Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin attended the French Grand Prix Saturday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Andrew, thank you for waiting. We’re talking. I just mentioned Nyck de Vries there. So can we just start talking about the job he did yesterday in FP1. How impressed were you?
Andrew SHOVLIN: Well, we’ve run Nyck a number of times, not always so publicly, but at places like Abu Dhabi and we’ve always been impressed with him. But the nice thing is he understands that the priorities of, you know, don’t make mistakes, certainly don’t crash, focus on the test programme, the learning that we need, and then third, worry about being quick. And he’s able to do one and two very easily and then a good a good bit of bit of number three. So he was fast, very useful for the work that we wanted out of him. And he’s also always thinking about how can I improve more? What do I need to learn? But he’s a very, very accomplished driver, considering his relatively little experience in f1. So every time he’s got in the car for us he has impressed,
Q: How involved did Lewis Hamilton get during that FP1 yesterday?
AS: Lewis was on the intercom, following the session. I think it’s a very strange and new experience for Lewis to be watching someone else drive the car, so maybe it’ll take a while for him to get used to it. But he’s plugged in with Toto chatting through the session. And you know, Lewis as well was very impressed with the job that Nyck did.
Q: And on George’s side of the garage, what are the plans for an FP1? Do you know a race that you might do that and who might drive?
AS: Well, at the moment, the logical candidate is for Nyck to drive. And we’re looking later in the year, it depends a bit on what we’re doing in terms of updates, where we might be doing a Pirelli tyre test, but we’re looking at probably into the flyaway part of the year.
Q: OK, let’s talk performance here. Given the characteristics of the Paul Ricard circuit, what were the team’s expectations levels coming into the race weekend and have you met them?
AS: Well, I mean, in terms of performance, we brought a small update, but not one that’s going to see us leapfrog any teams. The big question for us was: does the circuit suit us more than Austria or less than Silverstone? And if you look at yesterday, the positives were that the car wasn’t bouncing. I think we’re now at the better end of that. There was effectively none. We’re able to run the car where we want to run it. Single-lap pace – we’d certainly say Max’s is out of reach, it looks like Charles is well out of reach. But we could be able to fight for a second row today if we do a good job. George had a better session and Lewis. Lewis missing FP1 is one thing, but then the balance wasn’t where he wanted it in FP2 and in that situation it’s quite difficult to recover. And then we didn’t do a great job of getting a good length of long running. But you know, we’re still looking to be I think a podium contender rather than a win contender, but every weekend we’re learning and that’s the exciting thing at the moment for us is just understanding the rules better and better.
Q: Well, there’s been a furious amount of work to understand this car and to improve it. So as we head into the second half of the season, where do you draw the line with it and focus on next year?
AS: Yeah, I mean, in Formula 1 you never actually draw a line. It’s a gradual blend of resource into W13 drifting downwards and 14 drifting up. We’re going to need some clarity on the regulations, whether they’re going to change before you’d make a really big shift. But every team will have started some work on next year. The difference for us was the early part of the year was very tough, it wasn’t making a lot of sense and it was really firefighting. We’re just starting to get to a stage now where we can get back to what we would call the business-as-usual development. And that’s actually quite exciting. There’s a lot of happy people at the factory now that we’re sort of getting into a phase that’s starting to make sense to us. And we’re just using these. We need to score points, we need to fight in the championships but the big one is we’ve got to learn to know what we want to do for next year and to try and get the car back to the front.
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QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) To all three of you, the current proposal for the floor changes for next year has obviously caused some divided opinion in the paddock, from each of your team’s perspective, what complications, changes, does it cause, both from a technical perspective and financial perspective if they went through at current measurements?
AS: From a financial perspective, it’s practically nil, really. The challenge is going to be the same for all teams. What we would like is clarity: are they going to change, if so let’s get on with it and agree it? Our stance with the FIA has always been that … we know as a team, we need to fix our problems ourselves and we set that as an objective from day one and we’re pretty confident that we can achieve that objective. So that’s why I said for us, the big thing is we just want clarity on it. But the reality is that these cars will always run close to the ground, they’ll always be banging on the road and whilst you can mitigate that and improve it, if we want to actually change it fundamentally, then it will need a change to the regulations.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To follow up to that to two all three, the numbers that have currently been proposed by the FIA, so the 25 millimetres on the floor edge and the diffuser throat, the most vocal opponents to this are saying that this constitutes a fundamental design change for the cars for next year. Do you agree with that? Would you rather have that number lower? Or if it’s going to change does it not really matter whether it’s that number or reduced?
AS: Some teams wanted change, some wanted no change and I think the compromise was just coming from teams that thought there will be a change but we want it to be as minimal as possible. But as we said, as teams, we can probably all mitigate this but if we want to actually get the cars running in a different way, these regulations will always have a car that wants to run very flat on the road. There have been a few notable accidents this year where the car bottoming on the plank as part of that – a driver loses control, goes over a curb – and it’s been the car hitting the ground that’s actually caused them to land in the barrier at speed. So that’s the bit that… the safety argument, I think, is as much about that as about the comfort.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) Andrew, a lot of people have compared your current season with McLaren’s in 2009 when Lewis basically started at the back of the grid, by the end of the year, he had four poles and a couple of wins. Obviously, you were Brawn that year, do you see any parallels and in the ways that motivating in that case proved that a team can turn its season around quite spectacularly?
AS: Yeah, as you say, my perspective on that was from the other end; we started brilliantly, didn’t have the resources to keep up and were struggling to get near the podium by the end of the year. There may well be parallels. If you looked at the situation with McLaren back then the car that they launched wasn’t really equivalent to the capability within the team. When they started to understand what they had to do with the regulations, the development rate was really impressive. And a parallel might be that within our team, we’re just starting to really get back the enjoyment for that engineering challenge and the development challenge. It always takes time between… there’s a lag between your understanding and your learning and actually bringing bits to the track that make it quicker but the atmosphere is one of a team that’s determined to get back to the front. Our goal remains to be the fastest car; whether we can achieve that this year or is that going to take us ‘till next year I don’t know, but we’re all fighting very hard for that.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Andrew, another question for you about pit stops. We’ve seen them slow down this year with the heavier cars and the heavier wheels as well. Technically, how much has changed in terms of the approach to pit stops? Have you had to introduce new equipment and things like that? And how important has it been to get consistency instead of outright speed? And ideally, you’d like both, but we’re not saying these ridiculous…
AS: Well, we prioritise consistency over speed. We’re not the fastest pit stops at the moment, and we haven’t been consistent enough recently. One of the challenges we’ve actually faced has just been the working time within these regulations. It means that getting the cars together is a priority. Until this weekend, we couldn’t fire up even until four o’clock on a Thursday and you’ve also got to do the scanning. And one of the big issues was actually getting all of that work into the weekend and one of the first things to drop is pitstop practice. So it’s an area that we’re working on. It’s not the thing that’s holding us back at the moment – that’s the car – but it’s always a parallel project. But yeah, of course, the weight of the wheels, they are very heavy now, they’re cumbersome and that inevitably has caused every team to slow down a bit.
Q: (Carlo Platella – FormulaPassion.it) Andrew, after Williams switched to the downwash bodywork, Mercedes is now the only team with the slim sidepod concept. Do you still believe in this aerodynamic philosophy or maybe your struggles are not related to the sidepod?
AS: We don’t think that just changing our side pod will change our competitiveness. We’re certainly not of that mind, nor are we wedded to saying this is how the Mercedes car must look, so from the very early part of the year we’re looking at other teams bodyworks and certainly with a view to next year, looking up and down the grid to see ideas. And it may be that we don’t just take another team’s idea. We’re looking at combinations of different concepts. But it’s a gradual process, but I think fundamentally our car isn’t going to change appearance massively this season. But I’d be surprised if next year’s car looks the same.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) Andrew, the debate over the floor changes for next year has got quite political and Red Bull are convinced it’s lobbying from your side to get a car that better suits the new regulation and stuff. Do you think it’s possible in this debate for the discussion to be finalised on pure technical terms or do you think it’s inevitable that we’re going to end up in a political situation with teams vying for their own competitive benefits?
AS: It’s difficult. I mean, the reality is that, you know, we are working to solve our problems on our own and I think we’ve made good progress on that. You can understand the conundrum of teams that don’t want the regulations to change. We don’t know, as Mercedes, that a regulation change will suit us. And if you think back to 2020 into 2021, we didn’t know that regulation change was going to hurt a low ride height car like ours, and barely affect a high ride height car. So we’re certainly not at the position of saying regulation changes are definitely going to be in favour of Mercedes. Our stance would be that if we want to solve some of the fundamental issues, you’re not going to do that leaving the rules alone. But when that rule came in, in 2020, on safety grounds, Red Bull were not opposing it, Ferrari were not opposing it, from a viewpoint of the governance, but importantly, Mercedes weren’t opposing that change. You know, it happened, it didn’t suit us. But it did come in and it happened.