Japanese GP 2023
SEPTEMBER 22, 2023
Friday Press Conference
PART 1 - TEAM REPRESENTATIVES
Ayao KOMATSU (Haas), Andrew SHOVLIN (Mercedes), Jonathan EDDOLLS (Alpha Tauri)
Q: Ayao, I feel we should definitely start with you. In engineering terms, local hero, home race for you. We saw you signing autographs yesterday. Just tell us how different is this race for you?
Ayao KOMATSU: It is very different, because those Japanese fans are amazing. I think last year, with COVID, they still couldn't do the pit-lane walk – but this year they could, and it's so good to see the kids. They always have primary school kids preparing gifts for every team. It's amazing, I think the atmosphere is great. It's good!
Q: And what about your memories of Suzuka. How long have you been coming here. Not just in a work capacity, did you come as a kid to watch the race?
Komatsu: No, I'm from Tokyo and I never actually came to watch a Formula 1 race before – but watching it on TV, in the Senna vs Prost era, so I've got memories of the Chicane crash and the Turn 1 crash. So that's how I got into it. That's the first memory I have.
Q: That's what made you want to come into Formula 1? The crash between Senna and Prost?
Komatsu: Basically, yeah!
Q: Let's talk about performance. Throw it back to Singapore, first of all. How pleasantly surprised were you by the pace of the car there? Both guys getting into Q3 and Kevin getting that P10.
Komatsu: I think understanding our car's weakness and strengths, Singapore we expected to be more competitive but my hope before coming to Singapore was to get at least one car into Q3. I thought if we did a really good job we could get both cars into Q3 but Kevin's P6, we definitely weren't expecting that, so it was better than expected.
Q: Kevin has two fastest laps in Singapore, he got the P10 of course in the race on Sunday. Why does he go so well around Marina Bay?
Komatsu: I think a couple of reasons. His driving style is very strong on braking and entry and on some of the other circuits where the car is experiencing some combined entry, he struggles with that more, whereas in Singapore, that kind of circuit, his strength on the corner entry pays quite a lot, because the cornering phase is quite short, so he's always been strong there.
Q: What about Suzuka this weekend then? First of all, how is the return to harder tyre compounds affecting the car?
Komatsu: I don't think the return to the harder compounds itself affects the car. It's actually more the type of corners we have here. So, that's where possibly the weakness of the VF-23 might get exposed. Corners like T11, 13-14, those corners. That's where we really need to manage. So, it's not the tyres, it's more of the cornering characteristics.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about this year's car. Why has it proved so difficult to tame?
Komatsu: You mean tame as in race performance? When you've got brand new tyres, extra grip, you can mask lots of weakness of the car, whereas when you do a long run in a race stint, those little weaknesses you can mask in qualifying, those get completely exposed – and it's cumulative. So the characteristic you can survive for one lap or three laps, or five laps becomes very apparent, and that's the weakness. Why is it difficult? Because I think the concept of the car we've got, we've been trying to develop it, trying to make it better but we haven't been really finding the solution. So yeah, that's why it's been quite difficult.
Q: So, how much hope do you have for the upgrade that you're bringing to Austin in a couple of races' time?
Komatsu: Austin, it's a huge push from the factory to get there. It's quite a bi update package, but in terms of putting on outright pace, it's not that really, if you like. It's more we're doing it, and it's a different concept, so we learn as much as possible as well, so to do that learning in this year ahead of launching next year's car is quite big. So, I cannot say for certain in terms of out-right quali performance or race pace performance that we're going to go X-amount quicker but, in terms of learning, and having different characteristics of the car, I think we have done quite a lot. So, it is very important that we do this.
Q: How extensive are the changes going to be on the car? Can we refer to it as a B-spec car? Is it that different?
Komatsu: I think, officially, we're not really expressing it as a B-Spec car. It's a bodywork change, sidepod inlet, floor, so it's pretty extensive. We're not doing front wing or rear wing but the aero characteristics are very different to what we've got here.
Q: Jeddolls, let's come to you now. You've got the local hero in one of your cars. Just how different is this race for Yuki, and the team?
Jonathan EDDOLLS: It's very special for him and that comes off onto us as well. Just coming in, in the morning, in the van, the queues of the fans – I'm sure you had the same – cheering and waving and it's fantastic – and that's just the entrance, coming in. And then the fans in the grandstands. Yesterday, we had so many people in the pit lane giving gifts to everyone. Fairly random gifts and quite a range of different ones – but it gives the whole team a boost, and particularly Yuki off the back of a couple of difficult races. To come here, home race, and to have that as a start to the weekend has been a good boost.
Q: As you say it has been a couple of difficult races for Yuki. He hasn't done a lap at either Monza or Singapore. How much frustration is coming in do you feel?
Eddolls: I mean, he's frustrated at the time, for sure. But he's very good at putting that behind him. So, the frustration from Monza he was able to put behind him and really focus on Singapore. And I think we saw in Qualifying, the performance was there. We couldn't quite get it together in Q2 for him. And then again, some frustration in the race with the collision. But again, coming here, we just tackle each event step-by-step. So that frustration has been put behind and we focus now on trying to extract the maximum from the package this weekend.
Q: Well, there were upgrades in Singapore. FP1 looks like you've hit the ground running here. What can you tell us about the performance?
Eddolls: Yeah, I mean, obviously, Singapore, we had quite a big update. Everything looked to be working as expected there, the performance was there. Singapore is one of those special circuits where it's quite hard, particularly on the aero side, to validate 100 per cent the package and everything is as expected. So, coming here, it's a much easier track to understand if everything's working. So far, the data analysis live was all as expected and I think the performance has shown it looks like we are taking a bit of a step forwards. Yeah, it's only FP1 and with many different run plans, and we've got the extra tyres here, some were using them at different times, but I think the signs are positive.
Q: Let's talk about Liam Lawson. Now, what has impressed you about him in the three races he's done?
Eddolls: I think probably how level-headed he is. How solid he's been and how he's not let the pressure get to him – because it's obviously a big jump for him. I think, stepping in on the Friday night in Netherlands, when it was forecast rain, the next day, was a bit of a shock to him. But he quickly got over that, got up to speed with the car, the tyres, difficult race, difficult conditions. But I think the thing that's most impressed me is how solid he is. In qualifying, he's just chipping away, building it up step-by-step. We focus on like a weekend plan, aiming for that lap in qualifying. And I think Singapore, another difficult track, he'd not been there before, we used the three sets in Q1, just to ensure that he got there. And then he did a solid Q2. And I think the other point in the race he was keeping some fast cars at bay. And you felt confident that he could do that for a while. So yeah, I think the whole team has been very impressed with him.
Q: You say he's solid, what is his feedback like?
Eddolls: So, the feedback is very, very good in terms of the car and what he needs. Obviously, Formula 1 racing is new, so during the race, the information still is flowing more towards him than it is to us, as expected. But I think in terms of his feedback of the general characteristics of the car, how the tyres are behaving, it's very good.
Q: And what can you tell us about Daniel Ricciardo's recovery, recuperation? When are you expecting him back?
Eddolls: Well, we all saw him in Singapore. He's still going through that recovery phase. I'd say we're still talking a while away. So, I wouldn't want to put a target on it. The recovery is going well. We've got some simulator work planned before a return. And I think from our side and his side, there's no rush to get him back too early. The worst thing would be to come back before it's properly healed and cause any issues. So yeah, watch this space.
Q: And Jonathan, you've got a really nice problem. You've got three really capable drivers, but only two seats for next year.
Eddolls: Yeah, it makes it a tough one. Yeah. Well, I think nothing is official yet on what's going to happen for next year. But I think probably there'll be an announcement at some stage.
Q: Shov, coming to you now. Thank you for waiting. Let's throw it back to Sunday, first of all, a very disappointing ending to that race for George, how can you and the team help him move on?
Andrew SHOVLIN: Well, I mean, he was obviously very upset himself about that. He was more gutted than anyone. And the team has been really good at just sort-of working with him, giving him a day to just go off and clear his head. But he's come back here very much business-as-usual. But you know, the team will make mistakes from time to time, the drivers do. I don't think he'll do that one again. And as much as it was unfortunate to lose some points there, he put himself in a position where he could challenge for the win. And it was nice to see that. And that was actually a great feeling for the team, even if it didn't last as long as we'd have liked. But those laps where you really felt like you were fighting for a win again.
Q: And in terms of car performance in Singapore, is it fair to say that you had the fastest car on Sunday?
Shovlin: It's difficult, because so much of the race, everyone was held up, there were different tyre strategies. I think we had a car that was close enough to fight for a win. And you know, that's what you can be confident of. I think if it hadn't been for Norris being able to catch that DRS, then we probably would have done it. And it was nice to see the strategy team, as well, taking some bold choices in terms of the strategy. But where we fell, relative to McLaren to Ferrari, that all felt pretty normal to be honest. The big difference was Red Bull weren't there, and normally they are. If you look at FP1 today, you'd say they're back to where they should be.
Q: Can I ask you briefly about Red Bull in Singapore, in that you've been there as well, at the Marina Bay circuit, back in 2015. You were dominating the season, but that was an outlier that weekend. What is it about that racetrack that makes it so difficult and so unpredictable?
Shovlin: The problem that we had was actually quite specific to the old set of regulations and how the car was working aerodynamically. It's very bad for overheating, it's a street track, it's quite bumpy. If the drivers haven't got confidence, that will always rob quite a lot of lap time off them. And in particular, it's really hard to keep your rear tyres under control because of all those traction zones. So, it's quite a nuanced circuit. But you know, we've had one really, really difficult year there, it was very good for learning and probably you'd say Red Bull will find the same: that they'll get to the bottom of what went wrong, and it won't be a mistake that'll happen again.
Q: Now, Lewis has said that this year's car is one of the hardest he's ever driven to get into the right working window, do you fully understand it now?
Shovlin: Well, I mean, we were doing a lot of work to try and solve some of the problems on this car, make sure that we don't have them next year. We have moved it forward, the car we had previously, in 2022, that tended to be an awfully long way off in qualifying, it was generally racing a bit better. The performance was very, very track specific. So, some areas we have improved. The big issues, we're just not quick enough. So, we need to find a good chunk of performance, to challenge Red Bull in particular. But the other thing is the field is now super close. So, you look at some of the gaps we had 12 months ago, and you can have a decent qualifying position, you might be fourth or fifth on the grid but you were eight, nine tenths off. Now, if you do that, you end up getting bumped in Q1 or Q2. So there's lots for us to work on and certainly some of the work will be about making sure we can give the drivers the confidence in the car that they're lacking at the moment. And that's a big area. We've got some interesting projects that hopefully they'll come off.
Q: Shov, looking at this weekend, you've said it looks like Red Bull are back. But how is your pace relative to Ferrari, relative to McLaren?
Shovlin: Well, on the basis of FP1, we're glad it's not a sprint race, because we've got a bit of work to do! But you know, we haven't changed the car coming here. The circuit's unique, but it's not a total outlier. It's not like Monaco or somewhere. So, logic tells you we can probably chip away at it, try and get it in a better window. We just haven't landed with a great balance here. And it's also a little bit confusing hopping around with a new tyre compound. But fundamentally, a bit of work to do on the set-up, we probably get that, half the tracks. We land at, we're having to adapt the car to get it to work. And again, that ties in with what Lewis was saying. It's not an easy car to just land on track, and it does everything you want it to: you do need to do a lot of fine-tuning. But our record for doing that has been pretty decent over the year. So, we'll do the work we normally do. We've got the simulator team back in Brackley and they'll be getting that ready to roll and hopefully we'll make some progress for the next session.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Andrew, a question for you about George. Obviously, he's worked with Mercedes for a very long time, now. What are some of your earliest memories and impressions of George when he first joined the team as a young driver? And have you seen those characteristics grow to now being a grand prix winner for the team?
Shovlin: Well, I think when we first ran him in an F1 car, that was one of the post-season Abu Dhabi tests. And obviously, whatever you come from, it's a big jump. He'd come from F3 into that, and just in terms of throttle control, ability to look after the tyres, understanding what's important, consistency, the approach to starting and then just chipping away at it without, you know, taking risks without making mistakes, you can normally see the good ones pretty early on. So, there was no doubt there. But, for us, the bit where you realised he was pretty impressive was when we jumped him in when Lewis had COVID. Great job, a lot to take on, very little time to adapt to the team, the car. And you know, he's continuing to improve and get stronger.
Q: (Jon Noble) To all three of you, over the past two years of this rules era, when the word concept has emerged, it's always been linked with the sidepods and there being this tenuous link between the two. But from your perspective, when you talk about concept, what's your view of what a car concept is? And what are the initial considerations you have when you're talking about what you want a car to be?
Shovlin: Well, for us, we view it in a bit more complicated way than just what do the sidepods look like. And what the sidepods look like interacts very heavily with what's going on with the floor. And the floor is the thing that's generating most of the downforce. So, you know, you use the word like we're going down a different [path], or exploring a different concept, but, generally, that, for the teams, will mean that there are changes right underneath the car and it's about putting the bits together above that are going to be conditioning the flow. So that's one element. But then the other thing, with a new set of regulations, is working out where you want to target the downforce. Where are you wanting to chase in terms of efficiency or drag levels? And a lot of the work we do when we're talking about going off on a different development route, is actually saying, where do we think the real value is? And when your resources are so limited, you need to be very careful about where you're searching for performance, because it's got to be fruitful, because you've got so little tunnel time, the cost cap is making things difficult… You don't want to be exploring in barren lands, basically.
Eddolls: I think you summed it up pretty well. Clearly from our side, when we come to the track with a different concept, there's generally a lot of learning to do to understand if, particularly on the aero side, if it's behaving as expected. Some change in concept require a different set-up, different heave stiffness platforms, different mechanical balance, weight distribution to optimise the aerodynamics, and how you can get the tyres working. So yeah, the first thing then we do at the track is the correlation work to validate all of our pre-event and simulator work, and then take that feed that back into the models and see how to adapt the set-up to extract the most from that change in concept.
Komatsu: Yeah, I think mostly covered, but then maybe on extra dimension I'd add is just the consistency or robustness of the car, which is what we need, which is what is lacking a little bit on the car. So that's what we're trying to improve.
Q: (Scott Mitchell-Malm – The Race) A question to Andrew, just to talk about Lewis in a bit more detail with this car. He has talked about having ups and downs in qualifying. Before the summer break he was on that really good run relative to George – I think it was six in seven that he qualified him. Since the summer break, he's sounded a bit unhappy. Is that just part of how difficult the car is to get in a sweet spot? Or is there something specific Lewis struggles with? And why does he turn around so effectively on Sundays, because his points haul and podium rate this season has been very impressive.
Shovlin: Well, he yeah, as you say, he's always performed on a Sunday. And that's been brilliant, because he's always been able to bring home decent points for us. The car is a bit fiddly at times. If you don't get it right in the window, you can end up struggling through the session. The other thing that makes it difficult is that it is so hard to get through Q1, Q2 these days. And you know, a few years ago, we would just do one lap, middle of the session, it would put you completely safe. Sometimes we'd go through two sessions on one set of tires. And if you don't get the right balance, if you get a bit of traffic, if you can't do the right out lap, all of those things really cost you. So it's a combination of things. But you know, the race pace has been good. It says that the car is broadly where you need it to be, but understanding the tyres when you're under pressure, when you've got to make sure that you do get the lap in the first session, it is difficult and that certainly makes it a challenge for any driver who's not completely comfortable when they roll out in Q1.
Q: (Joel Tansey – The Japan Times) This question is for Jonathan. I'm wondering what you make of Yuki's season so far and what potential you see in him going forward?
Eddolls: Yeah, I mean, obviously, the season has been a challenge for us as a team. We haven't had a package that we have had in previous years or a package that we expected to have. So it has been a challenge at each event even to score points. But I think Yuki, he's taken a quite a big step up this season. He came in obviously with a rookie teammate, so in a way he was our most experienced Formula 1 driver. And he took that on his shoulders and performed well. I think he's definitely maturing and we all know in his first year or so he was quite hot-headed in the cockpit, on the radio. He's controlling all of that now and I think focusing that on understanding the car, and focusing that on the driving. So I think we're seeing a much more consistent Yuki this year. And, you know, he's shown as well, that he is very, very fast, capable. The lap in Singapore was a great example. And also he's had some strong races. As I said, we just need to focus on improving the car to give him a package that he can consistently fight for points with.
Q: You say he's taken a step up this year, in what areas? Is it just consistency or is there…
Eddolls: I think, you know, the whole approach to the weekend. The consistency, he's focusing on understanding the car, giving better feedback. He's maturing as a driver and that's helping us focus on the areas to help him go faster. I think he's also understanding more what he needs from the car, in terms of… You were talking before about the balance characteristics, the entry stability, all these sorts of things. Before, he was still learning. And he went through the change of regulations. And us as a team, as well, we know how to extract the most from him based on the data, his feedback. So I think, you know, we're gelling as a group. And that's showing in his performance.
Q: (Matt Coch) Jonathan, you mentioned that Daniel is going to jump in the simulator before he makes a racing return. Is it fair to describe that as a fitness test? And if so, what are the sorts of things that you're going to be looking for from Daniel, I guess, in terms of your freedom of movement in his hand, grip strength, those sorts of things?
Eddolls: Yes, it's really that. So he'll jump in the simulator, you know, it's a very good representation of the car, all of the loads, etc. I think the final decision is more than likely going to come from him rather than from us. He will know better than anyone how's the pain, how's the recovery. So, as said, we're not putting him under pressure to come back. We've got a pool of three good drivers at the moment. And yes, there's no big rush. The focus is on him making a full recovery so that when he comes back, it's not a point that's even talked about.
Q: (Flilip Cleeren) Jonathan, you mentioned the luxury problem you have on the driver side. Has this recent streak of races given you a good idea of what Liam's potential is, given that he hasn't had the preparation or the mileage? He says there are still a few tenths in the car that will come later on, whenever he does return to your car. What do you think his potential is? How far can he go?
Eddolls: Yeah, I mean, from what we've seen so far, you know, he's got in and he's got up to speed very, very quickly. You know, Yuki has still, just, got the edge on him, which is totally to be expected with the experience. But I think the fact that he's gone in, he's been able to qualify well, he's got into Q3, score points very early in a car that's not the most competitive and at times is difficult to drive. You know, I think, from what we see, compared to some of our previous drivers, definitely he's up there. And he's got the potential, so I think we're all excited for more races working with him, in the meantime, while we wait for Daniel to recover.
Q: (Adam Cooper) For all three of you. I know it's still a few weeks away, but I can ask for your thoughts on Las Vegas, what kind of track it is from the early sims you've done, what kind of challenges it presents, especially with regard to tyre temperature, because people are saying it might be five degrees towards the end of the race?
Komatsu: Yeah, I think it'll be a big challenge for us, especially our team, with the tools we've got in terms of a pre-event simulation, more limited, let's say, than Mercedes, so we're going to have a big challenge on our hands. But yeah, still a very different temperature window. So we've got to get the tyres to work, but if I had to choose hot or cold, I would choose cold conditions at the minute. So hopefully you can get it to work and it's a challenge we're looking forward to.
Eddolls: I think, so far, from the work that we've done, it's got many long straights, quite a few low-speed corners, not so much high-speed content so maybe a track similar to Baku, that sort of layout. The temperatures are going to be probably one of the biggest challenges. I think we're expecting circuit 10 degrees of ambient, so very much like the winter test. But then, you know, in many years, we've done winter tests in Barcelona at those sorts of temperatures. So it's not going to be completely new to us. But definitely, it's quite a step away in terms of where we're going to be operating the car and tyres to what we're used to in a normal season.
Shovlin: Yeah, I think it'll just depend on exactly how cold it is. Because if the track is down in single figures, that's often a region where you go winter testing, you do a run, it's very difficult for the tyres to either get them switched on, or there may be graining and things. And then sometimes you just wait until it warms up a bit. So actually going to have to sort of race and qualify in those conditions, it will be interesting, but you just try and identify the risks with the new circuit, work out what your contingencies will be, whether you need any sort of specific car spec to deal with that, and we're going through those at the moment. But as I said, if it's at the very cold end of predictions, it's difficult to know how they are going to work.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Jonathan, another question for you about Daniel and his impact on the team. Obviously he came with a lot of experience, which is very different to a lot of the drivers that AlphaTauri typically goes for, young drivers. Could you really tell that experience shining through in terms of his feedback and helping you point the car in a better direction?
Eddolls: Yeah, I mean, pretty much straight away, you could feel the quality of the feedback, not only the feedback on the handling of the car. Obviously, he's got a wealth of experience and he's driven many different cars and experienced many different ends of the performance spectrum. So having that feedback on our car was extremely valuable for us. But also, I think the other things that were impressive, and reminders of what experience can bring, were: how he could understand the race; the feedback that he could give live; how he thought the tyres were behaving – was it a one-stop or a two-stop; or if there was a Safety car, could he reheat these tyres? Or would we need to fit a fresh set? So a lot of the time, we're making those decisions from the pit wall based on data, but to have somebody… When it's not clear cut, having someone with that experience can really, really make a difference.
PART 2 - TEAM REPRESENTATIVES
Bruno FAMIN (Alpine), Christian HORNER (Red Bull), Mike KRACK (Aston Martin)
Q: Christian, I feel we must start with you. FP1 looked good for the team. Is the RB19 back this weekend?
Christian HORNER: Well, it's still early days. But I mean certainly Max laid down a statement of intent with his first flying lap of the weekend, which was truly impressive. But on all three compounds of tyres, including the development tyre we tried, the car seemed to be performing reasonably well. So I think we've got a good starting point. Inevitably, it will converge as we go through the sessions, but I think we should hopefully have a strong car here this weekend.
Q: Any recurrence of the issues you had last weekend?
Horner: Not so far, but I think that was very much circuit-specific. And I think that, you know, we started to understand some of the issues that we had last weekend. Obviously analysis is still ongoing with that. But, you know, hopefully this is a circuit that's a little more conventional and plays to some of the strengths of the car, rather than the weaknesses.
Q: Did you go to Singapore last weekend expecting trouble? Or did the performance of the car catch you out?
Horner: Well, I think we expected it to be probably our biggest challenge of the season, I don't think we expected it to be such a big challenge as it proved to be. And I think we ended up in a window with the car, set-up-wise, that was suboptimal. I think we have recovered, to a degree, for the Grand Prix, for the race. Unfortunately, when you get into a situation like that, the Safety Car came out at just the wrong time for us, and then the VSC, almost even worse. So I think without that, actually, we'd have been in that group fighting for a podium at the end of the race, but it wasn't to be and, you know, the others did a great job, better than us. So, you know, we brush ourselves down and go again, here.
Q: Now that you've had a few days to think about it, what would you do differently in Singapore?
Horner: I think, again, there's never a silver bullet with any of these things. It's a combination of how is your interaction with aerodynamics and mechanical set-up; it interacts, obviously, with the tyres and the layout of the circuit. I think it is a combination or how you run the combination of your set-up. And I think we'd be probably a little different to where we started. And yeah, I think there's a lot of lessons that we've taken out of that.
Q: Alright, let's look at the positives. You can clinch the Constructors' Championship this weekend at Honda's home race. Just spend a moment reflecting on this year. Has your team ever performed at this level before?
Horner: No, no. I mean, we've had some great seasons but I think what we've achieved up to Singapore… I mean, 14 straight wins across all the different venues that we've been at, and the challenges and conditions and everything that we've faced this year has been an outstanding performance. You know, operationally, reliability-wise, strategically, development-wise, I think the team has been operating at a phenomenally high level. And I think that, you know, everybody within the team is incredibly proud of what we've achieved. To have achieved 14 straight wins this season 15 in total, if you include Abu Dhabi last year, up to last weekend, we'd only been beaten in one race in the last 12 months, Max taking 10 in a row, beating Seb's record from 2013. First and second in the Drivers' Championship, six 1-2 finishes so far… It has been a hell of a season for us. And something that everybody in the team is hugely proud of.
Q: Take the numbers out of it for a second. What are you most proud of?
Horner: I think the spirit, the culture, the passion, and the commitment of the whole team and the way that we work as a team. And everybody supports each other. And I think that's the biggest standout element for me. That's why these guys are so interested in our people!
Q: Final one from me. Can we just look down the pit lane a bit at AlphaTauri. Can we get your thoughts on the performance of Liam Lawson so far?
Horner: I think he's done an outstanding job. I mean, dropped in in the rain in Zandvoort. You know, that was a bit of an eye opener for him, but I thought he did well there and then a week later in Monza, he was unlucky to miss out on a point. And then seeing Singapore for the first time and scoring a couple of points. He's a gritty racer, we know that about him. And I think he's grabbed this opportunity in Formula 1 that very seldom drivers get – a chance to demonstrate his talent. And I think he's done a tremendous job and certainly has put himself firmly on the radar and cemented the feeling that we had about him and, you know, he's made a good start to this weekend and we'll see how that continues.
Q: Does he deserve a race seat in 2024?
Horner: Well, look, we've got a luxury problem, where we've got three into two into that team. Obviously, it's an AlphaTauri issue, but you know, there are three great drivers and it's a nice headache to have. He will be a Grand Prix driver. He already is a Grand Prix driver, you know, at some stage. Whether he has to wait a little for that or not, then, you know, I think he's demonstrating that that he is a talent for the future.
Q: Many thanks. Bruno, if we could come to you now. It's been a tough couple of races for Alpine hasn't it, with Monza and then, of course, the gearbox issue for Esteban last weekend. First question from me: do you have any reliability concerns coming into the race weekend here at Suzuka?
Bruno FAMIN: Yeah, hello, everyone. No, no special concern, to be honest. We had the gearbox issue, it is confirmed, and now we are analysing that in the Enstone factory. But for the time being there is no point for being worried about this weekend or the other weekend.
Q: Let's look at the positives. And I think your drivers are definitely two of those. Esteban's flying. Pierre has scored more points in the last three races than he did in the 12 previous races. How pleased are you with the job they're doing?
Famin: I'm very happy with our two drivers. They are making a very good job and they're able to really score very good result on points when we are able to give them a good car. But they are real fighters during the race. Esteban scored a podium in Monaco, Pierre in Zandvoort. In Singapore both made a very good race, Pierre recovering from 12th to sixth. Unfortunately, Esteban had to withdraw. But it's a really strong point and they are really paving the way for the team with their spirit. And this is something really good.
Q: What about Pierre? He told us it took him a few races to get up to speed in the team. And then since the summer break, he's been flying. What has changed?
Famin: I think he gets used to the team. I think we also tried to give him the best possible environment. I think we're trying to solve maybe some communication problems we had between the technical teams and him, trying to make it more comfortable, to get the guys more listening or exchanging, and him to listen more to what the engineer was telling him. It works in both ways. I think he just gets used to the team and the team is making some effort also to have him well.
Q: I know we've only had FP1 but are you more confident this weekend than you've been at some other races this year?
Famin: No, not especially. P1 has not been very good. The drivers are not happy with the car for the time being and we have to work hard and to improve the setup for FP2, for sure. There is no reason to be super optimistic for this race but we aim for having the best possible result in every one of the remaining races of the season. We're not thinking about the championship any more, we just want to get the best possible result every time, taking the races one after the other.
Q: Mike, first up, how's Lance, any ill-effects from his crash last weekend?
Mike KRACK: No, Lance is fine. He had some rest this week and he came yesterday, he was quite confident physically, mentally all good. And this morning, after running, all went well so I think it was a good decision to give him some rest last week and we're looking forward now for Suzuka.
Q: Before we look forward to Suzuka, can I just throw it back to Singapore again, because it was a disappointing weekend for the team on many levels? There was the crash for Lance obviously, but the performance of the car wasn't there either. Do you understand why?
Krack: Yeah, I think when we look back, the Friday was quite good actually, in terms of long run pace. I think we did quite a good job there. In qualifying, we were in the mix as we expected, I think behind the Ferraris that were really quick, I think it was tight all the time. But then come the race, with only one car, we had an issue in Fernando's car from lap two onwards and this made us really move backwards in the race. We didn't have the performance that we thought we should have and then from that moment, one element came to the next, we had a penalty, we ran wide, we had a pit-stop that was, I think, one of the worst in all time. So I think all in all, everything came together a bit in that situation and it was disappointing, obviously, but we have an explanation for it. We have analysed the pit-stop so I think there's nothing to be scared for the future from that.
Q: So we can't say that you are having similar issues to Red Bull for example, there wasn't a set-up issue?
Krack: No, first of all, I do not know which issues Red Bull were having. And second, we had clearly an issue on the car that was costing us substantial performance and I don't think that is what Red Bull was having.
Q: Alright, let's talk about this weekend. FP1 has started well, Fernando and Lance happy so far?
Krack: Yeah, I had to rush out from the briefing. So far what I've heard, both drivers are quite happy. I think, coming to Suzuka, it's also difficult for any driver not to be happy. They are… normally when they come back from the baseline, they all have smiles on their faces because it's just a mega track here, the atmosphere is great and we all love to come here. So far everything is nice.
Q: Now Bruno's just told us that for Alpine it's no longer about the championship. You are 48 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors. Is that gap closable?
Krack: Well, when you see a couple of races (ago) it was almost the other way around so I think we have a couple of races to go, plenty of opportunities and we need to maximise every weekend. We have not done that for a while now. We have managed to do that earlier in the season so it's on us. We don't have to look at others, we have to deliver 100% at all times, in all sessions. We had reliability glitches, we had operational ones that we didn't have in the beginning of the season and that is something we really need to improve on to get the maximum out of the car at all times. And if we manage that, I think there will be opportunities.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jon Noble) Christian, in terms of AlphaTauri's drivers, the direction of travel seems quite clear and probably will become clearer this weekend. If Liam doesn't get a race seat for next year, have you got any interest in loaning him out, placing him somewhere else? Are you eager to keep him within the Red Bull family for at least next season?
Horner: He's in the Red Bull family. If there was a seat – I think there's only one seat left available… You know, we've done that in the past when, for example – Carlos Sainz went on loan to the previous Renault team – but no, I think if he's not sitting in a Grand Prix car next year, then he's going to have plenty on his plate with other stuff to do.
Q: (Jake Boxall-Legge) Christian, you spoke about the successes that Red Bull's had this season. You're in line for your sixth Constructors' Championship. When you turn the clock back to 2005 at the start of this project, could you have ever envisaged this success or could you see that coming with the investment and the infrastructure that was being put in place?
Horner: No, when I first came in, it was clear that the Dietrich had come into Formula 1 because he wanted to compete and had bought what was the Jaguar Formula 1 team that had been a perennial seventh place finisher, and it was about then constructing a team and I don't think any of us could have ever envisaged what lay ahead of us. Within 19 seasons to have achieved what we have has been a phenomenal journey so far. But it's never a question about looking back. It's always a question of looking forward and I think that for us, if we can close out these championships in the coming races, that again - I know nobody looks at Wikipedia these days – is a huge statistic that everybody will be immensely proud of. And I think for us, it then becomes about next year, the year after, and of course the next chapter for Red Bull, which is the relationship with Ford in 2026 with producing our own powertrain which going from zero with a start-up company effectively, and building a facility and that is the next challenge. But it's been quite a journey, and hopefully a few more chapters to go.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Christian, a similar question to what Tom asked about the team's level of performance with Max in particular: is he performing at a higher level than you've ever seen from him before? And the evolution from say, last year to this year, have you seen any changes in Max in terms of characteristics or anything he's doing to just reach that extra top level?
Horner: I think he just gets sharper and sharper. The raw speed and ability has been there from day one and that hunger and passion that he drives with, but now he couples that with experience and the way he reads the race, the way he manages tyres, the way he reads the situation is phenomenal. And I think he pushes the team, we push him and we both go to new levels and I think the team operationally this year has hit new standards as well, because whether it'd be strategically, whether it be pitstops, whether it'd be reliability etc, etc, I think all of those boxes we've managed to tick. And I think success only spurs all aspects of the business to do better. And of course, when you've got a driver like Max Verstappen, that just adds that added motivation, that nobody wants to let the team down.
Q: Christian, you refer to how Max reads situations, how did he deal with the frustrations last weekend?
Horner: I think he dealt with it very, very maturely. I think that, obviously, it was a difficult weekend but he raced very hard, he was patient in the race when he needed to be. Unfortunately, I think if the pace car had come out five laps earlier or five laps later it would have transformed our race somewhat differently. But it was what it was. He knew at some point we were going to get beaten and I think he dealt with the situation well, he was pushing, obviously, to understand and contribute as to what the reasonings were for our relative lack of performance last weekend to the rest of the year, and he's certainly come here pretty fired up as you could see with that out lap in FP1 today.
Q: (Filip Cleeren) Bruno, at Spa you said that you would take your time to assess where Alpine is and which areas you need to improve. So I just wanted to ask how far along are you in that assessment? What changes have you made or are you making and what's the plan now?
Famin: Yeah, we made some quite good, quite big changes at the end of July within the team. This created a new mindset on the track-side team. I'm quite happy with what I've seen so far. I think we made some quite good races in terms of strategy execution since that. I'm still assessing the factories, both, with the goal to really see how to extract more performance and I think one of the key things is trying to get all the people working together: both sites but also within each of the sites to extract all the potential we have, we have a lot of potential, but the difficulty is to put everybody together, everything together, to create more performance, this is what I'm assessing now.
Q: (Joel Tansey – The Japan Times) Christian, I'm just wondering if you could give me your assessment on Yuki's season so far and what potential you see in him going forward?
Horner: I think Yuki has made a step forward this year from what I've seen and followed. Speed-wise, he's certainly very competitive and he's rounded that off with some strong race performances this year. He's also had a succession of 11th places which… unfortunately he wasn't picking up points obviously in those races but I think that on the whole he's had a pretty decent season and shown evolution and maturity compared to previous seasons.
Q: (Mat Coch) Bruno, Jack Doohan's second season in Formula 2 has been a bit more difficult than his first. What's your assessment of his year and where does he fit in with Alpine next year?
Famin: It's true that his second season has been a bit difficult. He made the two very good wins but for all the first part of the season he was not happy at all with his car. The car has improved a lot now. Of course it's going to be difficult for him to be champion. And we have also a second very good driver in the Academy with Victor Martins, he's in his rookie year, very good as well. I think, of course, the idea is to see how both of them will keep going, keep improving. They were both testing the A521 this week. Then we are trying to give them as much experience as possible and we will see what we can do with Jack of course but maybe also with Victor. But they are part of the family.
Q: Bruno, while we're talking young drivers, Mick Schumacher has been linked to Alpine in sports cars. What can you tell us?
Famin: It's true that we are talking with Mick about the possibility to race in our endurance programme with the A424. It would be a good opportunity for both parties, I think but for the time being we are just talking and hopefully we will organise a test soon.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Bruno, I know there's a restructure going on at the moment but in terms of team principal, can you give an update on where things are? Obviously, you're in their interim role? Are you still talking to people and when do you envisage someone will be installed full time?
Famin: I have no delay because I don't want to be under pressure. For the time being I'm assessing everything, I think the changes I've seen so far are quite good on the track-side, as I said. I'm very happy with the drivers, the job they are doing, the spirit they have. Of course, the main point will be now to really see how we can get the same kind of spirit in the factories and that's really the point I'm focusing on. I'm not thinking about having… it's not a question of people it's a question of… it's not a question of person, it's a question of having all the people together.
Q: (Jon Noble) Christian, Paul Monaghan said last weekend that some of the inherent problems that affected you in Singapore had been there earlier in the season. Have - from the inside - things been more of a challenge and more difficult winning those races than it's appeared from the outside where it's been the impression of smooth sailing?
Horner: Well, yeah, certainly if you look at a race like Monaco, Fernando's lap there was phenomenal and I think that it took something extra special for Max. I think he hit every barrier in the last sector to take that pole position, which is obviously so critical there. So Monaco, there were already signs that street circuits were a challenge for us, Azerbaijan as well was more of a challenge. So I think that there have been some short corner circuits that have posed some issues for us but I think we've started to understand that and that's something that obviously, we'll be looking to address going forward, because you have to have a car that can obviously compete across a broad spectrum of circuits. I think, actually, that's where RB19 has been pretty strong but it's obviously finding that balance of how much you weight in which particular area because as we're seeing behind us, circuit to circuit different cars are suiting different venues so to have one that fits the whole envelope and covers the whole envelope is very, very tricky.
Q: (Adam Cooper) Looking ahead to 2026, a new power unit and how the driver market's going to open up, obviously Christian, you've got Max signed for long term. We just saw Oscar sign up for '26, everyone else seems to be waiting. How much are PUs playing in those discussions for the long term. I know it's a long way away, in terms of talking to drivers, trying to convince them that you're going to have a decent package, and how hard is it to know where you're going to be relative to everyone else? I'm thinking about that time when Niki and Ross convinced Lewis to come to Mercedes for the 2014 package.
Krack: I think these days just opening a wallet of money is not any more an argument or not a major… it is an argument definitely but the drivers these days, and especially their management, they're asking many more questions than this. I think the power unit is playing a substantial role but I think also the track record and also I think the current status is always playing a role and is factored in. So I think the whole convincing bit is much more difficult because there was only a few top drivers or that the drivers that everybody wants to have and you have to have a proper set of presentations and arguments ready to convince them
Famin: On our side, I think we are very happy with our drivers and this is not our first concern. Our first concern is to extract the best possible from the team… the best possible performance and to develop the best possible power unit. I'm talking about the power unit for 2026. The goal is to develop the best possible power unit. One thing after the other. We are happy with the drivers we have now and let's build a good package.
Horner: Yeah, there's no crystal ball for 2026. Who knows who's going to be competitive? There's going to be completely new chassis regulations, complete new aerodynamic philosophy so the chassis is going to play a key role, the engine is going to play a key role with the split between electrification and combustion and fuel is going to play a key role in that as well. And so for us, starting from scratch, it's our biggest risk and it's our biggest opportunity so it's going to be an interesting journey and I'm sure all the engine manufacturers are working incredibly hard. We've got new manufacturers coming in and Audi as well. But it is a significantly different challenge to the current set of PU regulations.
Q: (Ollie Lewis – The Daily Mail) Christian, you mentioned earlier about Max's frustrations last week. As a team principal, how do you approach a driver like Max Verstappen? Do you put an arm around him? Do you keep your distance when he's been disappointed?
Horner: It depends how he's feeling. Look, Max was super clear last weekend. He was very very constructive, very constructive in the debrief, been constructive all week, taking his frustration out on the padel tennis courts with his engineers, beating GP which didn't go down well. But no, he's been very constructive in his approach and I think he knew it was always going to come to an end at some point. It was just a question of when and I think that tenth victory meant a lot to him and certainly to the team and so I'm certainly glad that Singapore wasn't the tenth race in that succession of races. But I think he's just shown great leadership, great maturity in the way that he handled… of course everybody was disappointed in last weekend. You get used to winning and it's a good reminder of how much it hurts to lose and if it doesn't hurt to lose then you're in the wrong business. So I think it was a good reminder of that. And I think that Ferrari did a great job on the day and Carlos Sainz in particular drove a very intelligent race and was a deserving winner so I think we took an awful lot of lessons out of last weekend.