2017 F1

Part Two: Friday Press Conference Transcript – 2017 Japanese GP

PART TWO: TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Yusuke HASEGAWA (Honda), Ayao KOMATSU (Haas), Paddy LOWE (Williams)

Q: Hasegawa-san, if we could start with you please. It’s been a good couple of races for McLaren-Honda, particularly Stoffel Vandoorne, seventh in both of the last two races. Just wondering how much satisfaction have those results given you and how confident are you of another good result on home turf this weekend?

Yusuke HASEGAWA: Obviously in Singapore and Malaysia we got points which were very good but of course we are not satisfied. We are aiming higher all the time but we feel kind-of relieved to get a decent step. So, of course we try to keep the same performance for here, in Suzuka.

Q: What can you hope for this weekend?

YH: So far, that we get some points.

Q: And with regard to next year, let’s just talk a little bit about the relationship with Toro Rosso. How do you think that relationship might differ to the one that you’ve had with McLaren?

YH: I don’t think it’s a huge difference. We have already started the preparation for next year. They are very kind and they are very excited to have a new partnership, which we, of course, are feeling the same thing. No, there’s not a big difference, just a new partner.

Q: Is the commercial relationship going to be the same as it was with McLaren?

YH: Of course, the McLaren-Honda, the name of the McLaren-Honda is very famous – in Japan at least, maybe in other countries. From that point of view it could be that the expectation from the audience is a bit less, so we need to show that we can make it better. From that point of view, maybe I will feel a bit less pressure from the outside but from the inside there is no difference. We need to prove that we can do a better job for next year.

Q: Ayao, second season of the Haas Formula One team, what is your perspective on how it’s gone? How would you sum up the last 18 months with Haas? How’s it gone?

Ayao KOMATSU: It’s going well. Of course it could be better but from last year to this year we made a very big improvement and even though it may not be obvious to everyone but consistency is better than last year and our understanding is better, but I think now that we made a step from last year we now know again how much we need to improve for next year so really concentrating on the next step.

Q: Now you’ve worked with Romain for a long time, drivers like to progress every year, just how have you seen him grow in a small team like that, because we hear him a lot on the radio and it’s not always complimentary?

AK: Sure, I know Romain since 2009. I’ve done every single race he’s done in Formula One together so we understand each other pretty well, but yeah, he’s quite an emotional guy but then what comes out as negative on the radio is what actually makes him quick as well so you can’t have it both ways. We both understand the downside of that so we’ve just got to manage it, try to channel it in the right way so that everybody works in a positive direction.

Q: Now I guess this is the time of year when you work through the good points and the bad points of the current car. You obviously want to translate the good points into next year. Could you elaborate a little bit on the good and the bad of the VF17?

AK: I think our baseline is pretty good but the operating window is not very wide, so when we can get the tyres to work OK, you can see the potential, we can be in Q3 but there are some events where we really cannot switch the tyres on then we are fighting to get out of Q1. In Malaysia, Saturday was our lowest point, both cars out in Q1 so that’s the bad point. Next year, we really need to keep this good base but then trying to have the wider window so that we can work with… obviously next year you can have more different compounds as well so that will be the key, trying to work with different compounds, trying to get consistency out of it.

Q: Paddy, let’s start by talking about drivers: there’s a lot of speculation in the press about who is going to partner Lance Stroll in the team next year. Can you just tell us a little bit about what you want from that driver and indeed, who is in the running?

Paddy LOWE: It seems like we’re one of the last chairs available for next year. Of course Felipe is very much in the frame, very very high on our list of possibilities but we owe it to ourselves to take a look around and see what could be the best option for the team going forwards. As you say, that will be a partner to Lance. Lance has made great progress through the year, we’re seeing him performing consistently, particularly in the races so we need a driver to complement Lance on that side of the garage. But all options are under consideration, to be honest. You’ve probably seen a number of names that are floating around that we’re looking at but honestly the range is almost unlimited. We will consider all ideas. We’re not in a super hurry to do so and we’ll just make sure we land the best line-up we can.

Q: But is the idea to have an experienced driver alongside Lance?

PL: I think there are many attributes you could attach to different drivers and experience could be one of them, but we may weigh that against other things. We’re not fixed on any particular aspect.

Q: Because where is Williams’s natural habitat in this pit lane at the moment? You’re lying fifth in the Constructors’ championship; are you looking for a driver who can help leapfrog you up to third? Is that the ambition for next season?

PL: Yeah, we’re always ambitious to move forwards as all teams are and I think we recognise that the driver or drivers are a very key element in the team. Clearly you need a quick car as well, but the driver is probably the single most important factor in the end to take the package forward and score the points and indeed win races. I’ve seen that in the past, what a difference drivers can make to the race proposition, so it’s a very important decision.

Q: And just tell us a little bit about next year’s car, what’s going on back in Grove? Are you encouraged by the signs you’re seeing in the windtunnel, for example?

PL: Lots of good work going on. Yeah, we’re making quite a few changes. We see lots of opportunities out there that we’re determined to exploit and the project’s going well, yeah. At the same time, you know, we recognise we’ve got some very tough competition out there, some teams that we respect greatly who are also fighting to move forward so it’s going to be a tough space next year. We all want to have cars that can get safely into Q3, that’s a kind of mark of respectability really in Formula One, but there are quite a few teams that will be trying to squeeze into that quite small box.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Hasegawa-san, you’ve just heard what Paddy said, that the driver is a crucial element in the overall package. With McLaren, you had various World Champions driving for you. With Toro Rosso, although they haven’t confirmed their line-up, the chances of them having a Grand Prix winner let alone a World Champion are fairly remote at this stage. Do you believe that a driver is not important to drive a project forward, at the state that Honda finds itself in at the moment?

YH: For the next year, you mean?  Of course the driver project is very important and of course we’d like to encourage the Japanese motor racing character we well so that to do that a Japanese driver is also very important. But currently we have nothing we can tell you about the drivers for Toro Rosso and we don’t have any contract about that. Actually, we don’t have any position to tell. Of course, we may negotiate with them so maybe we would like to discuss about that but it is not a contract matter, so that maybe they are just as a partner, as a friendship matter.

Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action and Speedsport) Paddy, there have been reports that you were going to test Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta in a 2014 car. Can you enlighten us as to what is going to happen?

PL: Yeah, you’re correct, we will test those two drivers. We won’t give away any information around what we do within those tests, that’s a private matter for us and I would stress that that doesn’t mean that they’re the only drivers under consideration. As I said earlier, we’re considering quite a large range of which they are only two possibilities.

Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action and Speedsport) Paddy, can you at least tell us when this test will happen?

PL: In the next few weeks.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Hasegawa-san, I’d like to just clarify my question earlier on about the fact that it wasn’t so much aimed at Japanese drivers, but just generally whether you believe or not that a proven or an established driver line-up is important to develop your Honda engine project going forward because you had had World Champions, whereas at Toro Rosso you are unlikely to even have a Grand Prix winner. Do you believe that an established driver line-up is important?

YH: Yeah, sorry, I don’t answer the question. Yep, of course, the driver’s feedback is very important to evaluate the engine itself and to find any issue from the engine and also to stop the engine as soon as something happens. From that point of view, Fernando, Jenson and Stoffel were perfect for that development driver and evaluator so yeah, it is very important. So far, as I mentioned, we cannot tell (about next year). I am very happy to have Pierre Gasly, he is a very talented driver, but actually I didn’t work with him directly but I expect him very much. So I don’t know for next year but we expect to have good drivers, of course.

Q: (Jens Nagler – Bild) Paddy Lowe, how intense has your contact to Nico Rosberg been in the last weeks? And did the subjects you talk about change since he is managing Robert?

PL: I didn’t fully understand the question but was it you were saying what contact had I had with Nico? Actually, honestly I’ve just had a couple of phone conversations with him, but as you point out, yeah, he’s now doing some work with Robert Kubica, so he has an interest in promoting that idea to us so I’ve had some conversations with him on that subject. As you say, a bit different from the previous conversations that I had with him the last few years.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Paddy, you may have missed it earlier on when Cyril was here because you were outside doing the TVs but he said that the chances were pretty good that Marcin Budkowski would be starting early April in the role of executive director. Does it concern you that the gardening leave, for want of a better description or expression is not sufficient, given the relationship that he’s had with teams? What do you believe is the ideal time and what do you think of the situation?

PL: First point is to congratulate Marcin. It looks like he’s got an excellent job, very senior role at Renault. I worked with Marcin in the past at McLaren so you know he’s a strong engineer and that’s great that he has that opportunity. But I think you’re correct; the concern amongst all the teams has been the very short period of isolation between a role as an officer of the FIA, very senior officer, and working with a team. And it’s very critical that the teams have a strong degree of trust in their work with the FIA; that really underpins the ability of the FIA to police the sport from a technical point of view. It’s an important subject, the teams will be discussing that with the FIA to understand what should happen in this case or cases in the future. So I don’t have any pre-set ideas around what solution should exist or even could exist. Amongst the teams, with senior engineers, we have very long notice periods, as you know, for the same sort of reasons.

Q: (Sam Collins – Racecar Engineering) Question for Paddy Lowe and Komatsu-san: we’ve had almost a season of running with these new generation cars now and almost every team I’ve spoken to has mentioned the narrow operational window of these cars and getting the tyres to work. What is it about the current rule-set that makes that operational window so hard to exploit?

PL: I think it’s just mainly down to tyres. The tyre defines, to a great extent, the operating window of the car because it’s fundamentally the temperature window of the tyre, sometimes the pressure window, where the tyre delivers the best performance. So depending on how narrow or wide or peaky that window is determines then how difficult it is to make the car work at the fastest level. I think that’s the subject. I don’t think it’s necessarily that much more difficult than last year, the levels of grip are higher, the lap times are quicker but I think it feels just about as difficult as it was last year, to me.

AK: It’s exactly as I… I don’t think it’s the cars, it’s more to do with the tyres, and some tyres can work in any conditions, some tyres need specific conditions so yeah, it’s mainly down to tyres.

Q: (Ken Kawakita – Weekly Playboy) Hasegawa-san, Komatsu-san: this is very domestic question but having someone like you in the FIA press conference as a key member of a Formula One team, giving a lot of hope for young Japanese boys who are dreaming of being in Formula One to work as engineers, is it possible to have any advice to make the dream happen for those young Japanese boys or girls? Any word?

AK: Yeah, I was interested in Formula One since I was a junior high school student and I wanted to do Formula One so then I thought, OK, it’s better to come to England so I decided to leave Japan after doing high school so I guess the advice is don’t limit yourself, if you like, don’t ever think you can’t do it, just assume that you can do it and then try your best and then when you’ve tried your best, even if you failed, then I think you learn a great deal from it, so there’s no downside so just try and believe you can do it. If I can give advice, that’s the advice.

YH: Yeah, I think I’m completely different from him, so that he was aiming to be a Formula One engineer but I was joining Honda and I was just working as a mass production development and I never expected to be a Formula One engineer, but I always concentrated on doing my job, all the time and to improve myself, so the chance will come from outside, so I didn’t expect… so just do your job and just do it and improve by himself or herself is the important thing, I think.

Q: Paddy, can you just tell us a little bit about how international the teams are, how many different nationalities might you have at Williams?

PL: I haven’t got a number but it is a very international sport, not just in terms of drivers but also in terms of engineers and all the staff within the teams. I think that’s what makes it such an exciting and rich industry, and I’d echo the comments of my colleagues here, that if you have the determination, actually it’s not as difficult as you may imagine to make the progress and achieve the position that you may want, working in a team or some other part of the industry, so never think it’s out of your reach, go after it.

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