Mercedes’ Technical Director James Allison was present at the Hungarian Grand Prix Friday Press Conference. Here is the transcript!
Q: Gentlemen, can I get a quick summary from you about how FP1 went this morning. James, why don’t we start with you?
James ALLISON: We had a decent morning. We ran all three tyres. Both drivers were pretty happy with the balance of their car and the car looked pretty pacey, so it was a good session.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) James, Mercedes has produced another stonking car this year. How do you explain it? What qualities does the team have that make them so much better than anyone else?
JA: Well, we’ve had a promising start to the year but let’s remember we’re one track and two races in. I guess we’re lucky: we’ve been a well-funded team, we’ve been a stable team, we’ve had strong support from our parent company and consistent leadership. But I think one of the best things about the place is that it has a good culture. And the culture is one of not resting on its laurels, never feeling entitled to the performance we’ve enjoyed and being willing to pass the challenger of finding improvement in the car down from the top of the team through the layers in the team so that everyone feels a part of making the car stronger, racing the car more strongly, providing us with the environment in which we can make that strong car, all parts of the many-cogged machine that is an F1 team play their part in producing what you see. It’s not a single answer; it is down to a team with a good culture in it.
Q: James, Lewis spoke yesterday of the W11 being a more refined car than last year, the best car, he says, you guys have produced. In what areas did you focus your development?
JA: Well, we do the same things we would ordinarily do and what every team in the pit lane does, so we go looking for downforce and horsepower and an ability to look after the tyres nicely, but we have been on a… I hate this word, but we have been on a bit of a journey for three or four seasons now from a quick but very edgy in 2017, understanding why that car was edgy, why it had highs and low and then gradually chipping away, having, we think understood that, chipping away at what is it that made that car edgy and turning the subsequent cars in ’18, ‘19 and now in 20, turning them into weapons that are able to deliver their performance in a much more broad set of circumstances.
Q: James, Valtteri said yesterday that he feels confident of remaining with Mercedes next year. Can you explain why, when there is a driver of Sebastian Vettel’s calibre on the market, you are not looking at someone like him?
JA: I think Toto has answered this question on a number of occasions but if I can concentrate on our own line-up. Why would we wish to move away from a line-up that has produced such strong results, a respect across the garage between our two drivers that has been evident for all to see and a level of performance from both men that I think many people up and down the pit lane would envy. Why would we want to step away from something that is clearly working and try something else, which is fraught with yes maybe some opportunity, but also lots of bear traps in it too.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) James, Mercedes have been brought into the Racing Point/Renault protest because it has to provide brake ducts for comparison. Is that just normal procedure and easy to get on board with or is there any frustration about what that sort of request might imply about what Mercedes has done in this case?
JA: No, I think it’s pretty straightforward. There’s an argument between Racing Point and Renault and in order to settle that argument the FIA need to seek some information from us because the dispute is about what brake ducts Racing Point are running and so we’re perfectly happy to provide them with the information they asked for on last year’s Mercedes brake ducts.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) James, DAS has been the big innovation for Mercedes this season. Is there any more development you can do with DAS further through this year? How much more can you add to it or have you stopped everything in its tracks as you already have it on the car and won’t be allowed next season?
JA: I think that for us it’s still a very new system. Precisely how, where and when we get the most opportunity from it is to some degree continuing to be a voyage of discovery for us, and the manner in which we develop it is still open for us as the seasons goes on. So it’s not a closed book and we hope to get more from it if we can learn quickly in the coming races.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Paul, this circuit is very different to the Red Bull Ring in terms of characteristics. Mercedes was quite impressive with their performance in FP1. If this continues for the rest of the weekend and they continue to be ahead by like half a second like they were last weekend, how worrying is that for the remainder of the championship? And vice versa, can I ask Mercedes the same question?
JA: I think probably, sort of in the question, is an assumption that this is just an easy cakewalk and I can just say it doesn’t feel like that sitting our shoes. In our shoes, we think OK, we went to Austria, a track that we haven’t been strong at in the past and we had a decent performance in the second race but we were in a fistfight in the first. And we’re now at a second track where we ran on greasy cold asphalt against Red Bull who were clearly not running their engine at the same level of power that we had chosen for that session and the gap looks bigger than it truly is. We’re expecting this year to be a fight. We’re expecting to have to develop strongly because if we blink we’ll be swallowed up. If you want evidence of that, take a look at Friday of the second Austria where we went from looking pretty good in the first Austria to looking worse than average. We were beaten handsomely in free practice on Friday because we weren’t paying enough attention and if we don’t pay enough attention, either to how we approach each race weekend or how we develop the car through the year, we’ll get overrun very, very quickly.
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Q: (Jonathan McEvoy – Daily Mail) I’d like to ask James, who spent several years with Ferrari, maybe your perspective on what it’s like to work for Ferrari and what it’s like when things don’t work very well at Ferrari, when they’re going through a rough spell. What are the unique demands that you’ve seen at Ferrari?
JA: Well, clearly, I wouldn’t have gone back to Ferrari a second time if working there was a miserable experience. I had two very important parts of my career at Ferrari and have massive affection for the brand, for the people there and I hope they wouldn’t mind me saying I’ve got many friends in that team. So working at Ferrari is in many ways an unalloyed joy but the country is so pro the team, the brand is so strong, the history and heritage of Ferrari is so important that you do feel that you are part of something that is itself important and that is a real strength for that group, but it’s also probably their biggest burden that they carry too because along with that affection and joy that the nation shares in Ferrari’s successes comes a great deal of pressure when things are going poorly, and that pressure is externally applied from the press in a much more intense way than any other Formula One team. It is internally applied from just everyone who feels the duty to be living up to the great performances that the team has showed in the past and it is, I think, most powerfully internally expressed by a top down leadership style that at Ferrari is probably more exaggerated than in other teams and that tends to make the team make short term decisions and can lead it astray instead of building fundamental strengths that will carry it from year to year. So it is a real mixture of these heady highs and base lows which have, at their root, the same origin which is the huge desire within the team and without, for the Ferrari brand to be fighting at the front of the field.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines/Racefans.net) James, last year in Brazil you were the top man there, effectively acting as team principal. Are there plans for you to do a similar role this year at any of the races, particularly given the very, very tight calendar that we expect?
JA: It’s not… the calendar and who’s attending where is not set in stone at the moment but if Toto were to wish to ask me or anyone else to stand in his shoes temporarily at a given race weekend then that’s what we would do but the actual who’s going where, when is not set in stone.
Q: James, did you enjoy the experience in Brazil last year?
JA: My main feelings about that Brazil are coloured by the way it turned out so… We had a poor showing on Sunday, made a bunch of dumb decisions for which with me in Toto’s shoes, I felt very responsible and so I don’t enjoy remembering having let the team down in the way that I felt that I had but I was very proud that Toto felt confident to ask me to do that job and I hope that were he to feel confident to do so again in the future I hope I would do so in a way that was rather more creditworthy than the first time round.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To all three, it touches again on the Ferrari situation: we’ve seen before that when a team takes a big departure in car development direction from one season to another there can be big consequences attached to that. I’m thinking McLaren from 2012 to 2013. What are the risks attached to a fundamental change in what you’re trying to get out of your car from year to year and how easy do you think it is to actually trip up when you’re doing that?
JA: I think I’ve used this analogy before but it bears repeating. Developing a racing car is a bit like being on a mountain in the fog. You know that you’re going up when things are going well, you’re climbing up this slope and as you climb up the slope your car is getting faster but it’s foggy and you know that there are other mountains nearby and that they’ve got other climbers on them and you know that those people are going up mountains as fast as they can. When you start to feel the slope of the mountain get less, you wonder and you worry about whether or not that’s because you’re nearing the top of your mountain and that actually it’s time to start thinking about being on a different mountain, choosing a different concept and being brave about the fact that the one you’re on is simply not going to be good enough to let you carry on climbing but you don’t know because it’s all surrounded by fog, you can’t know for sure what lies in front of you. So when you decide that you’ve had enough of your mountain and you fancy someone else’s, you absolutely know that the first part of that transformation is going to be going downwards, you’ve got to go through the valley first before you can climb up someone else’s mountain and that could be a good gamble, you could find yourself on a much better mountain in the future and you could find yourself quickly going past where you were previously but it’s as scary as hell and the temptation to stay on the slope you’re on and keep working that slope is very very strong. So what most people try to do is to put a certain amount of their resource into working the slope they’re on but having a portfolio of other attempts that are braver in diverting away from their main attempt and just seeing is there a glimmer of promise here, is the valley looking a little bit less treacherous than I thought? Is it worth me putting more effort into those areas? And once you get a sniff that that other area starts to look attractive then you throw more people across into it and hopefully end up climbing a better slope afterwards. But it’s a scary, scary process because you’re always surrounded in fog and you know that if you jump from one hill to the next then you might be making a mistake.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Question for James just to clarify something because the line was a bit dodgy and I didn’t hear the beginning of the question: you said about Seb… why would we want to step away from something that’s clearly working, regarding your current drivers? Can you therefore just say that it’s Valtteri and Lewis next season unless either of them wants out?
JA: You need to speak to Toto for the answer to that because this isn’t my part of the company but I do know that our current driver pairing is strong and delivers good results for us so if you want to know more intimately what our thoughts are on the future, then I’m not the right guy to ask.