Austrian Grand Prix Friday Press Conference Transcript

Full transcript from the team representatives press conference held on the Friday of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, Round 1 of the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship, featuring:

Toto Wolff (Mercedes), Christian Horner (Red Bull), Zak Brown (Mclaren), Mattia Binotto (Ferrari), Cyril Abiteboul (Renault), Franz Tost (Alphatauri)

Q: (Raphaelle Peltier – AFP) This is for everyone. How are your teams adjusting to the new normal and new rules in the paddock?

Christian Horner: It’s certainly very different. The PPE that’s required is different to what we’re used to. The paddock is very quiet and we’re in our own team bubbles as well. So, it’s a lot more focused just within your own team, but focus very quickly is placed on the cars and trying to improve them and make them go quicker. Once you get over the discomfort and inconvenience of the P{PE it’s business as usual I would say on the everyday problems you have with racing cars.

Toto Wolff: I have been for quite some time in Austria and all this set up here seems very weird in a country where there are no cases anymore, or at least around here. I understand that in the UK it’s very different. I hope that based on my experience in Austria that this is the start and it’s good that we are racing again. Even though it’s weird that we are sitting 10 metres apart wearing surgical masks on our noses but if that is the thing we need to do in order to get racing then that’s OK. Obviously the work in the garage is impacted but nevertheless it’s about lap timer and all of us are in the same position so it’s a little bit about improvising and getting the job done.

Zak Brown: It’s definitely a weird situation. I don’t think any of us have been here before. That being said Formula 1 teams are used to rules and regulations so I think that we can adapt very quickly to the new circumstances. I’ve got to say, the FIA, Formula 1 and the circuit and the government and everyone that has gone on to contribute to putting on the event has done a very good job, because it certainly feels like a very safe environment. Hopefully we can get back to normal racing soon, but for the time being this is certainly better than sitting at home.

Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Christian, we know that Red Bull planned to protest Mercedses’ DAS system in Australia. Has anything changed in your thoughts about that between Melbourne and now? Are you still planning a protest and for Toto are you completely confident in the legality of the system?

CH: First of all, it’s a very clever system and so all credit to the ingenuity behind it. I think the fundamental question for us is does it comply with the regulations in what is a fundamentally grey area. So we do want clarity on it because it does have an impact regarding the rest of this year. It’s something that’s been outlawed for next year but the question is: is it right for next year. So they’re the questions that we’ll be asking of the FIA through the necessary channels.

Toto, your thoughts…

TW: Yes, I respect Christian’s position. I mean a clarification is always good. We think we are on the right side. There was a lot of talking and exchange with the FIA, that is the reason why we have it on the car. So we will both bring our arguments forward and then, let’s see.

Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) I’ve got a question to follow up to Christian. Just wondering if you have your own version of DAS ready to go if you get clarity on whether it’s completely legal for this season.

CH: It’s a very complicated system, so obviously a lot of work has gone into it. We’ve certainly looked at it and like any component, it has to earn its place on the car for the penalty that it carries, whether that be weight or packaging etc. It’s certainly something that, subject to a clarification, would be under evaluation for the rest of this year.

Q: (Christian Hollman – DPA, via email) Toto, how far are you along in contract talks with Lewis and Valtteri? What is your timeframe for your decision for your driver pairing for next year? And on what will you base your decision?

TW: I think simply based on the fact that we haven’t seen each other a lot, we have been keeping the discussion up, we are in a position of trust with both of the drivers. You could say that in Formula 1 it doesn’t mean a lot – but it does in our team. I guess that we will do the next steps soon but I don’t want to commit to any timing because I don’t want to answer questions every single race weekend about why the contracts are not done. There is no urgency in the matter. All of us want to do it and when the time is right, we will announce it.

Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Question to all three gentlemen. Charles seemed quite off the pace this morning and Mattia has already admitted that there will be a new aero package for the team in Hungary. Do you think they are really starting the season on the back foot or they are bluffing?

ZB: I think it’s too early to really know. We’ve done a little bit of winter testing and one FP1 session, so I think it would be premature to draw any real conclusions as to their real pace.

TW: Yeah, I would pretty much… nothing to add to Hannibal Lecter’s answer!

What was your assessment of Ferrari’s pace after winter testing?

TW: It’s very dangerous to assess the pace in winter testing because it’s Barcelona and it’s February and you could see in 2019 Ferrari was really leading the charge and then struggled in the first few races – so I don’t want to find ourselves in a trap of thinking you’re competitive. And the same applies to this morning’s performance. I don’t think Red Bull or Ferrari have even switched on the engine, in a corner they still look pretty strong. Bit of a different aero configuration also. We shouldn’t be analysing any performance after FP1. I think it needs tomorrow to really make a solid first assessment.

Christian?

CH: I think Zak sums it up pretty well. We’ve only had – what? – six days of testing and one session here, so there’s been a consistent theme through that, that their straight-line speed hasn’t looked anywhere near what it did last but it’s too early in the weekend. Let’s review it after qualifying and the race and you know, probably three or four races in. That’s only when you’re going to get a true pattern of how things are genuinely looking.

Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Question for Toto. If I can go back to the DAS question. Is there any concern that after all the excitement of finally getting back on track and having a race and Formula 1 starting up, that come Sunday we could be bogged down in a protest and nobody really knowing who’s actually won the race – if you win it. 

TW: I think, against what you would expect, all teams are pretty much aware that we are in a sensitive situation with going racing. It’s the first race and on one side, it’s fair enough to seek clarification; on the other side we are aware that we don’t want to end up with a big debate on Sunday night. I think Red Bull, I think Christian is going to take the right actions. You know, controversy and different judgement on engineering innovation has always been part of Formula 1. This is what’s to be expected in a way. It’s part of the racing.

Q: (Jonathan Noble – Motorsport.com, via email) Christian, you’ve talked about Red Bull Racing being better prepared for this season than any since your last title success in 2013. Can you explain why you feel that way – and what factors are in place this year that weren’t there before?

CH: I think that obviously since the hybrid formula was introduced in 2014, I think this has definitely been our best off-season – albeit a very different off-season. We’re obviously into the second year of our partnership with Honda. It was a great start last year winning three races and I think that momentum that we’ve built, the convergence that looks like it’s happening with the engines, it feels like we are coming into this year better prepared than any previously in the hybrid era – so that would take us all the way back to 2013 that we were going into a season on a decent footing. So that’s a reason for optimism for us. It’s going to be a different kind of year this year. We don’t even know what the calendar is. We don’t even know where we’re going to be racing in the second half of this Championship, so you’ve got to just swing with the punches and go with it. But it feels like we’re in a good starting place and excited to be here and going racing.

Toto, do you expect Toto to be closer this year than they were last year?

TW: Well Red Bull was close last year, they had a little bit of up and downs but in some of the races they were more competitive than us. Alex Albon is going to get more comfortable in his car and we rate him and Max, nothing we need to add to his potential. So I very much expect Red Bull to give us a run for our money. And vice versa. And this, I think, is what F1 needs.

Q: (Abhishek Takle – Mid Day) This is to everybody. The crisis shines a spotlight on the importance of teams being profitable operations. Do you think the returns on investment would be looked at differently going forward, not just in terms of the marketing returns but actual, real profit? Thank you.

ZB: I think the teams did an excellent job over the extended winter to address the fiscal nature of the sport. As I think everyone knows, there was too big of a spread between first and tenth, which then plays itself out, also on track. I think if you can get a sporting franchise that is profitable, then I think the value of that franchise goes up significantly and so you get asset appreciation. I think all of our shareholders love being in Formula 1. I don’t think they’re in it necessarily to turn a profit, but they’re also not in it to lose substantial amounts of money, which has been the case for a lot of teams. And so I think we’ve landed in a place where there’s a path to profitability. I think that it closes the gap between first and tenth. I think that’ll put a better product on the track ultimately. I think the fans win and I think it was a good compromise because the teams that were spending north of the cap have had to make some real compromises and I think that’s good because that’s going to be difficult and, at the same time, I do think that we have more wealth in the sport from the teams and what some of the teams that I think were at risk of leaving were more about their frustration for being competitive than not being able to afford the sport. So I think we found a good balance and I think Formula One’s going to really thrive in the future.

Q: Toto, your thoughts? 

Toto Wolff: Yuh. Our situation is a little bit different to McLaren, albeit that the shareholders of McLaren seek value on their investment but for us, Mercedes, and also speaking also for our partners, the return on investment seems to be right and Formula One is probably one of the best marketing platforms in the world. We’re able to generate return on investment of up to twenty times the investment of Mercedes and its partners and our partners, so from a marketing standpoint it has always made sense and does make sense. But now there’s an additional angle that is being added, but with the cost cap, as much as we would have liked it to stay on a higher level because our organisation runs smoothly and restructuring is always difficult, as Zak referred to, there will be difficulties for us in restructuring but at the same time it leads us to a situation where our P&L will completely change from a deficit – not a big deficit, but still a deficit – it will change to a profitable P&L which is very important for the long term sustainability of the sport. I think we’ve seen that there are team owners and shareholders in the sport that are in there for the love of the sport and for the marketing return but in order for us to really prosper you need to post a profit like any normal company out there and then more people will be interested in owning teams or with owning part of a share in the Formula 1 organisation itself because it is a solid business kit and we are – as much as it’s difficult from the restructuring point of view – we are looking forward to become a profitable franchise.

Q: Thanks Toto, and Christian? 

Christian Horner: Yeah, I mean Red Bull’s involvement in Formula 1… the majority reason for that is to promote its product because Formula One is a global platform that has viewing figures that are only exceeded by the Olympic Games and the football World Cup which only happens every four years, not every single year. So I think the work that’s been done, the collective work, the compromises that were found were very positive to improve the model and the fiscal model of a Grand Prix team, so it just adds greater value for money – as Toto has highlighted – for the shareholders, for the partners, for the sponsors. It gives a financial ceiling for the amount of money that a team can spend, so it allows the teams that are further down the pecking order to converge for that, certainly fiscally and potentially on track as well so it creates, certainly, a more even playing field and I think that in terms of providing value and long term security to the sport, the teams, the entrants, I think it was the right thing and responsible thing to do and I think all teams… we often differ in opinions in many areas like DAS systems… it was for the benefit of the sport to converge and come to a common understanding and compromise was found where it was needed to be.

Q: (Lawrence Edmondson – ESPN) Going back to Australia, there were still lots of questions about the legality of Ferrari’s engine the previous year and also questions about the settlement which was reached with the FIA and Ferrari. I know, Toto, Mercedes have kind of backed off from that but for the other two team principals, are you still pursuing that, are there still questions that you need to be answered? 

CH: Look, it does sit uncomfortably that there is an agreement that has been entered into about the legality and conformity of a car. That immediately draws you to think what is in that agreement? What does it comprise of because obviously in our minds a car is either legal or illegal? Now obviously questions have been raised with the FIA; the FIA have said they would be happy to disclose that document but of course they need the clearance from the other signatories so obviously it does nothing but promote suspicion when there are private agreements about legality and conformity so the healthiest thing would be to get it on the table so everybody sees what it comprised of. The FIA have said they are willing to do that, it would be great if Ferrari were prepared do the same so it puts it all to bed.

ZB: Oh yeah, I agree with Christian. It would be good to understand exactly  what happened, what they found, what the solution is. It was last year so hopefully we see on the data maybe what we saw last year so I think at some point you do close last year out as long as you feel it’s been addressed, but in today’s transparent world I think it would be good to understand what was the case, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to come forward from them any time soon.

TW: I want to précis exactly what you said, Lawrence. We didn’t back off. We decided in Melbourne that for the start of the season this additional controversy plus Corona starting to get really bad in Italy, was not the opportune moment. I would very much agree with what Christian and Zak said: in this day and age, transparency is extremely important and good governance – it’s extremely important. And it may well have been good governance but if you don’t know, it’s difficult to judge so in the position that we are in is that we are monitoring the situation. We are not happy about last year. It has stretched all of us to a point to be competitive against Ferrari where it was difficult to cope and therefore let’s wait and see how the season starts and gets going and we will then reassess for ourselves and probably with the other guys who were upset.

Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com, via email): Toto, how much of a loss is Andy Cowell from the Mercedes engine programme, and are you confident he’s not going to a rival team or manufacturer? 

TW: Well, it’s always a loss when somebody’s retired that is calling the day but I think we respect everybody’s decision and there is something within our organisation that we very much live to is that if you start to see that you are becoming from great to good or energy levels start to dip low that you can take a decision, and Andy very much wants to take a break. He’s involved in a Daimler project that is very exciting and then we’ll take the decision what to do. But we’ve shown in the past that we have always been very good and always on the front foot by succession planning. In the past, great people have left the organisation: Ross Brawn, Paddy Lowe, Aldo Costa, Bob Bell, Mark Ellis and they’ve been replaced from within with very strong next generation engineers and the same is happening at HPP. We have a fantastic board of directors there, led by Hywel who I personally rate very much as an engineer and from his personality standpoint, so I think we’re going to be OK. Whether Andy decided to join somebody else, that is very much his call. I think at the moment he is well established and recognised in the Mercedes family and I hope that is going to continue.

Q: (Nate Saunders – ESPN) Christian you mentioned earlier aboutbeingprepared but I guess the only certainty we have is that it’s going to be a much shorter calendar that we were anticipating. Given what you said about Red Bull’s readiness for the new year and feeling much better about a championship challenge, do you feel better about your chances of winning the championship or challenging Mercedes for the championship now we have much fewer races, than you did ahead of Australia when we were prepping for a 22 or 21 race season?

CH: I think beating Mercedes under any circumstance is going to be extremely difficult, particularly when you consider their previous six seasons, but what we’re also looking at is pretty much an 18 month season in many respects. OK, we’ve got the 2020 World Championship, which we don’t know, in the bizarre situation where we’re sitting here whether it’s going to be eight races or 18. And then of course we’ve got a car that largely carries over into next year which will basically be bodywork updates during the course of next year as well so it’s important to get the basis of this car right because it doesn’t just impact this year, it impacts next year as well. But hopefully we’ve got a good starting point. We got close to Mercedes at the end of last year at a few circuits: Mexico, Brazil were a few to name but hopefully we can keep the pressure on and not give them an easy time this year and it’s going to be a different kind of season and I think it’s good for the health of the sport to have competition, to have rivalry as well I think is something the sport desperately needs and particularly as there’s so much focus on this return to racing. It would be good to get off to a good start.

Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Mattia, on 11 February at the car launch you said that Sebastian was your first option and in May you announced that you would part ways. You said it was a common decision and yesterday Sebastian said he didn’t get an offer from Ferrari. Could you please explain what changed from February when you said he was your first option to the decision you took not offering him a contract? 

Mattia Binotto: Certainly. Let’s take a step back as first, certainly we have always said during the wintertime privately to him and publicly that he would be our first choice, which I confirm. It’s normal that during wintertime many drivers have asked us if there are any opportunities to drive for Ferrari. So we have certainly been contacted, but that didn’t change our position, so Seb was our first choice. What happened since then? I think the virus, the pandemic situation, which changed the entire world not only out motorsport, our F1. The budget cap has been changed quite a lot, a lot more strict. The regulations have been postponed from 2021 to 2022, which is somehow important for us. Cars which have been frozen, or almost frozen, for 2020 and 2021. So let’s say the entire situation has changed and on top of that I think that even the season has not started so there has been no opportunity even for Seb being back on track to prove how much he was really motivated to drive for Ferrari, which has been somehow unfortunate for him. So during the shutdown, as Ferrari, we had to reconsider eventually our position. We took a decision. So certainly that was our decision, it’s our responsibility and we communicated to him. I heard that he was surprised. Do I remember that he was surprised., I would say yes, certainly. I understand it. I think it’s pretty, let me say, normal to be surprised and while he accepted our decision I think that even still today I think that he is not fully happy with it, which again I think is something normal and obvious.

Q: How would you sum up Sebastian Vettel’s time at Ferrari? 

MB:I think it has been a great period – five years so far, six with the current season. He is a great champion, but he’s as well a great person. I think that everyone in Ferrari, our fans, the people working internally loved the time with him. That’s something on which we fully respect. I personally, myself, appreciate him a lot, as a professional and as a person and that is fully unchanged compared to our decision.

Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines/Racefans.net) Good day gentlemen, a question about fuels for the future. From 2030, Formula 1 intends having zero carbon etc and we have an engine change coming in 2025 or 2026, that’s to be decided. How would you like to see Formula 1 go from the current fossil fuels to meet that target? At what stage should we switch to bio-synthetic fuels etc, possibly new technologies? How do you see the future on fuels?  

CA: Thank you Dieter. It’s a big question to ask. Let’s take it step by step. What we know already is that there is a first step coming in 2022 with E10, so 10% bio-ethanol fuel. I think first it’s important to highlight that we could have postponed, pushed back or even completely cancelled this first step in all the measures that we’ve been discussing, contemplating but eventually we decided to stick to it, because we all agree that it’s a very important statement. It’s good to make statements but it’s also good to make tangible steps, so that first step was important to secure, even if delayed by a year. Then, looking further ahead, also what we have all agree is to contain the arms race on engine development such that we can leave a bit of space in terms of discussion, but also in terms of thinking and later in terms of development capacity for the 2026, if my memory is correct, 2025 or 2026, ne engine and that’s a development that needs to kick of in 2023 and that will leave us one of two years probably to really think ahead what’s good for Formula 1. As far as I am concerned, I would tend to believe that fuel needs to be part of that process, which may mean that we could have to delay that second step after the first step that will be for 2022 to the new engine that could be developed jointly with a completely different fuel, because it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t just throw a new fuel into an existing internal combustion engine. It’s a complete redesign, a complete re-optimisation that you need to develop. And what will be the weight of electrification versus thermal engine is probably the first main question to ask and then indeed what kind of fuel you put into the internal combustion. So I accept, Dieter, that I’m not really responding, apart from that it needs to be part of a large process and a large-scale thinking process.

MB: Thank you Dieter for the question, I think it is an important one. As Cyril said, E10 in 2022, which is important, but then we need to look at 2026 for the next important step for manufacturers in that respect. We believe that full electric is not the only solution for the automotive for the future and I think that F1 has to be a platform for innovation in that respect or an alternative solution to the full electric. So, designing a regulation for 2026 where our power units need to become even more sustainable or fully sustainable compared to what we’ve got today will be key and to have full sustainable fuels will be important. Will those fuels be synthetic or bio or whatever, I think that is exactly the discussion we’ve got at the moment with the FIA, which is important, but I think our fuel supplier needs to be part of the discussion itself. So I think it’s… at the moment it is the right time to analyse it, to discuss it and to eventually decide for the future, because sustainability will be key for the future and F1, as I said, has to remain an important innovation platform for the automotive itself.

FT: There will be different steps to find this sustainable fuel and I am convinced that the engine manufacturers, together with the fuel companies, will find a solution for this. I am quite positive that Formula 1, once more, could show to the people that research and development plays an important role and that they can come up with a proper technical solution and that we can use and continue the system of the current power unit, mainly to have two energy recovery systems. I think this would be quite a good solution against the electronic cars and I think that Formula 1 will do this important step and will stay, on the innovation side, at the peak of the motorsports.

Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) A question for everyone. I just want to get a general overview of the work you’ve had to do to get to this point? Obviously the situation has been different in the UK to France and to Italy and how have you been able to prepare your factories and go racing and be here and focus on the racing side? 

FT: Yeah, as we all know, at the beginning of March it was quite critical in Italy. There were different districts, so-called red zones. Fortunately, Faenza was not included, but nevertheless Conte, the Italian President, decided that all the companies had to be closed and this depended also to Scuderia AlphaTauri. Fortunately then everything came together with the shutdown with all the Formula 1 teams and we meant we then had this period of around 63 days where we all had to stop working and I think that Formula 1 used this period quite well, with a lot of video conferences between FIA, FOM and the team principals to come up with the new sporting, technical and financial regulations. I think that we used this shutdown quite well to finalise parts of the regulations and that we could come up with a proper solution. The preparation went quite well. The mechanics came back and all the3 other people as well. Of course research and development suffered during these three months, there was nothing, the wind tunnel was as well closed. That means from this point of view from the development of the cars there’s a delay but it costs less money so it’s also an advantage. I am now looking forward that the season starts here in Austria, thanks to Red Bull, and that we will have hopefully a good second half of the season with as many races as possible.

MB:The situation certainly has been very difficult in Italy, especially, since after Australia we had to close our factory. Not only the racing team but the entire Ferrari factory has been closed. I think we, as Ferrari, have worked very hard to put our people in the most safe situation, especially when they went back to work. Ferrari collaborated a lot with the local government, really to set the right protocols for going back to work. I think we did a fantastic and great job and we have set somehow the benchmark for the entire Italy by putting really rigid, strict, severe protocols, but safe for the health of our employees. Our employees are at the centre of our concerns. And that’s not only for the racing team, that has been for the entire factory. So it has been for thousands of people and I am somehow even glad to say that the entire people have been back at work when it was the right time and in the right and safe manner.

CA: What can I add, as a lot has been said. Probably the same has been applied in our two factories, one in the UK and one in France, basically with the UK trailing other countries by a week, but no big difference. Seven weeks of shutdown and nine weeks of shutdown in the UK and then indeed re-starting the two factories with a number of measures. Some of them are actually very visual, pretty much the same: social distancing, wearing masks, with extra care for all the interactions you can have between people, not sharing the same tools and so on and so forth. And also setting some targets, so basically we are right now at 50% of head count in our factories at any given time – with some cohort system, which is pretty much the same as the notion of sub-groups we have on track here. And we are progressively aiming at bringing more people back progressively. Obviously more people in production and in the design office with more people in the design office being capable of working remotely thanks to all the new software we have available and that has been a massive shift of mindset, including from a management perspective.

Q: (Lawrence Barretto – Formula1.com and Philip Horton – Motorsport Week, via email) Does Renault need a big-name signing alongside Esteban Ocon next season and are Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel of genuine interest to the team?

CA: No, what we need first is a driver. We need a driver for each car. We need a quick driver, we need a talented driver and we need a driver that can understand and buy into Renault’s project. We are very clear about the nature of our team. We are a bit of a unique team in the Formula 1 landscape, but at the same time very loyal to Formula 1 but also a young team still in the making, with some struggles, in particular last year. So we need someone who is capable of understanding all of that and understand the value of all the work, ethic and effort we are putting into that. I am not saying that Daniel has not understood that. That’s absolutely not what I mean. I am talking about the future. We are talking to a few names. Some big names, some lesser-known names. We are taking the time and again making sure that there is a good alignment between what we are and what any driver is looking to get in a team like ours.

Q: Can you put a time scale on when you will make a decision?

CA: No.

Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) A question for Mattia. There’s been a lot of talk about Mugello hosting a race. It’s a Ferrari circuit so Formula 1 has to talk to you about it. Perhaps you could update us on where that stands? Potentially Ferrari’s 1000thF1 race at a home track. 

MB: Yeah, I can confirm that we are discussing with F1. I can confirm that our hope is to try to bring F1 to Mugello. We believe that Mugello is a great circuit, not only the sustainable side but generally speaking for the drivers – it’s very demanding. I think it’s a great track. I think that bringing F1 even in Italy to Tuscany, it’s a great region, with all the jewels we’ve got there, Florence etc. So I think it could be an exciting race there and as you said and being potentially our 1000thrace, doing it in Italy, at Mugello, our own race circuit, that would be great. It would be great even more if we may have some fans there, which at the moment we cannot eventually confirm. But I think generally speaking if this happens, we will try to organize a great show for the entire broadcasting and the entire fans.

Q: You tested there very recently with a two-year-old car. Can you give us any insights into the demands of the track for a modern grand prix? 

MB: It’s a track that I myself know pretty well because I’ve been there since 1995 when testing as an engineer – obviously not as a driver. But I’ve been very often there. It’s a very interesting track, demanding, fast. Drivers normally enjoy driving there, and as you said, we’ve been there a few days ago with Seb and Charles and both of them really enjoyed the track. Fast corners, It is certainly a very interesting track.

Q: (Nate Saunders – ESPN) Cyril, signing Daniel was a pretty big coup for yourself and for Renault, but by the same token losing him to an engine customer, an engine customer that beat you with the same engine last year, is hardly a ringing endorsement of the project or of the management itself. How much pressure do you feel under this year in justifying your position with the team?

CA:You know when we are participating in Formula 1 as a team or when you are managing a team that has the loyalty that I was talking about before – 43 years in the sport, with a number of championships as a supplier or as a full team – there is pressure. There is pressure every single year. We’ve had a nice progression since 2016 that indeed marked a stop last year. But for me you know there were already some signs of weakness before last year. If you go back into what was 2018, yes we were P4 in the championship but it was clear that we were not capable of developing at the right pace. In order to catch up with a top team, it was already very clear that McLaren was on a very nice trajectory. We had to do a number of changes that basically led us to change a big part of the technical leadership in Enstone. I think the engine has made good progress. It’s well recognized and accepted. We now need to focus on the car and that’s what we are doing now in the decision that we have taken in terms of financial trade-off for the future. And yeah, so I am feeling pressure but equally I am feeling confident, about this year and the ones to come after that.

Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) For Mattia and Cyril. Obviously because of the change of rules this year there have been lots of development freezes, including on the engine side. Do you have upgraded power units here compared to what you would have used in Australia? 

MB:Let me start and the answer straight is no. We’ve got the same engines as we had at the time of Australia. As I said, we shut down the factory for a long time so there has been very little time somehow to develop. So we didn’t bring anything different. Now the power unit is frozen for the season. I know that other manufacturers took the opportunity to continue developing and working. We were aware of that. They took eventually an advantage. It’s part of the game. I think that’s part of all the entire compromises that we have accepted during the shutdown period, looking ahead for the good of the sport.

CA:In the previous question I was referring to some trade-offs and also sacrifices we have made in order to manage a crisis that has been extremely severe. We are talking about a large reduction of the prize fund. We are also having discussions with sponsors who are very loyal but who are all facing challenges in their own business. That’s why indeed we had to come up with some decisions and one of those decisions was that as far as we were concerned is that we are going to pause engine development, focusing on the next step that we will have the opportunity to discuss later. But indeed that means don’t expect any engine upgrade from us this year.

Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com, via email) Mattia, can you give us some details on what you learned about the car and the flaws that were discovered from testing in Barcelona?

MB: I think we mentioned that in different interviews. The car in winter testing was not performing as expected. The car on track was not performing as let me say the design we did at home so there was a mis-correlation from design to track. Obviously we had to understand at first. We started really trying to understand it as soon as we have been back at the factory, so during the shutdown period that was not possible. I think we realized that from the aero point of view mainly there were some mis-correlations. Eventually I think we pushed our project on trying to seek a lot of downforce, that’s looking as well what was our situation last year in terms of weaknesses. I think whatever we developed was too fragile in terms of aero robustness when being back on track and what we are trying to do now is to have a step back and try to understand and reassess the problem and then moving forwards later on. Our hope is to bring some developments in Hungary, nothing before, mainly because I said that whatever developments we were doing we needed at that time, at that stage, to step back. Hopefully by Hungary we will not address all our issues but we will have a decent step forward in our performance and I think by then we can really understand where we are compared to our competitors.

Q: (Laurence Edmonson – ESPN) We’ve just heard from Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Zak Brown about they still have questions over the FIA’s investigation into Ferrari’s power unit over the winter and the resulting settlement with the FIA. The FIA has indicated it would be willing to release some more details but they are unable to without agreement from Ferrari. Can you give us the reasons why you are not willing to release some of those details and do you think this can be put to bed quite easily if you did so? 

MB: The answer is quite straightforward. First, there was no clear breach of the regulations. Otherwise we would have been disqualified. The reason we don’t want to open is simply because whatever we would need to explain is IP, intellectual property to our project, to our power unit and no one in the paddock would be happy to release information on their design and their projects. It’s IP, it’s confidentiality, it’s intellectual property protection and that’s the reason why we are not keen to do it.

Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) For Cyril. I know there were some concerns about Racing Point’s car, the so-called ‘Pink Mercedes’ through pre-season testing. Is there consideration from Renault to lodge a protest this weekend? 

CA: It’s an old debate, the debate about customer cars. Racing Point has been able to push that to an extreme this year. I think it will be interesting to see the lap time, because there has been lots of speculation based on winter testing. And as we all know that is very difficult to say anything from winter tests. First, this week is back to racing. We will finally have an idea of the respective competitiveness and if Racing Point complies with the regulations then they have nothing to worry about obviously. But again, back to racing is the priority number one for this weekend.

Q: (Chris Medland – Racer) Mattia, a question about the new aerodynamic direction that you are taking. The drivers were asked about it yesterday and they said it will probably put the team on the back foot by quite a lot. Do you feel it rules you out of the championship fight this year and was it still a necessary step to take because we are going to freeze so many aspects of these cars for next season as well? 

MB: It’s never easy to start a season not being competitive when your objective is to win and to win the championship. It is certainly a difficult start to the season for us. Will that compromise the entire season? I think what’s important for us on the first races is trying to maximise the points we may bring back. You never know what may be the situation. Others may have difficulties or problems as well. I think it’s only a matter of racing and we are here to race and to do our best. We are focused on this weekend and trying to optimise our car package and optimise the result by the end of the race itself. And then the freezing situation? Certainly it was not obvious for us to accept such a situation when discussing during the shutdown. I think that Ferrari has been very responsible in accepting the situation. Unanimity would have been required, because I think it’s important for the sport itself. It’s important due to the situation, even of the small teams, what would represent continued development in such a situation. So I believe that Ferrari has been really very responsible to the sport. The hope is that not only Ferrari will somehow sometimes accept compromises. I loudly said that I have been disappointed by the sprint race format that a single team rejected because I think that if everybody will simply look at his own advantage then I think a lot of decisions that were taken during the shutdown would not have been taken.