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FIA Friday press conference - Bahrain, Sakhir

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Team Representatives: Bob Fernley (Force India), Stefano Domenicali (Ferrari), Eric Boullier (Lotus), Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren), Norbert Haug (Mercedes), Christian Horner (Red Bull).
Q: Gentlemen a subject we can’t escape, unfortunately: This Grand Prix is definitely one of the best organised, the drivers all say that. We’ve had a lot speculation from both angles, negative and positive, but I’d like to your views regarding the security situation. Are you comfortable with how things are evolving?

Martin Whitmarsh: There have undoubtedly been difficult times here but from a pure team perspective, we’ve been comfortable with the situation. Clearly we race as an international sport all over the world and we have security concerns and issues at a number or races and we take that very seriously, and we’re cautious, and we try to take the right precautions. But ultimately we’re a race team. We’re here to go motor racing and that’s our number one priority.
Norbert Haug: Absolutely the same.
Christian Horner: Martin’s summed it up perfectly, I think. Formula One is a sport at the end of the day and it’s wrong for it to be used politically. We’re here to race, we trust in the FIA, in the decisions that they made, and we’re comfortable with the decisions that they have made. For us, it’s about trying to extract the maximum from this weekend as a sporting team in a sporting championship. The calendar is obviously set by the FIA.
Eric Boullier: I think everything has been said by the first row, so, as far as we are concerned, as Lotus, and regarding the specific question, we are fine.
Stefano Domenicali: You are speaking about security and I would say that we have received all the guarantees from the organisers, the federation, the embassy, and it is pretty clear at the moment that it is like that. We don’t seem to be the target of anyone that is protesting. We are here for the event that is racing, the race of the F1 World Championship and we are here to make the best of it. From a political point of view, the only thing I can is that there are a lot of things going on and we really hope that all the dialogue that has started within the different parts will do the best thing in the shortest time possible for everyone. This is really the hope that we have, as sportsmen and as a man of the world.
Bob Fernley: I completely agree with the guys. Hopefully, the Formula One programme has brought the world’s media here, it gives a good platform for debate and hopefully it will help with the healing process for Bahrain, and that’s why we’re here.

Q: We’ll go on to the sporting side. Martin, if I can start with you. You’re leading both world championships. How have things evolved today for you in terms of free practice? You’re not perhaps quite as competitive as we thought you would be.
MW: No, I think it’s been a tricky day. The wind changed direction. I think from about half way through that [afternoon] session there was a tailwind through turns four, five, six and seven, which made it quite tricky for the drivers. I think we weren’t happy with where we were in terms of grip, generally. But that’s what Friday is about. It’s about learning how to set the car up for this particular circuit and these particular conditions. I think the wind is going to be quite significant. It often is here. If you recall it is an island where the wind can change quite dramatically from 10 o’clock in the morning until midday and then drop off in the afternoon, so I think that makes it, with all the other challenges of selection of top gear for the race and for qualifying… wind direction is going to quite an interesting challenge and if you get that right I think you’ll be in good shape. So, overall, I think, we’ve got some reasonable data and the trick is to put that to good effect and make sure we can dial in and have a competitive car tomorrow.

Q: Norbert, obviously a fantastic weekend for you last weekend and you still seem to be up there?
NH: Well, I think it’s quite difficult to judge. I would not really read too much into the quickest time on Friday, we saw that before. I think people run various programmes, different programmes, but I think we are heading in the right direction. We learned quite a lot. The challenge is how to use the tyres, how to set up your car and then do the necessary amount of laps for the race and decide on how many stops you will do. You get the first impression of that on Friday. I think the team learned quite a lot. I haven’t seen the analysis so far, we’ll probably know a bit more later. Currently, I really cannot judge where we are. We should not read into the fact that we are first today that we are the big favourites for tomorrow and Sunday.

Q: Christian, so on the same basis should I not read too much into the fact you were up in the top four today?
CH: I think it’s been a sensible day for us, we’ve worked through a programme. I think this year the tyre has dominated performance and I think it’s crucial to try and understand how the tyres work, how to get on top of those tyres and I think we’ve learned a lot over those first three races. Each of the races has been at a different nature of circuit, different conditions. We’ve seen the form of all the teams moving around a lot and the midfield making a big step as well. And that’s produced some great racing, I think last weekend was a phenomenal race and that adds to the challenge. We’ve worked through our programme today, both the drivers seem reasonably happy with their cars and obviously a lot of information to look over tonight before we go into the final practice tomorrow.

Q: Eric…
EB: We had a heavy Friday today with a lot of parts to evaluate. Parts of the upgrade from Shanghai, we had to use them back on the car. Also, a very heavy programme with the tyres. It’s clear that the key for performance is the tyres and also the degradation for the race, as we saw in Shanghai, so we had early runs in practice and obviously heavier fuel load runs as well.

Q: Any change Stefano?
SD: No, I think we have already said what we have to say. For us hopefully this will be the last Grand Prix of the most difficult start that we’ve had. But that’s the way it is. At the track the only thing we have to do is try to maximise the package that we have and understand the tyres and prepare for the race. That will be crucial, as we already said, in this condition the only objective we have at the moment is to try to score the maximum points and considering that we have been third in the Championship it means a lot. It means that we have to stay focussed. Unfortunately it’s very painful for us but that’s the way it is. So heads up and work hard.

Q: Bob, limited running, obviously…
BF: Well, we had a very busy morning and as you know we didn’t run in FP2, we slightly rescheduled our programmes, but we’re very comfortable. The data was collected this morning for what we need and we’re very comfortable for FP3 tomorrow.


Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) I have question for Norbert: Reuters reported yesterday that Aabar are considering a complete withdrawal of their Daimler stake, could you please comment on that, let us know what you know?
NH: I just hear the speculation and read the speculation. Nothing more.

Q: …There’s no discussion in Stuttgart?
NH: Nothing more to say, no.

Q: (Simon Cass - Daily Mail) Probably a question for all of you gentlemen. The thing that seems to be said is that politics and sport don’t mix but even by some of your answers that you gave previously, it’s quite obvious that they do. Given that, wouldn’t it have been better to try to wait another year for Bahrain to progress a little further before coming back to have a race here? Martin, as the spokesman of FOTA?
MW: I didn’t know I was the spokesman. I think, again, the calendar has been set for some time, we are the competitors, it’s a race in the calendar, we are here to race. Period.

Q: Does anyone have more to add to that? Christian? Norbert? No.

Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) Since arriving I’ve been contacted by a number of Bahrainis who are actually supportive of the race, have you and any of your team members found similar contact from the citizens of Bahrain?
MW: I think there is a lot of support for the race from all parts of society here, so I think that’s positive. Clearly often the majority aren’t heard on these occasions but I think there’s a fair amount of support, you can feel it here. I understand they’ve sold out the grandstand so presumably that’s a tangible sign of support.
CH: I think the guys here have been very welcoming. They look after the teams very well and hopefully we can put on a good show on Sunday. I think at the end of the day it’s a sport, we’re a sporting team competing in a sport that competes at 20 venues around the world. We’ll do our best as we do in all of those other events to do the best job we can on Sunday.

Q: (Edd Straw - Autosport) Christian, Stefano and Martin, as the representatives of the top three teams last year, setting aside the safety of F1 personnel, if there is any bloodshed or injury or worse this weekend, among protestors, that are clearly aimed at having an anti-F1 element, should F1 be held responsible in any way, is F1’s presence here acting as a trigger?
MW: I don’t think we’re going to comment on that. We are here to take part in a race. I think we’ve made our position clear. So unless anyone else wants to add anything, I think we are here to race.
CH: I echo Martin’s comments.
SD: We need to be positive in life. It seems that we are looking for something to happen and this is what we don’t want, as I said. This is really the objective that all of us here in the paddock should have, to be honest.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) The stock answer that keeps coming back when we ask about this race is that ‘it’s on the calendar.’ There is a sporting commission, there is a technical commission, there’s also a calendar commission. Now the first two actually go through the Formula One Commission and then onto the World Motor Sport Council. The calendar doesn’t. Do you people believe that there is a need for the teams - for the Formula One commission, certainly - to have some input and to ratify calendars?
CH: I think that’s a position for the promoter and the FIA at the end of the day. When we enter a championship at the beginning of the year a calendar is published and you have the choice whether to enter or not. It’s something that historically has always been the same and it’s down to the promoter and then the governing body that’s responsible for the safety of the drivers, the safety of the spectators and the teams to decide where those venues are.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) The question was, would you like to have input into it, as opposed to the procedure - I know the procedure?
SD: Normally it’s not like that, to be honest. If we have to race over 17 Grands Prix, we need to have the organiser and the F1 has to have clearance from the teams so the discussion happens and this is related to the opportunity that they have. Then of course, the responsibility of other subjects is related to the national sporting authority, so the federation and the organiser, but that’s the way it is at the moment.
EB: And if I may add something, we still have the opportunity to discuss with the governing body and the promoters about some adjustment in the calendar, not the location but maybe sometimes for logistical reasons we have some input.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) Effectively, what we’re then saying is that the teams are also responsible for the shape of the calendar the way it is at the moment, including the Bahrain race.
MW: Well, you’re saying it, we’re not. Sorry, I thought you said ‘effectively you’re saying it’ but I don’t think we’re saying that at all. The commercial rights holder and the FIA agree the calendar together. I think you know that and so do we, so I don’t know why we’re having this discussion really.

Q: (Dieter Rencken - The Citizen) But if it goes beyond 17, you have input.
MW: In theory we do, but as you know, the commercial rights holder… he has to get the races into the calendar and typically we’re not consulted individually on each race.

Q: (Kate Walker - Girl Racer) The Sunni/Shi’a schism is a conflict that dates back over a millennia; how do you feel about being used as political tools in this game?
MW: Listen, I tell you, we’re at the start of a fantastic World Championship. There have been three outstanding races and there’s a great championship ahead of us. We’ve had three different winners, it’s been a fantastic start to the championship and I think we can have a fantastic race here on Sunday. I don’t think that going into what’s happened over the last millennia or the politics around the world is something that most of us here are equipped to comment on.

Q: (Daniel Ortelli - Agence France Presse) We’re all talking about politics, ethics etc. Do you agree that the main reason for having this race here and being here today is that there is so much money from the Emirates in Formula One and in some of the teams that you represent?
MW: Well, again, this isn’t part of the Emirates and I think the commercial model of races, I think there is a lot of places in the world, and fortunately most places which pay reasonable money to hold a Grand Prix, so I don’t think there’s any particular premia in this part of the world.

Q: (Miran Alisic - RTV Slovenia) Excuse me, don’t you think that sometimes a race - even a fantastic race - becomes irrelevant if something more important happens somewhere?
SD: If I might say something about that, once again it seems really we (you) want to find something to make sure that this event is not happening and this is really what, hopefully, we, for sure, as a team, would like not to see and that’s our approach, as I said. I don’t think it’s correct for us to go into a political discussion on what is happening. Of course we need to make sure that what has hopefully been started as a process in this country will happen soon and this is what everyone is really looking for but more than that, I think they will want to pull the things from different stories, different angles. Let’s focus on our jobs and try, on our side, to speak about the sport. This is really our task, to be honest.
BF: If I could come in there as well, I think the Bahrain programme has been very very successful. As much as there is opposition to it, there is also a huge amount of people that are for this process, for the programme to bring through. As Force India, we are totally committed to this Grand Prix and to bringing this programme to reality for Bahrain, and hopefully, as we said earlier, it will form part of the healing process, and if we’re part of that, we should be proud, not looking at ourselves and being negative.

Q: (Vanessa Ruiz - Estadao ESPN) Bob, your decision not to take part in the second part of practice has been interpreted as many things and one of them is a sort of field protest because of what happened to the team on Wednesday evening. Is it to be taken as that or what?
BF: I don’t think it’s because of that at all. I think that what you have to accept is that on Wednesday evening there was a very unfortunate incident for members of Force India, and there is no question, it de-stabilised the emotional element of our team. Yesterday evening we put a programme together which addressed all the issues from the team, we sat down with them all, and that meant a slight re-structuring of the programme in order that we could make sure that there was comfort within the team and that we delivered a very strong qualifying and race programme, and I have to say that Sheikh Abdulla, Bernie, everybody has been enormously helpful in our process, but we have, as a team, to make sure that we gel that together properly and it’s nothing whatsoever to do with… It’s an internal matter that just needs stability, we provided that stability and we’ve stuck with the programme that we’ve had to put in place. It’s not a slight at all on the event, it’s just about an internal structure of Force India. We’ve had to do that, we’ve done it with pleasure and we’ve supported our team in that process and as a result of supporting the team, the whole of our programme is now secure for going forward for the Bahrain Grand Prix.


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