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Friday's Press Conference - Australian GP

Friday March 1st, 2002

Participating: Allan McNish (Toyota), Mika Salo (Toyota), Mark Webber (Minardi), Paul Stoddart (Minardi), Jean Todt (Ferrari) and Frank Williams (Williams).

Q: Allan, can we start off with you. What about your feelings today, what did you think of it all?

Allan Mcnish: I think, actually, it was quite a good day for us. Obviously the conditions certainly weren't consistent and I would have preferred if it had been dry, but once we got the first hour over with and then it sort of all settled down and I think we got into our stride, but the team did very well because obviously we didn't want to make a mistake and do anything stupid in the first hour but it all seemed to work quite well.

Q: Your own emotions, starting your - well, you haven't started the Grand Prix yet but starting the weekend?

AM: I didn't really have very many emotions until I drove into the gate on Thursday and then it sort of felt as if it actually had started, this was it, and also the next one really, I would have said, was when I drove out the pit lane because that's really when we stop talking and we start doing our jobs and so from that point of view it was really quite nice. But obviously the Grand Prix is the big thing and that's what we are looking forward to really.

Q: There haven't been too many panics?

AM: I think it was important that we got the first day over with and did our jobs and didn't get too caught up in all the sort of talk and the hype and the fact that everybody was looking at us because we were new to the game, and I think we did that quite well and really now we can get on with the job, like I said before.

Q: Mark, same thing for you really: your emotions this morning?

Mark Webber: It was very special for me, obviously, to leave the pit lane here in Australia, my first Grand Prix. It wasn't, like Allan says, particularly perfect conditions, it was quite greasy, it dried out very quick, and we had a few runs at the end there which was nice to drive the car here for the first time with grooved tyres, always nice to feel a Formula 1 car with those sort of conditions, but we had a few snags at the end of the session which was a bit of a problem for us and they sort of snowballed a little bit into the second session as well but the guys did a phenomenal job to make sure we got as many laps as possible in the second session and, like Toyota, for us it was a little bit of getting everybody rolling into the first real anger of first day here.

Q: Have you actually driven the car in the wet before?

MW: No.

Q: So that was a good debut, wasn't it?

MW: Yes, it was, to say the least. I haven't driven a Formula 1 car for a long time in the rain - since probably August last year.

Q: What about your feelings now about the rest of the year?

MW: This race is quite different in terms of the off track activities that Mr. Webber has to do, it's been quite intense to say the least. The response that Paul and I have got, and Minardi in itself, has been very, very nice. The public has been phenomenal as well, so in some ways I'm looking forward to the rest of the season and getting into the bulk of the season and enjoying going to more circuits in Formula 1.

Q: Mika, that was quite a time you set today. How much fuel did you have in there?

Mika Salo: Enough to go around. A few more times.

Q: But not many?

MS: No. Time was not important today, important was that we got it done because you could see everybody was really nervous in the team, I think we have five or six people who have been in Formula 1 races before, so it was important not to do anything stupid on the first day and everybody did a really good job in the team, not one mistake all day and we didn't do much changes for the car. Michelin brought us some good tyres so we tried all of those and now we know what we have to use for the weekend.

Q: Is there a lot more to come?

MS: Have to be. Of course it was the first time we ran the car here, everybody else has been here before, it was first time for us so we had quite a few things wrong there, starting from gear ratios which are completely wrong so there's a lot of things to do, and we just have to improve the car. I don't know how much in time, at least two seconds to try to keep at least even close to similar position tomorrow.

Q: Did you expect to set a time like that today, to be where you are?

MS: To be honest, it felt like it would be a lot slower, it wasn't nice at all today, the car didn't feel nice to drive all day; I was quite surprised about the position. I don't think the lap time actually is good, everybody else's was even worse than ours.

Q: If I can come to the three team principals. Firstly, to ask you all the same question: we are all conscious of a letter that you've been sent by Max Mosley detailing proposed changes in the future, perhaps you can give us your views on whether you are behind those changes for engines, two day Grand Prix, that sort of thing. If you can give us your basic views whether you are behind the proposals or against them. Jean, can I start with you?

Jean Todt: Well, it's a bit too early to state about that because definitely on one side we are in favour of thinking for the future, how to reduce the costs because simply it's just to try to make Formula 1 cheaper than what it is now, so we are in favour of that. I think how to achieve that, you have different ways which are not only linked to the engine but to the whole concept of the car so we are carefully studying all that and we have a meeting with the Team Principal and F1 Commission, I think it's the 19th in Paris, where we will be able to discuss more about it.

Paul Stoddart: Basically I'm in favour of it because if we don't reduce the costs, if we don't control the costs of Formula 1 then Formula 1 is going to control us. I feel that if we are not careful, particularly the smaller teams, are going to really struggle and we're going to come on later to things that have developed and happened in the last 24 hours, but just to stick with this question, I am totally in favour of it. I think that it would be a significant reduction of costs. I think it would be better for the spectacle of Formula 1 and I'm fully sympathetic to manufacturers who may say, or teams with manufacturers may say, they don't really want other teams sharing their engines.

Okay, but look at the press we have had here this weekend: if somebody else was supplying us with an engine, they would have enjoyed all of that and let the A team go on and win the races. I think it would be good to just mix it up a bit, and the other part of Max's proposal with the losing 10 grid places, along those lines, if were you to blow your engine up before the end of qualifying then look at some of the most exciting races we have had when Michael stormed through from P 16 or something to win the race, or get on the podium, when you've seen last year with David chasing Bernoldi around for 21 laps around Monaco, we could give something back to the sport; I don't think it would be such a bad thing at all.

Frank Williams: I think everybody would say to you, of the team principals, we would be very keen to reduce our costs, and doing so in a well considered, not rushed into, thoughtful manner.

Q: Not necessarily the ones that have been detailed then?

FW: I would just say I fear that 19th March is very, very close and given that we have all been very, very busy testing, preparing for the season and working very long days, I would imagine not a lot of time, or enough time, has been spent discussing and considering what exactly we should do to run the engines. Some of Max's ideas are correct, one or two require further discussion or even changing completely, but I do emphasise we all need to save money.

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Q: Frank, if I can stay with you. Today your team is up there in the top six, as one would expect. Did you learn very much today that you haven't already learnt?

FW: Well, there is always room to learn but what we did learn yet again, unfortunately, was that Ferrari are in a class of their own.

Q: But from your own team performance, were there any surprises?

FW: It's really too soon to make a truthful comment because everyone, I'm sure, was running different weights throughout the day, conditions were changing, new cars, new equipment, new drivers sometimes in different teams. A lot more form will be found by most of the people on the track today, tomorrow and in future races.

Q: Jean, were you expecting to be that far ahead of everyone?

JT: Well, I mean, you know, as Frank said ...

[FW: Yes!]

JT: We don't know what configuration the others are in so we must be very cautious. Seeing that they were not expecting to see our cars so quick, definitely we would be quicker than what we were last year. I think Bridgestone did a great job and we are very happy with the tyres they have supplied to us so it will be interesting to see what we do with the 2001 car, even if the car has improved since last racing Suzuka but I think we will be able to - I don't say that we will be able to compete for the win, but we should be in quite good position. Anyway, we will try to win.

Q: Jean, we have heard today that the assets of Prost Grand Prix have been bought by who knows whom. Have you had any contact with those people? Have they approached you for an engine supply and are you in a position to supply them with engines and is there an outstanding debt that has to be settled first?

JT: Honestly, I heard very little about that. I knew that the deadline was 28th, midnight, and I saw a few journalists between the two sessions which asked me if I knew something, I did not know about that, and I spoke a bit more with Paul just before arriving here so it's completely new information for me but we are not going to supply engines for a second team this year anyway, whoever it is.

Q: Paul, I think you have had quite a lot to do with this.

Paul Stoddart: I won't beat around the bush. It's Tom Walkinshaw for sure, maybe under another company name. I think what he has done - and I have had five legal opinions, three in the UK, one QC, two barristers, and two in France, to say what he has done is outside of the governing document of Formula One, the Concorde Agreement. As far as I'm concerned, liquidation is a virtue of its word, it's the final state, and there is only one way you can pull something out of liquidation under any law, and that is to simply pay all the creditors. Pay all the creditors, pay all the staff, take the company over. I am told, reasonably reliably, I have some documents to back it up, that the receiver, or administrator, liquidator, judge - call him whatever you want - was offered between $30 and $60 million US for this team only some weeks ago, to take it over as a going concern. For whatever reason, he rejected those offers and, as we all know, the rest is history; it was placed into liquidation. I was made aware on 17th February that Tom Walkinshaw, through TWR, was making a bid for Prost Grand Prix. Obviously I have a financial interest in this and Minardi would be the loser should this travesty of justice be allowed to continue but, as I stated before, I believe it is outside of all legal remits. He made the bid, we were forced into something we didn't want to do, and that's why we have got some of our technical people missing at the moment, we spent the last ten days in France making a counter bid, trying to stop this stupidity from happening. I met with Tom yesterday, he asked me to back off. I looked at my watch, I said: Tom, it's over, it's over, you cannot now reclaim that entry. It is dead. And to my amazement, I was woken up at one o'clock this morning to be told he has actually done it. We are going to hear a conference, I believe, at 4 o'clock; I just can't wait for that. You will probably hear denials, I don't know what else you are going to hear, but if anyone wants to see the truth I have a rather large file here which I'm quite happy to share later on. It's wrong for Formula One, it's wrong for the creditors, it's wrong for the teams. I don't know how these guys feel but, as far as I'm concerned, I valued my entry at $25-30 million, if this goes ahead that's just been wiped out and you've probably taken $300 million off this pit lane today. Formula One has been through enough, there's a lot of sponsors that were here last year, they're not here this year, we needed a period of stability, common sense and unity. What have we got? Well, you tell me.

Q: Have you been in touch with Max about this?

PS: I have spoken to a lot of people. I am not prepared to discuss the Concorde Agreement, I have five legal opinions here, but it's going to go to court, I will be taking it to court, probably before Malaysia, and I will be seeking an injunction to stop, if someone else doesn't do it, this from happening. And I actually ask now these two guys present, I think it's time that the team principals united to stop stupidity like this. This isn't Paul Stoddart with sour grapes, this is someone who cares passionately that we don't tear Formula One apart. We have had enough close calls lately; it's bad enough Prost went down and we don't need this rubbish.

Q: Frank, your views?

FW: Puzzlement. You can see it on my face. A reluctance to get drawn into a matter, about which I know very little at all. Paul is talking about what this Concorde Agreement provides for, and I should make no further comment except to say he is probably right about that. I don't agree with what Paul says about tearing Formula One apart and that we are on a road to disaster - people who talk like that will encourage a road to disaster - and right now I personally find Formula One a very good sport and a strong business future for this whole business run by Bernie and by Max I think it's a sound business and I think it needs encouragement rather than concern.

Q: Jean, your feelings?

JT: As I said, it is a very complex matter. Normally if you don't participate with the first race you have to pay a penalty so I think if all that is confirmed it will be probably a lot of economical problems to solve. Whether they are able to be solved, I don't know so I think time will tell but I don't think it's such an easy move as it looks like.

Thank you. Let's throw it open to questions. Questions from the floor, please.

Questions From The Floor

Q: Question for Allan and Mark. Answer shortest first, please. Both of you said it was an emotional moment this morning peeling out of the pit lane. In your case, Allan, it's about 11 years after you should have done it. In your case, Mark, it's on home soil. Can you go through some of the specifics, what you were actually thinking about as you are driving down the pit lane?

AM: I think when I was driving down the pit lane, the first thing I was thinking about was making sure we didn't do anything silly in the installation lap, it was greasy conditions first time around here, and as much as you can go around the circuit beforehand when you are actually going into the corner things are slightly different so it was a case of just making sure that we didn't do anything silly in the first few laps, get that over and done with, get the first sort of checks by the team and then actually get on with our jobs. And I think also everybody just had to get those few nerves out of the way but it was an emotional moment in so far as it was a clarification finally: yep, that's it, we're here, on the right side of the fence and not the other side.

MW: When I went down the pit lane it's a combination of not just Mark Webber's work but also a lot of people here in Australia who have helped me along the way so there was a few people very happy for me to leave the garage today in a Formula One car here at Melbourne and that's what I felt, not just my own thoughts about how happy Mark Webber was but also how happy it has made some other people to finish the drought that we have had in terms of an Australian in Formula One. Then, like Allan says, the installation lap, get back to the pits and make sure everything is sound. These cars have been ripped to pieces and put back together again from the other side of the world, we can't use the T-car, it's a good day to get some mileage onto the race car so it turned out quite well for us today.

Q: Question for Paul. What was your interest in buying Prost, whatever was left of it? Was it TV money, the fact that you get the extra cash and so on?

PS: Not at all, actually. I made myself a pact that if we had have ended up with it, and I stress that our bid was a spoiling bid, it was to stop it from happening, what I would have done with it is simply put it to bed once and for all; I think we've had enough about Prost coming and Prost going. And just to correct something before, I agree with Frank, I'm not saying for one second the sport is in trouble, I am agreeing also it's a fantastic business, fantastic sport, but I just don't think it needs any more controversy. We were simply planning to put the thing down once and for all, and that would have been well worthwhile doing.

Q: You would have benefited though, surely?

PS: I think I have benefited anyway.

Q: Paul, can you just clarify that. Was the situation that you would have inherited Prost's prize money?

PS: I think we have. I stand by these legal opinions I've got. It's not valid.

Q: Can you quantify that, that amount of money?

PS: We've finished top ten in two out of the last three years. I believe we are entitled to have a certain amount of our payment.

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Q: Can you quantify that amount of money?

PS: Not exact figures, no.

Q: If I heard Jean Todt correctly, he said he won't supply engines to any reformed Prost team. If Ferrari doesn't supply the engines, how can they come back? This is a question to anybody on the panel.

PS: I think you might find a '99 Arrows TWR engine in the back of this car if it does turn up in Malaysia.

Q: Without the company in the entry, I just don't see how they can come back.

PS: I think I'm probably in enough - it's probably best that I say no more. It's going to be fought in the courts, best leave it at that, I think.

Q: I may have missed the point. Why fight it in the courts? This seems to be a non starter: is there some sort of grandstanding by someone?

PS: I could agree with you, Tom, but I think you need to see what this press conference is at 4 o'clock and if it is that the cars are going to turn up in Malaysia then I think we all have to do a little bit of discussing and soul-searching.

Q: Some people think this is a back door comeback for Alan Prost. Is that something you share?

PS: Well, I hope it's not. I really genuinely hope that once something goes into liquidation, that's really where it should stay. It's like raising the dead, really.

Q: I'm having a bit of trouble in gasping some of this Paul, perhaps your expertise in business and Formula 1 team management might clarify it. Why would Tom want to buy all this stuff? What is the point of it?

PS: Clearly the liquidator saw no point in going ahead with the bids he had and one can only assume that what he must have been feeling is none of them gave the financial fitness and security for Prost Grand Prix SA company number whatever, to continue as a signatory. There can be no other reason why he didn't accept one of those bids, or none that I have been made aware of. To have effectively sold the Crown Jewels, the entry, the two chassis, the intellectual property rights to this year's chassis, and a handful of equipment. I mean, you tell me Mark; I'm still trying to get to grips with what is really going on here.

Q: It's not even obvious to you?

PS: I could say what I think it is but it would be highly speculative of me, and I'm not going to.

Q: I wonder if we are talking to the right person, Paul, because you say you have got yourself in quite deep. I wonder, because we don't see the Concorde Agreement and don't know all of the inner details of the running of the sport, I wonder if Frank and Jean could perhaps tell us whether they think it's possible for the team to be remounted in the form that Paul has suggested it might be?

FW: I'm not familiar with every line in the Concorde Agreement but I think Jean said a few minutes ago that he didn't understand how it could be brought back into the Formula this year, and I'm sure that's correct.

Q: Just on Minardi, given the presence of two-seater cars here and blonde models and the like, how much of this weekend is about performance and how much about promotion?

PS: It's been a bit of both actually, from the time we touched down in the 747 and for me coming from this town it was a very, very special feeling. We have been greeted, had a State welcome, Mark and I have been really, really, really well received by everybody in Australia but now the serious stuff starts and I have to say up until that one o'clock this morning phone call I was really enjoying this Grand Prix but it's all gone a bit pear-shaped since then.

Q: To the three team owners: You all talk about the desire to reduce costs, I think probably all the team principals feel the same way. Could you give us an idea of what sort of percentage of your budgets you would like to be able to reduce your running costs by? I'm sure you won't give specific figures of how many millions but what sort of percentage would it be nice to shave off your running costs?

PS: I've said enough. It's over to these guys. I would like 50 per cent.

FW: Can I answer you backwards? What I'm trying to say is Formula One needs money, everything in Formula One costs money. Yes, we must save money and if we don't we will eventually all go out of business, but it's very difficult to specify how much of a per cent exactly would do the job. As you have noticed for many years now, Max has continually changed the technical regulations to control car speeds, and he been absolutely right to do so, if you look back over the last ten years, and it's the same with controlling the costs in Formula One; we need to do so every few years, not in a dramatic fashion but in a sensible and useful fashion. Are we talking 5 or 10 per cent? I don't know because I think whatever we plan to do would not necessarily work out at exactly 5 or 10 per cent. But going back to the first question on this whole matter, Max's attempt to get the manufacturers -not the teams, it's the manufacturers' problem, they make the engines - to control the costs of what it costs to make them, that is a correct step.

JT: It's a very difficult question how much we would like. As much as possible. Definitely Ferrari is different from most of the other teams because we are paying for the engine, we are paying for the chassis, and we know that the balance between the cost and the income is about plus 20 per cent on the overall budget so if we could make a break-even it would be better but how to achieve it, it is difficult. I think it is already quite good from us to have it just one fifth of the costs which is paid through the profit of the road cars.

PS: I think from my point of view, a 20 per cent saving is realistic. Max's proposal, obviously, has my total support as somebody who has paid for engines in the past and may have to pay for them in the future and also who would like to see their performance lifted, but I think the other thing that would really go a long, long way towards controlling costs is to also have a limit on the number of chassis that are made and by default that actually limits how much testing you do. We spent so much time talking about testing: last year we ended up with pretty much the same as what we had so I think it could be done if there was a genuine effort.

Q: A question on the lighter side of F1 to our debutants, if I can, starting with Allan. I read today in our only national newspaper that David Coulthard may be addicted to models. I'm wondering if that's correct, or even near so. Allan, what's your experience of that side of the sport in your first week here?

AM: Obviously I can't quite speak for David and his addiction to models supposedly, but I was very interested to read the same newspaper article as yourself; it was quite entertaining. Obviously there is lots of glitz and glamour in the sport, and that's part of it, always will be part of it, it's a nicer side of it and certainly it's one that I think quite a few people in here probably enjoy as well, but the reality is we are here to do our jobs and our jobs are to drive racing cars and to drive them very fast, and that's the primary point.

Q: And, Mark, as the local boy I have seen you many a time this week sort of saturated in blonds. What's your feeling?

[AM: You lucky man!]

MW: It's very difficult to attract them in this position, for sure. Like Allan says, it's all there, they love - whether it's the sheilas, as we call them out here... They enjoy it, a lot of the guys enjoy it, also probably there's a lot of guys here frustrated racing car drivers as well, so the guys, as far as blondes go, yeah, there are plenty around, for sure. Mika as well, he is here. Very blond.

Q: Paul, are you risking some sort of sanction under the provision of the Concorde Agreement by blowing the lid off this thing?

PS: I haven't told you anything about the Concorde Agreement; I've actually made it very clear that I'm not prepared to talk about that. It is going to go to court, there is no doubt about that, whether it's me or somebody else, but I just simply state that we have five legal opinions that say that under the Concorde Agreement what has happened to date cannot happen.

Q: Perhaps I should know this but are you able to own two Formula One teams? Is there any restriction on the numbers?

PS: Mark, I'm not going to comment any further on this other than to say that it is going to go to court; I can see no other logical solution.

Q: Could you clarify one point. The liquidator had offers for $30 million and yet he sold the team for three?

PS: There were several offers put before the liquidator before he made the final judgment to put the company into liquidation. I haven't got the actual date, I think it was 27th January from memory. Those offers were rejected. Now, why he rejected those I'm sure is going to have to come out in due course but nevertheless they were, on the face of it, bona fide offers. We now have an offer that is less than 10 per cent of the lowest of those offers that seems to have been accepted. I doubt if there's any lawyers here but you can ask the questions. I can't see the answer to that.

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Q: The creditors have lost out, the staff have lost out?

PS: Looks like it, doesn't it?

Q: Paul, you think the judge shut it down because all the offers, while they were high monetary offers, they weren't in a position to get the team going as a going concern again? Is that why you believe the liquidator took his decision initially?

PS: I don't actually know why this French liquidator - he is actually a judge - why this French judge has taken this decision. That's something that if the decision is taken to somewhere like the European Court of Appeal I'm sure is going to come out very clearly but it's not for me to comment on why he did what he did, I'm only relating the facts as I understand them and as have been checked by several counsels that simply say what has been done should not have been done and that the judge was not in the position he thinks he was in to be able to sell these assets.

Q: Are you taking any action to protect the $25 to $30 million value of your franchise and related other monies?

PS: Well, perhaps the sort of non-manufacturer line teams and the smaller teams might have more of a sense of value of what their entry is worth, but let's just go back a little bit in time. BAR paid $30 million for Tyrrell but they sold me all the assets bar the entry, so they obviously didn't want it. More recently, we have seen Jaguar take over Stewart, we've seen Renault take over Benetton, all these people have bought teams. When I bought Minardi, if I wanted to go down this route, I spent a sum of $30 million on Italian creditors. I suppose I could have turned around and said: 'Hey, guys, I'm going to move it all to England, good-bye creditors, good-bye staff, you are on your bike, I will just have a new entry.' I don't think justice, none that I know of anyway, actually exists like that.

Q: Anymore questions, no more? Thank you gentlemen.

Published at 06:54:11 GMT
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