PART ONE: TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Cyril ABITEBOUL (Renault), Eric BOULLIER (McLaren), Robert FERNLEY (Force India)
Q: Eric, if I could start with you, we saw another engine failure for Fernando Alonso this afternoon… you’re shaking your head.
Eric BOULLIER: Yes, it wasn’t an engine failure. It was a gearbox failure.
Q: A gearbox failure, but regarding that thorny subject of Honda. The regularity of the criticism from McLaren senior management suggests that the situation is now irretrievable. Is there anything that can be done to repair the relationship?
EB: Well, first of all, your question is a suggestion, as you said, which is not exactly the truth or the case. Both organisations are working very, very hard to get to where we want to be. The level of friction, let’s say, if there is any, is a little bit exacerbated by the media. It is true that we have to deliver what we need to do, we have to be where we want to be but both organisations are working hard to deliver and I don’t think there is such a drama like in your questions.
Q: But Eric, both you and Zak Brown have said it’s not good enough what Honda are doing. So what have Honda got to do to satisfy you, McLaren?
EB: Well, we have to compete these guys, not to be in the back of the grid. As a partner we expect obviously a certain level of performance, not commitment, because they have that in terms of resources, it’s just a level of performance and today we need another step, a big step.
Q: And have Honda given any indication as to when the next big step will come?
EB: Yes, they have some plan and obviously they will be able to respect them.
Q: OK, let’s talk drivers then. How does the state of flux, if I can call it that, leave you regarding driver for 2018?
EB: Well, we don’t have any contract with Fernando. Fernando has been very clear. He likes the team, he would like to stay with us, but we need to be competitive. So there is also… say, after summer he will take his decision, so we know the agenda, the calendar for us, what we have to do and Alonso knows what he has to do as well.
EB: Stoffel is a long-term contract with McLaren, so there is not any concern for the future.
Q: Final question for now. How do you assess the performance of the car this weekend in Baku?
EB: Well, the global performance is very easy, you just see the lap time. We are very slow this weekend; we were expecting to be slow. Then, if you want to be more in detail, we all have GPS traces of each, this is shared data between all the teams so then you can work more about where you need to improve your car in terms of performance.
Q: Bob, that accident involving Sergio Perez in that first practice session: what are the ramifications of that crash, is there much damage to the car?
Robert FERNLEY: The damage wasn’t quite as bad as we thought. The credit goes to the team really for that. They were very well prepared and we were able to effect what were considerable repairs in a very short period of time, so a more than credible effort by the team.
Q: Let’s cast our minds two weeks, to the Canadian Grand Prix. Quite a lot of controversy after the race regarding team orders, so can you give us your version of events about those closing laps in Montreal?
RF: Well, we don’t run team orders to race, which we did. If you look at the difference in tyre performance it’s very, very small. If you at Checo’s history of being able to pass other drivers, it’s incredibly high, and he felt he had the3 opportunity to do so. From our side, there was a suggestion to let us have a turnaround, but he felt quite confident and we were happy to back that and support that, and we will continue to do so.
Q: Was there a feeling in the team afterwards that somehow Sergio was wrong?
RF: No, I don’t think so. You can speculate many, many things in terms of what ifs, and hindsight is wonderful, but in reality we were dealing with a Red Bull and we mustn’t underestimate it. A Force India trying to pass a Red Bull isn’t the easiest of things. And we had Ferraris coming back and whether we had pitted or not pitted there is a second a lap difference on optimum, optimum. I think we did the best we could and I have had no recriminations from the team whatsoever and we will continue to follow that path and evaluate things on a race-by-race basis.
Q: Vijay Mallya said after the race that there would be some new rules of engagement from Baku onwards. What are those rules?
RF: No I don’t think he said that. He said he would look at the rules of engagement and we discussed it at the management meetings, which we normally do, and what I am telling you now I think are Vijay’s sentiments entirely.
Q: Cyril, let’s also start with the on-track action as well. We saw an accident involving Jolyon Palmer today. What is the situation with Jolyon regarding his future? What does he have to do to keep his seat at Renault?
Cyril ABITEBOUL: I think it’s a bit unfair to link today and the future. Today we saw a lot of drivers going a bit outside of the track – a lot, and I mean a lot. Clearly, indeed, Jo has been one of those at a Turn that unfortunately doesn’t forgive, unlike other turns. Which means there is a bit of damage on the car but it’s not huge. Not really different to what Checo did this morning. If you want to link that to the bigger picture for Jo, our situation is very clear: he has a contract with us; we are completely committed to helping him get through the period, which is a tough period, that’s obvious. He has no ultimatum, but having said that he has to deliver, like every single member of the team. But I think what will help him is that frankly we take him out of the spotlight under which he is constantly, in particular in starting the first day, Friday, and all the media focus, all the media attention, is not necessarily helping. Obviously you have to do what you have to do, and ask the questions, which you feel are the right ones. But that doesn’t help. That’s part of the job, part of the pressure that every Formula One driver has to go through. He has to live with that. We are trying our best to protect him but at the same time to do the best as a team to explain to him what we are expecting and we had that type of conversation with him yesterday – go through the metrics and try to define the targets short to medium terms so that he can improve. So that’s the situation really.
Q: And can you just clarify the situation with Robert Kubica. He tested with the team just prior to the Canadian Grand Prix. Why did the test come about and is he going to be testing in FP1 ahead of the Italian Grand Prix?
CA: Easy answer on the last one – no, absolutely not. I don’t know where this is coming from and I can completely wipe that one out. Also I would to make it clear that I guess the questions are unconnected – the question regarding Jo and the question regarding Robert. Robert has been a family member of the Enstone team, and Eric on my right knows what I mean. He has been very close and very loyal. The team in Enstone, which is a very small group of people, actually have been very loyal to a number of drivers. In particular Robert made a huge impression on people who’ve been around, Alan Permane, Bob Bell, Ricardo on the Viry side. People feel very loyal and feel they owe something to Robert for making something big in their life and there was this opportunity that we give to him, that we could afford to him to drive again, because it was actually a marketing event that got cancelled, so we had a car available at the track and we offered that opportunity to him. Robert is going through some form of programme to try to understand what he can do. He has been driving a number of cars, Formula E, GP3, F2, LMP2, you name it, so I think he wants to understand what he can do as part of his sort of rehabilitation programme. We’ll see. There is nothing else that is planned for the time being, apart from a marketing event at Goodwood, where he will be driving the same car, E20, in front of Lord March’s house.
Q: Just looking at performance, you said recently there are no magic bullets in Formula One. How should we translate that comment?
CA: Yeah, I think I was trying to make reference and clarify as situation regarding engine upgrades and actually it’s not so easy to be clear in that respect. Just to make it clear, I think there was some speculation, some expectation that we do on the engine side this year the same thing that we did last year, with a major upgrade that was very visible to everyone, particular our customers and I think there was this sort of expectation that we were about to do the same. No, unfortunately it’s not happening. But I’m not saying that because it’s not happening that there won’t be any improvement. There is improvement. For instance, this weekend, we have two tenths of an upgrade in the engine. We were not expecting to make huge publicity on that but I feel that I have to make that clarification. And that upgrade is coming despite the fact that we are not changing the engine. That’s why it’s important to disconnect the different aspects. It would be the same thing on the chassis side. We are having a sort of arms race. All teams are bringing big upgrades, we are doing the same but same thing as on the engine, there won’t be a golden bullet.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Ben Edwards – Channel 4) Bob, can I just ask quick question about the accident this morning for Sergio. We saw the week come off but it certainly didn’t look like the tether failed because it didn’t look like that was involved in that – so can you just explain what happened with the wheel coming off?
RF: It’s not something we’ve seen before. As you rightly say, the entire wheel came off the hub. We need to look into it to see. The tethers were fine. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. In fact Eric and I were talking about it coming up – he hadn’t seen anything like it either. We’ll just have to have a look at what that is and make sure if there needs to be any changes across the board for Formula One.
Q: (Ben Edwards – Channel 4) Eric, quick question about Stoffel’s season so far. Obviously, it’s not been an ideal season for him – it’s always tough being up against Fernando – but can you talk us through his season and what has been his struggles and what he’s going through?
EB: First of all, he’s had a lot of issues with his cars since the beginning of the season. Not only the engine but also the car. A lot of little glitches y’know that stop him, let’s say, doing complete runs during free practices and various qualifyings. I think his confidence level then went a little bit lower – that’s why a couple of times in qualifying he was not ready to deliver on the first lap and that cost him actually a Q2 because there was a yellow flag or something else. I think it’s just for him to find his place in the team to make sure he can voice his needs to setup the car the way he likes to drive it. Formula One is also a bit different when you talk about driving style so you need to maybe both need to move toward each other. We are now since a couple of races addressing this seriously with a working group around him – his engineers first but some others, trying to address this and get his confidence back.
Q: (Gunel Safarova – BBC Azerbaijan) So you say today three accidents happened. It’s interesting, why do you think these accidents happened so much. At the moment there is speculation this road in Baku is very dangerous and it has very dangerous turns. Do you think it’s because of this?
CA: We’ve seen a lot of accidents and also our drivers escaping from accidents. Frankly I think we should put a bit more walls to create a bit more penalty and incentivise the drives to stay on track. I think there is a combination. I understand that it is not easy on some corners actually to see with the sun in the drivers’ eyes, struggling to see the apex. That’s one, another thing to take into consideration, without wanting to start a debate, it’s maybe the grip from tyres which is maybe not where it should be for a track like that and the sort of braking energy that you need to dissipate. So that might be an explanation – maybe more than last year in particular with the shift in compounds that we’ve seen this season. That might be one explanation also.
Eric or Bob, do you have anything to add?
EB: Cyril answered mostly. The only reason why you have got these cars going into the escape road is just because of the grip and the braking energy. Track is also very green today, obviously a lot of dust everywhere, so this is even more difficult to generate some energy in the tyres.
Q: Bob, Pérez, why did he crash, what did he say when he got back to the garage?
RF: I don’t think it was anything to do with them. He was trying to find the limit and found it! I agree with Eric and Cyril. It’s about tyres – and obviously the track was green. Tyres are probably a little bit hard compound. And maybe next year we’ll start going softer.
eom/FIA transcript of the press conference