to make tough decisions. I think this year was always going to be an element of learning, so we continue to work through it. I think the FDs for all the teams, they meet quite frequently with the FIA and Formula 1 and I think generally everyone is doing a good job and I think it’s having its intended impact. I don’t think we will see it fully settle in for another couple of years, because this year a lot of money was spent last year when there wasn’t a cap in place. So I think it will take a couple of years before we see the impact of the cost cap.
CH: It’s had a very real effect. It drives efficiency. We have had to downscale to adopt the regulations. In answer to the question of penalties, I think the penalties are already clear for any breaches. There is discussion currently about procedures, which because it’s a new set of regulations, they are all being tidied up and I hope within a month everything will be clear in terms of procedures. But it’s put a key focus on value for money and costs. Formula 1 teams have perhaps not been that efficient in that area in history and I think in the past you have spent as much as you have as a budget and probably 10% more in your pursuit of performance. Now there is a hard limit and that forces and drives efficiencies and puts pressure on the situation and it’s probably no coincidence that the constructors’ trophies for the first two races have been picked up by the financial directors of both Mercedes and Red Bull. So it is playing a key role and I think ultimately that is a good thing as it drive efficiency and responsibility into the business.
TW: Yeah, I agree with Christian. Especially for the larger teams it has been an efficiency projects. Obviously there is some real hardship behind it because you needed to look at the organisation and an organisation is not a large organism, there are people behind, and that is the less enjoyable side, to say the least. Over the mid-term I guess it will help to balance out performance between the teams. As always with new regulations there are topics that need to be cleared up and specified and précised and some of the teams have expressed the wish to do that. But at the end of the day we have given each other a couple of weeks to clear that out. But from a principle, how I see it, everybody is on the same page.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) Christian, you talked about the statement of intent of the investment in the engine facility and obviously people are thinking it could well be a Red Bull engine, which would be a clear possibility, but it also offers you probably a unique advantage among F1 teams in that you could also join up with a manufacturer partner and tailor the nature of the partnership to their demands. So, you could do anything from doing the whole engine for them and then badging it through to them running it fully and everything in between. So how big a part of the way you are setting up this facility is that possibility and how big an advantage do you think it could be to have such a wide range of engine approaches down the line, as no other team can offer that at this stage?
CH: It’s a big challenge but it’s an exciting challenge and one that we fully embrace. I think other than Ferrari it makes us the only team to produce chassis and engine in-house and to have a fully integrated solution between both technical teams. That’s particularly exciting and attractive. We are assembling an exceptionally talented group of people together and we are only at the beginning of that journey. In terms of what that engine will be badged as, at this point in time it’s clearly focused to be a Red Bull engine. That is the commitment and that is the design group we are bringing together to focus on the new regulations. We have effectively a soft landing thanks to the IP usage we have a principle agreement with Honda with. So it’s exciting times and I think it puts Red Bull in truly unique situation, to have everything housed on one campus under one roof and to really make use of those synergies. And particularly in a cost cap world, with cost caps potentially coming into powertrains as well, it makes that achievable for a company such as our own.