Q: Question to both of you to start with. We’ve had a thrilling start to the season with some great on-track battles between your teams. What can we expect here this weekend? Who’s the hunter, who’s the hunted?
Christian HORNER: I think the races have been fantastic this year. Every race has been very tight between the two teams and so there’s no reason to think this weekend will be any different. I suppose the only variable that we have potentially over the weekend is the weather. As we’ve seen previously, sometimes when the weather does arrive here it happens in a big fashion. That’s going to be another thing to navigate. I think the racing’s been fantastic this year and it’s been tight and close and we’ve certainly enjoyed it so far.
Do you think you’re on the front foot after last weekend?
CH: I think last weekend was a very strong weekend for us. Tactically we got it right. You could see that there’s very little between the two cars, particularly on a Sunday afternoon. So, it’s just about getting those marginal gains and getting the set-up right, reading the tyres correctly, reading the weather, getting the strategy right. So, it’s going to be about ticking all of those boxes and doing the basics well.
Toto, hunter? Hunted?
Toto WOLFF: I think hunter, definitely. I think we were good in France but we got it wrong with how the race panned-out. We could have been more active. In terms of race speed, we were good. It’s going to swing. It’s going to swing both directions, I believe, depending on the circuit. France should have been more to our advantage, Austria less, but having said that, the championship is long. There are at least 15 races to go. It will be about who can make the least mistakes. Who can optimise the strategy and collect points. DNFs can play a role but certainly at the moment, we’re hunting.
Q: Toto, you said after the race on Sunday that you gambled and you lost. Why do you feel the need to gamble?
TW: I didn’t mean it in the way of gambling. I’m not a gambler, I don’t like to bet on something that I’m not in control of – but there’s two Red Bulls now that are in the window and Checo was perfect because he was just in the right window that, if we would have pitted, he was right there. He stayed out. And, we were racing between our two guys, for all the right reasons, I believe, but when you’re having a competitor that’s as good as Red Bull this year, you’ve just got to plan and execute in the best possible way for the team.
Q: In terms of the planning, can you give us some insight into what’s gone on at the factory this week? What lessons have been learned from Sunday and how much input have the drivers had?
TW: The drivers played an important role. They did lots of laps in the simulator and we’re still experimenting with the set-up. You can get it right and then you land on Friday and the car drives or you can get it wrong. Obviously that gives an advantage of how fast your development curve or performance curve is over the weekend. So, they were part of it – but still, it’s learning in progress and that’s what any team should do, even if you’ve won the Championship seven times in a row.
Q: Christian, how significant was Sunday’s race at Paul Ricard, in terms of your performance relative to Mercedes?
CH: I think it was a massive performance for us because we’ve seen Mercedes have been so strong there the last few times we’ve been at the circuit. I think Lewis had led every single lap bar one. So, to get the pole position first of all was a huge thing, and then in the race, obviously it didn’t get off to a great start, with a strong wind on Sunday afternoon, with Max dropping behind Lewis initially – but we managed to get back into the lead by getting the undercut at the first stop. And then, of course, you’re in a very difficult position where you’re leading the race and the options and the risk is that it’s easier to take that risk when you’re following. So, to take the risk when you’re in the lead, give us track position and make the pit call. It’s something we did in Brazil a couple of years ago and we chose to do it again in Paul Ricard. And it worked out. It obviously went down to the end. Lewis did an amazing job of keeping his tyres alive the last few laps. Thankfully there were just enough laps for Max to catch and make the pass. Phenomenal win on a day where we probably didn’t have the fastest race car of the two teams – but tactically and operationally we were sharp and we capitalised on that. To get Checo up there on the podium for a double podium as well, by exploiting an optimal one-stop, worked well for us. So, it was a big result and it was a good way to start this intense part of the Championship with the first of the triple-headers.
Q: And do you agree with Toto that you should be even stronger here, given the layout of the Red Bull Ring?
CH: Not really, I don’t see why. I think this circuit is likely to be very close. Again, we got off to a good start in FP1 but you can see the Mercedes is right there. It’s going to be about getting it right over a single lap and then getting the race and the strategy and reading the weather conditions correctly. It’s such small margins, there’s quite often less than a tenth, session-to-session, qualifying-to-qualifying, race-to-race. It’s incredibly tight. That’s what makes it exciting. I think that’s what’s motivated everybody within the team, within the factory and definitely the buzz walking into the factory on Monday morning, you just feel that energy.
Q: You mentioned the role that Checo played last weekend. What options does he give you that weren’t there previously?
CH: Well, he played that role perfectly last weekend because he was an alternative strategy to Max, and he was close enough and competitive enough obviously to make it work. They didn’t have the luxury of pitting into free air. The way the two drivers are cooperating and working with each other, that’s teamwork. He played the team game very well and it worked out for both of them.
Q: Checo gives you options. Have you taken up your option on him for next year?
CH: It’s still early days, we’re only at race seven. He’s doing a super job, the whole team’s very happy with him and at the relevant time we’ll sit down and have that conversation. He’s doing a great job. You can see he’s getting more and more comfortable in the team.
Q: Toto, while we’re talking driver contracts, Lewis mentioned yesterday that you’ve started contract talks for next year. How hungry is he to carry on?
TW: Very hungry. It’s a very new situation for him, that it is so tight in the battle with another team and another driver and I see him in very good spirits.
Q: Christian, it’s just been announced that Dan Fallows, your head of aero is leaving the team and going to Aston Martin. Where does that leave you in what is a very important stage of the development of the 2022 car?
CH: Well, it’s been known about for some time and it’s… all credit to Dan to be selected to be their technical director. He’s been with the team for 15 years, he’s a great guy and been a valued member of our team but of course we have tremendous strength of depth in the aero department led under Adrian’s tutelage. We’ve got some tremendous talent and it just frees up an opportunity for the next evolution – but Dan’s going to be with us for a while. He’s fully focused on this year’s car and will be with us until the end of his contract.
Q: So, promote from within – is that the plan?
CH: Yeah, very much so.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) Two-fold question about the new FIA technical directive regarding the pit stop. Christian, since Red Bull has been superb in that field, do you feel targeted? Will you have to have some changes?
CH: Well the technical directive is certainly very wordy and you’d almost have to question whether it’s a change of regulation. I suppose we have been very competitive, we’ve got the world record on pit stops, we’ve had the majority of fastest stops during the year and it’s not by accident. I find it a little disappointing… I mean it’s the duty of the competitor to ensure that the car is safe and the penalty for a wheel not being fixed is that you have to stop the car immediately, so it’s a brutal punishment if you haven’t got all four wheels securely and safely fastened. So, what the technical directive is trying to achieve, I’m not quite sure, because I think there’s an awful lot of complexity to it. Of course, when you’re in a competitive situation, if you can’t be beaten then obviously the most logical thing is for your competitors to try to slow you down, and that’s obviously what’s happening here.
Q: Toto, can we get your thoughts please on the TD?
TW: To be honest, I’d tried to read it but it’s very complex in length. We had internally some question marks about some of these things but it’s the technical people, including the sporting director, who are in charge of that area.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To Christian please. To follow that up in a slightly broader sense: it’s the latest in the line of TDs and I think last weekend you said that Red Bull has come through quite a few accusations. Do you feel that you’ve got a target on your back at the moment? Not just with this particular initiative but just in general?
CH: I think you can see there’s an awful lot of pointed activity in our direction at the moment – but that comes with the territory of being competitive. An awful lot of energy is going into trying to slow the car down which, you know, is obviously what happens in a competitive business. So, it’s something that we’re used to but I’m not losing too much sleep about.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Christian, you and Toto, you’ve been together in your post-race interview at Sky and I do remember you said that payback regarding the front wing would come within a couple of weeks, I believe was the wording you used. Can you update us on progress on any steps that have happened since then – and when do you expect a new TD to kick-in potentially – and I’d be happy if both of you could elaborate on their general positions on the matter.
CH: I think obviously a lot of noise was made about the rear wing. New tests were introduced and the car has obviously fully complied with those rules at all times – but it would be disingenuous of the FIA not to look at the front wing in the same way. And of course, we’ve seen footage across recent races and obviously we’re just looking for consistency. Consistency of application of the regulations that deal with the rear wing, and obviously the front wing falls into that same category. And so the main thing we are seeking through all of this is a consistent application.
Q: Toto, your thoughts please.
TW: Yeah, consistency is important and, like Christian says, it’s a competitive field, a competitive sport where it’s about exploiting and where Red Bull is today is where we have been over many years. I remember DAS last year, and you’re trying to gain a competitive advantage and it’s fair enough now on front wings. Same thing. If there is something to look at, then the FIA will look at it and whatever the decision is, we will go with that.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Question for both. Christian and Toto, did you have some form of soft landing in terms of the budget cap? I know the FIA extended a soft landing to Ferrari – and if so, does it expire at the end of this month and are you fully in line with reducing staff and resources accordingly?
TW: I think you cannot call it ‘soft landing’ because if you have a structure like we have, it’s never soft. It was not always pleasant to reduce your population, to say the least, and we are really trying to comply to the dot with these new regulations and it will mean the whole organisation, the whole way we’re dealing with cost, a totally different game. So, there wasn’t any soft landing.
CH: No, I’d agree fully on that. It’s been a very turbulent period because we’ve had to say goodbye to people from the team that have been with us for, even in the team’s previous guises, 25 years service. I think it’s been a tremendously difficult period to say goodbye to those people and, of course, that concludes at the end of the month. And so, we’ve restructured under the current regulations. What I would like to see is more consistency rather than having the Sword of Damocles continually hanging over the team and staff at the end of each year. I would like there to be just one number that was there for five years, rather than constant, incremental decreases. Particularly when others are looking to build their capacity and resource on the other side regarding CapEx requests. It’s important that we achieve that, particularly as the whole world has just globally been through a pandemic and making these decisions and saying goodbye to these valued members of staff, has been tremendously difficult.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Christian, this is for you. Your press release announced that Dan Fallows was leaving and you said he would stay until the end of his contract – but you didn’t say when that was. Are you able to tell us that now?
CH: I’m not going to go into great details but it certainly won’t be within the next couple of years.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Question for Christian… sorry for Toto, though he’s also called Christian incidentally. Toto, I believe that you put some of your supercars up for sale. The obvious question then is: has this got something to do with the fact that you would, as an equal shareholder of Mercedes and Ineos, be liable for an equal amount of investment in the team going forward?
TW: No (laughs). It has a more simple background. I don’t get to drive the cars anymore. I don’t have enough time. I don’t think it looks particularly good if I was cruising around with a Ferrari, although it is a fantastic brand. But I haven’t driven the cars for a long time and I’m going electric with Mercedes at the moment.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – Auto Hebdo) To both, do you feel the championship battle is as intense between Lewis and Max on track as it is between you guys personally off track?
CH: It’s competitive throughout the team because that’s what it is – it is a competition. Every department is competing with their rival departments, not just within Mercedes but within every team. That’s the way we have always approached going racing. We are a competitive team, we are a hungry team, and we are enjoying the competition.
TW: Yeah, it’s a combative sport, on track, off track. But that is only noise. The true performance happens on the track. It’s lap time. You are either good enough or not and if you are not you have to acknowledge that and try to gain some performance back and the other way round.
Q: How different is the fight when it is an inter-team battle rather than an intra-team one, because both of your teams have dominated in their time, How different is this?
TW: Well, both have interesting aspects. The intra-team battle, which we had for quite a while, is obviously easier to handle because the drivers are part of the team, they are in the same car, while fighting with another team, you don’t really know where the performance advantages and disadvantages are and you can see that swinging. That’s difficult because you are dealing with imperfect information, many variables that you don’t know, but both are equally enjoyable for me.
CH: I’d see it the other way around. I think it’s much more straightforward having a competitor in the garage next to you rather than two competitors within your own garage, because you have a natural conflict of interest within your team there, within your own engineering team etc, whereas having the competition as the garage next door is much more straightforward and I think it focuses everybody’s mind and motivations. I think it’s healthy for the team and healthy for the sport. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve obviously seen seven years of total dominance, and I think the biggest winner is Formula 1, to have two teams and two drivers every weekend slugging it out.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Another one for Christian on Dan Fallows. I’m a bit surprised that Aston hasn’t put out their own press release yet. Your announcement seems to have surprised them a little bit. That triggers the question: was there anything unusual going on about hiring him from you that you are troubled with on some level?
CH: Not at all. It’s a small paddock and rumours start to circulate so it was a question of rather than our staff reading about it through the media, I’d rather they read it on a communication from the team. That’s why we chose to announce it. It’s something that we have known about for some time but it’s pretty straightforward.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Following up on the TD around the pit stops. Christian, do you think it will eliminate sub-2-second pit stops? And Toto, just to follow up on something you said earlier about some question marks internally, could you elaborate at all in what context you had questions?
CH: Well, I think it has already slowed pit stops this year. After the earlier discussions and directives that have been on the pit stops and I think to have to hold a car for two tenths of a second I think you could almost argue that it is dangerous because you are judging your gaps and the guy is releasing the car is having to make that judgement and it’s not been well thought through. Formula 1 is about innovation and competition and seeing pit stops in sub-2 seconds is a remarkable feat and we should be encouraging it, not trying to control it. Otherwise, where does it stop? We’re going to be told which way we should walk into the garage, where we should sit on the pit wall and which buttons we should press, I guess.
TW: Yeah, I’ve already been told which buttons I shouldn’t press, and stuff. You know it’s interesting to see because there must be a reason why that TD has come up and I’m not 100% sure. The operation of the wheel gun and the release of the car is a highly complex matter and I’m certainly… All of us in the team are up for competition because it’s a competitive field. But there is also the safety argument. And Christian mentioned it before: you put everything into your pit stop so you avoid your wheel detaching or coming off as the penalties are enormous. We in the past had a policy of making sure that that wouldn’t happen, and that also meant to have some circuit-breakers in the system, in a way that that could never happen and that slows you down in the pit stops. But that was our own decision. It had nothing to do with anyone else. Fast pit stops are nice to have and they look cool, but I am not 100% sure that they are such a huge performance differentiator, because we are talking about a tenth or two on average, not talking about the slowest or fastest pit stops. Yeah, it’s been interesting to see where that came from and what the basis was.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Toto, Lewis has mentioned a couple of times in recent days about the straight-line speed of the Red Bull at Paul Ricard. Obviously, there was a new Honda engine in France. Do Mercedes have any question marks about how that speed was attained given the restrictions on engine development during the season?
TW: Well, the restrictions are pretty clear. The power unit is homologated; you can only come up with reliability fixes and in a way bug-cleaning, so there shouldn’t be any difference. Red Bull chose to run a very low-drag rear wing or generally aero configuration, which clearly when you see the speed differences in Ricard made a big difference. And now it’s about seeing what happens here, but as a matter of fact they were very strong. They ran a low wing and they were still as competitive as us through the corners and that shows that the car has downforce. We just need to do our homework and to continue to improve rather than pointing a figure on the engine. This is all in the FIA territory and it is much too early to say anything like this, that the engine is more powerful. There are so many things that play a role.
CH: I think Toto has answered it very well and I think maybe he should explain it to his driver. I listen with interest and sometimes some of the theories Lewis has are sometimes some way from reality. I think he has actually summarised it very well. We run less drag and we run lower wing and as a result of that you tend to go a bit quicker down the straight sometimes.
TW: I think there is a factor that needs to be considered. The driver is in the car and he has the feeling and he sees the traction and pull-away, there was a difference in DRS and on-DRS zones. It’s pretty clear that the perspective and the feeling that the driver has is really important, especially Lewis, there is no better one to him. But what we need to say is that you need to look at the whole thing. There aren’t any miracles. You can’t bring a second power unit that’s homologated and go three tenths quicker. It was a low-drag configuration; the car was very quick indeed, quicker than ours in qualifying. It is what it is and we need to fix that.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Toto, there are suggestions in the paddock that possibly Mercedes pre-empted or triggered the pit stop investigation, which then became a technical directive. Can you assure us that this had nothing to do with Mercedes, that all this happened without any knowledge from Mercedes? Another short question: at the end of this month James Allison hands over and becomes Chief Technical Officer. Is the handover fully in place and what are the implications of that handover.
TW: On the pit stop we enquired with the FIA on a safety mechanism, which is related to a system that we are using and whether that could be optimised. I would say that this was three or four weeks ago and it was a technology question. Did that trigger anything else? Maybe. I don’t know. And in terms of James Allison. He’s a mega guy but we won’t be missing the directness, sharpness and sometimes rude jokes because he is staying with us, he becomes CTO. He is going to overlook all the technical activities between power units, the chassis, Formula E and the other activities, America’s Cup, etc, so he is part of the gang and he remains part of the gang. And Mike Elliott, I’ve been working with him since 2013. He joined a few months before me as Head of Aero and since then we have had a friendship. He is unbelievably bright. I sometimes have to pinch myself that I am able to work with such an intelligent person. Beyond that we share very much management philosophies and we can talk for hours about neuro-scientific developments and psychology. Just a phenomenal person.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) Apart from Lewis versus Max what is your favourite F1 rivalry and why?
CH: There have been some great ones over the years. The Prost-Senna times, I remember from my childhood were fantastic. Mansell-Senna… There have been some great rivalries. In any sport you need those rivalries, whether it is 100m sprinting or Formula 1 world championships. That’s what part of sport is rivalry, competition, because without that it’s just a display.
TW: Yeah, there have been great rivalries. The ones that Christian mentioned. I think it changes over time and the generation today is very different to the ones in the old. But you go through the tunnel here and you see all those unbelievable Formula 1 stars. I think it starts with Schumacher and there is Senna, Hunt, and you remember that they all had absolutely amazing performances, world champions, but they also had rivalries. That was part of their journey. Yeah, we have an unbelievable world champion in the team, the best ever, breaking all of the records and now we have a rival and that is good fun and good to watch. It is certainly very good for the sport. The audiences show thatl, sponsors are keen to be part of that fight and at the end it’s good.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Lewis was talking yesterday about Valtteri Bottas and he said he was a fantastic tem-mate and “I don’t necessarily see that it needs to change”. How much input will Lewis have into the decision on his team-mate for next year?
TW: Well, Lewis is part of the team and has always been in the inner circle of decision-making because simply we value his opinion and in the same way when we are talking about drivers there is nothing we are not sharing with him; it’s transparent. But the other way around too: when I speak to Valtteri it’s open and when I speak to George, it’s very much open, because I don’t want to have any hidden agendas. We need to evaluate the situation for the future. Valterri had some really good weekends but he also had some off weekends and we just need to minimise those and then we will take a decision and whatever decision we will be taking, Valterri or George, the person that is involved in that will be hearing that first and that is the driver.