TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Toyoharu TANABE (Honda), Otmar SZAFNAUER (Racing Point), Christian HORNER (Red Bull Racing), Frédéric VASSEUR (Alfa Romeo), Mario ISOLA (Pirelli)
Q: Mario, if we could start with you please. Cast our minds back a couple of weeks please, to Austin, when the 2020 tyres were tested by the teams. The feedback was mixed, what did the teams tell you, and what’s the plan going forward with these tyres?
Mario ISOLA: Yeah, as you said, the feedback was mixed. I believed that we had quite difficult conditions in Austin. It was very cold and the new tyres are designed with a different philosophy. So the plan now is to test them again in Abu Dhabi where we have a two-day test planned specifically for testing the new construction and new compounds, so we will have a comparison that is more reliable compared to Austin. We tested this new construction during the year with the teams and with their cars and we found an improvement in terms of overheating, in terms of compounds with a wider working range – but mainly the new construction was designed because every year the performance of the cars is increasing and obviously we have to follow this increase in performance. If we don’t change the construction, the only possibility is to raise the starting pressure – and raising the starting pressure is making the overheating worse and the behaviour of the tyre in general worse. So, the new construction has been designed with the target to keep the pressure as low as possible, according to the improvement in the performance of the cars. So, I hope that we can have a test in Abu Dhabi that is more representative. I fully understand during the race weekend all the teams are focussed on the race weekend itself, so they cannot adjust the set-up of the car – the aero-balance of the car – and the new tyres have a different profile. They are wider, especially on the rear, and this has an impact on the downforce of the car, as well as the balance of the car. So, we need a bit more time to test them properly on long runs, to understand if we achieve this target. After that, obviously we are very happy to accept any… not accept any decision but to discuss the result of the test and to see what is better for the sport.
Q: Looking further ahead, the 18-inch tyres for 2021 were tested by McLaren at Paul Ricard recently. What feedback did you get from the drivers and the team?
MI: It was positive feedback. They said that the 18-inch tyres were better than expected. They are more reactive, we confirmed some results that we had with Renault at Paul Ricard in September. So now we are finalising the 2020 test plan. Obviously we will have another 25 car-days of tests but I’m very positive. And in any case, what we have developed for the 2020 tyres, we have some concepts that we can transfer to the 18-inch tyres. So, it’s useful to keep this direction for the future.
Q: Fred, coming on to you. We’ve asked you this question for a while now and you’ve finally got an answer for us: Alfa Romeo have re-signed Antonio Giovinazzi. Can you tell us your reasons for that?
Frédéric VASSEUR: I think he did a very strong second part of the season, he improved a lot. He is now matching Kimi in quali and I think the issue is not on the driver side. We have to stay focussed on this and keep a consistent line-up, and it will be the best thing to do.
Q: You say the issue isn’t with the drivers. Let’s turn our attention to the team. How well has this year gone for you and what are your plans for the team in 2020?
FV: The plan is to do a better job next year for sure. We started pretty well this season, we were P4 after five or six races and then we started to have an issue. Different issues, not always the same, but we didn’t score a point in the second part of the season – or one or two points – but it’s not an issue always with the pace and, at the end of the day, we are doing too many mistakes collectively and this is the big issue.
Q: Otmar, Checo told us in the press conference yesterday that 2019 has been a difficult and disappointing year for Racing Point. Would you agree with him?
Otmar SZAFNAUER: Well, it’s not what we wanted. We definitely wanted to be a little bit further ahead. We’re just one point ahead of Toro Rosso and 18 behind Renault, so yeah, we were hoping to be fifth or fourth this year, so from that regard, it’s a bit disappointing. However, having looked back at what happened the year before this, when this year’s car was in development, we were in a bit of turmoil, especially financially, so it’s not surprising – although as a team we always want to do better.
Q: As you say, you’re 18 points behind Renault, two races to go. How do you fancy your chances of catching them and even beating them?
OS: Well, we’ll do our best. If we can mind the weighbridge and not start from the pitlane, that should help. Collectively, if we do a good job… but I think it’s not just up to us. I think we’ll need a bit of luck to be able to catch them – but we’ll do the best we can.
Q: Tanabe-san, has this been a better first season with Red Bull than you expected?
Toyoharu TANABE: So far, after 19 races in this season with Red Bull, we achieved positive results compared to previous years. And then two wins, one pole position and then, additionally, both teams on the podium in German Grand Prix. We made considerable good progress in the year. We want to do our best in the rest of two races in this season and then we want to carry over this positive progress and the momentum for next year.
Q: As you say, lots of progress but has it been better than you expected, coming into the relationship?
TT: In terms of the relationship, I think very good. And then, so far the results of the race depends on the performance compared to other competitors. It’s not easy to say good or bad. As a result, as I said, we got wins and a pole position. It’s good progress in the relationship.
Q: Thank you. Christian, perhaps I could bring you in on this. How would you sum up progress with Honda during this first season together?
Christian Horner: I think it’s been really positive. It’s been a great relationship. The two companies are working really well together. In our first year we have achieved seven podiums to date, two grand prix victories, two pole positions – albeit that we only started from pole once – but yes, the progress that has been made with the introduction of each engine has been great to see. Reliability has been strong. This year was always going to be a transitional year in this first year of this new partnership but it feels like momentum has built through the year and with stability of regulations in all areas for 2020, we’re really looking to take the positive momentum from RB15, the current car, into RB16, which will be our 2020 contender.
Q: Better than expected?
CH: I think in many respects, yes. I think if you look at… there were a lot of questions as to why we had made the move to Honda. I think very quickly, at the first grand prix, we achieved a podium. We’ve scored more points than we had at this time last year. All around, reliability has been strong, performance has been getting better and better. I think on the chassis side we were affected more than we thought going into the year by the front wing regulation change and Honda have certainly exceeded our expectations in all areas. So, it has been a really very positive start to this partnership.
Q: Christian, just one more question for you. You’ve re-signed Alex Albon for 2020. Just your reasoning behind that?
CH: Obviously Alex has done a very good job in his first year in Formula 1. He started the year at Toro Rosso and we then took the opportunity at the summer break to promote him into the senior team. The reason behind that was to have a look at him within our own environment. And since stepping into that seat he’s finished in the top six at every grand prix, sometimes having to start from the back of the grid or even the pit lane. So, he’s driven exceptionally well. He’s given great feedback; his pace is improving and improving, at many circuits at which he’s never been to before or countries he’s never been in, like here in Brazil this weekend. He’s earned the seat on merit. We’re excited about his potential for the future. It was a relatively straightforward decision to come to, to extend his relationship with the team as the partner for Max in 2020.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Christian, on Alex: he’s had a pretty rollercoaster 12 or 13 months from thinking he’s racing in Formula E to getting his F1 opportunity, driving an F1 car for the first time just before pre-season testing in the shake down and then obviously the Red Bull call–up. Now he’s going to be going into next year in a car you hope is going to be fighting for the title. Have you ever seen a turnaround like this in someone’s career and how well do you think has Alex handled that?
CH: What it demonstrates from Alex’s side is great tenacity. Originally he was part of the junior programme, he was released from that early on in his career and he really had to fight to retain a career in motorsport and rely on his talent, tenacity and never-give-up attitude. And the way he applied himself, you know, driving for Fred’s team in Formula 3, he pushed Leclerc hard that year. Formula 2 he graduated to and he had a strong career in Formula 2 and then, as you say, he was off to another discipline and then, ironically, trigged by the events created by Daniel’s decision to leave to Renault created this opportunity for him to join Toro Rosso and then very quickly you could see that he had a decent talent and great race craft and that’s continued and grown. And then the opportunity came for us to have a look at him within Red Bull Racing. It just shows that if you have the right commitment, the right attitude then things can turn around and talent does always rise to the top.
Q: As a follow-up to that, can you compare and contrast Alex with Pierre Gasly?
CH: I think that obviously for Pierre it was very tough for him coming into the start of the season off the back off two accidents in pre-season and that I think definitely affected his confidence and of course being the team-mate to Max Verstappen is a very tough job to have, having that reference point. For Pierre, it was a difficult first half of the season for him. Obviously we felt that with the pressure building on him, the public pressure, the media scrutiny, it was right to remove him from that and put him into the slightly less pressured environment of Toro Rosso. And since that switch I think he has driven again exceptionally well. You can see his confidence is growing. He’s driven some very strong races and his pace is getting better and better. He looks happier in that environment, which is good to see.
Q: (Jesus Balseiro – Diario AS) Christian again, also about your drivers. Carlos Sainz used to be a Red Bull driver. What’s your opinion about his performance this year. And also, at any point did you regret losing him, just considering him as a good option for the second Red Bull this season?
CH: Well, I think it’s been good to see Carlos get into a good car this year and he has done a very good job. He has done a very good job. He has driven well. He has very much been the best of the rest after the group of the top three teams and he’s driven some very strong races this year. We elected to go our different ways but we are still proud that we gave him the opportunity to come into Formula 1 and that he’s managed to use that opportunity to carve himself our a career, albeit now with another team.
Q: (Marcel Teixeira – Reuters) I would like to know from the three team bosses how useful was this first session, because of the climate conditions, of course? It seems we’re going to have wet weather again this afternoon.
OS: We didn’t do much running so… We did a little bit of running on the intermediate tyres so it was useful to do that. We gained a bit of understanding and a bit of data on what to do here on the intermediate tyre but we’ll see what the rest of the weekend holds. I believe tomorrow and Sunday will be dry.
CH: Well, for us it was quite an expensive session. It started good. Alex, first time in Brazil, first time on the track, went fastest on the intermediates and then as the circuit looked like it was starting to get dry, I think there were ten cars that went out on slicks and Max went off at turn two – but on his own this time…
OS: On his own last time too, by the way!
CH: And Alex unfortunately, with cold brakes, he locked up into the last turn and did a bit of damage so it’s dented the mechanics’ lunch break to get the car ready for the next session.
FV: For sure it’s not an easy session, it was much less expensive for me than for Christian, but he has much more money also. But no, at the end, the evolution of the track was so huge that it was difficult to do comparison. You had some cars on track with slicks, with wets, with inters [so] I’m not sure it was the best session of the season.
Q: (Emerson Furkim – Car Magazine) I would like you to talk a little bit about the new regulations for the 2021 season, so I have two short questions. The first one: do you think that the budget cap will really close the gap between the teams? And the second question is will the fans really see more overtakes on track with the new cars?
TT: For the PU manufacturers, we don’t have a budget cap. In the regulations, we have a testing time limitation, big reduction required and in terms of the teams, I need to hear from the other people. Also that area of chassis development required (for more overtaking) we will see. From a PU point of view, we try to make a strong PU and then make the race more fun.
OS: Well, the budget cap… we’re going to be nowhere near it so it will not have a big impact on us but some of the bigger teams that will have to perhaps downsize I’m sure it will have an impact in the short term and then they’ll hit some type of equilibrium where they’ll continue to be strong but I think it will have an impact at the beginning. Will the new regulations help overtaking? I can’t predict that. We thought that the new front wing this year was going to do that and it didn’t so I’m unsure. Hopefully the work that’s been put in with creating a different wake of the leading car will have an impact on the following car but whether it allows more overtaking, I can’t predict that.
CH: Well the budget cap question… what you have to remember about the budget cap is that it’s fixed for a five year period so for certainly the top three teams it’s a considerable challenge to get into a position to obviously get under that cap for 2021 onwards. And then obviously once we are there we have to stay there for five years, so whilst there may still be some divergence between the smaller teams and the larger teams over a period of time and hopefully as revenues continue to grow within the sport with the plans that Liberty… and the growth that they expect to see during the next five years I think things will naturally converge. I think the frustration about the regulations are it makes next year very expensive because we have effectively three things going on: we have the current car to develop, we have tyre testing on behalf of Pirelli with a sort of an interim car and then we have the development of a new car to a new set of regulations, so next year is a big challenge. And in terms of the outcome to the rules, do they achieve the target? Only time will tell. I think the intention is great in what they are wanting to achieve with this high wake concept. Whether that’s achievable only time will tell. The cars are going to look a lot different, it’s very much a clean sheet of paper, the regulations, so with that you tend to get divergence rather than convergence and obviously the cars are a little simpler, there’s not as many aerodynamic influencing elements all over the car so it’s certainly going to be interesting and hopefully the intention is to get it to be more driver influenced which I think is only a positive thing.
FV: Yeah, the situation is a bit different compared to the teams but for sure the budget cap won’t affect at all the six or seven teams on the grid. It will affect the top teams but on the other hand they will have more resources to develop the new car next year as Christian said before, but the most important thing for me is the stability of the regulations of other period but if we change the regulations another time in ’23 or ’24 but it will be very difficult for the small teams to have an advantage on this. And then on the overtaking, I think the target is clear but the FIA and the FOM worked pretty hard to reduce the wake of the cars and to have a better understanding of this but now we will see only in Melbourne ’21 what is the situation.
MI: To reply to the question, we are not subject to the budget cap. About the regulations, I want to be positive because if it is true that the cars that are following are losing a lot less downforce, obviously this is a big help for the tyres not to overheat and to keep the performance and this should help overtaking, then obviously we will know in Melbourne 2021 but I want to be positive. I think we are taking the right direction.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Christian, you mentioned Alex’s off in FP1. Obviously the conditions were quite a significant factor in that, so can you just sort of brush this one aside or has he got a little bit of a nasty habit of this, because we’ve seen a few times in practice this year he’s had quite costly accidents?
CH: I think today wasn’t… you can’t put on Alex’s account. I think maybe we were a little bit too optimistic getting out there, trying to get him laps in on a track that was still pretty damp in the middle sector. Max, as I say, he had a moment at turn one, turn two. There were other cars that were running wide so I don’t think today we can blame that on Alex but he has had a few little incidents this year. Thankfully they’ve all been on Fridays and Saturday mornings. When it’s come to it in qualifying and the race he’s absolutely delivered.