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Monaco - Thursday's FIA press conference
Thursday 24th May 2012, 19:17 by Ryan Wood
© The F1 Times
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Vijay MALLYA (Force India), Jean-Francois CAUBET (Renault Sport F1), Frank WILLIAMS (Williams), Monisha KALTENBORN (Sauber), Ross BRAWN (Mercedes).
Vijay, first of all welcome, I think this is your first grand prix of the year and you love Monaco. But how do you keep in touch when you’re a long way away?
Vijay MALLYA: Well you know, particularly at the start of the season there are too many conflicting obligations that I have. Parliament, for one, is in session in March and April and that makes it very difficult for me to leave India. I otherwise would have enjoyed going to flyaway races. But the budget, the union budget, was presented only in the middle of March this year as opposed to the end of February so I was obliged to stay back and attend parliament. Then, of course, in early April starts the IPL (India Premier League) cricket and you know we Indians are pretty passionate about the game of cricket. In fact, I remember I was telling Monisha, that three years ago my team reached the finals of the IPL and I actually had to regretfully abandon the Monaco Grand Prix and fly back on the Saturday night to make the Sunday final. But now it’s all over, done and dusted and now I can enjoy Formula One particularly in the summer in Europe and in North America.
How do you think Sahara Force India is doing at the moment? How do you see the performance so far this year?
VM: We’ve got 18 points from five races – it’s the best start we’ve ever had. But if you look at our immediate competition, they’re way ahead of us. Compliments to them, they’ve done exceedingly well. I think Sauber has had a second, the podium, and Williams have won the race, so congratulations to both of them. But if I study or try to analyse the various races and the performance of various cares there’s a huge sense of unpredictability that has crept in this year. Just as an example: in Barcelona, Nico came tenth, scored one point but kept Webber behind him for more than 30 laps. Up until last year I would never have dreamt of keeping a Red Bull behind me. In Barcelona once again, Lewis actually got pole position before he was given the penalty but Jenson didn't even make Q3. So there’s something going on there and the only thing we can put a finger on is the tyres and the performance of the tyres and we’re obviously doing all we can to try and understand tyre management better. But I think we can look forward to our moment in the sun as well.
If it’s that unpredictable then everyone has got a chance.
VM: Absolutely. The results speak for themselves. There is a definite sense of unpredictability. The usual front-runners aren’t front-runners anymore. The midfield teams have in fact outperformed the traditional front-runners. So there is something going on there which I think everybody is trying to understand better.
Jean-Francois, can we first of all clear up the Caterham problem this morning? I believe it was quite an old engine.
Jean-Francois CAUBET: Yes, we blew up an engine this morning, with Heikki. There was a problem of reliability but it was quite an old engine. It was engine of more than 2,200km. It was an engine raced in the two first grands prix on the Friday. It was at the limit but sometime before the limit it is difficult to measure, so we know that we have a good engine today but some problem of reliability.
I’m intrigued to learn that you do more work here than for any other grand prix, can you just explain where that’s centred?
JFC: Yes, I think even if Monaco is a long grand it is a tough grand prix on the engine side you we must have the maximum job between 15-17,000rpm instead of 17-18,000, so the map is completely different and you need great feedback from the driver to set up the car.
Is there more preparation involved than that?
JFC: Not. I think each grand prix is specific but Monaco is one that is no especially specific against the other.
And now there is the possibility of more teams winning for you as we saw with Williams two weeks ago.
JFC: Yes, congratulations to Frank (Williams) because it was quite emotional in Renault to have this win in Barcelona. I think we found the same spirit with Frank and we’re quite happy as we pushed a lot to have a good relationship and a good spirit with all the teams and with Frank we’ve found the same spirit as we had 20 years ago. It was quite funny because Frank visited us last week and he told us in French… I will try to translate: Une hirondelle ne fait pas printemps, I think it’s one swallow doesn’t make a summer in English or something like this. But I don’t think it’s right. I think the car is good and I think they’ll probably have some more wins with Frank.
Well, let’s ask Frank. How much of a surprise was the performance in Barcelona, or does nothing surprise you any longer?
Frank WILLIAMS: That’s partly right, but I was surprised. I’ve been racing long enough to know that you should approach any race with a considerable amount of pessimism and you get better after that. All grand prix teams are immensely professional and very few of them make any mistakes worth talking about during a season so it’s hard to prise winners away from winning all the time. But whatever we did right, and I don’t really know what that was, worked very fine and I’m just delighted to walk away with all those points and another number one on the scoreboard.
What has it meant to you personally having that win, after so many years?
FW: Yeah, well I thought it was eight years actually but if it was seven that that sounds a little bit better but it's an embarrassing amount of time for a man with a big ego.
Pastor told us there’s been quite a bit of reorganisation within the team. How important has that been and how difficult was that reorganisation?
FW: It wasn’t a major reorganisaiton, a few new people arrived, there was a bit of shuffling around. One or two people can make quite a difference and given that it’s a complicated matter, as all these people here will tell you, to put the right group of people together and get them to fire on all cylinders. It comes together once in a while with the car and the driver and everything working very well. We took our chance and got it.
We got the impression that methods within the factory had changed, even the means of building the car and that sort of thing. Is that the case?
FW: Nothing significant has changed. It’s the same approach, the same reliability. If we've gone a bit quicker then it’s because the car is quicker and that would have come, more than anything else, from the wind tunnel and from the drivers being particularly tuned in to a particular circuit.
Monisha, first of all I wanted to ask you about Chelsea Football Club because I think there’s quite a few people back here who don’t quite understand that tie-up, how it works and how it happened?
Monisha KALTENBORN: Well, Chelsea approached us last year with this idea. It’s very simple really, there’s not much mystery to it. Here two teams have got together that belong to the two sports that are probably the most watched sports around the world. So like this we’ve created a joint platform, an enormous community to which we can reach out and we’ll be doing this by doing marketing events together, looking at merchandising areas, so there’s a lot of commercial activity that will start and it gives us a very potential to go to potential sponsors. So it’s the commercial area that’s involved here and if you give us a bit more time you’ll what comes out.
Also, of course, some of the ownership of the team has been transferred to you, which is, I suspect, a fantastic opportunity for you.
MK: That’s a great opportunity for me – and a big honour. It shows to me the amount of trust Peter has put into me, that together with his son we can operate the company in the future according to the values that he as the founder of our company has actually set out. And at the same time it’s a very big responsibility as we’re talking about a company here that has been in motorsport for the last 40 years, so you have a big responsibility towards the people and towards Peter.
And, in terms of the future of the team, the team has traditionally started very, very well but seems to have dropped off a bit mid-season. Have you got the budget to keep the development going for the rest of the season?
MK: We often get the question on our budget and that maybe we cannot develop the way that we want to. Now with the Barcelona package I think we showed everyone that we can develop quickly, efficiently and also bring a good and a big package to the track. So we will continue to do that. And it’s valid for many other teams on the grid who are in a similar position, the more funding we have, the more we can develop, and you’ll see that on track.
Ross, we’ve seen the ups and downs of the Mercedes team this year, we’ve heard how unpredictable Formula One is. Is that what it’s all about? You won obviously in China but since then the performance doesn’t seem to have been there.
Ross BRAWN: I think teams… if we take a normal season, there’s always some variability between the teams and if you overlay on that the difficulty in getting a good understanding of how to make these tyres work most effectively, then the two together can sometimes bring quite big discrepancies. Take some of our competitors in Barcelona, they were a second quicker than us, and we were a second quicker than them in the previous race. There’s big differences sometimes when these tyres are working or not working properly. I think it’s a combination of the two, which makes it quite difficult to always understand where you are in the car and what you have to focus on to improve it. But we’ve done some useful progress with the car I believe, and when we get to those circuits where it would naturally suit the car and we’re in the working range of the tyres, then you’ll see the performance come back again. But it’s true the last couple of races have not been so great after we had such a wonderful weekend in China.
Is there more strategy decided on the pit wall now than before? Is it becoming harder and harder to think on your feet as the goalposts move?
RB: It’s true to say you don’t always know what you’re going to get in the race, even if you’ve done the work on a Friday and Saturday, you don’t always know what you’re going to get in the race and you have to be prepared to react from what you see in the race. Sometimes the tyres don’t last as long as you anticipated; sometimes they’re more consistent than you anticipated. So you need to have the capacity to evolve your strategy while you’re on the pit wall. I think the signs you get are relatively clear in terms of lap times and degradation and so on and so forth. So, it has made strategy, I think, more interesting in many ways, more relevant so, yeah, it does make it more challenging on the pit wall but that’s something we enjoy.
Yesterday we had a question from a journalist which quoted you in a German paper – which meant there were about three translations involved – saying that you had said that the team had let down Michael Schumacher this year, so far. Did you say that? Or could you perhaps clarify what was said?
RB: When I talk about the team, I talk about the drivers as well, the drivers aren’t outside the team, so when I say “the team hasn’t done a good enough job with Michael”, I mean collectively. We – and that includes Michael – have not done a good enough job collectively in the first five races because Michael’s got two points and that’s not good enough. So, my view is that we always look at these things collectively; it’s not ‘the driver’s made a mistake’, or ‘the team’s made a mistake’ it’s ‘together we haven’t done a good enough job.’ And that’s the situation with Michael. It’s been a bit better with Nico. Certainly the race win was great and I think in the last three races actually Nico’s scored the second or third highest points of any driver. So for Nico we’re not doing too badly. But I think also the issue of Michael scoring only two points is not just down to Michael. It’s down to some of the technical problems we’ve had with the car.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
(Sam Collins – Racecar Engineer) Question for Jean-Francois, can you update us on the progress of your new engine, and also with the ACO changing the Le Mans prototype regulations to allow complete Formula One powertrains from 2014, is that a new area you can use for testing, with the testing ban in Formula One?
JFC: I think today for the new engine, for ’14 we are now on schedule. We need to respect also the budget from Renault. We will be on time. Is it very high technology so it is quite tough development. We have big help from Renault, I think more than 45 people coming from Renault to help us on the electrics side, the electronics and turbo side. I think we will be ready, in the same philosophy that we have for the future, around November or December next year, so we are not asking for testing before.
(Sam Collins – Racecar Engineer) And for Le Mans? The ACO has announced they are going to accept a full Formula One powertrain, including gearbox, engine, everything from 2014 onwards for Le Mans prototypes – so is that another market you could move into and is it something you are looking to do?
JFC: I don’t think so.
(Ignacio Naya – DPA) A question for Monisha Kaltenborn, one year ago Sergio Pérez had here a very serious accident. I would like to know which memories do you have from this moment and how the team faced this situation and how Sergio Pérez is handling this situation, coming back to Monaco?
MK: Well the memories are, of course, very much there because it is just a year ago and it was a very bad accident. It’s thanks to the safety rules in Formula One and, I guess, also luck, that the driver remained in the situation, so he wasn’t really injured. You don’t forget these kind of things but at the same time you have to get on and concentrate on the future and I think Sergio has done a great job there. He took it very well, we can see how mature he handled the situation, even at the next race when he himself said he was not really there 100 per cent to take part in the race. But it’s not an issue anymore, we’ve ticked that off, and he’s actually taken it quite well.
(Ian Parkes – PA) Vijay, you talked about your passion for cricket earlier. Do you still retain the same passion as you once did for your Formula One team? And, in particular, given the financial difficulties we read about regarding Kingfisher, do you still have the same financial commitment to Force India? Will Force India continue for this season and beyond?
VM: I don’t quite understand the correlation between sporting interests, which are personal in nature, and my business interests. I have several large public companies, most of which, with the exception of the airline, are doing very well. The airline is a victim of extraordinarily high oil prices and excessive taxation. Now, what you read and what you gather from what you read, is something that I don’t care to comment on. I have sporting interests and I am passionately involved in all these sporting interests, I think I said it earlier. Sahara Force India is independent, fully funded. It’s a joint venture between the Sahara Group and myself, there has been a significant capital infusion at the end of 2011, another significant capital infusion from the Sahara Group is due in 2012 and going beyond to 2013. So, Sahara Force India is extremely well taken care of and set. My other sporting interests, well, I was at every IPL cricket game, as any passionate Indian would be, and the team performed well. A little disappointing at the end because we’ve been semi-finalists for four years running, we were fifth this time and got knocked off the last game before the playoffs, but such things happen in sport. That’s going fine. So, life carries on and passions carry on too.
(Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Vijay, on the same subject, if you had to make a choice between your airline and your Formula One team, which one would you chose?
VM: How can you even start to make such a comparison? One is a large, public utility per se. How would you call Formula One? A public utility or a public spectacle? An airline is not intended to be a spectacle and a Formula One team is not intended to be a public utility either. So where’s the comparison?
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) I was asking purely because of the amount of money that needs to be invested in both, and if you had the money to invest in one only.
VM: Well, you know, Sahara Force India is private team. Kingfisher Airlines is a listed entity. The banks own 23 percent of the equity of the airline. It’s a public company, limited by liability as all limited companies are, so it’s a plc. So the two are incomparable.
Q: (Ralf Bach – R & B) Dr Mallya, in spite of this, you explain to us, everywhere in the world, especially in your home country about your problems with your airline and there are rumours as well that maybe you have problems with your team financially, that people are waiting for their salary for weeks, just rumours. But do you think it’s a good idea in respect of all this, just to have a luxury party on this luxury boat this evening? How can you justify it?
VM: Justify what and to whom? As I said, I have twenty different businesses. I have six large publically listed companies, each one is completely independent with different shareholders. One does not cross-subsidise the other because that would violate all principles of corporate governance. If one business, for whatever reason, is not doing well, it doesn’t mean that every other business has to shut down. Every business has to be continued within its own values, within its own corporate objectives and the party that I host in Monaco each year is a promotion for United Spirits Ltd which has nothing to do with the airline. So because the airline is a victim of – as I said – high fuel costs and excessive taxation doesn’t meant that other public companies and their stakeholders should necessarily be compromised. So who should I justify what to?
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) If I may, I would like to ask a Formula One question: as far as the engines are concerned there are suggestions that just possibly the introduction of the new green engine – if I can call it that – will be postponed, and also have any efforts been made to try and cap the pricing similar to the V8 engines of the present? What will the costing situation be?
RB: I think it would be a mistake to delay the engines again. If you recall, we’ve already delayed them one year and we’ve had to re… in fact we’ve changed them from a four cylinder to a six cylinder and then we delayed them a year. Every change actually costs a lot of money for the people investing in new engines. We’re committed to a new engine programme, it’s progressing, we’ve been able to justify the budgets to our board and we don’t want to see a deferment or a delay in that new engine. I think it sends a very bad message back in terms of Formula One to keep changing its direction on things that are so fundamental, which need so much investment to make work. I think the new engine is very exciting. I think today engines are not really a topic in Formula One; they used to be, and I think it used to add to the sport, that the engine was quite a large factor in the performance envelope or the performance cycle of the car. I think the engines are much more relevant. Our company is getting some real benefits from the technology of this engine. We are using expertise and resource within the company to develop and design this new engine. It’s a much more relevant engine. We’re going to be running around on two thirds of the fuel that we’re running on now with, we think, comparable power outputs. We’ve got to change the engine at some stage. We will become irrelevant with the engine if we don’t look to change. The world’s changing and I think the new engine is a far more relevant engine for Formula One for the future. If we’re going to get new manufacturers into Formula One, which I think is a good thing, then why will they come in to build an antique V8 engine? They won’t. They will only come in with this new engine, so we want to attract manufacturers back into Formula One and this new engine is very important (in doing that).
J-FC: I think we are very clear. We have already delayed the engine once, from four cylinder to go to six cylinders. I think it cost us around ten or 15 million, probably the same for Mercedes and probably the same for Ferrari. So we have blown nearly 50 million for nothing. If you delay one year, we think it will be never (happen) because the delay will be ‘15 and then ‘16. For Renault, it is a strategic choice. I think the V8 was developed 25 years ago and I share the same advice with Ross. If we need to have some new car makers, only the new engine will open the door to new car makers. The last point is a key point: to have a Formula One in ’14 with the old engine will close to the door to a lot of sponsors and new technologies. I think we have a clear strategy, I think it would be impossible to change our minds.
And for the cost: I think today you must add the cost of the engine and KERS. I think we will probably know in September the cost of the new engine. I don’t think the cost of the new engine will be a drama.
VM: We are not engine manufacturers, we never will be, so we have to depend on those who will supply us engines. I guess you’ve heard from both Mercedes and Renault here. I’m focused, at least, vis-à-vis the FIA on the resource restriction bit, because I think the cost of Formula One should be reasonable for all and give a level playing field for all participating teams. A power train, of course, is a very very important component of that.
MK: As has just been said, we are also one of the non-engine manufacturer teams. We are first of all committed to cost cutting so from that perspective, we have to ensure that we don’t go back to a point where engines were so much more expensive – if you look back ten years ago. I think that should always be kept in mind. We fully appreciate and understand that an engine manufacturer wants to showcase his technology in Formula One but they also have to consider that engines have to be affordable and become more affordable in due course.
FW: I’ve always been a competitor, like everybody else here, and my own position is that as long as we get the very best engine – whether it’s a fair price or not – as long as we can find the money to pay for it, we’ll go and buy that engine, and our present geography – I mean that bloke behind(J-FC), who we are with presently, we know that they will supply us - if we can afford it - with a very fine winning engine next year and that’s what we intend to do, and if we have to find more money, we’ll find the money.
Q: (Alberto Antonini – Autosprint) There has been some discomfort and some complaints, I gather, from the general public about the lack of show in the latter stages of qualifying, in Q3, due to the fact that some of the drivers and some teams play with strategy and try to save tyres. So among the suggestions to cure that has been the proposal of allocating an extra set of tyres – call it qualifiers or whatever – for the exclusive use in Q3, which they would have to give back anyway. I understand Pirelli has no objection regarding this, but I would like to know what your view is about this?
FW: I’ll put my foot in it. I think it’s probably a good idea from the point of view that it maybe gives all teams a better chance. If you’re a really skilful team with a brilliant engineer to run and control things, and you’ve only got three sets of tyres, you’ll always get the best. If you haven’t got such a person, you’re always going to be at a handicap. If there’s a fourth set, it may help out one of the weaker members. If there’s an extra bob or two involved in running those tyres, maybe you shouldn’t be in F1.
MK: We’ve had many discussions, I think, amongst the teams last year about the tyre situation in qualifying. We think the rule we have now is OK. We also wouldn’t be supporting extra tyres, and I think even if you look at the statistics that the amount - when teams do their strategies and don’t go out in Q3 – as most of these teams have anyway been doing a lot more laps earlier, so I don’t think it would really change much for the viewer. That’s what the figures say, at least.
RB: I don’t have a strong opinion, to be honest. I actually think there’s some interest in teams which don’t go out. Of course people are here to see cars run and even when there’s some teams that don’t go out, you’ve got six or seven cars still competing hard for pole position. The teams that don’t go out generally have resigned themselves to the fact that they can’t compete for those positions right at the front, and I think those teams, being able to save their tyres, is in some way a compensation for their performance in the first part of the race. So it does give an extra decision and extra opportunity for the teams perhaps in eighth to tenth to save a set of tyres and be stronger in the early part of the race. There are two sides to every coin and is the show spoilt by the fact that some of the cars at the back of Q1 don’t run? I’m not sure it is. I think everyone’s focused on what the guys fighting for pole are doing. But if there was genuine proof that the fans want ten cars running all the time in Q3 then we’d accept some extra tyres.
J-FC: I think for a car maker it’s quite important not to change the regulations all the time. I think that if you make a comparison, it’s like you change the size of the goals during the season.
Q: (Vanessa Ruiz – ESPN Radio) Just a quick question to Frank: in Barcelona, right before the fire started, a few seconds before the fire started, you had just gathered the team around you. They were all kneeling in the garage. What was it exactly that you intended to tell the team at that moment? And if you’ve had the chance to talk to them and finish that speech and if that speech changed after the fire?
FW: I believe like everybody else here, when you have a business or a large company – and mine’s a small one – communication is fundamental. There was just a spot of communication going on, just happened to be in a rather public place but that was unavoidable. It wasn’t about sex. Sorry. Sadly.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) Michael Schumacher spoke earlier this week about the irony that the sport is currently pushing to improve safety measures yet we come and race in Monaco every year. I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the safety of this circuit and whether the risk of racing here is justified?
RB: Well, it was our driver who made the comment so…I think Monaco is a unique race, but there have also been big efforts made here to make it as safe as possible. We all know that motor racing can’t be 100 percent safe, there is always some risk, but I think the developments in the cars, the technology in the cars, the technology at the circuits is always progressing well. Each year, I believe, it gets safer. There is risk and that risk probably varies at different circuits, but I don’t think it’s a situation that means we shouldn’t race there. I think it’s a manageable risk as it is at most circuits or all circuits in Formula One.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Vijay, you said Force India has got two shareholders: the Sahara Group and yourself. Does that mean the Dutch are now right out of the picture?
VM: They have a tiny minority left.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) OK, so they are still there though, yeah? Fifteen percent, is that it?
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Monisha, given the recent history of Sauber, was it particular sweet for your associate football team to win in Munich?
MK: An interesting angle to look at it! We didn’t think of that at the time. We really wanted Chelsea to win, and I will not get into any discussion as to whether they deserved to win or not because we would probably then be talking for a very long time. It was just a nice kick-off of the whole partnership. It was the first time that we really were together in public, being at such an event where you can just make more out of it in the future, so it was a very nice kick-off of the partnership.
Q: (Kate Walker – Girl Racer) One of the things that you guys have discussed today is cost-cutting. We’re also given to understand that there were discussions on the same this morning. Could you please let us know what progress has been made in talks on cost-cutting and cost reduction in the sport?
RB: I think there’s been some good progress in the last few months. I think the situation with FOTA where some of the teams left FOTA was unfortunate because I think that was one of the main initiatives of FOTA. But that’s continued. The FIA are now becoming more and more involved in cost-cutting initiatives for the future. I think ultimately that’s who we have to rely on to police the measures we need to take to control costs, because as the costs have become let’s say more swingeing, as they’ve become harder to meet, then it’s important that we all have the confidence that every team is complying to the cost restraint regulations, the resource restraint regulations and everyone’s applying the criteria in the same way and they are all following the same rules. It’s very frustrating if you believe – even incorrectly – that somebody is not following the rules. Within the system we had, it was very difficult to have the right level of confidence. I think the FIA have now, at the request of the teams, have become involved and there’s a meeting next week which I think will be a very important meeting to set the objectives and agree the methodologies and philosophies that we want to control costs in the future. But it is an absolutely essential part for Formula One for the future. I think we’ve seen the situation with the new Concorde Agreement that’s been discussed amongst all the teams and we need to make sure that a good majority of the teams have got enough money to meet the limits of the resource restriction, that a team that has a lot more money can’t gain any technical advantage. I think the resource restriction, for me, is an essential part to safeguard the future of Formula One.
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