Sky Sports F1 Team Principals Q&A: Whitmarsh, Horner, Domenicali and Boullier
The McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus bosses join Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz on The F1 Show.
By William Esler
Last Updated: 05/10/13 3:03am
You work together, you meet together, you make decisions about the future of Formula 1 - then you steal each other's technical staff and drivers and you have to fight each other and beat each other. How do you do that? How do you work together then try to beat each other?
Martin Whitmarsh: "We don't always work together that well, but the fact is we know each other and have been working together for many years and are all enthusiasts of Formula 1. I think F1 has been important to all of us here and we love the sport. On the pitwall we are at war and that is how it should be - occasionally away from it we cooperate, but not always, but we do try to cooperate."
Christian Horner: "We are all here to do our jobs at the end of the day and we are all responsible for our own teams and to do the best that we can. But of course there are times when you have to work and communicate together in the interests of the sport, but it is a competitive business."
Stefano Domenicali: "F1 is no different to any of the other sports. We talk about Formula 1, but football is the same. I have to say that if you compare it to the past, at least we are in a situation where we know we have to compete on the track, but the relationship with all of us is very good and that is very important to have in the normal environment."
Eric it is nice to see you can still sit next to Stefano after he stole your star driver for next year.
Eric Boullier: "Not only Kimi Raikkonen, but actually a couple of engineers as well, but I got one from him as well."
Sebastian Vettel is dominating F1 at the moment and is about to take his fourth consecutive World Championship. Is that bad for F1?
SD: "I think it is very bad for Formula 1 - no, of course I am joking! It was the same when we were winning four championships in a row with Michael - it is part of the game. From our side we are not so happy to see that, but congratulations to the team of Christian and to Sebastian who has grown a lot in all these years. If he is in front, there is a reason."
And the reason he is in front is because your cars Stefano, Eric, Martin, they aren't quick enough.
EB: "It is true. We have to say congratulations to the team of Christian. The combination of them with Sebastian is hard to beat, but I think little by little - even if we could see by Singapore that they are a long way ahead of us - it is a big motivation for all of us to be the better combination and beat them in the future."
Christian it must make you angry that you do this fantastic job and then Sebastian gets booed on the podium.
CH: "I just think it is grossly unfair. What what we saw in Singapore was a sportsman at the top of his game - he was outstanding in that race and it was one of the best races I have seen him drive and I felt the reception was unfair and unjust to be honest. I hope it doesn't continue as he doesn't deserve that. He is a 26-year-old and he has a heart at the end of the day and when you have driven your heart out you don't expect to get that sort of reaction. It is not right."
Martin, McLaren have dominated periods of F1 in the past. How do you feel about the situation? You must have mates and people at home saying I am bored of Vettel winning the races.
MW: "Whenever anyone is dominating - and we dominated the sport with Ayrton and others and Ferrari did it with Michael - it isn't good for the sport. But the problem doesn't lie with Christian or Sebastian. It is up to us to go out and try to compete with them. To talk about that last thing, Sebastian is doing a fantastic job - as are Red Bull - and I think we all have to give him lots of credit for that and it is unfortunate that he is being consistently booed."
Let's talk about costs. Next year we are moving to very new, very interesting, very fuel efficient, but also very expensive engines. Are we reaching a point of almost crisis in F1 and costs are getting untenable for many teams?
SD: "We know that this is a very hot topic, but I will say that you cannot expect relatively speaking that the teams are able to let's say put a cap on the costs, because if you have a lot of money to spend then you try to do a better job with the money you have to spend. I can spend what my company give to me. So for sure we have a topic where this issue needs to be solved and I really hope with the new Concorde Agreement and looking to the future we can attack this situation. Changes are not bringing the costs down for sure."
Eric, there are the haves and the have-nots in F1 and you are kind of in the middle. Isn't the gap getting too wide now?
EB: "The debate is more complex. We are first competitors and we love competition so we will do our best to try and compete at the best level. I think today there is the problem is that there is a big difference between the revenue of the top teams and the smaller teams. To be competitive you need to spend a minimum to try and stay in contact with these guys. We have the smallest budget of all of these guys, but we can still compete and be competitive, but this is the essence of the sport. It is true that most of the technical changes for next year will increase the costs and we are working now to try to find a way not to lose our competitiveness."
One of the solutions is customer cars - Christian you told us in Singapore you would consider selling Red Bull chassis so we know your position - Martin are you for selling old McLarens to lower down teams?
MW: "Well I think in the past we have said we would. Personally if I was in charge I wouldn't propose customer cars as I don't think they are in the spirit of Formula 1 and I think they would be the death of many of the teams. But at the end of the day we are a business so if the regulations allow it then we would do it. But coming back to where we are today, we mustn't lose sight that we have 11 teams here at the moment and we have to keep at least ten of them but hopefully all of them in the sport. I think all of the changes we have made, sometimes looking back they have been good for the sport. But we have made some mistakes with introducing the new powertrains, we didn't control the costs enough, and I think the sport may well pay the price of that over the next 18 months. We are not at crisis yet, but I think we have to be careful we don't wait for that crisis. I don't believe we have done enough to control the costs in the sport. Our future at McLaren is in good shape financially, but we do need these other teams to be here and be competitive and we haven't done enough in my view to control the costs in the sport."
Christian, Martin says we could be heading for the rocks if we lose three or four teams - we heard Force India earlier today in the FIA Press Conference saying they can't afford to go testing. It is all well and good winning a few championships but you have to beat somebody.
CH: "Absolutely, but everything we have done for next year is costing a lot more money. The powertrain is costing a lot more money, going testing again is going to cost a lot more money. Those are things we could control, but we don't because we are inefficient as a group and that is where you need strong leadership to control those costs."
But you had the Formula 1 Teams Association (FOTA).
CH: "It didn't work. It worked in the beginning, but it fell apart because self-interest was too strong amongst competitors. So you have to have strong leadership now in that respect. For me the customer cars is not because we want to sell cars, but because if the little teams want to survive and they want to compete rather than being five-seconds off the pace, then maybe you sell them the chassis without the bodywork. But I think the cost of competing in Formula 1 at the moment is unimaginable and I can only imagine how it is at the other end of the pitlane."
Can you afford to give free engines to Marussia or Sauber?
SD: "Unfortunately not. We are not in a situation where we can produce something that ensures it is a profitable business. We are in this sport to try and help smaller teams, because don't forget without Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault Formula 1 would not exist, so we have to consider the merits of these three companies that have provided the engines to the entire field. I would say that maybe in the future, it would be very important to have more manufacturers in to have different possibilities for the future and that is what I would like to see."
Christian, is F1 too PR controlled and image conscious? You are a fun team, but in a way you are the establishment now - people are backing Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren as the upstarts trying to upset the establishment.
CH: "I think the popularity of Formula 1 has just grown and grown and grown not just on track but off it as well and they want to see the characters of the drivers and love them or loath them. We have never looked to control our drivers and in giving them freedom of speech, Mark Webber is probably one of the most outspoken drivers in the pitlane and we certainly always encourage that as a team. Of course Formula 1 is a commercial business and we go to all different parts of the world - it is a business that for two hours on a Sunday afternoon is a sport 20 or 22 times a year. But it is a commercial business at the end of the day."
Martin, what is better to have - a great driver or a great engineer? Given that you let Adrian Newey slip through your fingers.
MW: "You need both! Adrian is doing a great job at Red Bull, that is absolutely clear, but Sebastian Vettel is doing a good job in the seat. You need both, you need not just one engineer, you need lots of good bright engineers - it is a team sport. The level of competition in F1 these days you need everything to be at the top."