TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Mark SMITH (Caterham), John BOOTH (Marussia), Franz TOST (Toro Rosso), Norbert HAUG (Mercedes), Peter SAUBER (Sauber).
Mark, if I can start with you. First of all, we’ve seen a certain number of developments over the last couple of races. How promising were those? Are we going to see further upgrades in the coming races as well?
Mark SMITH: We took an upgrade to Silverstone. We were hoping for some dry running, which obviously was forecast very early on not to happen. That hampered us quite a lot actually. We genuinely believed we’d have the opportunity to have some dry running in Hockenheim and we’ve had very little so far. So really, we’re struggling to develop the car around the updates that we have, predominantly because of the lack of dry running. We know from the running we did at Silverstone we have performance on the car but we probably extracted about 40% of it at most.
You have a team move coming up: how disruptive is that going to be? Obviously it’s planned to be as least disruptive as possible but it is mid-season.
MS: It is mid-season, but it is during the two-week shut down, so it’s never going to be ideal but I think it will be fairly painless. One of the biggest challenges is probably the IT infrastructure. Work is already underway with respect to that. Things like CFD clusters represent the biggest challenge in that respect. The rest of it? If you think about the race team, they can live out of an F1 facility and operate anywhere in the world fairly self-sufficiently. So for the race team, post-Hungary, they’ll go back to Leafield and the rest of us will move after the shutdown on August 20th. The majority of us.
John, you had updates at Silverstone as well, despite a difficult development period leading up to that. Did they show the promise you were hoping for and will they lift Timo back into the peloton as it were?
John BOOTH: As Mark said, it was pretty difficult at Silverstone and again here to verify where we think we are. The upgrades were substantial and significant in that it was our first upgrade derived from the wind tunnel programme and our partnership with MAT. Some of it looks very promising so we take heart from that and we also have a few more bits here to give Timo that extra boost.
It’s been 13 days since Maria’s terrible accident and everyone in the press room is very appreciative of the statements you’ve put out, particularly the last one, but in terms of questions still unanswered, there are still one or two. So where does that leave us, the press?
JB: We had two priorities immediately after the accident, first being Maria’s welfare of course, that was foremost in our minds. The second was to start to investigate the cause and clear the car of any part of that of course, with Silverstone coming up. We established that but then revisited our findings straight after Silverstone and now we’re 100% confident that the car was not to blame in the slightest. As for the wider investigation, that is ongoing and will be a very long process, as in England it has to be, it’s taken very seriously there, as you know. It will be some time before we know the final outcome. It would inappropriate for me to comment any further on that.
Question for the front row regarding German Grands Prix. We have representatives of Germany, Switzerland and Austria – how important is this German Grand Prix to you?
FT: For me the German Grand Prix is a classic grand prix. In Europe from the history we have four grands prix which are very important. That’s Silverstone, one grand prix in Germany at the Nürburgring or the Hockenheimring, it’s Monza and Spa… and of course also Monaco. The German Grand Prix has a high level of importance and also, if you think how many German drivers in the meantime in Formula One and also Germany is a very healthy country from the economical side and therefore it’s very, very important that this grand prix takes place here in this country.
Norbert, obviously very important for Mercedes…
NH: Yeah, absolutely. It’s very special for us. We have more that one home grand prix: we have the British Grand Prix; we have another home grand prix in Abu Dhabi where our shareholder Aabar is at home but this, just 100km from the main facilities of Mercedes, from Stuttgart… I personally have great memories from when I was a young boy already I was here, looking mainly at motorbike races, so Hockenheim is just home turf – and it’s of course it’s good having a good performance here – we try. I remember winning 2008 with McLaren-Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton, which is a great memory. And yeah, there’s a lot of spectators, a lot of guests, the Mercedes grandstand, a great programme there, a very busy weekend for all of us. It didn’t start in a typically Hockenheim way: normally it’s hot; today it was more the Silverstone way, which we experienced a fortnight ago. So, it seems to be the same tomorrow: rain again, and probably sun on race day – so parallel to what we experienced two weeks ago. But still, a very important race of course.
Peter, is this as close to a home race as you get?
PS: Yes, I think it’s a home race – similar to Monza, both grands prix are very close to the factory in Hinwil. But I have a special relationship with Hockenheim. I drove many, many races here. I started I think in 1967 with my first race here, with a Volkswagen Beetle.
Question then to all of you again, on a similar subject: how important is the Nürburgring? It’s got problems of it’s own at the moment, can they be solved? How important is it that they are solved and it remains one of the homes of the German Grand Prix.
FT: The Nürburgring as well has a very, very interesting and important history. Everybody in the world knows the Nürburgring who’s involved in motor racing. I just hope that all the politicians find a solution to get the money together that the Nürburgring will survive. Because in the meantime a fantastic infrastructure has been built up around the Nürburgring with all the hotels and, apart from this, there are many workshops where parts for racing cars have been produced. It would be a shame if people would lose their jobs from this. There are many, many races over there: the 24 Hours for example, and a lot of other races, and especially Formula One. I just hope that in future we will also have a race there because the Nürburgring is history for motorsport in general and especially for Formula One.
And a huge heritage again for Mercedes, Norbert?
NH: Yes, absolutely. There is a great heritage and I hope and think it will continue. We definitely have a DTM race at the Nürburgring after the summer break, the 19th of August, so that is confirmed. And I think there are good chances for a grand prix in the future – but it’s probably too early to talk about that and to speculate. I think they built great facilities and probably the plan was a good one but it didn’t turn out in the right way. I think what is very important to know is that the Nürburgring is booked in a fantastic way – so the industry has lots of bookings there, not only Nordschleife but also grand prix circuit where the Grand Prix takes place. I think this is a positive development for the Nürburgring: I just think they got in financial problems but hopefully they are solvable.
Peter, I’m sure Saubers have raced there. Did the Beetle make it that far?
PS: Not just the Beetle. ’86 we won the first sportscar race, together with Mercedes. I think with Pescarolo and Thackwell on the car. I think it’s important for this very traditional race track that the responsible people find a solution to save the situation.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Edd Straw – Autosport) Franz, we understand that Giorgio Ascanelli is out of the team or should we say on his way out of the team, and is certainly no longer in active service. Can you confirm exactly what his status is and what the reasons are behind this move, please?
FT: I can only tell you that Giorgio Ascanelli is on holiday and there’s confidentiality between the two parties. That’s all that I can say to this.
Q: (Edd Straw – Autosport) Can you just, in general terms, make any comment as to whether it’s sensible to let your technical director be on holiday during a Grand Prix? Obviously we can read into this the fact that there is something clearly going on.
FT: Sorry. I’ve said everything.
Q: (Sonya Kreye – Speed News) Norbert, the season is wide open – this is a more general question – is this for you more enjoyable or does it put stress on you?
NH: Well, I would say it’s positive pressure and you grade your pressure inside the team. None of the guys you see here on the podium doesn’t like to be in the best possible position, and the best possible position is ultimately P1, but you need to work very hard. This is a very very competitive environment. We’ve seen very very good races this year. We’ve seen surprising results. We saw guys winning who nobody probably thought would win, so it’s very good for the spectator. I think we have seven or eight teams that are in a position to clinch podium positions and as far as I can remember, that was never the case in Formula One. All the teams of course want to finally dominate. This is the plan but first of all you have to score points, then podiums then race wins, and it’s a very very good mixture for the spectator this year and yes, it is demanding but I think we all do what our destiny is, what we want to do and we are not forced to do this but we enjoy it; not every second, not if you have bad results, if you do not achieve what you wanted to achieve, but this is part of the game. Even more, you can enjoy the good part of it if you really got on the podium, if you get a race win, if you get a feeling like China, with Nico, that’s fantastic. I’m sure Peter can describe his feelings from Malaysia, fighting for victory which was a deserved result and a very positive surprise.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) To the four team principals: during the Silverstone weekend, an article was published in The Daily Mail in London in which Mr Ecclestone was quoted that commercially the Concorde Agreement was all agreed, saying that the commercial terms for the replacement of the present Concorde had been agreed with everybody. Could you four team principals confirm that you have actually signed a document with Mr Ecclestone, which forms part of the replacement for the 2013 Concorde?
FT: Toro Rosso signed a Concorde agreement.
NH: I’m not one of the four.
PS: I think… we have an agreement with Bernie, yes. We have signed an agreement with Bernie.
JB: We haven’t signed an agreement.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Mr Haug, you may not be a team principal but you are here as a Mercedes Benz representative. To the best of your knowledge has Mercedes signed a document with Bernie.
NH: Well, I can only tell you that we are in constructive discussion still, so that implies that we didn’t sign yet.
Q: (Matt Coch – pitpass.com) In terms of younger drivers coming up, how actively do you look at the supporting categories and the feeder series and how much interest do you take and how active a part do you play?
FT: From my side, I only look at Formula Three races, Formula Renault races, the two litre and 3.5 litre, GP3 and GP2 of course and to get an overview of skilled drivers, because, as you know, Toro Rosso is a team which is responsible to Red Bull to provide good, young, skilled drivers.
NH: Well, I’m looking at it, traditionally, as much as I have time. I’m following it as well as I can, if I’m not busy.
PS: With Esteban Gutierriez we have a test and spare driver in the GP2 series, but for us, it is not possible to support some drivers and some teams in this series.
MS: As a team we are obviously involved in the formulae and look closely at potential young drivers. As an individual, I have limited time to do that.
JB: Yes, we are actively involved in GP3 and GP2 and in fact we gave our GP2 drivers a run out at Silverstone last week in the young drivers’ test, so we watch all categories but particularly GP2 and GP3.
Q: (Gary Meenaghan – The National) Following on from the young driver testing, I was wondering if the other four guys could talk about where they’re planning their young driver test this year. I understand Mercedes is considering running in France. Is that correct?
NH: No. It’s probably not finally decided.
PS: We will test in Abu Dhabi, I think so. I hope we can do the test there with three different drivers and with Esteban Gutierrez of course.
FT: As it looks now, we will also drive in Abu Dhabi, but it’s not 100 percent decided with which drivers we are running there.
JB: We had a look at the calendar at the end of the year and Abu Dhabi would have meant that the mechanics were working or travelling for five consecutive weeks and five weeks away from home. We didn’t feel that we had the necessary manpower or human resource or parts for the car to conduct that kind of the test, so we opted to use Silverstone last week.
MS: We plan to be in Abu Dhabi.
Q: (Edd Straw – Autosport) Franz, this season has been a little bit disappointing for Toro Rosso. Could you just give an overview of what you think has gone wrong with the team, and where you can maybe improve to get the kind of results that you would expect?
FT: The season’s not over yet. So far we started the season quite well. We scored points at the beginning and then we struggled a little bit. For example, in Monaco, Jean-Eric Vergne was in seventh place ten laps from the end but then it started to rain a little bit and di Resta and some others passed him. In Valencia, Daniel had a good chance to score points but then he had a crash with Petrov. I think that we will come up with some new upgrades for the next races and I hope that it’s wet tomorrow here and on Sunday because it looks as if the car and the drivers together are quite competitive in the wet. And I’m quite positive and optimistic for the second half of the season.
Q: (Stefan Skolik – Mannheimer Morgen) Can you comment on Michael’s accident at the end of practice, Mr Haug?
NH: He just lost it. He was on the radio and he said ‘not fully concentrated.’ Things like that just happen, it’s not an ideal situation but we can recover, I’m sure.
Q: (Vanessa Ruiz – ESPN Radio) Norbert and Peter mainly; we’re now reaching the middle of the season; how do you see the development? Do you believe that we already have the top three teams in a situation where it will be difficult for the others to catch up? Or do you understand that it’s still open as many people say, in terms of winning races?
PS: I think it’s still open. It’s not so easy for us. Maybe it’s easier for Norbert, I don’t know.
NH: I think it’s still open, and if you look, there were possibilities. I think Peter can tell some stories and has some memories of that. I have some where we didn’t score the points which were possible. Probably other people as well. But I would not say that there is a big gap at the moment. You really need to get your act together, get the set-up right and then, as I said before, we can have quite a few cars that are very competitive and I can see the situation not changing in the short term.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – The Citizen) Talking about the young driver test – and here I’m talking generally, not a specific, this year situation – but if we have a look at some teams testing at Silverstone, some at Abu Dhabi, I believe that some are going to Magny Cours after Monza, others are looking at Jerez in early December; is it impossible for 12 teams to actually agree on three days out of 365 to go testing?
FT: We were discussing this for a long time and as John just mentioned before, one of the main arguments against Abu Dhabi for some teams was that the mechanics would have been out for five weeks and then we decided, OK, to split the test with Silverstone, because teams which are situated in England wanted to do the test at Silverstone and OK, now a third race track, Magny Cours, has come into the plan and normally we should say OK, let’s do the test altogether, three days at the end of the season, but you know we are in a democratic world and therefore it was decided to split it.
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