British GP: Friday Press Conference – Part 2

Today’s press conference with Mario Isola, Otmar Szafnauer and Toyoharu Tanabe.

Otmar, first question: how is Checo Perez today? Have you spoken to him?
Otmar Szafnauer: I haven’t spoken to him today but yesterday, he’s asymptomatic, he was surprised that he tested positive, he couldn’t believe it, he said ‘there’s no way, there’s no symptoms, I feel completely fine.’ He travelled privately so he thought he took ample precautions, didn’t get on a commercial flight in between races so he was surprised. He’s OK, we’re going to check on him daily, send a doctor to him. He’s quarantining now, we just have to make sure the virus gets out of his system and he comes back racing.

We’re delighted to see Nico back, but how did it work out with him, because he’s not actually your reserve driver, so could you just give us a chronology of events?
OS: He’s not our reserve driver so we thought about… well, when I started thinking about this when Checo’s first test was inconclusive and hoping that the next test was negative but you’ve got to hope for the best and plan for the worst so we started that planning and we did it in parallel with Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez at the same time. We also have Stoffel Vandoorne but he couldn’t be here this weekend as he’s got a Formula E commitment so it was Esteban or Nico. We did it in parallel and our engineering team, after we discussed it, thought Nico would be more appropriate for our team because he knows us really well, he knows all the engineers, he knows our systems, our processes, he’s driven our simulator. It would be easy for him to get in the simulator again and also he has relevant experience from having driven in Formula 1 last year, and we just needed somebody who could score points for us so we thought Nico would be the best guy for us.

Can you tell us what he said to you when you made the phone call?
OS: Yeah, he had just landed in Germany. I think he was flying to Germany to do some kind of sports car test or something, I don’t know what category of racing, but he landed there and he said ‘yeah yeah, I just landed here, I’m going to do a test’ and I said ‘well, maybe you should jump in a Formula 1 car’ and he said ‘yeah, absolutely.’ I think he spent an hour on the ground in Cologne to grab his boots and a helmet and I think the helmet he grabbed isn’t to spec anyway and then he flew into Birmingham so he landed here, I think 7 or 7.30 last night.

Tell us about how that first session went?
OS: Yeah, really well. I think we got about a five-minute late start. We got the go from Eurofins I think quarter to 11, saying that his test came back negative so then we had to quickly get him in the car but he quickly came up to speed and his feedback was as it always has been so there’s more improvement in the car. There are things he doesn’t like, there are things he does like so hopefully we’ll make those improvements between now and FP2 and we’ll see how we go, but I think he was P9 and pretty comfortable.

Mario, very hot track temperatures today, what sort of wear and degradation have you seen on the tyres during FP1?
Mario Isola: You know, FP2 is more representative than FP1 so we are currently analysing tyres coming from the first practice but we want to wait and see the level of wear and degradation from FP2. It is also true that this weekend we decided to nominate the three hardest compounds of our range so I’m confident that C1 and C2 are good enough for the race, while the C3 is probably a compound that you have to manage especially if you elect to start the race on the C3 because you are obliged to use the C3 during qualifying. So the weather forecast is good for the rest of the weekend but a bit colder for Saturday and Sunday; that is another important information that teams have to get tomorrow morning. Let’s see what happens.

Pirelli have opted to split the tyre strategies next weekend here at Silverstone, but you didn’t do that at the second race in Austria. Can you explain why that was?
MI: In Austria we had no time to react to this request. We had the discussion, together with the teams, FIA and FOM and for Silverstone it is possible so we made a plan with C2, C3, C4 for the second weekend. We had the first check on the F2 in Austria where we nominated different compounds; it was good, we saw different strategies from the first weekend to the second weekend so hopefully it works also in Formula One.

Tanabe-san, quick summary of FP1 from Honda’s point of view please?
Toyoharu Tanabe: So far, we had no problems with all four cars powered by Honda PU and then we had some trouble in previous races so we confirmed to work well and then the performance point of view, we are still working very hard with the teams, how to improve our performance. So far, not too bad.

Video Conference

(Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Otmar, we’ve just heard that Checo didn’t share his plans to travel to Mexico with the team or didn’t ask for permission. Can you confirm that this is the case and if so, could this have any contractual consequences for him?
OS: No, we’ve got no clauses in the contract where he’s got to ask permission to go back to his family. I think his family was in Mexico and it’s not a surprise that he went back to Mexico, that’s what he’s done forever while he’s been driving for us. We did, though, discuss how he was flying there and back and it was always by private flight so never commercially. There’s no issue with that.

(Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Otmar, please can you explain why you’ve only confirmed Nico Hulkenberg for one race given that the coronavirus restrictions mean Perez will be out for at least two?
OS: Yes, so if it’s certain that he’s out for two then Nico will drive in both races but the reason for it is there’s a bit of uncertainty and we’re still not sure if it is seven or ten days. He tested positive on Wednesday and I believe – but I’m not 100 per cent sure – that on Wednesday the restriction set by England was seven days of quarantine, not ten. So I guess I’m still unsure. If it’s ten days, then Nico will drive both days, if it’s seven days, then it’s only one of the hurdles, the hurdle is that he’s got to have negative tests as well, so if the virus is still in his system and he tests positive then Nico again will be driving in the second Silverstone race.

(Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Do you feel it was wise for Checo to fly to one of the worst hotspots in the world when he has professional responsibilities to the team, regardless of the understanding for his family situation?
OS: Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. There are many people that are in hotspots all around the world. We have a big contingent of our factory live in Northampton and you know Northampton was shut down as well. So our philosophy is we take all the precautions necessary in light of where we’re travelling and if we do take those precautions, I’m confident that we won’t get the virus. We just need to now forensically look back and try to ascertain how Checo became infected and make sure that we cover that off in the future.

(Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Otmar, I’m wondering if you can just give an update on the other members of the team who have been isolated, whether there have been any other positive tests and also how effectively the bubble actually worked in this case?
OS: Yes, so there are two members of staff that travelled with Checo, his PA and his physio. They’ve both tested negative but they’re isolating as well, for either seven or ten days and then there are three members of the team that did a simulator session with Checo so they didn’t really come into contact with him because in our simulator, the simulator is in one room and the control centre where they are at is in a totally separate room so we had the social distance required. We also wore masks as we always do and PPE as well. As a precaution, they then stayed at home and isolated until they got a negative test so we tested them, all three are negative as well. They tested again this morning, they’re at the factory now, working from the factory, they haven’t come into the paddock but my anticipation is that they will be negative again for their second test and then thereafter we’ll see if… we’ll make a decision on whether they can come in… whether they should come into the paddock. They’re negative and I’m a hundred per cent confident they don’t have the virus but you know, it’s belt and braces so we’re testing them twice.

(Phil Horton – Motorsportweek.com) Mario, Formula 2 has started using the 18 inch wheels already in 2020. Has anything learned so far been a surprise and has it in any way altered how you will be approaching the change when Formula 1 introduces the new size in 2022?
MI: No surprises from the first races in Formula 2. Obviously it’s useful to collect data in a real race environment. That is something we cannot replicate during our development test sessions, so the effect of having 22 cars running on track is an important part of our job and we have to collect date from that but so far I’m happy with the result. We had some high degradation due to graining in Budapest and that is something that we are going to address. Obviously it’s the first year with this product and it means that we probably need to evaluate an improvement for 2021. All this is important, also for F1. As you know, we run four sessions before the lockdown and we are planning to restart our development at the beginning of 2021 so at the moment all that we are doing is design and indoor tests in Milan, nothing on track but it could be useful to get feedback from F2, even if the size is different, the stress and the energy that you put on a Formula 2 tyre is completely different compared to a Formula 1 car. But it’s a good training.

(Luke Smith – Autosport) Otmar, would you be able to give us an update on how contract talks are going with drivers for next year? It’s been reported that an option in Checo’s contract expires today. Where are things currently standing with your thoughts with Checo, Lance and Sebastian Vettel?
OS: Yeah, we don’t like to disclose the details of our contracts but I’ll take this opportunity to tell you that that option that you talk about expiring today is not true, that’s not the case.

(Phil Horton – Motorsportweek.com) Tanabe-san, Mercedes has demonstrated strong speed this year. Have you been surprised by the extent of their development since last year?
TT: I would say I’m surprised by their progress between last year to this year. We have been learning (in) what areas we are behind and (in) what areas they are ahead of us. And then it’s not easy but we are trying to catch them up accordingly, in terms of qualifying and also race distance. So we are working very hard with our engineers in Japan and Milton Keynes to catch them up.

Check out our Friday gallery from Silverstone, here.