PART TWO: TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Robert FERNLEY (Force India), Claire WILLIAMS (Williams) Gene HAAS (Haas)
Q: Bob, let’s start with you. We’ve seen the Pérez-Ocon situation escalating from a rivalry to something perhaps more damaging. Does the team feel that you’ve managed it well up to this point – and what can you really realistically do to impose instructions in future situations without favouritism?
RF: I didn’t think I’d get that question! Our team manages things. The outside judges rather than the inside. From an internal point of view we’re working very closely with the drivers. We’re very blessed to have two very talented and equally very competitive drivers. They’re at different stages of their careers. You will expect, as is often the case in that sport, where you’ve got an elbows-out for a little while, that’s happened. I think it probably reached a crescendo in Spa. I think both of them realise they’ve probably not done themselves any good in terms of their reputation or their careers, and Vijay I’m sure has certainly made sure he tells them that from that point of view. What we need to do is to regroup, which we have done. They’ve been individually talked to. They’ve sat down together. I feel very strongly that they’re intelligent and very, very good team players. They’ve just lost their way a bit – and I don’t expect any problems going forwards.
Q: Obviously there’s a great opportunity for you this weekend for some big points given that both Red Bulls are going to be starting from the back of the grid. You could be fifth and sixth on Sunday – so you have to execute. Right?
RF: I think the lady next door to me is looking for that! Absolutely. We’ll both be fighting. It’s a Mercedes track. There’s no question it benefits our power unit and we are going to have to optimise that position and we don’t want anybody making in-roads on that fourth position. We want to consolidate it and that will require both our drivers to deliver.
Q: Quick final question on this. It’s no secret that both of your drivers are on the wishlists of competitor teams for next season – in some cases the same competitor team. How determined are you to retain them both in 2018?
RF: I think from our side we are fully committed to retaining them both and that will be our objective. There’s no question of that. But, y’know, driver markets are driver markets and it’s quite right and proper that their managers, and in particular Checo’s manager, is out looking at other programmes. He’s got to keep us on our toes. If he didn’t do that, he wouldn’t be doing his job, and we’ve got to make sure that we close that off and retain him for next year and keep the pairing. It’s a phenomenally exciting pairing. Might be difficult to control a little bit – but I’d like to have that problem.
Q: Gene, already ahead on points compared to last season with eight races still to go so is it time already to take the next step and what kind of investment does that need to go up to that level?
Gene HAAS: Well, I’m not comfortable with the points lead we have because I think in any given race we could drop back a position or two in the Constructors’ series because we’re all so close. If anything, I feel a little bit on needles because our biggest problem is execution, minimising mistakes, that seems to be our worst (indistinct) ourselves. We’ve had some component failures we’ve executed poorly and I think we’ve left 15 or more points on the table, even at this point. That’s really where we need to perform is just running a race team with less mistakes, more consistency and that’s what’s going to earn us our points. I think both of our drivers are very very capable racers. I think that they’re much much better racers than they are at practice and qualifying. I know Kevin has shown the ability to sometimes get two to three positions just at the start of the race so he’s an aggressive driver. I think Romain’s more reserved, he knows that you have to finish the race to get the points, so I think the combination of these two drivers bodes well for us in the race but we do need to finish the race.
Q: Now the Ferrari chairman, Sergio Marchionne, said he would like a team to help develop Ferrari’s junior drivers like Giovanazzi and Leclerc. You seem to have gone the opposite way in driver choices for this year and next, as you’ve just highlighted. Do you rule out working with Ferrari on juniors in the future?
GH: No, I don’t think we rule it out but from a business model it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. There’s no secret that it costs $60m to put a car on the track for the season and if someone gives you a driver and not just from Ferrari, from anybody, and they’re going to pay you five or six million dollars, there’s $55m deficit there somewhere, so it doesn’t really make sense to want to run let’s say a partner or a paid driver for compensation. I think our point of view has always been that we need to obtain points and that’s how we generate moving forward and making money, so that’s our business model. I think Ferrari respects that and based on that, if there’s some mutual agreement that we could come to we probably would be more open to that.
Q: Claire, obviously this season’s not gone according to plan and the car just clearly isn’t fast enough is the core of it. The 2018 car will be the first obviously under Paddy Lowe’s technical stewardship, what’s he doing to step things up?
Claire WILLIAMS: Yeah, as you would expect someone of Paddy’s calibre has a plan and ever since he joined us back in March this year he’s been undertaking a full analysis of the team back at the factory but also the race team operations on the ground trackside in order to understand where the weaknesses lie. We’ve gone through that as a board and now we’re looking at how we allocate resources moving forward into 2018 so that we can address those weaknesses. I think a lot of our weaknesses appeared at the midpoint in last year’s season and we can’t go into another season having the same issues that we’ve had so we have full trust in Paddy but also we’ve brought in a number of other senior personnel to work alongside, so Dirk de Beer heads our aerodynamic department now as well, comes from Ferrari this year to us, and some other senior engineers who are hopefully going to turn things around for us. But as I said, we can’t have another year like this.
Q: You got a bonus year out of Felipe, is there another year in him or are you casting the net wider for a teammate for Lance Stroll for next year?
CW: Yeah, Felipe has done a fantastic job like you say, it’s been a bonus year for us. He very kindly came back and he’s really delivered for us. Obviously the past couple of races have been tough for him with his medical issue but we’re through that now and we’re looking forward to him delivering for the rest of the year and we really just have to wait and see. I think I’ve made it really clear that the team at the moment are focusing on the Constructors’ championship, we need to make sure that we consolidate our P5. I don’t think we’re going to close the gap to Bob, unfortunately, but there’s a lot of teams behind us that would love to overtake us and take that P5 and we can’t afford that, so for us the focus really has to be on track performance at the moment rather than diluting that effort with thoughts about driver line-up so there’s still eight races to go, there’s plenty of time to be thinking about next year.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Inaudible) Question to everybody: on Thursday, there was the launch of the new Formula Two car and it’s pretty similar to a Formula One car. On this occasion, Ross Brawn and Charlie Whiting were saying that the plan for the next years FIA and Formula One is to encourage Formula One teams to work closely with Formula Two teams. Do you think that makes sense from your point of view?
BF: Well, I think historically we’ve tried to do that anyway. It’s not just a case of working closer with the teams. Usually you have some sort of driver link and that’s the bit that brings the two together so I don’t see any changes to that. Where you can, you support it but to have a direct link between the Formula One team and the Formula Two team is not easy. There are certain people who are doing it very well but all teams can’t embrace it because of the costs.
CW: Yeah, I probably echo what Bob says really. Obviously we’re all looking at drivers in that championship and if there’s ways in which we can work with teams from that perspective then fine but I think from our perspective as a team at the moment we have our own issues that we need to be concentrating our full efforts on rather than diluting that down again with maybe other projects such as working with a Formula Two team.
GH: We have an association with several F2 drivers and quite frankly it’s a learning experience but going forward, I think we could see ourselves working closely with the teams as development drivers. That would be a great way of bringing up talent which obviously we need. It would be a great way of maybe bringing up some teams, too.
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action and Speedsport) There’s been a lot of talk about what direction Formula One should take in the future. Auto manufacturers are interested in Formula E. Where, as representatives of independent teams, do you think F1 should go, bearing in mind road car relevance and also that it has to remain entertaining?
GH: Well, certainly the battery revolution in cars is among us. I think we have to pay attention to these new drivetrain developments because it’s the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see either more mainstream car companies get involved in this new sport of Formula E. How it relates to Formula One, what we can do, I think… we’re kind of the minnows here so we can’t really drive that technology but certainly today’s engine is somewhat of a hybrid technology, very very similar to the hybrid cars out there. There’s a lot of technology that goes into these cars so I think it’s an exciting new venture. Quite frankly, I don’t think I would mind being in it myself if I understood it better but we have our hands full of Formula One so I think it’s great.
CW: I think from our perspective and as a business model, looking at it from that perspective I think there are some concerns we would have as an independent team, where Formula One could eventually be heading if we don’t take ownership of that direction now. Obviously we’ve got the manufacturers in our sport who are spending huge amounts of money and then independent teams in the middle that can’t ever dream of achieving that kind of expenditure in Formula One and that delta between our expenditure is creating the situations that we have at the moment in our business, certainly, where we are looking ahead at every year and really trying to make sure that we secure budgets in order just to be sustainable in this sport and that needs to change. There’s a huge amount of money that washes around Formula One and there should be enough for ten teams to be able to compete competitively amongst each other without being four seconds apart on the grid. So from my perspective, I’d really like to see Formula One move in a positive direction from a financial perspective, cost controls and budget caps, and I think that would bring about the entertainment that we need to see remain in Formula One but improving Formula One as well. I think we all want to see Formula One grow and I think the new owners have a handle on that. I think I’m personally really looking forward to seeing what they’re going to bring about from 2018 onwards. From that perspective I think they’ve done some great or brought about some great initiatives this year alone but I think there’s probably more to come and I think we need to grow the sport collaboratively as a whole with everybody’s best interests at heart rather than just a few.
BF: Yeah, I completely agree with Claire. Force India in particular has been very vocal about the disparity between the top teams and the rest of the grid and you can’t have… we’re almost getting into a two tier championship at the moment where the top three teams are significantly far away from the fourth team and below. And to be able to say well we need to compete… the only way you can compete on that is adding 200m to your budget is quite ridiculous and we need to get that under control.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Taking what the three of you have just said variously in reply to a question, it appears as though Liberty are intent on introducing a budget cap of about $150m by the end of 2020. This will have certain exceptions like engines etc but is $150m or $200m all in; is it actually a realistic figure, can it be policed and what would it do for your individual prospects as race teams compared to the big three or four?
GH: Well, that would actually be an increase for us so we would fall under that budget cap at the moment. I think the bigger problem though is the bigger teams… I was over at Ferrari yesterday and they have a huge R&D department as I’m sure Mercedes do too and the question is where do these teams go and what they do and that’s even more of a question because they’re the ones that really bring the DNA of Formula One to the track. Formula One is considered to be the ultimate sport and after being in it for a while, I find that’s the most fascinating aspect of it is this technology that they develop and the extent and passion with which a company like Ferrari puts into developing these things. Having a budget cap and suddenly saying that you’re going to have to shelve 500 people is going to be extremely difficult and that’s where the new owners are going to run into some big obstacles when they simply say ‘ah well, here’s your new marching rules.’ If it’s contrary to where a company’s put 50 years into that’s just not going to work so that’s the dilemma they have is, trying to radically change something that’s been around for so long and it’s so firmly put into concrete. You just can’t change it overnight and I’m glad that I don’t have to be part of that decision at the moment.
CW: There are some points that Gene has made that I would share. I think that it would be very difficult – or will be very difficult – if a cost cap comes in to that degree, $150m for teams like Ferrari and Mercedes and Red Bull to bring down their operations but in the past we’ve operated on those kinds of budgets and I think to say that those teams are the teams that bring the DNA to this sport is just incorrect. I think that teams like Williams are the very fabric of this sport that we operate in and teams like Williams and Force India, the independents that have been in this sport for 40 years and delivered a huge amount of technology that have had benefits to other industries as a result, need to be protected as well. So from my perspective of course we would be absolutely behind the cost cap whatever that may be but from my perspective equally, I would want to see it come in a lot sooner than that.
BF: We would want it to come in as soon as possible. The 150m is above our budget but I’d much rather be able to say that Force India was capable of bridging the deficit of 30m than 200m which is where it is at the moment, and I think it’s very important, I think, for the sport to have five or six teams that are capable of achieving a podium on merit. At the moment, that’s not possible. Even the top fourth, fifth and sixth teams are only capable of getting it on opportunity at this point and we need to be able to change that round to make the sport the spectacle that it is and to give the competition there. Teams like Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull will always have the advantage in terms of the fact that drivers’ salaries will be out of that budget cap and they will have the money to spend on the better drivers, but it means that we’re going to be to be looking at talented drivers which means we’re bringing through drivers and drivers become one of the key elements then going forward which to me is very very important.
Q: (Ysef Harding – Xiro Xone News) Gene, the work that your foundation has done, the Gene Haas Foundation which has provided scholarships for young people and their communities, I was curious to know, are you planning to expand or have plans to expand that scholarship programme into your team, to where those young people would be interested in aerospace or engineering or want to get a position in F1?
GH: Well, the foundation primarily funds the projects in relationship to community projects of teaching young people about manufacturing with an emphasis on machining. Whether a person decides to build race cars or rocket ships or simply work on next generation cars is fully up to them and I try not to… I don’t spend any of our foundation money particularly on racing. We are working in collaboration with Dallara and Ferrari on trying to set up a school that teaches, like, say, five axis machining so that’s probably as close as we’ve got into that so it’s mainly there to teach young people about manufacturing in today’s world and I can look at the racing as being a subset of that but not a primary goal to teach kids about racing. That’s the way we’re running it and that’s probably the way it will continue.
Q: (Peter Hartig – BMF1) This has nothing to do with economy: Gene, at the magazine, we noticed that you tried the F1 experience so I have two questions for you: how was it to sit to ride on the back of a V10, beautiful noisy V10? And by the way, how is the back of your neck?
GH: You know, I’ll tell you what, it’s exactly what they say: it’s an F1 experience. I think pulling out of the garage and the acceleration, going through gears, it just throws you in the back and then you come into turn one and your whole body goes to the… you know, slams into the front of the car. I never experienced that and then it feels like you’re pulling 5G side load going through the turns and quite frankly, I started to feel a little queasy doing that. It’s a heck of an experience, I would highly recommend it if you’re a thrill seeker but being an F1 driver is not easy. I don’t think I would ever want to be able to do that because to do that for 50 laps, that must just take the life out of you. It’s exciting, it’s a real experience and they did a great job, from everything from bringing you into the experience with the suit, the helmet, bolting you into the car, it’s all very very nicely done. I say I was pretty much exhausted by the time I got out of the car. It didn’t bother my neck at all. It didn’t bother it at all.