Six Formula 1 Team bosses in two groups of three met with the media Friday ahead of the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP.
PART ONE – TEAM REPRESENTATIVES
Andrea Stella (McLaren), Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), Mike KRACK (Aston Martin)
Q: Mike, let’s talk about the on-track business that we’ve just seen in FP1. Felipe Drugovich, second-fastest, did a great job.
Mike KRACK: Yeah. It was obviously a session where a lot of new drivers were run, I think 10-ish? So, that’s obviously… and then a lot of aerodynamic rakes we saw on all the cars, that then went off. But yeah, was quite a good session, it all went according to plan, he was well-prepared. He was driving well and… not much to say, to be honest. He delivered what we expected.
Q: Tell us about the car, because you’ve clearly found some consistency with it – and I think that is evidenced by the performance of Lance Stroll in the last few races. He’s had three results in the last four. What has changed? Why is Lance in particular so much happier with the car now?
MK: Well, we tried to develop the car to suit a bit more his liking and to suit his driving style. And, I said it many times before, if we provide the right tools to the drivers, they will perform. And this is exactly what happened. It’s a shame that it took us so long, to come back being a bit more competitive, but there’s still a long way to go.
Q: But if you took the car now back to Mexico, would you be more competitive now?
MK: That’s hypothetical, so I cannot answer.
Q: Talk us through some of the progress you’ve made with it. Do you think, when you look at the problems you had in Mexico, that you’ve solved them?
MK: You know, Mexico is a special track. You are at altitude, you struggle with cooling, you struggle with things that you do not normally struggle with, so that is why I’m a bit careful answering that question on Mexico in particular. I think we have managed to bring the car back into a better performance window than it was in Mexico and, as I said, we still have a long road to go, a long way to go, because… I mean, we lost a substantial amount of pace over some races and coming with this, it also means we lost a lot of points in the same time – so that is something that, I’m quite happy that we managed the turnaround – but it should not have happened in the first place.
Q: Can we talk about the Constructors’ Championship now? We’ve got several really intriguing battles. We’ve got the battle for P2 between Ferrari and Mercedes, and then the battle for P4 between yourselves and McLaren. You are 11 points behind McLaren. How realistic is it, do you think, that you can beat them?
MK: That’s a good question. If you asked me this three races ago, I would maybe have answered differently but I think as long as there is a mathematical chance, and it is not a huge gap, we have seen also that McLaren can make mistakes – but they are ahead of us. It’s not something that we focus too much on. We have to give it all, we have to be 100 per cent and they have also to be not at 100 per cent. So, it is not 100 per cent in our control. So, from that point of view, we’re relaxed about it and try to do as good as we can, and then we see on Sunday how it goes.
Q: Can we get your reflections now, on the season just gone? First of all, Fernando Alonso. He said yesterday that his performance this year is one of his best. Equal, he thinks, with 2012. What is your take-home memory of working with Fernando?
MK: Well, only positives. As a team, we were blown away from the first day – until today actually. To be honest with you, I always thought it was a bit honeymoon months in the beginning but I’m quite happy that we have managed to extend the honeymoon. I think we have received a remarkable team player, constructive at all times, especially when it was difficult. When the car was competitive – or, more competitive – it’s obviously easier to be constructive but the true qualities came out, and let’s take this Mexico example, that both drivers, it would have been easy to take the microphones and slam the team, go against the team, and it would probably have been deserved but I think the true qualities of the team-playing character of both drivers came out in that time. And, for me, that is one of the highlights of the season, as a team, that we managed to stick together in that time.
Q: His contract runs out at the end of next year. Is there a desire to extend it?
MK: I think I don’t have to answer that question. Absolutely yes!
Q: Christian, let’s come to you. Let’s talk about FP1. You had Jake Dennis and Isack Hadjar in your car, 16th and 17th. What did you make of their performance?
Christian HORNER: I actually thought they did very, very well. I mean, working to the programs that they were working with, with the fuel loads and engine settings that they were operating to, I thought they acquitted themselves extremely well. I think for Jake, I mean, a massive step from a Formula E car to Formula 1 power. It was quite telling that the first adjustment that he needed to make was to tighten his crash helmet due to the speed that he was achieving. But I thought both did a great job. Very useful for us, to compare the virtual world that these guys have been driving in with Isack and Jake doing a lot of simulator running this year, to correlate that with the real world. And so, a really useful exercise and a great opportunity for them to get a run out in a grand prix car.
Q: Well, and the World Championship Winning grand prix car. How much pressure do you think was on them?
CH: Well, a huge amount because they both knew that if they bend it, they’d never be asked to drive it again! So, you know, that’s the pressure in itself. But you know, they both, as I say, acquitted themselves very well, and gave very clear feedback. And it was useful, not just for this race, but for future projects as well.
Q: Christian, can we now just get some reflections from you on 2023? It’s been a remarkable season, one that you probably wish isn’t going to end.
CH: No, I’ll be quite glad to get to the finish line. This one seems to have been a marathon of a year. But an incredible year, a magical year for us. I mean, to be sitting here, having only lost one race so far. So, 20 grand prix victories, first and second in the Drivers’ Championship, Max winning 18 of those races, breaking records of consecutive wins of Sebastian’s, breaking McLaren’s record from 1988 for consecutive grand prix victories in the season as well. It truly has been the most remarkable year and it’s testimony to all the men and women behind the scenes, it’s not just what you see here, trackside, it’s what goes on behind the scenes in the factory and of course, reliability has played a key role in that and I have to pay a compliment to our partner Honda for producing us a reliable engine. And of course, you know, operationally, strategically, we’ve been on top of our game this year, and the drivers have been brilliant. I mean, for Max, I think it’s been a sensational year for him. So yeah, difficult to come up with a superlative big enough to do the season justice.
Q: You’re the longest serving team principal in the pit lane, you know. How difficult it is to win. Do the last 12 months feel a bit surreal?
CH: Well, I think the lesson in life and in this business is you have to celebrate every success. Because you don’t know when the next one is going to come. And I think we came into the sport, just under 20 years ago and were perceived as the party team, as not perhaps taking life as seriously as some of our counterparts and, and we built the team up and by 2009, we started winning. 2010, we then started winning championships, and that period was a golden period with Sebastian Vettel. But then a big regulation change and circumstances beyond our control deprived us of being able to be competitive. That was a challenging period but what I was immensely proud of is that the whole team, the core team, really stuck together during that period. And once we got a power unit that brought us into a position to be able to compete again, we made real use of that and so, there were times during that seven year drought that it felt unachievable, to get back to the winning days of 2010 to ’13, but I think it just shows if you have a clear target, and you believe in the people around you, and work collectively as a team, then anything is achievable.
Q: Now, you’ve told us in the past that you haven’t updated the RB19 in any significant way, since the summer break. How much closer do you feel the field has got to you?
CH: I mean, the biggest changes we’ve had have been livery changes. So, and of course, at different times during the season, we’ve had different competitors, giving us a hard time, whether it was Aston Martin that started the season very strongly. I mean, if you think back to Monaco that just came down to Quali. That was just one lap in Quali that determined that race. And then more recently, McLaren have really brought us a firm challenge at some very recent races, we’ve had Ferrari up there as well and Mercedes occasionally as well. So, it’s been varying who the competitor has been. I think, where we’ve been particularly strong is we’ve just managed to achieve that level of consistency across many different circuits, conditions, and circumstances.
Q: Andrea, thank you for waiting. First question. How is Lando, after his crash?
Andrea STELLA: He is very well. Fit. Looking forward to getting in the car once again.
Q: And how was the car? Is it a new chassis this weekend?
AS: It’s a new chassis.
Q: OK. Can we deal with some breaking news now? McLaren and Mercedes have just announced the collaboration continues until 2030. Can you explain the reasoning behind that decision? And also. the length of the contract: why so long?
AS: Well, the reasoning of the decision is actually for us, it was quite straightforward, because we are very happy with the ongoing collaboration. They were absolutely instrumental, even in the progress of the team this year, I have to say, but above all, the kind of reassurance we got from a technical point of view, the operational standards, just how solid is what we saw, when we checked what was at stake for 2026, made this decision quite simple for us. So, we are just delighted that we have this level of continuity and stability as we look forward. And yeah, we are delighted that we could make this announcement.
Q: Is this the final piece of the jigsaw for McLaren, to then go and put a championship challenge together?
AS: I wouldn’t say that it’s so easy. It’s one of the elements you have to have. It’s a necessary condition, not sufficient at all. In order to contend for championships, there’s quite a lot of work to do that needs to be done on the chassis side. I think we will be competitive for the years to come from the power unit side. That’s for sure. That’s why we have made this decision. But there’s so much work to do on the chassis. And even this year, what we have achieved, yes it’s important – remarkable in a certain way – but already, we haven’t developed the car for a few races and we can see that some of the cars are brought some upgrades and immediately our competitiveness is not as good as it was a few races ago. It’s an incredibly competitive business. So, for us, it’s focus, certainly in the collaboration with HPP but above all, on ourselves and making sure that this momentum is carried forward into the next years.
Q: Can you tell us about Vegas now. What lessons were learned? And do you think you’re going to be more competitive this weekend here in Abu Dhabi?
AS: In terms of competitiveness, certainly we were expecting Vegas to be a bit of a challenge for our car, with the long straights, the low-speed corners, relatively low level of grip. All conditions in which we have seen that we weren’t at the best with our car. At the same time, I think there were opportunities that we didn’t maximise. Like certainly we weren’t simply a Q1 car in Vegas. There’s some things that we could have done better, we could have been a Q3 contender. We saw that the car was actually quite competitive in the race. So, it was a bit of a shame to start the race so far back, even if actually the initial laps were quite eventful. So, if you want, we confirmed the weaknesses, the areas in which we need to work, in terms of improvement for the future, and also some operational aspects that we also have to improve if we want to consistently compete at the front of the grid.
Q: And this weekend?
AS: This weekend should be more competitive. There’s some corners here in Abu Dhabi that definitely should suit the characteristic of our car. It’s not a Silverstone, it’s not like a Suzuka, so we know that there will be some areas in which we will have to do damage limitation. But we definitely look forward to being competitive again, and be there to compete for podiums.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) We’ve had a press release saying that the F1 Commission is open to change on Sprint weekends, there’ll be further discussion in January. Can I ask the three of you what changes would you like to see for Sprints? We’ve heard that one option is a Saturday with the Sprint followed by main qualifying, which obviously addresses the parc fermé issue? Is that a realistic option? And what are the pros and cons of it?
AS: We think that some tuning in the sequence of the sessions, and some changes when it comes to the parc fermé rules is the right direction. We don’t think that there should be some dramatic changes in the execution of the Sprint race. And yeah, so that that’s our position.
CH: I think it’s clear that the Sprints need to evolve a bit, in that I can understand the concept and it being action on all three days, which for the promoter and for the fans has an interest but I think the Sprints, in some cases, have been slightly underwhelming. There’s no pit-stop; it’s tends to stay in grid order and it’s a little bit like getting a medal for a long run. But I think if there can be a bit more perhaps, racing introduced, but then of course, you’ve got to look at what are the consequences with that: if you were to reverse the grid; if there were points involved, etc, etc. So, I think it needs a bit more work doing on it within the sporting forum. And then no doubt, we’ll sit down at the next Commission meeting early in the new year and hopefully finalise a format.
MK: Nothing to add, actually. Everything was said as it should.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Mike, could you just expand on that answer about Fernando, please? Why do you want to keep him – I know that’s pretty obvious – and do you have any concerns about… come on, I can’t write the story without you saying something! And do you have any concerns about his age in the way that Alpine did?
MK: What was the first question? I don’t remember it? Why do we want to keep him? Can you repeat it? I’m not sure if I understood it! I think yeah, I mean, I said it already? Tom asked me already, which I was surprised to have the question. I’m surprised to have it again now. So, I think the answer is obviously clear. And the second question is no, I’m not concerned.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Atlantic) Christian, a question for you about your comments about Lewis Hamilton and the contact with him, because Lewis spoke about it. Yesterday, he denied that he approached the team. Could you clarify who from Lewis’s camp, if anyone, did approach you? And he said that you sent him a message to his old phone that you then picked up? Is that true? Did you contact him? And are you still keen to have a catch-up at some point with him?
CH: It’s remarkable how much traction this has got. So thank you to the Daily Mail for going exclusively large on this item. I mean, it’s a question of he said, she said, who said, what said. It’s entirely normal for drivers, drivers’ representatives, drivers’ parents, to have different conversations during the course of the year and look, we haven’t had any serious discussions with Lewis. There was never a seat available. But, you know, I’ve known Anthony Hamilton for many years, he’s a good guy. He’s a proud racing father and inevitably when drivers go through tough spots – and you know, let’s face it, Lewis hasn’t won a Grand Prix for two years – it’s inevitable that questions will be asked up and down the paddock. So, but there was never any engagement and I don’t know who represents who or what, but with the same surname, you would think they were reasonably close. It’s difficult to say, but there was no, other than pleasantries. There was no specific ‘can I drive for Red Bull next year’, unless Anthony wanted to drive. So yeah, but that’s, as I say, not unusual. I mean, there are many drivers, as you can imagine, that we hear from during the course of a year.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Just following on from that, Christian, do you think Mercedes might be a bit surprised to hear that Lewis, or his father at least, was in contact with you guys about driving for them?
CH: Well, not really. I mean, he’s the most successful driver of all time, and hasn’t won a Grand Prix since 2021. So you haven’t got to be a rocket scientist to work that out. And I doubt that I was the only one that there was an inquiry made to. Now, what the dynamics are within any given relationship, I don’t know. I’m not privy to that. But, you know, inevitably there are questions going to be asked. And there’s not really much more to say a lot has been made out of something fairly innocuous.
Q: (Fillip Cleeren – Motorsport.com) For all three. Going back to Vegas, there’s obviously a lot of very tired people in this paddock, especially the mechanics. What’s been the damage in your teams, and especially looking to next year when there’s a tripleheader with Qatar and Abu Dhai as well. Is that OK? Is that over the limit? And are you asking to be for that to be avoided in the future?
MK: Yeah, there have been a lot of talks about the Vegas schedule. We knew it before, because we had the timeline before. So it’s something that I think, as a team, you need to prepare for. Not only the drivers, but also engineers and mechanics. And I have to say our team coped really well with these difficult conditions. And we were surprised that it became such a big topic at the end of the day. But I think all in all, if it is, then I think there should be adjustments for the future. And the way it has been discussed already up and down the pit lane, I think there will be some adjustments for the future.
CH: I sincerely hope that subscriptions to Lemsip are not within the budget cap. It’s been a pretty brutal regime. When you look at the last… This is five races in six weeks. So for the mechanics in the garage, for the travelling staff, it is a brutal end to the season. Of course, that’s a little accentuated by the time difference… We were effectively working in the Japanese time zone in Vegas, and then a 12-hour swing to come here. So it’s something that’s been raised with Formula 1 and the FIA. Look, their personnel, they feel it as well. And I think solutions are being put in place to the future to take into account the toll that it does take on not just the staff, but all the travelling circus that is associated with Formula 1.
AS: Yeah, definitely has been a tough event for the staff, for everyone. I think there’s some takeaways, even for us as a team, for instance, in terms of what we can adjust, to cope with this kind of fatigue. But at the same time, we need to have a dialogue with F1 to make sure that what can be improved, is improved. Certainly, we will keep talking about the timetable, if possible, specifically for the race in Vegas. But it’s clear that the sustainability from a human performance point of view has become a key topic in Formula 1 nowadays. So even the way teams approach performance needs to change needs to evolve. And certainly this is something that we are taking quite seriously at McLaren.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Christian, you raised the idea of reverse grids, you talked about the F1 Commission. There’s a bit more momentum behind it in recent races. Does FP1 not risk a ‘jumping the shark moment’ by trying to fix problems with a feature that massively divides opinion by introducing an element that massively divides opinion?
CH: Well, this is where you’ve got to do the research. I think it’s very important that the next step that we make is one that is fixed for a long period of time. This Sprint concept is a new concept that’s been introduced. And in some areas it’s very popular and with some traditionalists, it’s very unpopular. And I think that whatever it evolves to needs to be consistent for a long period of time. And, and so I think the necessary research – and I think the fan feedback is going to play a crucial role in this, in terms of what is it actually that the audience want? Do they actually enjoy the Sprint format as it is? Or do they actually want to see a bit more racing if we’re going to do a Sprint race? And if so, if we’re going to do that, then how do we award the points? How do we incentivize drivers and teams? So there are many topics attached to it. But the most important fundamental thing is, what do the fans want?
AS: We are talking specifically about the Sprint? Yes. So I think there is positive, there are positives in the Sprint events. They are confirmed even from the data that F1 circulated. We also need to give the time to absorb some different ways of interpreting Formula 1 race weekends. And we need to make sure that we don’t change too often, too rapidly, because then we wouldn’t have this time to adapt, absorb to a certain way in which we intend a Formula 1 race weekend. And this is why we think that while improvements have to be made, they should be relatively incremental, have a few more Sprint races, and then we can have better data, better information to see in which direction the business of Formula 1 should go.
MK: Yeah, I fully agree on what Christian and Andrea just mentioned – not shooting too quickly after a couple of races, small changes, or small adjustments, step by step. I think the sequence of sessions is already a change that we have to see how it pans out. It will have also other consequences or other implications. And then the most important, and that is a point that Christian made, which I think is very, very important is what do the fans want? Because we do it for them. And this has to be taken carefully into consideration. But also, when doing changes, think about the implications and not trying to fix something again two races later.
Q: (Ronald Vording – Motorsport.com) A question to Christian to reflect on Max this year, a little bit more. I remember Japan last year, you and Max said it would be pretty difficult to replicate that level of dominance. Yet this year has been even better. Do you feel like Max himself has made another step in some elements? And secondly, what are the races, the main highlights, that stand out for you?
CH: Yeah, I mean, look, Max has just been incredible this year. I don’t think any of us thought after 2022 that we’d manage to better that. But, you know, here he is on 18 victories in a single season. It has broken all records, it’s smashed the records. And I think just as a driver, the way he’s grown, he’s just constantly evolving. His capacity within the car just gets greater and greater, to read a race, to be able to look after the tires, to know when are the key moments to absolutely deliver. And time and time again, he’s done that. The way he works with the team, and you can see that since winning the championship back in Qatar, he’s not lifted off at all. He’s absolutely pushing all the way to this checkered flag in Abu Dhabi. And, you know, with the records that he’s now achieved, becoming the third most-winning driver in Formula 1, a three-time World Champion, with the statistic of most wins in a season, and everything that he’s done, you have to start to talk about him amongst, you know, some of the greatest names in the sport, and I think he’s earned his position there. And what’s phenomenal is that he’s done it, you know, at 26 years of age. He’s got a lot of racing still ahead of him.
PART TWO – TEAM REPRESENTATIVES
Bruno FAMIN (Alpine), Franz TOST (AlphaTauri), Guenther STEINER (Haas)
Q: Franz, I feel we must start with you. One last dance for you, the final race of a long career at the helm of Toro Rosso and AlphaTauri. How are you approaching this weekend?
Franz TOST: I hope that the floor works. That’s the only thing that’s interesting for me, the floor and the diffuser. We bought a new floor and a new diffuser and I hope that we perform well, because another target is to finish on the seventh position in the Constructors’ Championship, and that’s the only thing that’s interesting.
Q: Competitive to the end.
Q: Now, can I get you to reflect on the last 18 years. How’s it been?
FT: It was a very interesting time, I must say. I started on the 8th of November, 2005, in Faenza, and we had 85 people. It was not so easy at the beginning, but as you know, Dietrich Mateschitz said to me, look, there are two pillars: you have to first of all use the synergies with Red Bull Technology and for second, to educate the young drivers. They must then come to Red Bull Racing, win races and, if possible, also championships. I thought to myself: ‘OK – it’s clear what you want, boss.’ And this is how we started. And it worked really well at the beginning. We got all the materials, the cars from Red Bull Technology and maybe it worked a little bit too good, because in 2008, when we won Monza, afterwards, the FIA and the teams changed the regulation. They came up with the listed parts, which meant that we had to do nearly everything in-house. We had to design the front wing, the rear wing, the complete bodywork, the diffuser, the floor, and the monocoque. We didn’t have the infrastructure for this, which meant we had to find the people for the aerodynamics department, designers, production, quality control and all this kind of stuff. This was a difficult time, yeah? But it was a challenge, and I must say I liked it. I learned a lot in this period and I would not like to miss it. The next biggest step was done in 2018, when we signed the Honda contract, we became this Honda works team. And I think nearly the whole paddock smiled about this. McLaren people came to me and said we are totally crazy to work together with Honda and I said, ‘gents, wait, we talk in about five years about this’. But it didn’t take five years, it was much earlier clear that the decision was right. And it was a fantastic cooperation with Honda, I liked it very much. And also a successful one. In 2019 we had two podium finishes, if I remember right, one with Donald Kvyat at the Hockenheimring and one with Pierre Gasly in São Paulo, he had a good fight against Hamilton, he just stayed ahead a few tenths or one or two tenths, something like this. And 2020, another big step when Dietrich Mateschitz decided to build up this fashion company, AlphaTauri, and he said now the team will be named Scuderia AlphaTauri, because we have to promote AlphaTauri and we were the ambassador for AlphaTauri and it was also exciting and interesting. And Pierre Gasly managed to win another time in Monza, which meant this was a really successful time. Then regulation change once more and we struggled with the new regulations. Last year’s car didn’t work and I was totally shocked. Then this year at the beginning the car did not work. And I just said to the aero department and the engineers they have to bring to every race an upgrade, something like this. I know some of your colleagues criticised us, saying we will lose the control about everything. And then I just said we be anyway didn’t have control, yeah. Therefore, just bring new parts and improve the performance of the car. I just want to see a good lap time and the rest I’m not interested in. And I must say it worked out well. We brought a big upgrade to Silverstone, then to Singapore, also to Austin. And we have also, as I mentioned before, a new upgrade here for Abu Dhabi, and I hope that we can show a good performance and finish the season with the seventh position.
Q: That’s a potted history of your time at the team. Can I ask you to pick one highlight and one regret, if you have any regrets?
FT: Just to pick out one highlight is not so easy, but I would say the first victory with Sebastian Vettel was really a highlight, because this was a hard fight. And it came so good together because I remember back, I was sitting with Gerhard Berger on the pit wall and we knew that it could rain on Saturday and Sunday, this was on Friday. And then I said to Gerhard: ‘I don’t understand why all the others are not going out.’ It’s wet and Monza under wet conditions is not so easy, because a) the surface changes in the different parts of the track and b) at the back of Lesmo 1, Lesmo 2, there is the forest and the water is not just going away. And we told our drivers to do as many laps as possible just to get used to the wet track. And then when the qualifying started and the rain increased, then I saw some cars going out with the intermediates and I said to Gerhard, ‘forget them, they are lost’. And they were lost. And then to win the race, all this together, was really was a highlight, I must say. Regret. Yeah, that last year the car didn’t perform well and this was a big shock. And we had to reshuffle the aero department. It was really difficult. Because you realize that the car doesn’t work and I went to the HR director and said that we need three, four, or five senior aerodynamicists. And this is not from one day to the next day, because they are all blocked by one year or something like this. That means we started last year in March, April, to recruit people. And they started this year, one in April, one in July, the next in September, because of the garden leave period. And this was quite tough, because I’m not the most patient person. I wanted the success is here yesterday, not in a few weeks or months.
Q: Franz, you’ve had 17 drivers drive for your team. Some great names: Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricardo… Who impressed you the most?
FT: It would be unfair to say now. Of course, Max Verstappen or Sebastian Vettel. They impressed me, but I must say also the other drivers. When they came to us, I must say, they had a very professional approach. And they worked really close together with the team. And what I liked is how they developed themselves, because this is also an important factor from the sporting side, but also from the human side. And from the 17 drivers, I have none in mind where I would say ‘forget him, he is totally useless’. They all had their strengths. And they were all good characters. And of course, Sebastian now and Max Verstappen they won so many championships that everybody thinks now OK, these were the best. They were the best, no discussion about this. They were the best, from the talent, from the driving skills, especially from their passion. That’s very, very important. But also from their discipline. Both of them are really disciplined. And I remember, Sebastian, he took care about everything, the nutrition, the training, he wanted to know really everything, also about the technical side. And that’s the point, they were also quite innovative, which meant they studied other drivers, they knew exactly what was not so good last year, where they had to improve. They were quite honest with themselves. They didn’t tell this to the outside, but to them, they knew exactly where they had to work. And this was quite interesting to observe.
Q: Go on, give us a name. No? One driver.
FT: No. All of them were OK.
Q: Formula 1 will miss you, Franz. Thank you.
FT: I’m not too sure about this.
Q: Bruno, let’s come to you now. First of all, your thoughts on Jack Doohan’s performance in FP1.
Bruno FAMIN: Good afternoon everyone. Jack did well. We had a programme to develop. We started with all the aero measurement, which is very unpleasant always for the young drivers who just want to do laps and laps. But no, he did well, he had a moment with the traffic on track, I think, but not from his fault. But no, we’re happy with the work he has done and the team will use it for the other practices.
Q: Tell us a little bit more now about your pace in Vegas because three months ago at Monza the car wasn’t good. You were knocked out of Q1, then we go to another low downforce track last weekend and you are competitive. What have you changed on the car? Where did you find that pace?
BF: What we changed is the mindset of part of the team because really, after Monza, our pace was very bad. We knew that Vegas would be difficult and we had a very good reaction from the team and we worked hard, especially on the low drag configuration, on the set-up of the car and this work has been very, very efficient. And more than the results, I’m happy with the attitude we had in the team and this is the first sign of the recovery of the team, we have a change of mindset. I think we can see it quite well on the track side, since the middle of the year we scored a bit more points than in the first part of the year, per race. And the change of mindset is really a good thing. We have people proposing things, there is a real momentum, which has been created to improve things. We’re better in the execution and now we have to bring now that the season is over after an exhausting end of the season, I will spend much more time in Enstone or in Viry to bring this change of culture there as well.
Q: Guenther, Ollie Bearman, 0.1s behind Kevin Magnussen today having been one tenth behind Nico Hulkenberg in Mexico. Your assessment of what he’s done here?
Guenther STEINER: First of all, I want to thank Franz. I heard him talk more today than the last ten years. It was good, you know so well done Franz. Ollie did a good job again today. He was good in Mexico, he’s just very mature for an 18-year old and doesn’t put anything at risk, puts his head down, gets involved in it and gets his job done. Almost too simple, too easy to say anything but just good job.
Q: Can we talk about development direction now? First of all, what did you learn last weekend in Vegas, you had two different specs of car?
GS: There was not a lot to learn. We had a lot of data, we get so much data from this car so we run the upgrade we introduced in Austin before, so we had the data, the two different cars. This time, it was just a sheer preference from the drivers, expressed by the drivers. Nico wanted to run the old car, didn’t like the upgraded one from Austin and Kevin completely the opposite, so we just split them. I said we have nothing to lose anyway, so just do what the drivers like and try to get the best out of it. Therefore in Vegas we didn’t learn a lot about the… just got more data, but I think we had it all before.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsportmagazine.com) Franz, can you explain what changed mid-season? You already said that a lot of people came to the team but how is it possible to make that turn around? You bring updates almost every single race, they work. Why didn’t it work last year and the last month before?
FT: Because the wrong people were in the wrong place. We brought in new people. I realised last year, in March/April that from the aero side we were not going in the right direction. We had a wrong philosophy. It’s always difficult to convince engineers to go in another direction because they will never adapt this. Therefore it’s better to bring other people in. This is what we did. This is what I just explained before. But until these people can work, you wait a year. And this was the problem which we had, that they could start only in April this year although we recognized that we had problems last year already. And the team still is not fully recruited, they’re still coming, some other aerodynamic people and why I was pushing so much to bring the upgrades is to get an understanding whether this new group goes in the right direction, on philosophy, because otherwise also next year would have been a problem. And this is what I wanted to prevent under all circumstances. And the reason why everything came together in the second half of the year was simply because we didn’t have these new people beforehand.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) We had a confirmation from the F1 Commission today that you guys are open to changes to the sprint weekend, there’ll be more discussions in January. Can I ask all three of you what changes you would like to see? We’ve also heard that there’s an option to have the sprint followed by main qualifying on Saturday. So is that a realistic possibility?
GS: I think there was… this morning there was a lot of things discussed and I don’t like to go into any detail what was discussed, but there is some ideas around and now there will be some work done on what is feasible and what not. But what you just said, it’s one of quite a few ideas which is thrown out there. I think we just have to wait and see where we end up with by seeing what we’re going to do. But I think the Sprint weekend was very successful, the Sprint races in general for the sport. The viewership is up, people like it but you always try to make it better because it’s not perfect yet. And I think as long as we keep on moving along and making things better and trying new things, I think we are on the right track. And also not being afraid to make changes but also not being afraid if the changes don’t work to go back again, or do something, go in another direction. And I think that is what we’re doing at the moment and I think it’s good for the sport, because the sport is growing massively. The audience is maybe a different one than it was 20 years ago. People want more entertainment, want more action and we need to provide that, to keep on growing as a sport, and growing as a sport is good for all of us.
FT: Yeah, regarding the Sprint weekend, the only point I requested was that 30 minutes should be added to the FP1 session because if you have a rookie in your team, just to have one hour and then go directly to the qualifying, most often on new racetracks, it’s really a big disadvantage. And I think, for the future teams, will really very well calculate whether to take a rookie driver or not. We will see then whether this can be realized or not and the rest, Guenther anyway said everything.
BF: Yeah, not much to add. We all think that we were happy with the sprint race concept, not at every race of course but a few in within the season. As Guenther said, we need to make some fine tuning. We can change the sequence, you can change something to optimise everything, to have the best entertainment for the fans, not to make the life too complicated for the teams. One of the things I think which will be amended as well is together with the change of the sequence, if any, is the rule for the parc ferme, to make the team’s lives a bit easier.
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) In the last couple of weeks, General Motors have registered with the FIA to make a power unit. One of the objections to a new team from a lot of team principles has been that any new entry must add value to the championship. Does now having the works engine of a massive automotive manufacturer satisfy your criteria that Andretti would add value to Formula 1?
BF: I think any new entrant must bring added value. We should avoid diluting the value of the championship. After Formula 1, as a promoter, is assessing potential new entries and I think they are at the best place because we have all the figures, all the data, all the information we don’t have as a team to evaluate if X, Y, Z new potential entrant satisfy the criteria of bringing value. In the case of General Motors, I don’t have at all the data. I’m very cautious with any general rules. I think every case is a particular case, and I trust Formula 1 to assess that very well.
FT: There’s not so much to add. We as a team don’t have a direct influence whether an eleventh team is coming or not. It’s a decision at the end from the FOM and from the FIA. They have to evaluate everything and then we will see. To talk about an eleventh team is one story. Contracts which are being signed that you really see that something is behind this is another story but once more, this is something FIA and FOM has to evaluate.
GS: I think a company like General Motors coming to F1 is a good idea but as my colleagues said here, is like to evaluate how much additional value it brings, we don’t know or I don’t know because we don’t share the information and it’s something which needs to be evaluated by FOM and they will get clear figures. But I think Formula 1 at the moment has got 10 strong teams and to devalue them – why would you do that? So if it brings value, and I don’t know, and as Franz said, we don’t have a vote in this process. We are a spectator.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Franz, a question for you about the handover to Peter Bayer and Laurent Mekies. I know you and Peter have been working together for a few months now. How have you found the transition process in terms of him taking over? And what are the next few weeks/months are going to look like for you? When are you going to finally be able to go skiing and end your relationship with the team?
FT: First of all, Peter is with us since June and I think that we are working together very closely. He understands the team now much better and he has got a lot of experience. He knows Formula 1. And Laurent Mekies anyway was working with us, he knows the team from the past and I think that these two people are absolutely the right people to take over the team. And I expect that they will bring the team to another level because both of them have a lot of experience. Both of them know Formula 1 and I’m convinced that they will do a very good job. And regarding me, I have a very long to-do list because the last 20/30 years I didn’t have time for anything. And nevertheless, I will not sit at the pit wall but at home with minimum three/four TVs where I see the times, split times and everything and will watch Formula 1, Moto GP and all the other things which I watched also in the past.
Q: (Matt Coch – Speedcafe.com) Bruno, your view on Jack. He’s told us that he’s not racing Formula 2 next year. Obviously you’ve released your WEC line-up as well. What’s his program look like next year? Is he going to be racing? How important is it for him to be racing and if I can stick one to Franz as well on Daniel and his impact during the course of the year and what he’s bought since his arrival?
BF: We are finalizing Jack’s program for next year. It will be our reserve driver in Formula 1 for sure. And he will focus on that. He will train and be reserve and this is all I can say for the time being.
Q: Franz, Daniel Ricardo’s impact on the team?
FT: A very positive impact because Daniel brought in a lot of experience and this was the reason why we requested to get Daniel. He won eight races and especially on the technical side, how to set up the car, he opened the horizon of the team with very good and important input.
Q: (Philip Cleeren – motorsport.com) Bruno, there have been reports today that the Davide Brivio is set to leave Alpine and go back to Moto GP. Can I just have you please confirm whether he’s staying or leaving the company for 2024?
BF: You know the answer in this case. We do not comment on rumors. I cannot say anything about that.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge – Autosport) Franz, you spoke about the top drivers who have raced for you: Max, Sebastian, Carlos as well. I just wondered if there was anybody that you’d had in the team that perhaps you’re surprised hadn’t gone further in Formula 1, hadn’t had more success like maybe Jean-Eric Vergne, Vitantonio Liuzzi, somebody of that caliber?
FT: Yeah, Jean-Eric Vergne, I think he could have made a successful career in Formula 1, as well as Daniel Kvyat, both of them are really very, very fast. And Jean-Eric Vergne showed this also in Formula E, I think he won twice the World Championship and also Sebastian Buemi sometimes showed the good performance. He also won the 24 hours of Le Mans, so they were drivers in our team, they really had high skills. They were then sorted out because another driver was coming and we simply don’t have so many places, neither at Red Bull Racing nor at Scuderia Toro Rosso, Scuderia AlphaTauri. But from the skills, nearly all the drivers reached a quite high level.
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) Going back to the Carlos Sainz incident in Las Vegas, the stewards had no choice but to give him a penalty for a third energy store because the teams rejected having force majeure related to gearbox and PU changes a few years ago. Should that now be revisited even if it’s something that might only be needed once every five years or something for an incident like that?
BF: I think it’s the stewards’ decision and it’s not because the other teams said XYZ. I think it’s very unfortunate for Carlos but I don’t – frankly speaking – I don’t see what other choice FIA stewards had in that case. It happened that you are taken in a crash, you have nothing to do with the crash or somebody push you and you lose a gearbox, you lose an engine, you lose transmission and unfortunately you are for nothing in that, and you are penalized. But if we start opening the door to this kind of thing, it will be endless. I think the stewards took the right decision unfortunately for Carlos. It’s very unfortunate because he had nothing to do but there was no other option
FT: It was very unfortunate for Carlos but the FIA made the correct interpretation of the regulation and therefore they penalized him. And it was force majeure. On the other hand, I must say, the main problem came up because the track maybe was not inspected in the way it should be. Because if this would have been the case, then the problem would not have occurred. And you know, we had in São Paulo, a similar issue with, you could also call it force majeure, when a tire destroyed the rear wing from Daniel Ricciardo after the start. You could also say he couldn’t do anything, this tire was just coming from the collision, which was before, in the first corner. It was unfortunate, but FIA came up with the correct decision.
GS: Not a lot to add here. I agree with my two colleagues.
Q: (Braden – F1 Kids) Now, obviously, in Practice 1, we saw a number of rookies on display. And actually most of them aren’t that much older than me. But what I’m wondering is: how do you prepare a rookie for the first run in an F1 car? And secondly, what most impressed you about the young drivers today?
FT: So how young drivers are being prepared? First of all, you should go karting every day, 24 hours. Then, you do Formula 4… You should start karting at six years. Then forget school and all this nonsense. Just go to Formula 4 when you are 15, 16 and then Formula 3, Formula 2, and then we make with you simulator sessions. We do then maybe a private test, about 300 or 400 kilometers, so that you get the license from the FIA. And then you come, if you’re skilled enough and show a talent, to the free practice, either here in Abu Dhabi – it’s good here because the weather is very constant –and do your FP1. This is what they all did.
GS: Perfect, easy. Braden, just do what uncle Franz says here.
FT: Thank you. Thanks, everyone.