PART TWO: TEAM PERSONNEL: Yusuke HASEGAWA (Honda), Franz TOST (Toro Rosso), Zak BROWN (McLaren)
Q: Zak, let’s begin with you. Hungary, obviously a strong performance, the best performance of the season so far. How do you feel about the level of that performance that weekend and the steps on the journey back to competitiveness for your team?
Zak BROWN: Hungary was definitely a step forward. Good to see both cars get home in the points. Sixth and tenth isn’t exactly what gets McLaren too excited but it was definitely forward progress.
Q: Where are you now on the long-term plans in terms of power units. Obviously we’ve heard all these stories of various steps along the way from winter testing right through to the summer break. Has anything changed? What can you tell us?
ZB: I think like all racing teams, we’re working on our 2018 drivers. We obviously announced Stoffel, which was never in doubt that he was going to continue with us, and we’re working on our second driver, some two-time World Champion, and making sure we have the most competitive race car for next year.
Q: Hasegawa-san, coming to you, your side of that story. Obviously Hungary, a step forward, your updated engine here, and also where do you feel it’s going, the relationship with McLaren?
Yusuke HASEGAWA: Of course, in Hungary we are very happy. Actually, we are very relieved we get the points. That is performance we are not satisfied with but it is a minimum level of performance we have to achieve, so we are relieved about that. So, still the matter, we need to update our engine performance definitely to convince McLaren as well and to satisfy us.
Q: And the updated engine this weekend, what can you tell us about that? How much more performance is there in Stoffel’s car?
YH: OK, it’s actually… we had planned to introduce a spec-4 engine here but we failed. Actually we didn’t match to the schedule. So that we have a halfway upgrade. We called it 3.5 and 3.6 but I think we can introduce some decent upgrade here but we don’t stop the improvement.
Q: You have Franz next to you this afternoon. Is Toro Rosso still a possible contender for a second supply of engines in 2018? Are those talks still live?
YH: I don’t think so. We don’t have an official conversation about that. So although Mr Yamamoto visited Dr Marko, because we need to discuss about Super Formula, the Japanese formula series, and we have Pierre Gasly the Red Bull young driver, so that we have some communication with him – but other than that the Formula One engine supply, we didn’t have an actual conversation.
Q: Franz, just picking up on that, as far as you’re concerned, that was never really something that was in the offing; you’re sticking with what you’ve got: Renault engines going forward.
Franz TOST: No, Hasegawa-san has just answered that there has never an official negotiation or talks between Honda and Toro Rosso.
Q: We spoke to Christian in the first part of this press conference about your Red Bull Young Driver programme – obviously it’s been tremendously successful over the years but he was saying there’s no real hot prospects. You’ve got some young drivers in the pipeline but it’s just that sometimes there’s plenty of good drivers and sometimes there aren’t. I just wanted to know what your perspective was on what’s been achieved if you like and whether there’s still that same enthusiasm on the Red Bull side, when you consider that McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes have all got some very hot prospects on the threshold of Formula One now?
FT: I think Red Bull is in a fantastic situation because there are four drivers who are able to win races which they’ve showed in the past: Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat and there’s the reigning Formula Two champion, Pierre Gasly who is in the pipeline, who is also very successful in Japan. That means this infrastructure which Red Bull has built up is so successful and why should they change anything? You should also take into consideration that something can happen at Red Bull Racing – an accident and so on – and they can just take a driver from Toro Rosso and this is why Toro Rosso is educating drivers for Red Bull. Young drivers are coming but it takes another two or three years maybe until we can discuss to bring them into Formula One and I think that Red Bull is really in a fantastic position with the driver line-up.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday, Motorsport Week.com) Franz, Carlos Sainz is going to be spending his fourth year next year in Toro Rosso if we take Christian’s comments in Austria that they’ve activated his contract for next year. This will be the first time that a driver has actually spent a fourth season in the team. Who will be sitting next to him? Have you decided? Will it be Daniil next year as well or would you be evaluating that later in the season?
FT: We will see. As I just mentioned before, Red Bull is in a fantastic situation. Why should they dismiss these highly skilled drivers? Red Bull has financed all the careers so far of Carlos Sainz and now he is ready to win races if he has a proper car so why give him to another team, to an opponent or whatever? And Daniil Kvyat was this year a little bit unlucky because many times we couldn’t provide him with a reliable and fast car and I’m convinced that once he gets this car that he will show his talent, because he did it already in the past. He won the GP3 championship before he came to us. He finished on the podium at Red Bull Racing in China and he can race and he has the ability to be successful and as I mentioned before, Pierre Gasly is in the pipelines, which means Red Bull is really in a very strong position and there’s no necessity to change something, but we will see. The driver line-up will be decided by Red Bull in the next months.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) To Zak and Hasegawa-san: firstly, the upgrades that you introduced this weekend, have they delivered as promised, and secondly, it’s been reported that Honda has been working with Ilmor and has discovered some good gains on the power unit front. Hasegawa-san, firstly, can you confirm that you’re working with Ilmor and Zak, couldn’t Ilmor’s involvement convince McLaren to stick with Honda for the future?
YH: First of all, about the performance upgrade, it is very difficult to compare the previous engine to this engine because this is a completely different circuit but from the data point of view, we see some good upgrade of the performance here.
And regarding Ilmor consultancy, we do not disclose any partner of a consultancy or a supplier or any partnership. But we don’t deny about any kind of consultancy or partnership from outside. We have many partners in the development.
ZB: A good question was what do we think about Ilmor. As Hasegawa-san said, it’s really up to Honda to discuss what their activities are. All I would say is that Ilmor as an organisation that has worked with McLaren in the past and is very successful and very good at what they do.
I wouldn’t think we’ve been satisfied all year but I think Hasegawa-san’s not been satisfied with how things have gone so we have seen some improvements here at Spa, not to the level we’d hoped for but some improvement nonetheless.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Zak, bearing in mind what the other two gentlemen said about there being no official discussions between Honda and Toro Rosso although there were talks at high echelons, I believe that the McLaren/Honda contract has got some form of veto or approval clause where you’ve got to approve somebody else which I believe you did with Sauber. Have you been asked to bless some form of Toro Rosso/Honda deal at all? Has that come up?
ZB: We did bless the Sauber arrangement which we were official asked to do and in fact started to get to work on a gearbox. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to disclose any conversations we’ve had. What I would say is we would be very supportive of Honda having a relationship with Toro Rosso and have been asked by Christian if we would be in a position to help with a gearbox if asked, so I think that’s about as far as I will go on sharing any conversations.
YH: We didn’t ask to start a conversation with Toro Rosso to McLaren actually because we didn’t have any official conversation so that it is…
Q: (Livio Oricchio – GloboEsporte.com) Zak, it looks like Ferrari and Mercedes won’t supply the power units to McLaren, in the case that McLaren has decided not to continue working with Honda. And also, we believe, as Cyril said, that very possibly Renault won’t also supply, so it looks like you don’t have other options. Is that correct?
ZB: No. We’re not going to give a running commentary on our power unit situation. I know it’s of keen interest to everyone but we’ll say something when we have something to say.
Q: (Inaudible) Zak, do you feel within the team a difference for Stoffel now that his contract for ’18 has been announced and this weekend, racing at home, is there more pressure, is he different or is he relieved that he will continue for next year for you?
ZB: Well, we always intended to put him in the car in ’18. Of course, any driver, when it becomes public at their home Grand Prix, I think that’s a nice feeling so Stoffel has been great all year for a rookie. He has been in a very difficult situation, we’ve not given him a faster, reliable race car which is that much more difficult when you don’t have the experience of someone like your teammate so he’s been a treat to work with and Hasegawa-san, I think you would agree, he’s been a real star this year.
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday, Motorsport Week.com) Zak, on the assumption – and it’s obviously an assumption – that you persuade Fernando to stay for next year, and he was wanting to do this, would we see another possible attempt at the Indy 500, given that this year he was very competitive and could have possibly won it on his first time out? Is that something you would perhaps dangle as a carrot to keep him there for next year?
ZB: No. We would love to go back to Indianapolis, Fernando would love to go back to Indianapolis. He did an unbelievable job but it will conflict with Monaco again and we’re not going to be in the same situation that we were this year in Monaco, so unfortunately he can’t be in two places at once but we’d certainly love to do it with him again in the future.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) A follow-up to what you said earlier, Zak, on not giving a running commentary on the power unit situation, how soon though do you need to have something to say? How soon do you need to be in a position to announce something because obviously whichever way you go will those influence your signing of Fernando for next year?
ZB: Well, I think all racing teams right now – whether it’s McLaren or Toro Rosso or anyone else down the grid – we’re heading into 2018 so we need to be finalising all of our activities, whether that’s driver, car design so that will be soon. As we all know, soon as the summer break is over it seems like it all starts to happen in Formula One so the timetable we’ve got to work to to get ready for next year.
Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) This week, we talked about e-sports and how some e-sports events have been a platform for inspiring young drivers to have a way into motorsports. And now this week F1 has launched an e-sports championship. Do you feel these platforms are good for young people who are interested in motorsports and that could possibly find an inroad into motorsports through this?
FT: I said already two years ago that you have to do something for e-sports because if you want to attract the young people, then e-sports is a very important game. What I said is that maybe ten or may nine o’ clock in the morning on Sunday there should be an e-game race here at the racetrack, just to attract the young people, to come to Formula One, to see Formula One and to involve them in this complete package. Therefore I’m really happy that Liberty media managed to come up with this game.
YH: Sorry, actually I don’t have many opinions about the current operation or situation but I expect to make it a very attractive sport especially for the younger people.
ZB: Yeah, I think e-sports is great. McLaren was the first team to announce our World’s Fastest Gamer and whoever ultimately wins that will be our simulator driver next year. I think it’s great what Liberty and Formula One have done and I think ultimately what you have with these sports is… Motor racing is a very expensive and difficult sport to get youngsters involved in, unlike football where you can go to school and you have a football and a pitch all ready to go so I think e-sports not only will generate a younger audience but it will also almost become the grass roots of motorsports and be able to expose a younger audience to what it’s like to drive a race car in a more inexpensive user-friendly way, so I think it’s great that we’re all embracing it.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Zak, I’m not asking for a running commentary but I would just like to address the issue of engine supply to the teams, the FIA regulation being that you can only supply three teams with an engine. Now at the end of the day, unless you can persuade somebody to take the Honda engine it looks like you’re going to have to approach somebody to supply a fourth engine supply. How do you stand with the FIA on this issue?
ZB: We speak with the FIA on a regular basis on lots of topics, being that they’re the governing body of the sport so I’ll leave the conversations that we’ve had, power-unit related, to ourselves and see what transpires.
eom/FIA transcript of the Press Conference