The second press conference for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Renault’s Bob Bell, Brawn GP’s Ross Brawn and Red Bull’s Christian Horner spoke at length about the state-of-the-art Yas Marina circuit and the weekend ahead.
BMW’s Mario Theissen was also there to answer questions ahead of the German Manufacturer’s final race in Formula One.
2009 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX
FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCE October 30, 2009
Bob BELL (Renault),
Ross BRAWN (Brawn GP),
Christian HORNER (Red Bull),
Mario THEISSEN (BMW Sauber)
Q: A question to you all. Please give us a comment about the circuit, the facilities, the importance about being here in Abu Dhabi and how you felt it has been for you.
Bob BELL: As everyone I sure would agree it is an absolutely fantastic facility and it is a wonderful opportunity for the teams to showcase themselves at a facility like this. We have been well and truly looked after and hosted well. That side of it is all fantastic too. I think it is great for the sport to be on show and operating at new locations throughout the world. I think the teams have settled in. We have not had the greatest of days but overall I think that was down to us, nothing to do with the circuit in particular. I think overall it is a great thing to be here.
Mario THEISSEN: It is a magnificent place, outstanding facilities. I cannot image that this will be topped anywhere else in the world. Very good working conditions for the teams. An interesting track, especially the pit lane exit, which is very special. We feel very well here. I think it is really great and I hope for a good weekend, for a full house and this can establish as the signature event in the coming years.
Christian HORNER: I think it is unbelievable really. The bar has been raised by the introduction of several venues, Singapore included, then we come here and Bernie (Ecclestone) has been winding us up for the past 18 months saying wait until we get to Abu Dhabi. I mean it is just unbelievable what the country has done to build a venue such as this. It is quite mind blowing really and the circuit looks a quality circuit as well, not just a pretty background. The drivers seem to be enjoying it. We have been fantastically well looked after. It reminds me a lot of Silverstone.
Ross BRAWN: Just a stunning facility. I think it is a massive credit to the people here and to Bernie. I know we give Bernie a hard time sometimes but he still creates races and encourages people to build facilities like this. It is a stunning facility. It is a very interesting track, quite interesting combinations, quite challenging from a racing perspective. The pit lane is controversial but sometimes I think we are getting a bit sanitized in Formula One, so a bit of extra challenge for the drivers is not necessarily such a bad thing. I think it is just fantastic.
Q: What has been the reaction from the drivers, particularly the change in light if there was any reaction at all? Are there any other concerns that the drivers have mentioned? What do they think of the grip level?
BB: Our drivers have not commented on the lighting. I spoke to Fernando (Alonso) about it and he was quite happy with it. He was quite comfortable. The grip level, I think, he felt was better than perhaps we came here expecting and the circuit did improve but it wasn t as bad as we imagined it to be. Overall on those two points very good.
Q: Can we include in that the pit lane exit? Were there concerns there?
BB: Well, it obviously raised some eyebrows to start with but we all seem to have got used to it and certainly our drivers have not raised any issues.
MT: Nick (Heidfeld) was very positive about the track right away. Robert wasn t so sure initially. The pit lane is really difficult, well, the track generally was quite dusty in the morning and during the day and we could see even until the end of the FP2 the times got quicker and quicker. Especially in the pit lane it was apparently even dustier, so they had to be careful there. But other than that only positive comments.
CH: I think both drivers have really enjoyed the circuit. The tyres look a bit conservative and took a while to warm up and come in here. I think the only concerns our guys have raised is how quick these guys (Brawn) are in sector two.
RB: Take the wing off and you will be quick in sector two.
RB: The lighting, no comment from our drivers. It is interesting that the lighting is a long way away from the circuit and it doesn t seem to be casting any distracting shadows, so the lighting seems very good. They are enjoying the circuit. I think like any new circuit there will be some gentle evolution as the drivers get used to it and no doubt next year there will be a few modifications but nothing major is needed as far as we could see. They are enjoying it a great deal and I think it will be a great racing circuit. The slow entry onto the main straight and the slow exit may give a chance to overtake, so it is going to be quite hard on brakes. That will be a factor in the race and you saw a lot of teams they had problems with the graining of tyres but the track will improve tomorrow and that may not be an issue by Sunday. But as Christian said the tyres are perhaps a little bit conservative and as a result they are graining a little bit but no major issues.
Q: Bob, how is the team working forward to 2010? Are you expecting to remain Team Principal? Some people might suggest it is a rudderless ship in that there isn t a Team Principal or there is a temporary Team Principal.
BB: We are all focussed on 2010. We do not hold any expectations about 2009 and we are making good progress. The team has picked itself up and is moving on very positively with the support particularly of Renault and all our partners and indeed some new ones as witnessed this weekend which is both good for the team and good for the sport. We are all moving ahead very positively. As for me I am happy to see the team through the next few months. That is my prime concern. There are some big issues we need to get in place and resolve before we go racing next year and that is my clear focus. Beyond that if Renault feel the most appropriate thing is for someone else to take over the helm I don t have an issue with that and won t stand in their way and equally if that decision came my way that is something I would have to consider in due course. But right now I am not being distracted by it. It is important that we get to the end of the year in good shape.
Q: Mario, can you update us on the future of BMW Sauber or Sauber as it will be?
MT: Well, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. I think we are making progress but the crucial issue still is the place on the grid. That s all I can say, so there is no decision right now.
Q: Do you have a time frame when you can expect a decision?
MT: We don t have a clear deadline but it is clear that time is running and it gets more and more difficult for the team as obviously you can only sign drivers and sponsors when you have a place on the grid.
Q: Is Robert s problem in the last session going to require a ninth engine?
MT: Well, it has been an engine failure and it is related to our decision some events ago not to pick up a ninth engine for Robert. What we are trying to do is cover the final four race events with one engine, so Robert s race engine for Sunday has had three races already. The consequence is that especially on this final Friday we had to use an engine with way in excess of 2000kms, so we were aware of the risk. I just had hoped it would blow up in the final lap of the session.
Q: So in fact you have got another engine which you will be using for the rest of the weekend which is still within the eight?
Q: Christian, how are you getting on with Sebastian s (Vettel) engine plan?
CH: We are looking okay now. We got critical after a failure in Valencia. That plus us under quite a bit of pressure but I have to say Renault have supported us brilliantly and managed the mileage and exceeded the mileage with their target kilometres significantly. I think we were one of the highest mileage teams today. Sebastian has a race engine I think he last used in Japan for the race tomorrow, so there is absolutely no risk in terms of us using a ninth engine. Even if that engine failed we have another engine we could utilise. With the help of Renault we have managed to manage the situation.
Q: You re definitely not going to win the World Championship for drivers and you are definitely going to finish second in the Constructors . Is there a feeling of disappointment or is there great optimism and enjoyment of finishing in those positions?
CH: I think you have to reflect on the year and you have to reflect where the team has come from as well. This year has presented a significant step for the team. We have emerged as race winners and we were title contenders with both drivers throughout the bulk of the championship. A championship is, obviously this year, over 17 races and hats off to Jenson (Button) and the Brawn team. They quite simply did a stronger job over the duration. They stole a march on us earlier in the year, had great reliability. They dropped three points scores to our 12, but when you reflect on the second half of the season I don t think there is anybody that has scored more points. For the team it has been a huge step and I am extremely proud of what all the guys in Milton Keynes have managed to achieve and we have got good foundations. We have been well supported by Renault as you don t win races and achieve the kind of results we have had without great support from your engine supplier. There are a lot of lessons that have been learnt for this year and a lot we will take forward into 2010 and with continuity and reasonable stability in the regulations we think we can really build on what we have achieved this year and hopefully take the next step.
Q: Ross, obviously you did take lots of steps this season. What is the atmosphere like in the team back at the factory and here as well since Brazil?
RB: Obviously euphoria at what we have managed to achieve. Firstly, I would like to say the championship has been fought in a great spirit. I know sometimes the media likes grief or needle in the championship but I must say this championship has been notable for the spirit in which it has been fought. Good battles, good spirit within the teams and for me obviously with the results that we had a great championship to be proud of. It probably wasn t until I got back to the factory that I appreciated how much it had meant to a lot of our people because they have been there a long time and not had any success and the team had won one race up until this year. We have still got people there from the very beginning of this version of the team as the team goes back as far as Tyrrell. It is a long-standing team but guys did come up and say we have worked a very long time for this and it was special to go back and share the pleasure of the championships with a lot of the people there who had been working hard for so long. They never gave up. We had such a difficult winter with no clear vision of where the team was going and the guys still worked enormous hours, made enormous commitments, worked their weekends and did everything that was needed not even knowing if they were going to go past February, so it has been very special in many ways and for me quite exceptional because of the contrast of where we were over the winter and where we are now. I must say in those circumstances I think Mario to a fair degree is seeing it now. Formula One does come together when teams are in difficulty. We had a lot of support from everyone during that period. We have our fierce competition, but I am glad to say Formula One still sticks together to help each other when teams are in difficulty.
Q: There has been quite a lot of focus on your drivers for 2010. Is there anything more you can tell us? Have you got closer to working things out with Jenson?
RB: No, we agreed that we would get through the championship. We agreed that nothing would happen for a few weeks after the championship, so the next two weeks will be pretty busy.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Ian Parkes The Press Association) Ross, just on that. You mentioned in a radio interview on Sunday that you were 99 per cent certain that Jenson would re-sign for the team. Jenson remarked yesterday that he would not want to put any kind of percentage on it. What makes you so certain that you will actually re-sign him at the end of the day?
RB: I see the way Jenson works with the team and I see the way we work with him. I think we have given him the equipment this year to show what he can do and he knows our plans for the future. We have got another little matter that we have got to sort out, but I am sure we will find a resolution to that, so that s why I am reasonably confident. Of course I want to keep Jenson in the team, so we are working hard to find the solution to keep Jenson in the team. He has done a fantastic job this year and I think he will be even stronger in the future with this championship behind him.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Mario Theissen answered this question in a press conference earlier this weekend, so can I ask the other three gentlemen to give a brief assessment of the direction you would like to see Formula One take now that Jean Todt is the president of the FIA?
BB: I think that one of the things that Formula One needs desperately is good strong leadership and direction. I m not necessarily suggesting that we didn t see that in the previous regime we did, but perhaps it wasn t always in the direction that we agreed with, but I think the thing we would want most from Jean is clear direction, positive dialogue with the teams, to ensure the direction that we take is in the best interests of the whole of Formula One and is sensibly balanced to meet the needs of the teams that are supported by manufacturers, the manufacturers requirements, all the stakeholders, the public, the sponsors, the circuits. There s a lot of diverse requirements in Formula One and I think the FIA has a role to play in showing strong leadership that marshals all of those needs and does its utmost to ensure that they are all satisfied and I hope that s what he brings to it and I have to hope that he will. His governance of Ferrari was obviously exceptional and if he can apply the same to Formula One in general then I think we will be in reasonably good shape for the future.
CH: I think I agree with Bob to be honest. I think that the really reassuring fact is that Jean has sat here, he s had the problems that we face in running a team, so he can relate to the issues that we face in Formula One as he can in World Rally, as he can in sports cars, so his experience of motor sport is quite unique, he s proved to be a phenomenal manager and achieve great success in his competitive career. He now steps into a different role and one where he s responsible for fair play, for stability within the rules, for reducing costs, for improving safety and I think he s a great candidate. I think there s a real opportunity for the Formula One teams to work closely with Jean and his team, whomever he appoints to really focus on those aspects. Hopefully we can see a renewed close collaboration between the teams and the FIA.
RB: I think he s an incredibly worthy successor to Max (Mosley) in that role. As Christian just mentioned, he s experienced our sport and other sports at all levels. He was a navigator and won the World Championship as a rally navigator, ran a World Championship-winning rally team, ran a World Championship-winning Formula One team. There are very few people with that experience. Jean s very good at bringing people together and finding solutions to difficult problems and finding solutions when there are a lot of different interests involved. He steered the ship of Ferrari over 12 or 13 years, I think, and particularly through the early periods it was very difficult and he managed it extremely well. He s got a great ability to manage situations, and he particularly likes working in a team environment. He s very strong at bringing out the qualities of people in a team environment and I know that he s building a very good team around him at the FIA, so I look forward to the future with a great deal of optimism. A huge amount has been achieved over the last period: safety in Formula One is at a very high level, lots of things in Formula One are great and I think Jean will take that forward.
Q: (Walter Koster SaarbrÃ¼cker Zeitung) Quite another question and therefore it s an unusual one: Mr Theissen, a short test of your memory after ten years in Formula One. Do you remember your colleagues the first time that you were sitting on such a podium as here and do know your first answer to the mediator s question?
MT: No idea. Have you ever heard of the Alzheimer disease? But I m sure the mediator knowsâ€¦ (He doesn t).
Q: (Joris Fioriti AFP) Question to Bob Bell: we heard that Heikki Kovalainen or Timo Glock could join Renault next year, or perhaps another driver. So could you tell us more about this? And the second question which links to it is what would that mean then for the French driver Romain Grosjean who comes from its ranks? Would it mean that Renault can t keep a guy who comes from its own programme after six or seven races?
BB: It is a fact that there are quite a few drivers on the market at the minute, and I think, to do justice to the team, we have to look at all of the options, which is what we re doing. We re in the process of evaluating all of the drivers that are available and we will make a decision on which driver we attempt to reach agreement with as rapidly as we can. It s important for the team to do that and we re not ruling out any possibilities. Romain still remains a possibility but, as I say, in fairness to ensuring that we deliver the best driver line-up to the team, we need to look at all the possible options. If Romain does drop out of the equation, yes, it will be sad to lose him from the Renault programme and obviously he s French, so that carries some consequences for the team but ultimately, and I think Renault fully support us in this, we need to put the best drivers in the car that we can afford for next year and if that s Romain, fine, if it isn t, if it s someone else, then so be it but our objective next year is to have the strongest line-up.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi La Gazzetta dello Sport) Question for Christian: have you, in your mind, already decided your engine for next year?
CH: We ve had, as I said earlier, tremendous support from Renault. We have a great working relationship. It hasn t just been this year, it s been for the last three years and we re reaching a critical path now where we re going to have to make a commitment, taking everything into account. We believe we have all the facts in front of us now and we will be looking to make a decision pretty much imminently immediately following this race, I think.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi La Gazzetta dello Sport) Ross, have you met Luca di Montezemolo here as the new World Champion?
RB: No, we ve spoken on the phone. He s been very gracious in his congratulations to me. We ve had a quiet word on the phone but no, he very kindly spoke to me and sent a note both before and after the race, and then we spoke a few days ago.
Q: (Ian Parkes The Press Association) Christian, you joked at the start about Silverstone, but that track now appears to be the only option for a British Grand Prix next year, bearing in mind that Donington has fallen by the wayside, given its financial difficulties. Bernie said this week that Formula One does not need a British Grand Prix but I m sure yourself and Ross and Bob as team principals of British-based teams would disagree with him.
CH: Absolutely. You also have to consider the difference in resources available to the different circuits. This circuit has a nation behind it; Silverstone is effectively a private entity. I think Silverstone and the British Grand Prix is a very important and significant part of the calendar. It s a historic race, it s been there since the start of the World Championship, it s a great circuit, the drivers love it, it s a local Grand Prix to probably more than fifty percent of the teams and I really sincerely hope that now that the Donington bit appears to have stumbled, that a solution can be found between Silverstone and FOM, and I m sure that every effort is being made to achieve that. We would certainly see Silverstone as a great loss from the calendar should it not be there in 2010.
RB: We saw what was a fantastic event Silverstone was this year, the huge support it had. I think it was Damon Hill who made the point, which I completely concur with, that Formula One is what it is because of the balance of races it has, the history it has, the heritage it has. And the reason that Formula One as a championship and as a series is so attractive to countries like Abu Dhabi and the new races we re going to is because of that heritage and that history, and if we destroy that, then perhaps we don t remain as attractive for countries in the future. So we ve got to get a balance between keeping the history and heritage of Formula One and the new opportunities we have at fantastic circuits like this, so I think it would be a tragedy if we lost Silverstone and I hope Bernie can find a solution with Silverstone to keep the race there. The Donington episode has been an unfortunate distraction but let s hope that he can find a solution for the BRDC to run the race at Silverstone in the future.
BB: I totally agree with Ross that I think one of the great strengths of Formula One is its diversity and it would be very, very wrong to threaten that with an all new era and so that s important and equally, as Christian said, it is the home Grand Prix for probably the majority of people who work in Formula One. And I know how important that is to the ordinary members of staff in the factories that turn out the pieces for Formula One and provide the entertainment, and I think it would be a great shame for all of those people and their families if they weren t able to enjoy it locally. So I m a great supporter of it, the team is a great supporter of it, and it would be a great shame if it was lost.
Q: (Amina Bentoutah Al Dhafrah Magazine) What do you have as a project in the future concerning Formula One here in UAE, because we heard that they built a school for learning how to drive this kind of racing cars here in UAE on Yas Island, so will you send your drivers for six months or so next year?
RB: I must apologise, I m not aware of driver training. What is very interesting is the technology side. There is a lot of interest from a number of countries to set up technology bases and I understand Williams have set one up in Qatar and we re very interested in that sort of opportunity to share the technology and get benefits from both sides to train people. I m very keen on the strength of Formula One as a medium for training engineers and developing technology, so I think there are great opportunities in those areas. I m not so sure about the driving side. I m not so aware of that, but certainly on the technology side, there s huge interest in that side.
CH: The main thing is that you ve got world class facilities, not just here in Abu Dhabi but in Bahrain, there s a fantastic circuit just up the road in Dubai. Motor sport in the region is obviously taking off, and that s not just the circuits, that s the infrastructure behind it and I think karting infrastructures have been put in place and out of that will come drivers, will come technicians and any incentive to help youngsters to enter the world of motor sport we would fully support, and I think it s only a matter of time before that happens.
MT: We have established Formula BMW in Asia/Pacific some years ago, including a racing centre for driver education in Bahrain. Initially it s been quite difficult because there was no racing infrastructure. Young talents in Europe usually go karting for four, five or even more years before jumping into a formula car. This is different or has been different here but meanwhile the series has come along quite strongly and so we will continue next year.
BB: We re not involved in any specific driver training facilities here or elsewhere but I certainly feel that Formula One can benefit and it can benefit the countries that it visits by a technological relationship. For example, we have some partnerships with academic institutions around the world where there are circuits, and I think that s great for the local community, great for Formula One. It goes on quietly in the background, but it s part of the business that we do and it s important.
Q: (Joris Fioriti AFP) Back again to Mr Bell: same topic, pretty much. Apart from the fact that he s young and quite inexperienced, how would you grade Romain Grosjean s performance this year so far? Apart from the fact that he s young and inexperiencedâ€¦
BB: Well, one of those points is fairly key and that is the inexperience. It is genuinely a fact that it is extremely difficult for a young driver now to enter Formula One mid-season with no real testing experience behind him. If he s fortunate enough to be introduced to the team before the season starts and can get through a winter testing programme then that s one thing to be dropped (into the team) in mid-season as Romain was. It s very hard for any of them and so that s a problem that Formula One has put upon itself, quite rightly so. The reduction in testing was done for good reason, I m not being critical of it but it does make it difficult for drivers, so he s had an uphill struggle. He s done a sound job in dealing with that. He has two problems that he has to confront. Firstly, his team-mate is a double World Champion and that s a hard metric to judge yourself against as a young driver. And we haven t given him a particularly good car and that is equally hard for a young driver to come in. So it hasn t been an easy birth for him in Formula One but that doesn t deny that he s got a lot of talent and I m very sure that in the future we will see that talent exploited.