Mercedes Technical Director Mike Elliott attended the Spanish Grand Prix Saturday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Mike, we will start with you. So, Lewis said after practice yesterday: ‘We’re on our way’. Toto said: ‘We’re in the mix’. Is that the case?
Mike ELLIOTT: I’m glad they’re confident. I think we felt like we made a good step forward yesterday. The car seemed a lot more settled. It did what we were hoping it to do so. But I think we also look quite quick on Friday in Miami. So I think we wait to see where we are in qualifying and the race and then we will know.
Q: Are the solutions all linked to porpoising? Or is this newfound performance linked to other developments as well?
ME: A bit of both. There is the normal development of the car that you would do anyway and then I think we’ve done quite a bit of work to try and understand the bouncing effects, to work out how we best mitigate those. And we’ve brought bits that definitely settled the car down. So we just need to see what happens now when we get into qualifying the race and see how much of a step that’s brought us.
Q: Mike, tell us tell us about the engineering challenge that you guys have been through the last few months? I mean, how demanding has it been for the teams in Brackley and Brixworth? And is this as big as anything you faced in your career?
ME: Well, I guess, for me, I’m fairly new as a technical director, so it’s a huge challenge, I think we’ve been lucky enough to be right at the front for a pretty big period of time and to now find ourselves chasing is a challenge. It’s also quite a lifting one, it’s quite nice to be the challenger, to be sort of coming from behind. I think there’s a chunk of pressure, because there’s always going to be a chunk of pressure. But I think from my point of view, as a technical director, what’s been amazing to see the amount of effort that’s gone in at the factory. You know, the work that’s gone in, in aerodynamics, to understand it, the work in vehicle dynamics, to see how we make the best of it. And then what’s happened in design and production to bring the parts that we’ve brought here. So this is a challenge, you know. This is what engineers love. And while there’s a chunk of pressure, I think it’s been a sort of healthy challenge, and one we’re enjoying,
Q: Mike, last one for me, does Mercedes still believe it can win the 2022 World Championship?
ME: Of course, we wouldn’t be here otherwise, would we? I think that’s the nature of sport. I think that until it’s mathematically over, it’s not over. We’re not a huge distance behind and if we can get the car into a position where we’re competitive, and hopefully out in front, then there’s every chance. But, you know, we’ve got to have a level of humility. These guys to my right of have made a really good start, Ferrari have made a really good start, and they’re not going to be easy to chase down.
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QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Matt Kew – Autosport) Question for Mike. The FP2 pace both over the second and third in the qualifying and medium tyres simulations look more impressive. So sort of to pick up what you said, I am more confident that’s less of a flash in the pan than it was in Miami. And to compare to a dataset you gathered here in pre-season testing. Are you more and more convinced that this car concept is the one to stick with?
ME: Okay, so I guess picking up the first of those questions. I think after Miami, we went and had a very good look through the data to try to understand what happened between Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And I think there’s a few clues came out of that. I think the package we brought here, we’re definitely able to run the car in a position much more close to where we’d ideally run it. So there’s a chunk of downforce that comes from that. And the car just is a lot more settled. I think as I said at the beginning, the drivers look happy now. There’s the sort of body language is coming from them that says that they feel a car that feels a bit more like a race car. So, you know, until we get into qualifying and the race, it’s difficult to know where we are. In terms of the overall car concept, I think it’s still a little bit too early to say. I think we’ve changed the car so much for this weekend. We need to work out how we get the best out of it. We need to work out what more lap time there isn’t it and then then do the assessment as to whether we think, overall, this is a better direction to develop in. As I’m sure all colleagues here are facing there’s a budget cap that’s quite constraining and as a consequence of that, you have to make good decisions about both what we do for the rest of this year but also what we do for next year.
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) Can you talk a bit about the challenge of allocating resources under the budget cap. Pat Fry said yesterday that there’s ten times more performance to come from a floor than a front wing for the same sort of cost. Does that sound familiar? And secondly, how much extra workload is there now complying with all the FIA requirements on the financial regs?
ME: I think engineers are good at challenges. What we have to do is to make trades and that’s always been the case, whether that’s between mass and aerodynamics, or the mechanical aspects of the car and aerodynamics and the finance one’s just another part of that challenge, a bit like Pierre said, and I think as engineers, it’s almost just that, it’s just a different challenge we’re solving and the playing field’s moved. I think what has been really hard this year is sort of dealing with the inflationary issues that everybody’s facing. And where we started out at the beginning of the year with knowing roughly what we’re going to try and do through the year, to deal with an inflation rate that’s as high as it is, is a big challenge.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsportmagazin.com) Is there automatically a leak in your IP when you lose some of your engineers to rival teams? And is it possible to take that knowledge, just in your head, to copy a car like that?
Q: Mike, can we get your thoughts on this as well? Just how much can you carry in your head?
ME: What, me personally? I think the rules are fairly clear that there should be no IP transfer between teams so I believe the FIA have looked at this, and concluded that that is not the case. But Pierre probably knows a lot more than I do about that. I think just as a general point, the business always had people move from team to team and it’s impossible to… as they leave a team sort of brainwash them before they go into the next one. So what is in your head is in your in your head, I think, and if that is sort of methodologies, thoughts about how you might do something, I think that’s fine. I think if it turns into detailed design, that becomes questionable and if it turns into proper IP transfer, i.e. you’ve taken something with you, that’s clearly not acceptable and we’ve seen in the past that that’s been punished. But as I said before, I believe the FIA have looked at this. They’ve done whatever they need to do to make themselves confident that they believe it’s okay, but that’s really for Pierre’s team and for Andy Green’s team to sort out.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Mike, you mentioned the body language from the drivers and saying we got positive vibes from them about all the updates, particularly with Lewis through the early part of this season, how have you seen his attitude? How has it been? And how impressed have you been by, I guess, the adversity he’s facing and you guys are facing? It’s pretty uncharted territory, given all the dominance you’ve had, to take the team back up to the top?
ME: Yeah, I guess we all have expectations, drivers included and we’d hoped we wouldn’t be in the position we’ve been in at the beginning of this season. That’s been tough. It’s been tough for the whole team. I think what happened at the end of last season, I think was probably tough for Lewis to take, and I think to see him bounce back and be racing with us is brilliant. Think he’s got a tough teammate in George and that’s brilliant for the team. And I think if you look at the first five races, unfortunately, Lewis has been on the wrong end of some Safety Car timing, but I think going forward, I couldn’t want for two better drivers. They’re really helping us develop the car, move it in the right direction and if we can give him a car that they can compete with, I’m sure they’re both going to push really hard and hopefully Lewis can win another championship.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) You obviously monitor the technologies and updates of your competitors, as sporting directors do the same on the sporting side. Do you also now monitor the upgrades from a financial perspective to see how the teams are spending their money, to get an idea whether they will plateau earlier or later in the year.
ME: To be honest, I agree with the comments already made. I think what you see at the track is only a proportion of the costs in parts. Big cost is in the people and in terms of the IP development in the factory. So trying to turn that into a prediction of a cost is very difficult.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) The FIA said that the Aston Martin design was arrived at by legitimate independent research. The Red Bull appeared in its updated form on the 12th of March. How credible is it on the one hand that someone can apparently copy a car to this extent in that shorter time? Or on the other hand, that one team can come up with a design so similar to another, entirely on its own?
ME: I’ll just quickly try and do the math and work out how long that is! I mean, it’s impossible to know, I think, if you look at the way the regulations are policed aerodynamically, we have to take a photo of the model every run that happens so the FIA can go back and look at all the photos of every run that’s been done in the tunnel, they can go and look at all the CFD models that have run, so they can see exactly what that development path looks like. Obviously, I’ve got no view of what that looked like for Aston Martin so I can’t comment as to when they were developing it, what was independent, what was from looking at images of other cars? I think, most likely it’s come from looking at images of the Red Bull, which is okay, that’s within the regulations so I think it’s really difficult to comment on how achievable that is. Only Aston Martin will know that.
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) Mike, as champions, you’ve been at the wrong end of the ATR (Aerodynamic Testing Restrictions) table for quite a while, including while this car was developed last year, while you’ve tried to fix it the last few months. How much of a handicap has that been, and equally, how much of a benefit will it be? There’s a reset in July and potentially you’re going to move up a couple of places relative to Red Bull and Ferrari.
ME: Well, clearly it has some impact. I think relative to Red Bull, it’s not very much, it’s sort of a run a week, something of that order so it’s fairly small, but then we don’t have very many runs a week in the tunnel to start with. I think to Ferrari, it’s been a bit more and we’ll see. I think it gets reset at the end of June so hopefully that will play in our advantage. I think we just have to be honest with ourselves as a team and say I don’t think that’s the reason we’ve struggled, I think we’ve struggled with the bouncing and that has sort of held us back. And while the ATR increase will be an advantage it’s probably not the game changer it might be. I think more to the point is we’ve just got to get on top of our issues and get the car moving in the right direction, and hopefully we’ve made a good step this weekend.