Full transcript from the Friday press conference on the first day of the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, Round 3 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Shanghai International Circuit.
Featuring: Mattia Binotto (Ferrari), Toto Wolff (Mercedes), Toyoharu Tanabe (Honda) and Andrew Green (Racing Point)
Gentlemen, welcome. I’d like to start by taking a moment to reflect on this being the 1000th world championship race for Formula 1, and to ask each of you why you got involved in Formula 1? What triggered your passion for this great sport? Andrew, perhaps we could start with you.
Andrew Green: So, this is my, not quite 500th, but close… 1991 I think was my first race and I was not quite out of college, maybe two years out of college and for me it was the Sunday afternoons sitting down watching those guys racing wheel-to-wheel that really gave me the buzz. That’s why I went to college to study engineering; that’s where I wanted to be. At the time my passion was also cricket. One of the guys I used to play cricket with was Rory Byrne. He was the one who inspired me to write off to all the chiefs and offer my services for free. And that’s how I got into F1 and motorsport all those years ago.
Q: Thank you. Toto?
Toto Wolff: Less holistic. I was interested in racing cars when I made my driving licence actually but didn’t follow Formula 1 at all, although Austria had a great history of Formula 1 racing drivers. But I somehow got into the sport by the finance side. The passion for racing cars in general and then the business side of Formula 1, that encapsulates everything that the business covers around motor racing that somehow attracted me, a few years ago only.
Q: Thank you, Toto. Mattia?
Mattia Binotto: On my side, since I was a child I was watching the races with my grandfather. He was a fantastic, passionate [supporter] of motorsport, but especially of Ferrari. When, as myself, living in Switzerland, you were looking at the red cars, they are something special for Italy, so it was something important for me. So it was since I was a child really a dream, of being part of F1 but even more being part of Ferrari. And to this it might feel even like a mission – try to preserve what is the heritage of this sport and Ferrari.
Q: Thanks, and Tanabe-san?
Toyoharu Tanabe: Since I was a child I’m very interested in the car. Then, in Japan, we actually didn’t have a lot of racing in that era. But then Honda started Formula 1 as their second era. Then I joined Honda and then after joining Honda I asked my boss: ‘I want to work in Formula 1’. And now I’m working for Formula 1.
Q: Mission accomplished. Thank you all. A few more questions. Tanabe-san, if we can stay with you: it’s been a very solid start for Honda so far in 2019. How satisfied are you and can you close the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes?
TT: So far, we have started this season with a reasonable performance and reasonable results. But reasonable means not fantastic yet and you see clearly you see there is still a big gap between the top runners and us. So we really need to push to improve our performance, to compete with our competitors here. But we understand it is not to improve our performance immediately but we’ll keep pushing through the year.
Q: What do you think is the performance gap between yourselves and Ferrari and Mercedes?
TT: I don’t tell you specific number but you see the gap at the track.
Q: Thank you. Andrew if I could come to you, please. How do you assess Racing Point’s start to the season and what sort of progress are you making with the car?
AG: It’s been a difficult start. I think the competition is incredibly tight in the midfield this year – tighter than I’ve known it for a long time. I think we’re just slightly behind. We’re not a long way behind but I think our weaknesses were probably exposed in the first couple of races. We’ve got a plan to obviously bring us back to our target level of performance, it’s going to take some time, but I think we have to remember that the car was originally conceived in the mid to late part of last year, when the team was in serious trouble. We were really struggling at that point. We had to make quite a few decisions about the car and the architecture of the car back then, not really knowing what was going to happen with the team, whether there was even going to be a team. We are still getting out of that. It will still take some time. We’re in a much better place now, but improvements take time. It takes time to build the infrastructure up to where we need it to be. It’s easy now to say that we have the bills paid at the end of each month, which we never used to be able to say, so it’s one less thing to worry about. But there are more things to think about, as far as the performance of the car, where we’re going in the future, which is something we’re thinking about a lot, where the regulations are going and where we’re going to go in the future. There’s a lot to think about now.
Q: And a quick word on Lance Stroll as well. It’s his first season with the team. How is he bedding in, what are your first impressions?
AG: First impressions are really good. We saw it at the end of last year when he tested for us post-Abu Dhabi. We could see the talent was there; he’s got some raw talent. We saw it in the simulator as well. He’s done a huge amount of work off-season with us. His dedication is incredible. His enthusiasm is incredible. He’s fitted into the team I think really well, really well, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.
Q: Mattia, losing the Bahrain Grand Prix must have been very tough on everybody in the team but particularly Charles Leclerc. What did you say to him? How could you comfort him after the race?
Mattia Binotto: Losing was tough but even more probably frustrating but giving us even more boost for the following races and for here in China. To Charles, what I told him, I think he did a great race, he did a great quali a great race but more than that, I think he has been fantastic on the post-race comments, showing that he’s really a mature driver. So, simply telling him good job but we’re more happy with what you did after the race and during the entire weekend. And that’s enough. Because then I think all of us are simply looking ahead at the next challenge.
Q: Was there any reoccurrence of the problem during the test session in Bahrain after the race?
MB: No, not during the testing, so that’s a problem that occurs only once during the race. Never at the bench, never during testing, never in practices. Ten laps or 12 laps to the end of the race, whatever it was. I think on reliability, you need to be strong, on quality, you need to be strong, but it may always happen and I think it was really unlucky the way it happened. We changed all our units here in China for precaution, even on the other car, so even on Seb’s. Not because the one of Seb got the issues so far, but I think at the moment it’s the best way to protect ourselves with the issue we have. And then we try somehow to understand and verify the quality of all the units we have installed.
Q: And just a quick word if we may on Mick Schumacher who was testing one of your cars in that Bahrain test. How do you assess his performance?
MB: To assess the performance, I think it is very difficult because first, the weather conditions were very bad on that day and because at the end I think that the objective was not really to assess the performance. It was his very first day on an F1 car; more important for him still in the learning phase, day-by-day, is facing a completely new challenge in his F2 season. I think what was certainly positive was the way he approached the exercise, the approach to the day of testing, never pushing to the limit, trying to improve run-by-run, learning the car, learning the team, and I think in that respect he did a very good job: very well focussed, concentrated and tried to do the proper job and learn. I think that’s the most you may expect on such a day.
Q: Did you see any similar character traits with his father?
MB: The very first time I saw him after many years in Maranello, when he came back. If you looked at him, I don’t think he’s looking very similar to Michael but the way he’s behaving is very similar, and the way he’s approaches the exercise and the way he’s interested in the car, discussing it with the technicians. So even in Maranello, you are looking after him, but he’s always in the workshop looking at the car, speaking with the mechanics, and I think that’s very similar to his father.
Q: Toto, you’re leading both of the World Championships but what do you feel is the reality in terms of performance at the moment?
Toto Wolff: It’s nice to lead the two championships, obviously you’d rather lead than not lead, but we have seen two very different grands prix. We had a very high level of performance in Melbourne, compared to Ferrari, and not a great level in the second level in Bahrain – but it was not only compared to Ferrari, also you benchmark yourself to the other teams and I think that was a race where we didn’t perform as we should have done – but we’ve always said there was one race that was the race over the winter: who comes out of the blocks best; and then there will be the development race throughout the season, and this is certainly a challenging situation for us, as it will be for all the other teams and good for the sport, I think, that you can’t really predict who’s going to win the race on Sunday.
Q: And a quick word on Valtteri Bottas. He’s leading the World Championship. Are you seeing anything different from him this season, compared to previous?
TW: It’s this mania depression of Formula One that people are being written up and written down and after Melbourne he was the reinvented superstar and World Championship contender and after the next race again it was not the case. I think we just need to let them go on with the Championship. He has started the weekend well today. I think it’s the same Valtteri we have seen in the last years. He has all that he needs to compete on a high level, to fight for race victories and eventually championships. I see the same guy.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Stuart Codling – Autosport) Question for Toto. Lewis said yesterday that, if Ferrari have established an advantage on the engine side, it will be much more difficult to catch up than if they’d established an advantage on the aero side. Could you elucidate a little bit on that? Is it a factor of the tightness of the regulatory box or the inherent risks of pushing engine development?
TW: First of all, what needs to be said – because when I read articles it’s always not accurately reflected – if somebody does a good job, he does a good job, and that’s fact. And whether he has a good engine and out-performs all the others, or he has a decent amount of downforce and goes quicker around the corners, that is irrelevant. It is always about the performance of the package. As we have seen, Ferrari operating in Bahrain, they were superior to all the other teams and there was massive engine power on the straight – but it’s not always engine power. Obviously drag levels are playing an important role in the calculation. This is something we need to evaluate. This morning there was a frightening lap of Sebastian again, in straightline speed – but it is what it is, we have to stretch ourselves and fight and extract performance out of the chassis and extract performance out of the power unit and certainly see. Having a benchmark like that helps and motivates.
Q: (Julien Billotte – AutoHebdo) Question to Mattia. At the beginning of the season, you said that Sebastian will be given priority status in some situations in the early part of the season. Could that philosophy shirt and change towards Charles if he were to repeat the sort of races we saw from him in Bahrain?
MB: Certainly as a team we need to give the priority to the team and try to maximise the team’s points at the end of the race. As I said at the start of the season, if there is any 50-50 situation where we need to take a decision, the advantage would have been given to Sebastian simply because Sebastian has got most of the experience with the team in F1. He won four championships and certainly for us he’s the driver who has most probability to challenge for the title. Something we agreed with both drivers is, in a few races’ time, things may chance for whatever reason – bad luck or whatever could be the situation – we may change our position, no doubt. But on the track, they’re free to fight, on the track I think if there is one driver who is certainly faster, he will get the advantage. I think that Charles, as a matter of fact, he had an opportunity to be in pole in Bahrain, he had the opportunity to fight for the win and he had position in Bahrain.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines / racefans.net) Andrew and Toto, your two companies have recently signed an agreement for Racing Point to use the Mercedes wind tunnel. When does this become effective? What are you trying to achieve through it, Andrew? And then finally, why should we not see this as a precursor to a Haas-Ferrari-type deal?
AG: Later this year we’ll be moving into the Mercedes tunnel in Brackley for purely efficiency reasons. Our aero department happens to be located in Brackley; Mercedes wind tunnel happens to be located in Brackley. It’s a lot easier to go testing in Brackley than it is in Cologne. So, when it was offered as an opportunity for us to go testing there, it was an obvious choice.
And Toto, a closer affiliation between the two teams?
TW: Well, first of all, we are not doing a Haas-Ferrari model because Haas was a new entry, a team created from scratch. These guys exist for a long time. I don’t see what’s so bad in a Haas-Ferrari model actually. We have enabled somebody that was keen to enter Formula One in setting up a team, with the cooperation with Ferrari it got out of the blocks really well, and fights solidly in the midfield. I think that’s good for Formula One. Our model is very different. For the reasons stated before, Andy and his team know pretty well what they want to achieve with the car, they have a solid technical group of people and will go in that direction. They will be using some of our infrastructure and we will see where that moves for the 2021 regulations. Once these are carved out, we will decide which of the areas we want to collaborate and where it is possible, regulatory-wise.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action, Speedsport) Tanabe-san, one year ago you had one team, now you have two teams. How much faster, how much improved is your rate of development?
TT: Yes, so we can get double data compared to the one team (with) two teams and then there are some differences in the team philosophies or ways of working and we learned a lot. Then, not only twice but also more than twice we can receive information and then we had a different driver – four drivers with different characteristics and driving, slightly. It’s very hard how much in some things but two teams appear to supply and accelerate our development definitely.
Q: (Alessandra Retico – La Repubblica) Mattia, Montezemolo said in an interview with my newspaper that you are at risk, in his opinion, to be alone inside the Scuderia, because there is no one to talk with because the president, John Elkan is not so experienced in Formula One and CEO Camilleri is a great manager of course but his job is on the financial side of the company. And like it was Ross Brawn with Jean Todt and Montezemolo himself. Do you have any comment on that?
MB: I didn’t read the article, first, but I think that that’s completely wrong. I got the full support from my chairman and my CEO. I think that both John and Louis are great men, certainly very supportive to the team and I think that I have got plenty of people in Maranello to speak with so I’m well supported by my colleagues and I think that somehow we are quite a big and hungry team with plenty of competence and skills so I think I feel fully supported and hopefully I will have a long life in the team.
Q: (David Coath – Motorlat.com) Toto, we are celebrating the launch of the esports series China championship this weekend. I’m wondering if you are able to see much of the e-sports work, considering you have the reigning championship yourself?
TW: Yes, the virtual world was something I needed to get used to but interestingly, when you watch an esports F1 race there is almost no difference in how you perceive it than on a real on-board so it’s crazy to see how technology develops and the graphics have matured. We obviously enjoy very much. We have set up this programme where we are trying to give young kids a framework around their capabilities, it’s not only the driving and the coaching around but we are giving them a 360 degree support programme. They are little Mercedes works drivers and winning the championship last year was the icing on the cake. You can say somehow that we’ve done it in the real world and we’ve done it in the virtual world and again, as I’ve said before, you’d rather win that one than not. Yeah, I’m happy to see how that develops.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines, Racefans.net) Toto and Matteo, following the Liberty meeting, now that you’ve had time to reflect on what they presented, do your two teams have any red lines about what was presented, particularly with reference to the revenue, the governance and the cost-caps?
TW: (To MB: He is wearing red, he has many red lines). That is a work in progress. I think the meeting was good because in the meeting we… most of Liberty’s thoughts and proposals were made clear to the teams on the cost-cap, on technical regulations and sporting regulations going forward and that was important for us to really open up a thought process around it and this is still very much happening. And in each of those areas, we seem to have an alignment on what we want to achieve. Formula One needs regulations, Formula One needs to stay high tec but on the other side we recognise that if there are areas where we can save costs because these things are not visible to the fans, then we really need to look at them. On the cost-cap, for the big teams, I think it’s an intelligent step to contain the escalation of costs. We are fighting each other with more and more resource and if we are able to stop that and reduce it, it will be for the benefit of all of us, of our bottom lines and eventually it will decrease the funding gap between the smaller teams and the big teams and I think if we were to achieve that in the first step, that’s already a good step going forward. And because of the nature of things, in terms of the prize fund redistribution, nobody’s ever going to be happy. You would want to obviously maximise and optimise on your situation that everybody’s going to have pretty decent arguments why they should have more and this is a discussion which really has just started in my opinion, but obviously, I would say, a good first step.
MB: I think that Toto’s answered well. But I think yes, I think this is the start of the discussion and we’ve got some more clarity. I think it’s important to collaborate, be open with each other. As Toto said, we’ve got common objectives, us and F1. Pretty sure that we will find the right compromise if only through discussions, that we may find it, as we did for the power unit. I think we adopted a change, we considered that we were very back, finally we decided for a common good result which everybody was almost happy with the compromise. I think that’s the same for the revenues, we did the same for the governance, the budget cap, all the technical matters; it’s a discussion on-going but collaboration and discussions are all positive so even if there are some distances at the moment, I’m pretty sure we will find the right compromise at the end.
Q: (Stuart Codling – Autosport) Andrew, just to follow up on Dieter’s question from earlier about the wind tunnel: you take a Mercedes complete power train and now will be using the wind tunnel. Do you think this is as far as anyone should be allowed to go in terms of team affiliation?
AG: I hope not, because we take their gearbox and hydraulics as well. I’d like that to stay. I think that’s everything that is being discussed for 2021, I think that’s all on the agenda that Toto was referencing earlier and it is what I was referencing earlier as well. It’s where we go forward as a team, thinking ahead for 2021. We want to build our team to be the most efficient team based around those regulations and when those regulations are finalised we will have a clear idea of what we need to do.