Vettel: Mercedes dominance boring... but Wolff disagrees

 

Sebastian Vettel labelled Mercedes’ record-breaking start to the 2019 Formula 1 season as “boring”, but the Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff disagreed. Mercedes secured a fourth one-two finish from as many races in Baku – securing the best ever team start to an F1 season.

No constructor has begun a world championship season with as many consecutive one-twos, Mercedes surpassing the previous record set by Williams in 1992.

The record comes as something of a surprise, given Ferrari were expected to be the dominant team in F1 this season after five years of Mercedes success.

“It’s so boring,” Vettel joked when asked about Mercedes’ ,…

READ MORE

 

 

DRIVERS

1 – Valtteri BOTTAS (Mercedes)

 2 – Lewis HAMILTON (Mercedes)

3 – Sebastian VETTEL (Ferrari)

 

TRACK INTERVIEWS

(Conducted by Paul Di Resta)

 

Q: Valtteri, an absolutely perfect day you’ve had. Lights out to flag, a bit of pressure from Lewis, but controlled and payback from last year and that win that went away?

Valtteri BOTTAS: Yeah, indeed. It was actually a tough race, even though maybe not much happening at the front Obviously Lewis was putting pressure all the time, so I could not do any mistake. But honestly, everything was under control so I’m happy to see the chequered flag and get this first place.

 

Q: You’re the calmest person I’ve seen. Back in control of this championship as well. You’ve had a very good start to the year. It’s all about keeping the momentum up. There’s no better guy than Lewis putting the pressure on, but to get that job done, what does that mean going away from this grand prix, back to Europe?

VB: It obviously means a lot. It’s incredible as a team on which kind of level we are performing now. I already said to the guys I’m so proud to be part of that. We’re all performing really, really well. For me as well, it’s only my fifth win, so of course it feels good and it carries on well.

 

Q: I hope you can enjoy your Sunday night; you certainly deserve it after this weekend. Lewis, your team-mate did a solid job all weekend, he just pipped you in qualifying but you never let him out of your sights today and you were fighting all the way to the end.

Lewis HAMILTON: Yeah, congratulations to Valtteri, he drove a fantastic race. He made no mistakes and truly deserved the win. It was all lost in qualifying, so there’s really not much more for me to say. But it’s a great result for the team. Honestly, this is the best start to a season we’ve ever had.

 

Q: I want to pick up on the team. Four one-two finishes. How much credit do you owe to these guys year after year after year to give you a car to do a solid job like that?

LH: It’s a team effort. Everyone back at the factory has been working non-stop every year. Every year they come back more hungry for success and it’s a true testament to strength and depth within the team. So really proud of everyone and really great to be a part of it. It was a really great race. For once we’ve been able to push the whole way. It’s pretty cool.

 

Q: Sebastian, P3 at the end after qualifying. It looked like you struggled in the first stint, regained a lot of strength mid-race and you were able to put the pressure on Mercedes.

Sebastian VETTEL: I don’t know. You’re right. The first stint was really poor. I really struggled to initially get the tyres to work. I think they were too cold and I damaged them, and by the time they were hot they were damaged, so it was never really working. I was really uncomfortable, inconsistent, just couldn’t get a feel and confidence with the car, so that’s not usually so good around here. After that, I was surprised. I was already looking forward to a difficult stint on the medium tyres, but no problem to switch them on and they lasted until the end no problem. So much happier, much more confidence and I think we had some pace to at least go with them, sometimes put a bit of pressure. We obviously had to keep and eye on Max behind. With some of the overtaken, lapped cars he was getting a bit closer but in the end we had enough pace on the medium tyre to react, to keep him behind. It was crucial to keep that third, good for Charles to get that fastest lap at the end, to snatch it away from the Mercedes boys. Still plenty of work for us to do, obviously we are not quite where we want to be. But at this point we just need to maximise what we can.

 

Q: And I guess looking forward to a more familiar track, Barcelona, where you had such a strong winter and it looked like you guys were going to be the benchmark this year?

SV: I hope so. Obviously the last four races, on average, we were not quite there, so I think we are not the favourites going to Barcelona. But the team is in good spirits. We have another couple of stuff getting on the car, so we need to chase them down. We are looking to hopefully a smooth weekend. Our first four weekends haven’t been that smooth. But it will be crucial to catch them and turn things around.

 

PRESS CONFERENCE

 

Q: Valtteri, you said in China that the start of the race cost you the race there, but you looked determined to make sure that didn’t happen today?

VB: Yeah, honestly I could have done a better job at the start today. I think I was a little bit on the cautious side. I didn’t want to get the wheel spin started, so I was rather smooth on getting on power, not to kind of mess it up. But Lewis had a good start, so that’s why he was on the inside and we were pretty much side by side actually through Turn 1, so I was just carrying the speed on the outside, and same thing in Turn 2, leaving enough space. It was nice and fair and I was obviously pleased to keep the first place.

 

Q: That was the start, but then at the end you also came under pressure from Lewis as well. How tough was that pressure and were you two racing right to the flag?

VB: Yeah, you know, it was a pretty long stint, the second one. So you can sometimes play a little bit, when you push more, when sometimes you try to save the tyres a bit more, because it’s always a bit unknown how the tyres are going to behave when they are coming towards the end of their life. At times I could really notice Lewis trying really hard to catch me and he was really close at times, like in the end. So I had to really respond and push as well. The main thing for I was focusing on was just purely my own driving, not falling for the silly mistakes. I managed to keep it together, so for this I’m really happy.

 

Q: Well done today. Lewis, we’ll start at the start as well. Just how close was it between you and Valtteri and how tough is it to judge how hard to push against your team-mate?

LH: It’s always difficult to judge. But Valtteri did an exceptional job all weekend and today he was very fair in giving space and after that he was faultless. So today he truly deserved the win. It was a great race. It was really cool that we could push as hard as we could all the way to the end. It was great that the team allowed us to do that. Also just the team’s performance throughout the whole weekend, the engineers, everyone back at the factory who are just constantly delivering 100%. This is truly the strongest season we’ve ever started with but really deservingly in the sense of just how hard everyone has worked in the delivery, so really proud to be a part of it and this is a really great result for everyone.

 

Q: You mentioned the start to the season. That’s four straight 1-2s. Is this also the best form as a team you’ve produced in the time that you’ve been there?

LH: I think so, yeah, definitely. Valtteri’s really, clearly stepped up this year and is really happy in the car and really delivering and driving fantastically, so it’s going to take some really great performances from both of us to out-perform each other. And that’s how it should be. Hopefully at some stage Ferrari will be in the mix with us. I think this weekend, I do think they had the performance to be on the front row with both of their cars. From our data we saw that Seb didn’t get a tow, for example, which is worth four or five tenths or something, so he probably would have been on pole had he got that tow and the race would have been maybe more exciting. So, again, it takes one hundred per cent deliver throughout the weekend, which we, I think, were as close to that as possible. They’re going to have to pick it up if they want to fight us.

 

Q: Seb, moving on to you, Lewis says that Ferrari will have to pick it up if they want to fight Mercedes. How well did your race go today and how close to the maximum did you get out of your car?

SV: Well, he’s right. We need to pick it up obviously. We saw in the first stint that we really struggled to follow. I was really quite… yeah it was difficult to find a rhythm, difficult to extract grip from the tyres. After the stop it was a lot better. I expected it to be a tough and long afternoon but after that the car was quite good and I was able to push and I think we stayed with them, and with the blue flags maybe in the end we weren’t particularly lucky, the places around the track, I saw Lewis had some quite good tows with lapped cars here and there – but what goes around, comes around. I think overall the second stint was better for us than the first one. We lost, I think, all the potential to put pressure at the beginning of the race. But they were very strong and did absolutely right be pulling a gap. After that for us I think it was just to try and put them under some sort of pressure and bring it home.

 

Q: You’re clearly close to Mercedes, based on the finishing positions here. What do you think is going to be key to breaking this run of form that Mercedes has shown?

SV: Well, we need stronger pace, simple as that. We need to be faster. I’m convinced we’ve been, partly this weekend, looking very strong but overall not strong enough. So, it seems that for us it’s more of a conscious effort to get the car in the right window, whereas maybe for them it seems to click a little bit easier. Especially a place like around here, you need the confidence in the car. I’m not yet there. I can feel that I’m not driving at my best because simply the car does not answer or does not respond the way I like. And then I think it’s unnatural. I think everybody’s been there. I think all drivers know that sort of feeling: when it’s not there, then your judgement is normally right, to not go there because you end-up losing the car. So, yeah, I seem to be more sensitive at the first races than at the test. The test was really good but that’s a long time ago now. We need to look forward and improve the way we handle things, the way we work to just get faster. That’s it.

 

Q: Valtteri, returning to you, Championship leader heading back for the European season – just how much confidence do you take from this start to the season?

VB: Confidence is good. I’m happy to just carry on. Obviously, yeah, it’s been a good start personally for me for the season, it’s a long season ahead. I do realise that. But something I’m really proud of is the level at which the team is performing. It’s, for me, incredible. We need to be really, really proud of that – but not think about it too much. Just keep doing what we’re doing and the list of things that we can do better as a team is still long. So we need to focus on that. So let’s keep going.

 

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

 

Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Lewis, it was fine margins between you and Valtteri today. I think you lost a bit of time the way the VSC ended and then Valtteri got the tow just as you were closing in on the last lap from the Williams. Do you think it was fine margins that made the difference today? And Valtteri, what was the feeling when you saw you had a slower car up ahead to get DRS from on that last lap?

LH: Yeah, I think ultimately Valtteri did a better job in qualifying on that last lap, which put him in the position to be able to fight and then fine margin at the start, which… yeah, I’ll have to work on. And then I lost two-and-a-half seconds, or whatever it is, under the VSC, so had to regain that and, with only nine laps to go, that was not so easy. So, that was my fault and something I’ll work on. There’s somethings I can fix on the dash to make sure that doesn’t happen again. But, nonetheless, it was a great result for the team.

 

And Valtteri, your thoughts when you got traffic towards the end of the race.

VB: Yeah, there was some traffic, obviously you lose time mostly – but sometimes actually you can gain from it, like here if you can get a nice tow on the straight and get the DRS. It’s always a very welcome bonus when Lewis is putting pressure behind! It’s not always it works for you. Sometimes he gains from it. So that’s how it goes. Yeah.

 

Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Just to the two Mercedes drivers — we saw Toto deliver a radio message in the final laps. I was just wondering what the rules of engagement were for you two in the closing laps of today’s race.

LH: It wasn’t a message to us. We were allowed to fight to the end.

VB: Yup.

 

Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport-total.com) Lewis, with hindsight probably that first lap fight with Valtteri was the defining moment of that race. Do you think you could have pushed a bit harder or been a bit more aggressive if it was another driver than Valtteri, your teammate?

LH: Definitely. Most definitely. It’s very very difficult — ultimately you always have to remember when you’re in a team as big as this that you are only one, and there are so many people that depend on us, so selfishly I could have for sure pushed a lot harder and Valtteri would have lost position, maybe I would have gained position, most likely he would have got overtaken by a Ferrari or something like that, so we have to work together. So whilst I wanted to overtake him, I had to be cautious at the same time, to give him space so that we would block the front row and stay there. Ultimately I lost out in that, but that’s a sacrifice you have to sometimes make in order for the team to win. I think if it was a Ferrari there it would have been a lot different. And that will be how it continues for the rest of the year — I think Valtteri and I have always had a lot of respect for each other, and we continue to do so. I think you can see that. That’s how we deal with it — we discuss it before the race, we agree as gentlemen, and we stick to it.

 

Q: (Luis Vasconselos – Formula Press) For Valtteri, when you were speaking to di Resta before the podium you said it was tough but you had it under control all the way. Did it get too close for comfort on the two laps that Lewis had DRS?

VB: Yeah, sure, I didn’t want him to get DRS, that was not planned. He had a very good middle sector that lap and managed to close and here even if you’re like 1.2, 1.3 behind exiting from Turn 16 then you’re gaining time before the DRS detection. I wanted to keep him out from DRS, so it was my bad. But he was pushing hard, so that’s how it goes.

 

Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Seb, the feeling for you and Charles earlier in the weekend was that the team had made a step here, that the upgrades were working as you liked, and it just seemed like the circumstances of the weekend just sort of went away from you. Do you still retain that positivity from earlier in the weekend or do you feel like there is a sort of similar amount of work to do as before?

SV: Well, absolutely I think it was a step forward with our car, but I think more of a dominating factor is just the way we seem to be able to get on top of or into these tyres. I think there’s a lot of performance in that. The struggle we had here in those low speed corners is less of an aero problem, more of a mechanical grip issue. So a lot of homework for us, obviously, in the last couple of weeks, but I’m sure that once we get everything together the car is strong, and then we will be much more in the fight. At this stage, obviously, averaging the first four races we were just not quick enough.

 

Q: (Luis Vasconselos – Formula Press) For the two Mercedes drivers — in the last two years your cars were called ‘divas’, but you’ve won on the first four very different tracks. Is this car the most complete one?

LH: I mean, it’s an evolution of the last couple of years cars, so it should be better, and it is in many ways. I would say it’s more our understanding of the procedures that we have to implement that allow us to deliver more from it. I think we’re able to extract a bit more from the car itself, and that’s just from diligence, due diligence we’ve done so much better through testing in our understanding and analysis. Everyone’s just taken a step forward and it’s great to see.

VB: It always can be better! For sure it’s maybe not still the easiest car to get to work, but once it works it’s quick, so something similar we’ve seen before and in the end, like Lewis said, it is an evolution from years before. There’s obviously work to do, but I think this year so far, the four races we’ve had, it’s not only the car. It’s all the areas the team is working on, how well we are performing in all the other areas than just the car. I think that’s maybe been the biggest thing so far this year.

 

Forbes magazine revealed in an interesting analysis that among all current drivers, Sebastian Vettel, who during his career, has earned the most money for his teams, which are given to Formula 1 by the teams according to their success in the World Championship.

Over the course of his career, Vettel has won more than half a billion US dollars for Toro Rosso, Red Bull, and Ferrari, and is also more successful than five times world champion Lewis Hamilton. The Briton, who has a title more than Vettel, has earned nearly 450 million in his runs. His backlog for the German is attributed in particular to the 2007 season when Mclaren did not receive the prize due to the Spygate affair.

Kimi Raikkonen took the third place among the current racers with a mere 400 million, while the Finnish veteran followed Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, and Valtteri Bottas.

Toto Wolff has laughed of suggestions that he has been keeping close tabs on Max Verstappen with an eye on bringing the Dutchman to Mercedes in the future. Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko recently claimed that Wolff was “repeatedly” calling his driver and father Jos Verstappen.

Verstappen Jnr and Sr were quick to dismiss any notion of negotiations with Wolff, although it was confirmed that Jos and the Mercedes team principal regularly spoke as friends.

Completing the trio of denials at the Chinese Grand Prix was Wolff, who like Max, said he did not even have the means to call the Dutchman if he wanted to.

READ MORE

Alfa Romeo chief Beat Zehnder has described Kimi Raikkonen as a “pleasure” to work with since his return to the team where he started his career after being replaced at Ferrari. Zehnder is also proud that the Finn is currently leading the ‘B-League’ in the driver’s championship.

The pair worked together when Raikkonen made his F1 debut for Sauber in 2001, and he has now returned to the same Hinwil based team for 2019.

VIDEO: Kimi Raikkonen hammered

 

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.

Kimi Räikkönen & Frédéric Vasseur “We are on the same wavelength”

source: Autohebdo Nr 2204, 21. February 2019

The Hinwil team, which has made authenticity its trademark over the years, is definitely protected from false pretenses. Tenors of straight talking, Fred the boss and Kimi the champion lift the veil on their nascent relationship and assert their truths. It’s sometimes brutal, often funny and always moving. Dialogue of racers.

Did you know each other before you started working together?

Frédéric Vasseur: To my knowledge, no.

Kimi Räikkönen: Neither to mine. We must have said “hello” to each other in the paddock when we met, but it never went any further.

So, what did you talk about when you first met?

FV: Racing! Not very original, but we had to start somewhere.

KR: It was the day after Monza, if I remember correctly.

FV: He’s good. I went to your place in the afternoon and we let go for four hours.

KR: It’s all been done! Ferrari, Sauber, etc. We’ve done the world of F1 again!

FV: We didn’t even talk about the contract, just cars.

KR: That’s why you came back on Thursday.

FV: Yes, we shook hands and that was it.

Kimi, did Fred ask you what Sauber looked like in 2001?

KR: I think we talked about that, but the problem is that I don’t really remember myself what it was like. The part where we are now existed, that’s for sure. There was this L shape, but it was much smaller. The first time I came to meet Peter Sauber was in this building, but downstairs. Now, the management has gone higher up…

What were you doing in 2001, Fred? Did the names Sauber, Räikkönen mean anything to you?

FV: What is certain is that I didn’t have to focus on what Sauber could look like. In 2001, I was doing F3, but that was before the Euroseries….

You were already taking care of young drivers, you couldn’t help to be interested in this young Finnish guy who had just jumped from the tub of a Formula Renault to that of an F1…

FV: I remember a Finn in Spa in a FR 2.0, but I don’t really know if it was Kimi or Bottas a little later…

KR: Well, it must have been me since I took part in a European round at Spa in 2000!

FV: It must have been you, then! I was in F3 and I thought he was sending some heavy stuff, this kid.

KR: And how, I even won! It was just after my first test in an F1 car which I had done in Mugello. I had a hard time in the first few laps. I felt like I was being arrested. At the top of Raidillon, I was completely composed. It took me all day to find my benchmarks.

Kimi, if I say “art grand prix”, does that mean anything to you?

KR: I knew it was a racing team, but when you get into your F1 business, you don’t see anything else.

FV: You didn’t care, eh! (laughs)

KR: Yeah, but I also knew that Todt was involved. In the end I knew a lot about it (laughs). I even had to go under your awning to greet a fellow Finn.

FV: Kovalainen!

KR: Exactly!

Fred, what did you do to break the ice with the Iceman?

FV: First of all, I didn’t have to take a peak (laughs)! We talked about the thing we had in common: a passion for racing. We connected quickly. It was relaxed.

Kimi, did Fred find the right words to make you melt?

KR: Well, it looks like he did because I felt comfortable right away. Talking with Fred was like talking to an old friend. I appreciated the directness, frankness. I don’t like people who talk for nothing.

We haven’t talked much about our lives so far, more racing but it’s kind of like we’ve always known each other. We still have some way to go towards each other but the main thing is already there. On the work side, there’s not much to say, just look at what he has achieved in a little more than one season. It was the basis of our discussions, and facilitated my decision to come.

 

We recruited a lot last year.. We need to stabilize the system a little bit and Kimi will be the leader we expected

Fred, going from a rookie like Charles Leclerc to an experienced driver like Kimi, does it require a review of the approach?

FV: Last year, we had a rookie and a rather experienced pilot in the person of Marcus Ericsson. This year, all things considered, we have the same situation with Kimi and her huge experience on the one hand, and Antonio (Giovinazzi ed.) on the other hand, who is however a little more experienced than Charles was at the same time, a year ago. They’re a good pair, well balanced. It is very important to have someone like Kimi with us, because the team is very young despite its years of presence in F1. We recruited a lot last year, about sixty people. We need to stabilize the system a little bit and Kimi will be the leader we expected. At this stage of our growth, it is a huge plus to have the support of a driver like him.

Kimi, what do you expect from your return to Hinwil? Start up again? Find a welcoming place to finish your career? Find your youth again?

KR: None of this. Working as hard as possible and see what we get. I don’t have any quantified objectives in mind, I’ve never had any. I am not approaching 2019 in a different way than 2018 because I am moving from Maranello to Hinwil. We do our best and we see what we get, I have always had this approach. Even in karting. I have no other way of thinking. There is a good group of people here and if we do a good job, the results will follow. Will we be good? How long will it take to be in on it? No one knows and it’s like that every year. At Ferrari or here.

FV: The only certainty is that we are not going to be world champions. But for the rest…

What do you expect from Fred? If you are expecting something….

KR: We’re just starting to work together, and I’m going to need some races before I can expect anything at all. Nevertheless, if he can keep us concentrated and if he can protect us from all the nonsense that politics generates in the teams, it will already be a good start. That’s what I hope and that’s what I’m sure I’ll get with someone like him. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t feel the guy. So, of course, I expect him to handle all the daily shit (laughs).

Fred, anything in particular that you ask from Kimi?

FV: No, he is simply the reference we need. As I have already said, in a growth process, there are levels and, to reach the next one, we needed someone like him. It will allow us to strengthen the system in the first instance and give an impulse in the second. He will be the perfect reference in technical discussions. He already is if we refer to the meetings, quite numerous, that we have had. No hesitation, no frills with him, but a clear line to achieve the goal. For the engineers, such a guy is priceless. It prevents you from getting lost. It saves you from thinking about it. If the driver is hesitant, if he doesn’t know where he’s going, a kind of flotation settles in the debriefings and that’s very bad. Nothing like that with a Kimi. There are questions, there are always questions, but the course is set. There are the pillars of performance which are the engine, the aero, the budget and… the driver! There is no comparison to be made between Charles, Marcus, Antonio and Kimi who are not at the same level of career, you just have to admit that one has a background that the others don’t have. Maybe they’ll get it tomorrow, that’s not the point. The fact is, we needed a guy like him now. He will push us to be 100% focused on the technical stuff which is the most important thing for the team and for me.

Does Kimi remind you of a driver you’ve already worked with or is he a unique race animal?

FV: An animal (laughs)? I don’t like to make comparisons. What is certain is that we have a good feeling. You know, at this point in the season, everyone is always very happy. Everyone will be world champion, all the team members are the best friends in the world and, after two or three races, everything explodes. Between us, the feeling was good from the beginning because we talk about the same thing in the same way. We’re on the same page, if you will. We have the same approach and, for me, it is very important that we are aligned with the fundamentals.

Kimi, do you sometimes see a hint of Peter Sauber in Frédéric Vasseur?

KR: Yesat the hair level (laughs)! More seriously, Swiss, French, everyone has their own way of doing things. I spent a year with Peter and that was quite a while ago. We then had the good relationships we still have today. He never blamed me for leaving at the end of the first season when we had signed a three-year contract. I was fine here and I didn’t really have any reason to leave, except that McLaren was the best team at the time with Ferrari. However, when I left, I wanted Sauber to be well treated by McLaren. I wanted this departure to be beneficial to both of us. I wanted to make sure that the team wouldn’t suffer when I left. We split up on good terms. Today, the team has a different name, but the mentality is the same. People think the same way. I am happy to be back.

Does it matter to you, that change of name from Sauber to Alfa Romeo?

KR: The name is different but the people are the same.

FV: From a sporting and technical point of view, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the group we form. It’s the people. We don’t change ownership, we don’t change management, we change names, but it’s more to extend the collaboration with Alfa Romeo, so that the company is even more involved in the project. This is a step forward for the company.

 

I’m here because I see the potential, I see the team, the guys, Fred

Kimi, for what may be your last challenge in F1, you could have opted for something quieter. After Ferrari, did you need something close to your heart to keep the wish to fight, to keep the desire?

KR: No! If the desire hadn’t been there, it wasn’t coming back here that would have brought it back. I’m here because the desire and pleasure have not left me. I wouldn’t spend all that time and energy on something I don’t want to do anymore. It’s true, I really appreciate the time I now spend at home with my wife and children, but I still need that to balance my life. I’m not coming back to Hinwil to complete the circle as I’ve heard. I never had the will to finish where I started. I’m here because I see the potential, I see the team, the guys, Fred. There’s something to do here. Will we make it? Maybe or maybe not, but if we fail, it certainly won’t be because we haven’t tried hard enough. I have a good feeling and, in the past, it has rarely cheated on me. When I returned to Lotus after my WRC seasons, I had the same feeling as today.

Would you try a rally again?

FV: No way! Not for two years, in any case.

KR: I think you have your answer (laughs).

Fred, from the day Kimi signed the contract, did you suddenly feel the weight of pressure on your shoulders?

FV: Not in the slightest! I’m a big boy, the pressure, I put it on myself. I don’t need Kimi because it’s inherent to the business. We want to be successful, we want to improve and it is this desire that creates the pressure. It is beneficial to the system. Waiting for Kimi to put pressure on us would be the wrong approach. Kimi wants results as much as we want results, and we are pushing in the same direction. The pressure doesn’t come from one person.

Kimi, you don’t live very far from Hinwil. Aren’t you afraid that you will be asked to come to the factory too often?

KR: Shh, don’t give them any bad ideas (laughs)! Come on, seriously, it’s quite nice to come here. It doesn’t bother me and, better said, I appreciate coming. I like the discussions with the guys, I like the atmosphere of the factory. This is the time of year when my schedule allows me to do so, and I really appreciate it. After that, it’s more complicated when you have a series of race weekends, but if it’s for a good reason, I’m always happy to come. Nevertheless, if it means coming for bullshit, no.

Fred, knowing that Kimi can be here in less than an hour, is it a comfort, even a reassurance?

FV: I don’t know if we can talk about “comfort”, but drivers are an important part of the system. If they are happy to spend time in the factory, it’s great for the guys, for the team, for the cohesion. It’s great that Kimi is very open to this kind of support and that he lives in the area. This is an advantage, but I don’t choose my drivers based on their geographical position.

KR: It’s true that it’s fun. The other time, I stopped by with my son, just like that, unexpectedly. It creates other bonds. More private.

You both have a reputation for loathing the “bullshit” as the English say. This “true talk” that characterizes you, is that what brings you closer?

FV: Let’s see… Let’s just say it’s a good start.

KR: We may have problems, but we will talk about them frankly, without bias, without misdirected ways. It is important in a relationship to know that you can have this frank and direct relationship. In any case, it’s important to me.

FV: For me too!

Fred, did you discover anything about Kimi that you didn’t suspect?

FV: We didn’t know each other before, but I think he’s much more open than you can imagine when you don’t hang out with him.

Kimi, same question….

KR: I don’t have any preconceived images of people. Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t judge until I know. I had heard some things about Fred that seem to fit him well, and I’m glad. Things like “pure racer”. I have been in teams where things have not always gone as well as I would have liked, where unfortunately there was a lot more to talk about than racing. Nothing like that here.

FV: Don’t talk like that, you’re going to move me to tears (laughs).

If you can bring the team to the top, will it be the greatest success of your career?

FV: What do you mean by “top”?

KR: Based on my personal experience, winning with Lotus was more rewarding than winning with McLaren or Ferrari for the simple reason that we were starting from afar. If you win in a team with which everyone expects you to win, it’s very different from winning when no one is expecting it.

FV: Honestly, last year, I think I had more fun with a 6th place or two cars in the points than Toto (Wolff. ed.) when Lewis Hamilton was victorious. It was a challenge! Less than ten months earlier, we were 4 seconds down… The success is different whether we call ourselves Mercedes, Ferrari or Sauber. For us, it was to constantly improve throughout the season. Race after race, we were always a little better. We started from the bottom of the grid. We were P9 in the first third of the season, able to qualify in Q3 in the second third, and P5 in the last 7 races. With the new regulations, it is impossible to predict where we will start the season, but I want to keep the same capacity for improvement.

Fred, you know the expression “Flying Finn”. Do you really think the Finns are flying?

FV: I’m a very down-to-earth person, but if Kimi shows me that it’s possible, I’d believe it.

Kimi, do you think the famous “French touch” exists?

KR: It’s not easy to apply it in F1, but the progress made last year by the team shows that there may be something about it. That being said, success in F1 is rarely the success of a single man.

Finally, when the time comes to celebrate your first joint podium, will it be champagne or vodka for everyone?

FV: Why choose?

KR: Yes, both!