The Team Principals from three teams participated in Friday’s Press Conference, including Gerhard Berger from Toro Rosso, Mario Theissen from BMW Sauber, and Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren Mercedes. The following is a transcript of the press conference from the Sepang circuit:
Q: Gerhard, last weekend you must have been very encouraged by that performance, Sebastian Vettel s qualifying and Sebastien Bourdais performance during the race itself.
Gerhard BERGER: Everything was fine. It was a good performance by the team but unfortunately we still had a couple of technical problems. When you start with the old car, obviously, that is exactly what you want to avoid. But you can see the team is still small, it is still at the beginning and mistakes are still happening. We had a failure on the drive-shaft and that is why we stopped two laps before the end. Obviously that is hurting a lot and that s some points that we lost. But nevertheless, if someone had told me before we went to Australia that you are going to have one car in the first 10 and one car in the points I would have been very happy.
Q: What about the fact that you are going to have the new car in Turkey or Spain? A new car but that chassis at the moment is having a lot of problems.
GB: We are going to face the problems and try to sort it out.
Q: Do you have to take that car or might you prefer to keep the old one?
GB: Well no, I think that the potential of the new car is better. It is clearly, clearly forward. We just see a couple of problems and we have to work on them.
Q: Will you let Red Bull Racing sort them out?
GB: I mean everybody is going to work hard on whatever problem he faces. Obviously, it is going to be different cars with different engines and different lay-outs, but we will just sort out the problems we face when we run our car.
Q: And the future of the team? Since Australia Dietrich Mateschitz has put out this statement or has been quoted as saying that obviously he cannot build two separate cars, so one team will have to go.
GB: We fix the problem, nobody can afford it. Just put the price up and nobody is going to buy it and we can stay like we are. No, I think obviously, always there are three or four independent teams struggling in F1. It is always a fight. It is a financial fight. It is a technical fight. It is a political fight. Always fighting. But you have to go through this and I have been extremely lucky to have a partner like Red Bull. But it was always clear when Red Bull came in that he is prepared to run two teams as long as he can work in synergies and run two teams out of one technology centre. From 2010 this is going to difficult, a couple of people are unhappy about that, and he says I am not going to be prepared to build and compete with two teams. I fully respect what he is doing or what he is thinking or what he needs to do. And for me the most important thing in his statement was to say that if I sell my part I am just going to sell it if I have somebody the same or better than myself, so that the team s future is secure. Until this moment I cannot say what my position is because I have to see it is the right future. Can we set goals and can we reach goals because the last thing I want is to just be in F1 and running at the back around the circuit. But on the other side if this happens I am totally happy to fight with the team and to fight through and to look forward to good times.
Q: Is there any chance that this ruling that you have to make your own car will change?
GB: I don t know.
Q: Perhaps Martin and Mario, you can throw some light on that? Are you against that ruling?
Martin WHITMARSH: I think philosophically F1 should be about Constructors who design their own cars, but I think it is well-publicised that we take a very pragmatic view. When it looked a year ago as though you could have a customer car in F1 we worked very strongly with Prodrive. We checked back with the FIA before we embarked on that programme. Opinions changed during the course of the year otherwise possibly we would be here supporting a customer team ourselves, so we can t be too hypocritical about that. The reality is we need to have a strong grid in F1. We need independent teams like Gerhard s to survive and I think it is up to the bigger teams and to the automotive manufacturers and the FIA to work together to make sure that we have got a sport that can keep that many teams in it.
Mario THEISSEN: We were right away of the view last year that it would not be a good thing to have two classes of teams on the grid. Teams who go for victory and other teams who just support their number one team, so we are happy about the situation as it is now. Certainly, we support what Martin just said. We need the independent teams on the grid and we have to find a solution for them to be able to compete and to be in F1.
Q: Can I stay with you Mario. A tremendous performance in Australia. Second in qualifying and second in the race. Did you expect to be the main challenger of whoever the top team was going to be?
MT: Honestly not. I was very confident that we would stay ahead of the teams we had beaten last year. I hoped that we were closer to the top two teams last year and that happened. On top of that, Ferrari didn t live up to their standard performance, so this helped us to get onto the podium. But that can change. It can change here already. But still I am very happy about the performance we have shown. In qualifying we saw that we are certainly closer to the front than we expected to be and that shows that the team has done a very strong job in the past six to eight weeks since the launch of the car. We have improved it dramatically, so this is certainly a good prospect for the season.
Q: One thing we saw in Australia was two teams Ferrari and McLaren in particular – so confident of getting through Q1 and Q2 that they concentrated on Q3 and the race. Is that something that you might consider from now on and how much of an advantage is it?
MT: I think that is what we did as well. Through the entire Friday and the Saturday morning we spent the whole time on race preparation, just the final run in P3 we looked at qualifying performance. Other than that we were fully focussed on race performance.
Q: One final question. A lot of people are already working on 2009. Perhaps you can tell us how advanced you are and what it means to you to have the KERS system which is going to be coming into force.
MT: It is mainly two areas everybody is working on. Of course the new aero package which is totally different to what we are racing today. And then KERS where there is an even bigger question mark because it is new technology which we will use only nine months from now. It is technology which is not available yet which goes way beyond what hybrid road cars are using today, so I am really excited about this project because I am sure we will leap-frog current technology. We will provide a step change for future road car technology and this is a position we wanted to be in for years and it really enhances what we do in F1.
Q: So you have a team working on that already?
MT: Sure. Everybody has. We are really focussed on that.
Q: Martin. Who did you expect to be your rivals in Australia and did it turn out slightly differently?
Martin WHITMARSH: Of course, Ferrari showed a strong pace all through the winter and we expected them to be the rivals. I think as Mario said they didn t perform to their game which was fortunate maybe for all us. They are still a strong team and we know they are going to be tough to beat during the remainder of this season. But in reality it was perhaps a slightly more comfortable victory for us than we had expected. We were able to cover as much as we could in the safety cars. We did stop Lewis (Hamilton) early on both occasions. We got Heikki (Kovalainen) in early on the first occasion but not quite early enough on the second occasion. We were comfortably in control. But we are under no illusion and I think it has been clear here today that Ferrari are very strong and for the time being at least they are going to be our major competitors or we theirs. But we don t take for granted that Mario and all the other teams are going to be improving and they are going to be tough to consistently beat as the season progresses.
Q: What about Heikki, he seems to have perhaps exceeded expectations?
MW: Heikki s just done a fantastic job, again, a very solid day today. Coming into the McLaren team, I think he had a season last year which was very difficult, if you think of Australia 2007. As he came out of that, I think progressively during the course of what was a difficult year, he rebuilt his self-belief and his confidence and his pride. Coming into McLaren, alongside Lewis, was huge pressure. He really has done a fantastic job, and frankly, if it wasn t for the safety car (in Australia), he would have been a very very strong second place. Here, again, he has done a very solid job today. We re absolutely delighted with Heikki, we wouldn t have brought him into the team unless we believed he had the potential, obviously, but I think he s proven to a lot of people that he can win races and I m sure he will during the course of this year.
Q: You don t fear the same problems as you had last year? How different is his approach?
MW: Within the team at the moment there s a fantastic atmosphere and I think everyone here has some experience of Heikki who s a very straightforward individual. He s a very enthusiastic and open individual and the team spirit is great. When he starts to become even more competitive, I think that team spirit will see us through, but one never knows. We ve been proven wrong in the past but I hope that on this occasion we re going to have a very strong season with both of our drivers.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Mike Doodson) This is for Martin: I m intrigued by your references as to what happened between you and the FIA over the second cars, the supplementary team, because as long as I ve been in Formula One, we ve been under the impression that the rules stated very clearly that Formula One teams were required to build their own cars; it was a fundamental rule of Formula One. You said that you investigated with the FIA, the FIA informed you that it would be OK to go with a customer team. David Richards went and put together a pretty good package we understand, and then somebody changed his mind. I wonder if you consulted your lawyers and maybe you or David Richards might be up for a little compensation?
MW: I think historically the issue that there has to be constructors was defined within the Concorde Agreement and of course the Concorde Agreement was coming to an end at the end of last year and that s why there was a difference of opinion. There were some teams that believed that the conditions of Concorde continue in 2008 and beyond and some that didn t. We sought clarification. I think we did it in a very open manner with everybody. We explained that philosophically we had concerns about the second tier teams in Formula One, but pragmatically we saw there was an opportunity to help develop teams that would be successful and teams that would reinforce the grid and that s why we went down that path. I think ultimately different opinions prevailed and we ve accepted that and I think we ve got to move on. I think often in Formula One you can easily become embroiled in all sorts of different views and I think one of the lessons of last year for McLaren in particular was you ve got to move on from all these things and we re competing, happy to compete in Formula One as it is today. From time to time various people have different views as to how Formula One should develop and maybe it has to change in direction. Maybe customer teams will be accepted in. I think it s the discussion that Formula One has to have.
Q: (Mike Doodson) Who changed his mind and why?
MW: I think it was a question of interpretation. The current Concorde Agreement, as far as we were concerned, I think as far as the FIA were concerned, was expiring at the end of the year. Concorde had the provisions that you referred to but there were others who argue, and I think argued successfully, that the Concorde Agreement provisions should continue because they d signed various agreements. You ve got to remember various teams had signed various different agreements with the FIA and with FOM, and various people took interpretations as to how we should go forward. It was our view that if there was a possibility to supply a second team, we would do so, but if people eventually told us it wasn t, then we d accept that as well.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) Gerhard, it s only his second race weekend but what are your impressions of Bourdais so far?
GB: Well, until now he did a good job, nothing to say. He d been a bit unlucky already in Australia where he had a problem in one session on his car, where he lost important time, and here today he lost the full second session, due to a mistake made by us, so for him that s really difficult because he doesn t know the circuits, he needs mileage, he needs to run around, but in Australia he was quite good with the situation. He d been quite good in qualifying, he d then been unlucky with the yellow flag and the sector times and until this moment he had been on the level of Sebastian Vettel. And then he did a great race, as you saw, so I think overall, good performance but I think we need to give him half a year to settle into Formula One, to start to know the circuits well, to start to know how to work with the people, so I m sure he s going to have a lot of ups and downs but I think he has a good potential.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) A question for all three of you: do you think we should change the safety car rules? We have a situation now that if the pit lane is not open, a guy running out of fuel gets a penalty for basically doing nothing wrong.
MW: I think we can all complain, certainly we can after last weekend, about the safety car rules, but I think the onus is on us to come up with something better and the fact was that before the pit lane was closed, drivers did race back in dangerous conditions and we all thought it was a good part of the sport when in reality it was dangerous. So I can understand Charlie s (Whiting) viewpoint and what we have at the moment certainly didn t work for us at the last Grand Prix and I think that s unfortunate, where you can lose as Heikki did second place for an error of somebody else during that event. But I think we ve got to come up with something better and I think the FIA s open to that, but it s coming up with something that in fact doesn t make the safety car the lottery that it is, although clearly some people would argue that s good for the sport. But I think it shouldn t be quite that much of a lottery, but it has to be safe and we ve got to come up with something that s better.
MT: Well, as far as I know, nobody s really happy with the situation as it is now. There are discussions between Charlie and the team managers and I think they will have further discussions. Let s see what the outcome is.
GB: So far, no complaints butâ€¦ It worked well! (Laughter) But anyway, I think the FIA and Charlie – or whenever you experienced situations in the race where maybe it s not fair or maybe it s not right, Charlie or the FIA look into it anyway and the team managers also, and they sit together and they change it in the right way for the sport. I think the whole process is going on and they re going to do the right thing.
Q: (Bob McKenzie The Daily Express) Gerhard, is there any chance that you might buy out and run it (Scuderia Toro Rosso) as Berger? Wouldn t you like to see a team out there with your name on it?
GB: There s a smallâ€¦ a very small problem: where s the money to do it? (Laughter) No, again, I m very very happy to have a partner like Red Bull. It s just a perfect situation, you know? I don t think it s a question of naming the team this way or that way. For me it s just important to have the resources and the possibility to do something well in the sport and all the rest, OK, it s not a big deal. So, answering your question, no, I think I need a strong partner, whoever it is. I would prefer Red Bull remains it.
Q: (Mike Doodson) Martin, you ve sort of opened a nest of ants when you talked about the Concorde Agreement. Can you just enlighten us about the rules under which Formula One is being run at the moment, as far as commerce is concerned? Will there be a new Concorde Agreement? What arrangements have you reached for the commercial running of the sport?
MW: I think as people know, (there is) a range of arrangements between teams and FOM. I m sure they will converge and they will be in agreement at some stage during this year. It isn t ideal, none of us would be here racing unless we were happy with the terms and let s hope they get a little more clarified and unified as the year goes on, which I m sure they will.
MT: Well, I know Bernie s people are working with people of the teams in order to put something together and I am confident we will have something before the end of the season.