Full transcript from the team managers press conference on day one of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, Round 12 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Hungaroring near Budapest.
Featuring Andreas Seidl (McLaren), Christian Horner (Red Bull), Mattia Bintto (Ferrari), Claire Williams (Williams) and Beat Zehnder (Alfa Romeo)
Q: Christian, Max Verstappen is the man of the moment, having won two of the last three races. Can you just give us your thoughts on his current level of performance? Have you worked with a better driver? And how tough is it for any team-mate to match him?
Christian Horner: I think Max, not just in the last three races but during the course of the whole of this seasons, indeed pretty much Montreal last year, he’s been driving incredibly well at a very high standard. It’s certainly started to come together over the last few races. The win in Austria was a watershed moment, we were competitive at Silverstone, and obviously the race, the excitement of last weekend was a phenomenal performance by him, to keep his head, to have the pace in all varying conditions, and come out on top and win the grand prix. So, yeah, he’s in great form and you know, hopefully we can continue that form into the summer break and out of the other side as well. He’s certainly delivering at an extremely high level.
Q: How tough for any team-mate to match him?
CH: I think very tough. If you go up against Verstappen at the moment, for me arguably he is the most in-form driver on the grid. That’s an enormous barometer for any driver to go up and be measured against. As a competitor you always want to measure yourself against the best that you can. So, he’s a benchmark that obviously Pierre is measuring himself against.
Q: Mattia, if we could come onto you please. Rollercoaster weekend for the team at Hockenheim – the disappointment of qualifying and then the brilliant comeback drive by Sebastian. How do you begin to analyse a weekend like that?
Mattia Binotto: I think, as you said, the disappointment at first. I think we knew that we’d got a good car at Hockenheim, we’d been fast on Friday, Saturday and in the race itself. We didn’t score the pole but we believed that we’d got the potential for it. And certainly when you’re starting a race on the front row or the back of the grid, it’s two different scenarios. Again disappointment, because it’s more the empty glass. I think it’s really a missed opportunity again for us, to have a victory in Hockenheim. And I think as a team it’s where we need to focus: first of witnesses of what was wrong during the weekend. On the other side, I think still positive feedback, and we should not forget about them. I think we got, as I said, a competitive car whatever the conditions from hot conditions on Friday or cooler temperatures on Sunday, even the wet, so I think a lot of positives, the strategy of the team, the way we managed strategy, the pit stops during the race, race situations. And the team somehow kept focused after the disappointment of Saturday, and somehow were prepared for a good race. And a good race for Seb. No doubt. We are all pleased for him. I think it was important for him to have such, let me say, a race in Germany with a hometown and the crowd there. So, all pleased by that but I think overall we keep the disappointment of the weekend.
Q: Claire, you scored a point at Hockenheim, pending the appeal by Alfa Romeo. Your team has scored 3561 points in its history – but what did this point mean to you? Was it just reward for all the hard work?
Claire Williams: I think the point Tom, that you made about the number of points that Williams has scored in our history. I think for us to get excited about one point would probably be slightly erroneous. Everybody at Williams has been working so hard this year, it has been another brutal season for us, so I suppose to get any kind of reward, we should take and we should accept gladly – but as you say, Alfa have submitted their appeal against that so I think we’re going to have to wait and see – but one point for me, I think, as a Williams, I can’t personally be happy with that and I don’t think anyone in our team is necessarily ecstatic about it.
Q: Let’s move on to Beat and talk about that appeal. You’ve lodged the appeal after the race. Can you tell us what you’ve done that?
Beat Zehnder: We’ve been penalised after the race and we went for appeal, which is the normal procedure if you want to fight, and you think you have some arguments to win – otherwise you wouldn’t do it.
Q: What were the mitigating circumstances? Why have you lodged that appeal?
BZ: It’s an ongoing process and I cannot give you any information. Everything will be disclosed on the 24th of September when the hearing will take place in Paris.
Q: OK, let’s cast the net a bit wider then. You’ve now been at Sauber for 32 years – the team in all its different guises. What’s your assessment of the path that Alfa is now on? Do you feel more comfortable than you’ve been for several years?
BZ: Of course, we’re in a better situation, especially on the financial side. We’ve gone through very difficult times in 2014, 2015, 2016; we’ve been close to shutting down the company. And I think this is, with Alfa Romeo and with the new ownership, we’re in a much better situation and I think the big achievement of the team is that we’re still around.
Q: Andreas, it’s been an impressive season for McLaren. You’re now 31 points ahead of Renault. Does the size of that gap surprise you in any way?
Andreas Seidl: It’s obviously good that we have all these points in the pocket with not necessarily having the fourth fastest car for all the races, so that’s good but at the same time it’s not something we get carried away with. We have seen, for example at the last race, you just need one crazy race where Hülkenberg, for example is scoring P2 and we have no points and we would have a different discussion today. It’s important for us to keep our heads down, to just keep pushing, to bring more and more updates on the track, and keep this positive journey up. But, of course, it’s nice to be in this P4 at the moment and we try to fight for that until the end of the season.
Q: Tell us more about this positive journey, because last time you were here you said you’d arrived at a team on the rise. Just how far can you go? Can you challenge Red Bull?
AS: The reality is that we’re still getting lapped. If there’s a normal race. So there’s still a lot of hard work in front of us. But, as I said before, it’s important that we keep progressing as a team together with our drivers. It’s good to see that the updates are working and hopefully we can make the next step with our car, also for next year. This is really what my focus is on. There’s no magic, as we know, in Formula 1. It’s down to hard work, to stay focused, and this is what I try, together with the team.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Luke Smith – crash.net) Question for Christian. Tom touched on Max’s incredible recent form – I think he’s been in the top five for all the last 20 races. He really appears to have hit the potential that we saw in the early part of his career. What changed with Max to cause this form recently? You said Montreal last year. Was it that rough start to last season? How important was that to him do you think?
CH: I think that Max is obviously still a young guy, he’s only 21 years of age – but he’s now in his fifth season of grand prix racing and he’s now got the benefit of experience under his belt as well. His speed, his race craft, has never really been in any doubt but he’s got that collection of knowledge and experience now. I think, you know, obviously last year, the beginning of the year was a little challenging for him with some missed opportunities. I think he reflected on that and really turned the corner from Montreal last year. That run of performances really since then has been phenomenal. I think he’s continuing to evolve. I think that this year he really has stepped up as well as the senior driver, and he’s performing at a very level – and that in turn pushes the team very hard as well. I think with the new relationship with Honda, he’s enjoying that working environment, that working relationship as well. And so, there’s certainly a very positive vibe around him at the moment.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To all five please. The talk about expanding the calendar. If we go up to 22 races do you think we would need to increase the number of engines and engine components you are allowed to use over the course of the season? Would that be one of the defining factors? And what does that do for the costs involved. Obviously F1 wants to bring down the cost, but adding more races, using more engines is expensive. Your thoughts on that please?
AS: Yeah, in principle we support the direction of going for 22 races next year. There’s a discussion ongoing at the moment about what that means actually in terms of the number of components to be used and also the costs for a team like us, so that’s still ongoing. I think if you look at the bigger picture for us, it’s simply important now also to be a bit careful not to increase the number of races even further – for two reasons really. First of all, I think we really need to look after our people and make sure that we don’t ask for too much there, because I think if we go now for the next step of even more races we definitely have to change some things inside our organisations, for all teams. And then, yeah, that’s pretty much it. The second point of course we understand the commercial point of view but I think it‘s also important that we keep this exclusivity for each of the events, which doesn’t necessarily get better by adding more and more races.
CH: The commercial rights holder has come to us to say, you know, that 22 races is a possibility for next year and would we support it. I think in principle, yes, is the answer, but it has to be combined with what other activities are going on in terms of: do we need to do as much in-season testing as we currently do; do we need to do as much pre-season testing? And I think if we are to introduce a 22nd race the majority of teams are taking penalties and using four engines anyway, so one would assume that it would make sense to increase the allocation on power units and components and perhaps if we look at the ratio and say ‘well, OK, rather than using engines for going testing and if we reduce the in-season testing and pre-season testing slightly, if that frees up an engine that the majority of teams they’re going to use anyway. From the next race there is going to be a whole raft of penalties coming through, and we’re only just halfway through the season, so introducing another race on top of that and expecting teams to get through on three engines and three sets of components is a bit of a tall ask.
MB: I think very similar to the first answers. We are supportive on a 22nd race if that means some more revenues but we need to certainly be careful on the costs, the extra costs. If you look as well at 2021 at the moment we are discussing for 24 races but no extra engines, no extra units, so I think it’s only a path to 2021, so increasing the number of units for next year would be simply wrong, because it would mean, yes, more revenues, but then more costs, which would make no sense overall and so it should be on the power unit manufacturer to try to do an effort which is in the direction of 2021 to afford an extra race with the components we’ve got.
Q: Would you like to see a reduction in testing as well, like Christian?
MB: I think it’s certainly something we need to discuss but it could be a great idea, yes.
Q: OK. Claire?
CW: Yeah, I would probably just echo what everybody else has said. I there is a lot more conversation to be had around it, particularly around the components. From a financial perspective, we need to just make sure that it’s going to work, that it cover all our costs, and we are at that point now where we’d say yes it would. But I think most importantly from our side it’s consideration of our team personnel. I think pretty much they are pushed to the limit at the moment with what we are asking them to do with 21 races and the tests on top of that and then the work they have to do in the factory in between. In our team we don’t necessarily have the luxury of rotating staff in and out, we are at capacity on head count. So it would be around looking into that and working out whether we need to bring in more people to support it. I think from our perspective again, I wouldn’t want to see a triple-header on the calendar. I think we have been assured that there wouldn’t be one. I think that broke a lot of people last year, but also from a logistical perspective that is just a nightmare; it’s a disaster. Going to Austria I think it was when we all took makeshift motorhomes, it doesn’t look great for the race but it’s just not good for anyone’s cost base either.
BZ: I see it more from an organizational point of view. I’m not too concerned about PU elements; I’m more concerned about team members. As a small team we’re at the limit with 21 races already. Any additional race will make it more difficult and we have to think about increasing the number of race team members and establishing a rotating system in a way.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Christian, have Mercedes approached Red Bull about Max’s availability and would it be a good thing, do you think, for the sport to have Lewis and Max together in the same car?
CH: Toto has certainly not spoken to me about it. He speaks to almost every driver on the grid, so I would think if he has had a conversation it’s been direct not through the team. The situation with Max is clear and as with other drivers there are always trigger points. But in terms of having those two in one team, I haven’t heard from Lewis either that he wants to join next year. You can see positives and negative in that. I think that ideally we want to see teams going head to head and the drivers are obviously very much part of that team. It would be great to see Ferrari with their drivers, Red Bull with our drivers and Mercedes with their drivers all fighting it out, and whoever else can get up there as well. It doesn’t necessarily mean that two drivers have to be in the same team.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) For everybody, on the 2021 rules. How concerning is it that less than three months to go before the deadline you are still discussing major, fundamental issues like refueling and how heavy the cars are? How has it ended that way, with such a short amount of time left, and what are the risks of the F1 rules, as intended, not actually happening as a result?
MB: How much concerning it is? I think certainly there is very little time now from until the end of October and certainly there is quite a long list of open items, open subjects. But more important, I think, is that the discussions ongoing. I think it would be a lot worse if no discussion would take place and somebody is deciding for everybody. So the fact that we have go discussion is certainly what’s positive and it’s in our hands to make sure that we properly collaborate with F1 and the FIA and the teams to address the main points for 2021. And as I often indicated I think, we have certainly got common goals and common objectives for 2021 – sustainability is a key factor – but I think we need as well to pay attention not to overreact in terms of technical, because do we need a better show? I think if you look at the last races, certainly we may still have a good show in certain conditions, but certainly these conditions need to be identified and pursued, so I think changing the car, changing the technical means, spending, re-engineering, proof of concepts, so whatever we may choose, we need to choose it because we are fully all convinced that it is going in the right direction. But yeah, there is very little time and it’s a lot to discuss, but good that we are still discussing.
CH: Well, I pushed very hard to get the rule process to be moved from end of June to what’s now the end of October because I think if we would have had regulations just introduced we would have been in a real mess. So I think the key thing now is how we use that time during the next three months to ensure that the regulations that we do end up with on October 31, as Mattia says, that we focus on the right things. There is a series of collective meetings that between now and the decision point where we really need to get into the detail of what is the objective of the change and does the change of regulation achieve those objectives, from a show point of view, from a cost point of view. I think we really have to drill into detail over the next few meetings to ensure that with what is presented on October 31 there is a sensible theme to.
AS: From our point of view we see it clearly it different. I think it’s about time now to simply stop discussing. We all have downloaded our input. We do this since two years, all teams. I think FIA, Formula 1 has a clear idea of what they want to put in place, they presented that also to you guys two weeks ago. We simply want to see action now and we can move on.
CW: Not a whole lot to add. I think everybody has said it already. The regulations were delayed a little bit but I don’t think they were in the right place in order to sign them off anyway back in June. It gives us a bit more time to debate. I suppose my bigger concern is not that we won’t get it done it’s more about what’s going to change between June and October. We had some foundation principles in place and we fundamentally agreed with those at Williams and I’d like to see those stuck to as best as possible between now and then, but I think it’s par for the course this process in Formula 1 and we have to have those regs signed in October, whatever they will be, so we’ve got to do a good enough job between now and then to make sure they are the best they can be.
BZ: There is a lot of work to do in all the several working groups. What slows down the process is probably is that there are new elements coming on the table every now and then, like refueling. Six months no one talked about refuelling and we have to consider it carefully. There was a reason we stopped refuelling in 2009. It was not only for financial reasons. It was not good for the sport. Before we talk about re-introducing we should carefully assess whether it is good for the show and good for the sport.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) I wonder if I could get an update maybe from Mattia and Christian about the unsafe release situation. Has there been an assurance from the FIA as to how they are going to handle this in the future? Obviously, Mattia, your team was fined rather than being handed a time penalty at Hockenheim…
MB: Several races are difficult situations, difficult situations to judge, difficult situations to act on. During the weekend at Hockenheim, I think that the drivers met with the FIA on the Thursday and discussed the approach. What was key was certainly to be safe respective to the mechanics in the pit lane which was a key factor and for example, in the case of Charles, the Red Bull team was ready for a pit stop and was just in front of him and I think the way that somehow Charles drove was very safe in respect of the mechanics and the pit crew. Yes, he had to slow down to be careful with the cars coming in but that’s a racing situation and I think that as a team, when you’ve got such traffic, again, I think what is key is safety first and then in a racing situation where we have been fined, I don’t think there will be a much different situation or different judgement in the future. I think the way it has been judged was the proper one.
CH: I slightly crapped myself when I saw Romain Grosjean heading for me at the pit wall. From my point of view it looked really unsafe, pretty frightening prospect that. Yeah, it’s a tricky one isn’t it? Max got a penalty in Monaco for what was an unfair release and it was deemed that it was because he touched the car of Bottas. It’s a tricky one, they are slightly different incidents but I think that what you want to see more than anything is an element of consistency because otherwise, from a team point of view, from the guy that’s releasing the car, what call does he make when he’s making that release now? It’s a difficult one. Where there are pit lanes like in Silverstone, we actually had a good scenario where the two cars were released and there was enough room for them to go side-by-side down the pit lane.
Q: (Viktor Adorján – GP-Hírek) Going back to the topic of logistics, there was a road accident involving one of the Renault trucks earlier this week, coming from Hockenheim. Can you please tell us facts and figures about the level and volume of equipment that you brought here and what kind of security measures do you take in order to ensure that this precious equipment actually arrives safe and sound to European locations?
BZ: Obviously, as a team you are well prepared for back-to-backs and all the other European races you normally have external truck drivers, or truck drivers, team truck drivers who have rested on the Sunday and only drive when they’re supposed to. You don’t have team members like twenty years ago who worked the whole day and then in the evening jumped in the truck and then drove to the next event, so everything is safe and sound and accidents like this can happen. I think we’re moving more than 400 lorries from one event to the next and considering that, there are not a lot of accidents happening.
CW: First, I don’t have an update from the driver that was driving that truck and I hope that he’s alright. Thank you. I don’t know, necessarily, I apologise for it, I don’t necessarily know the tonnage of equipment that we send between back-to-back races – I know it’s an awful lot, there are an awful lot of people involved in the logistics in our team and they do a fantastic job of it and as has been said, we do everything to comply to the regulations that are out there by how many hours the drivers can drive, they’re not working prior to them driving etc, so you do take the best approach that you can to avoid those situations. But sometimes those situations are unavoidable but in this case, I think we’re all just pleased that the driver was OK.
MB: Not much to add. I think that Beat made the picture and the picture is very similar for all the teams. As he said, the drivers are not people that are working throughout the weekend, especially not at a back-to-back. Certainly we as team principals of teams are taking care of our people, making sure that what they are doing at the tracks or driving, we are always doing that in a safe manner with the proper way of applying things, let me say. But what happened is to be considered serious, no doubt, and whatever is happening, as a team, we have the responsibility to review what happened and there is a necessity to try eventually to improve. I don’t have the details in that case but as Ferrari we would certainly consider if we can even do better in the future.
CH: It’s a big challenge getting all the equipment, the cars, the engineering centre, in our case the Energy Station – I think we’re in excess of 40 trucks to get to an event and when you’ve got a back-to-back event, that’s an added pressure, that they’ve got to be here really by Tuesday, Tuesday afternoon so it’s another thing to take into consideration, with the logistics of an increased calendar is not putting too much tension on the movement of parts and people from one venue to another. Accidents do happen and I don’t know the details of the accident, thankfully the driver, from what I heard, was OK but it’s inevitable that, unfortunately, accidents do happen and I think the most important things are you try and mitigate that as best you can and as others have said, with contract drivers it’s not like the old days when the truckies – well, the truckies don’t drive trucks any more. I don’t know why they’re still called truckies. In fact I think we’ve only got one truck driver who can drive a truck. Everybody has contractors that specifically are here just to move the vehicles around.
AS: Yeah, nothing to add, really. Happy that the driver is OK on the Renault side and as mentioned, each team puts a lot of effort into making sure our people are well protected, get their sleeping times, resting times and so on and luckily, as Beat said at the beginning, with all the movements that are happening we can be lucky that not more is happening.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) To the four people either side of Mattia: I was just wondering if I could get an appreciation please from you all of Mattia, his longevity in F1 and his handling so far of probably arguably the toughest job in motorsport?
CH: How long have you been at Ferrari? Thirty-five years? Twenty-five. Crikey, you must have just left school and gone straight there. Well, look, running Ferrari obviously has pressure. I think Mattia has obviously been managing the technical side and team principal side of things but he’s great to work with… it’s strange talking about your competitor when he’s next to you but he seems to be doing OK so far.
AS: Obviously I respect all of my colleagues here inside the paddock a lot. But I have my own dream job and that’s the focus on so not a lot to comment really. Colleague, good to talk to.
CW: Did you say that Mattia has the hardest job in F1 at the moment? I thought that was me at the moment! Mattia goes to work for Ferrari. He probably gets a free… How many free Ferraris do you get, Mattia? Probably about ten in your driveway! No, all joking aside, I’ve only had the privilege of working with Mattia for a short amount of time in our strategy groups etc but I have all due respect for him and I hope that he stays with us for a long time. Obviously Ferrari have had a lot of chopping and changing with their TP so it would be great to have some stability.
BZ: I’ve known Mattia for a very long time and appreciate him very much and his work. I think every team principal at Ferrari has a difficult job if they’re not winning races but as Claire said, every other team principal has a similar task and a difficult job, especially if you don’t have a competitive car or if you have financial difficulties so it’s not only the top shots, it’s the bottom end as well.
Q: (Peter Farkas – Auto Motor) Mattia, before the start of this season, you pointed out that one of the things that was missing at Ferrari maybe in the last couple of years was having fun with the racing. Obviously, as the season has turned out, is it possible to have fun in this situation and to restore that fun, and if so, what are you going to do to restore it? Or if not, how can you manage the mood?
MB: You’re right, I think having fun is important if you think of how many days we are here at the race tracks or back at the factory and how much time we are really spending for what we are doing, so having fun is important, it is something which we are trying to pursue. Not winning doesn’t make the task easier no doubt but I think having fun is a matter of team spirit as well, how the team is behaving together, with the drivers, with the engineers, the mechanics and if there is anything I can say is that I think we have got a great team spirit at the moment and that is that the people are happy to come to the race track for at least challenging the next race and we are all here to seek our victory which didn’t happen so far. I think there have been a few missed opportunities but I think again the fun is in the spirit and that can be done whatever the results.
Q: (Dániel Horváth – The Paddock Magazine) Andreas, as you mentioned earlier, McLaren made a big step forward this year and you already have more points than last year. What course will you set for 2020?
AS: The targets for 2020. I think it’s simply important to make the next step as a team, together with our drivers and also in terms of car performance. Next year will be first car under the full leadership of James Key compared to the previous cars; also I think we are somehow back to a more normal rhythm in terms of timing, when we started with the concept phase of the car, but again there’s no magic in Formula One. I hope we can fully make the next step but at the same time we shouldn’t get carried away and dream of challenging for race wins or stuff like that next year.