For anyone who would like to see a full breakdown of all the questions and answers from yesterday’s FOTA Fans Forum, Italy at the Pirelli HQ in Milan, here is a transcript. There are some interesting questions here and the panel and fans entered into the spirit of the occasion very well.
The panel comprised: Nico Rosberg, Driver, Mercedes GP; Jarno Trulli, Driver, Team Lotus; Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal, Scuderia Ferrari; Paul Hembery, Director of Motorsport, Pirelli: Niccolo Petrucci, Head of Aerodynamics, Toro Rosso: Gianpaolo Dall’Ara, Director of on-track engineering, Sauber
All the questions came from the Italian fans in the audience.
- Is Formula One going to follow the global push towards hybrid engines?
Stefano Domenicali: F1 has always been an advanced test bench for technologies that will be applied to the road and we looked at road car technology trends before coming up with our engine regulations for 2014. We’re going to use a turbo engine; we’re going to use KERS more and more, and there will be other forms of energy recovery on the cars as well. But we shouldn’t forget the value of competition and the best interests of the sport might not always be in line with wider industry. We have to maintain the values that have made F1 what it is today.
- How much creativity and imagination does it take to design an F1 car?
Nicolò Petrucci: People often ask if we still have room for imagination and creativity, and my answer is always yes. The regulations might appear to get more restrictive, but there is always something new every year. Whenever we design a new car, we start by looking at ways to improve the existing car. Experience is very important. I would like to point you to the car that Toro Rosso designed this year. Even though the regulations have changed a lot over the last 20 years, the STR6 is based on my experience at Ferrari in ’92. We tried to invent a sidepod with a fully integrated wing and it seems to be performing very well.
- Can you tell us more about the miracle that is Toro Rosso?
Nicolò Petrucci: Red Bull bought Minardi, but up until 2009 we raced Red Bull’s cars. They were designed in the UK and we managed them on the racetrack. Then the regulations changed and starting last year we became a fully-fledged constructor. Slowly, we are putting together a team of engineers and designers and we are growing. We’re currently 280 people.
- Are we going to see any surprises from Pirelli in 2012?
Paul Hembery: I don’t expect major surprises next year. We’re researching new compounds that could improve lap times by as much as 1.2s per lap, but that’s too much. We’re looking for a maximum improvement of 0.6s to 0.8s per lap and to meet that we’ve designed a new rear tyre. There’s also going to be a new rain tyre, so the changes for next year aren’t really going to be visible from the outside. We’re also thinking about changing the colour of the tyres to increase visibility.
- Are you pleased with how Pirelli tyres have performed this year? Paul Hembery: At the beginning of the year we thought we’d have as many as 10 pitstops per race, but we’ve done two or three, which is perfectly in line with what Pirelli was asked to provide.
- Will we ever get to a point when F1 becomes a closed-wheel formula?
Gianpaolo Dall’Ara: I think F1 is special and beautiful because it is what it is. Anything is possible, but I prefer to think of F1 being very different to everything else and that includes it being an open-wheel formula. The regulations are quite limiting today. In terms of engines, for example, we have many teams sharing the same ones and that creates many similarities between the cars and their performances.
- Nico, What was the truth about you running out of fuel at Spa? Nico Rosberg: I had to save fuel, but my team-mate (Michael Schumacher) would have overtaken me anyway because he was on the soft tyres and I was on the hards.
- Jarno, how is the new power steering system working on your car? And what would you consider doing when you’re no longer a driver?
Jarno Trulli: I suffered a lot with the old power steering system because it had been designed poorly. It was a big thing for me to have it for the Hungarian Grand Prix this year because it was much better. I couldn’t have it at Spa due to technical reasons, but I will have it here at Monza and I hope to have some fun on the track!
- Two questions for Stefano: why does Ferrari lose 1.4s per lap on the hard tyres and is it possible to change the set-up of the car from the pitwall?
Stefano Domenicali: The most serious issues that Ferrari has had this year are related to tyres. When the tyres haven’t suited the circuit in terms of asphalt roughness or temperature, we have struggled relative to our main opposition. Very little can be done about this with the current car, so our engineers are trying to understand for 2012 why the tyres can’t perform properly under certain conditions. It’s a serious technical issue, but I’m confident that our engineers will be able to solve the problem because they have the right expertise.
- Tyre temperature isn’t a new problem for Ferrari. Why can’t the engineers solve it?
Stefano Domenicali: It’s quite an old problem for us, yes. Tyre warm-up has been a problem for at least a decade. This year, the Pirelli tyres exaggerate the situation even more than normal. Having said that, I think Pirelli has been doing a splendid job this year and everyone in F1 should congratulate them. What we need to do is fine-tune our car to maximise the performance of the tyre.
- Many teams take young drivers, as young as 13 years old. Wouldn’t it be useful to do the same with engineers?
Gianpaolo Dall’Ara: To a degree, this is already the case. We don’t have the resources to create engineering schools because that would take up too many resources – and we all know that resources have become increasingly limited in recent years. We are wrestling with decreasing budgets, but we have contact and cooperation with different universities. We’re doing research projects with students about things that can benefit the team. Real hands-on experience is harder to achieve and we tend to favour experience over creativity, even if creativity can sometimes give you an edge. Some students even pick up the phone and ask for a job!
- Many MotoGP riders have said they don’t want to race in Japan this year as a result of the Fukushima disaster. What’s the situation in Formula One?
Jarno Trulli: I am not completely sure what’s going to happen. Nico Rosberg: The GPDA has already done some research on this. We have discussed it and we have read the official statements, and, according to the official statements, everything is fine. That is all the information we have.
- Pirelli have committed to F1 to the end of 2013. What are your plans and are you going to let the teams choose their own compounds?
Paul Hembery: We are a partner of all the teams, but we are not totally free to do what we want to do. We have put forward some proposals, such as qualifying tyres and better usage of the tyre allocation than we have now. These conversations are geared towards 2013 and we may let the teams choose compounds, which is something we’ve done in the past in the World Rally Championship. But these are just discussion points, but to tell you the truth we are very happy with what we have done so far so we shouldn’t exaggerate the problems. So far, so good. We received a memo from the drivers only yesterday, asking us to review the tyre allocation because at the end of each race the drivers still have a set of unused tyres – usually the harder of the two compounds. The drivers want us to find a way to use them, either in the qualifying session or over the weekend at some point. That’s something we want to sort out for 2012.
- A question to the drivers: how do you prepare the night before a race?
Jarno Trulli: The night before the race is like any other night. After all, I have a lot of experience of preparing for races – but I’ve never actually counted the number of races I’ve done in F1! I eat carbohydrates and go to bed early, in an effort to get seven hours sleep. Sleep is important for an athlete because you have to recover your energy and the best way to do that is to sleep.
Nico Rosberg: At all the European races, I sleep in my motorhome. I have dinner, usually in the camper but sometimes in a local restaurant, and I then try and have nine hours sleep. It’s as if I was at home in Monte Carlo. In the morning I start to get a bit nervous, but that’s natural. It doesn’t affect my sleep.
- Do you think the teams supply enough information to new media?
Gianpaolo Dall’Ara: The press releases summarise what the team has done on a particular day. They follow a standard format and I think the information that is communicated in this way is pretty exhaustive. But I’m not the right person to ask about new media.
- Japanese drivers have in the past had a tendency to be pretty quiet. Is that the situation with Kamui Kobayashi?
Gianpaolo Dall’Ara: He’s pretty talkative. He’s not necessarily easy to understand, but he’s pretty talkative. He and his on-track engineer understand each other beautifully, which is very important, and he works very well with the team. We’ve been working together for 18 months now and we’re really happy. A couple of races ago he came to the track with his mother-in-law, which was a bit different, but he comes from a different culture and you have to respect his customs.
- Would it be difficult for Pirelli to present lots of different tyres to the drivers and let them choose what compounds to use?
Paul Hembery: In terms of logistics, we’d need to know in advance what tyres to take. We have many races outside Europe, to which shipments need to be made a couple of months beforehand. We’re already talking about doing this, but it will take some time to finalise. We’re talking about logistics with the team principals and we’re talking about it on a technical level too because we can’t be too extreme with our technical decisions.
- For a small team like Toro Rosso, how long does it take to design an F1 car?
Nicolò Petrucci: The design starts at the start of the previous season, unless there is a big change in regulations. If that’s the case, we start work even further ahead. Please remember that our team is growing up at the moment, so work in the wind tunnel was a bit limited in the beginning. We don’t get up to the FOTA limit for wind tunnel usage; we use it from early in the morning until about 11pm during the week. We work two shifts, like any other factory, and we use a 50 percent model. But you can’t only work on the new car; during the season you also have to develop your current car so it’s a juggling act. It can take a team like us two months to do something that the bigger teams can do in a much shorter timeframe.
- There seems to be less and less of Italy in F1 these days. I’d like to know the biggest challenge facing a driver in becoming an F1 driver.
Jarno Trulli: Let me say first of all that I’m a lucky guy. Being one of the 24 lucky drivers is no ordinary achievement. I was eight years old when I started driving karts; it was my family’s passion and I had nothing in my mind when I started. I just wanted to have fun. I never dreamt about F1 because my family told me that it was so far away and I only started to believe I could be an F1 driver when I actually was an F1 driver! Being Italian, it’s quite hard to climb the ladder because what we have here is Ferrari. It is the symbol of Italy and we’re all extremely proud of it, but at the same time it creates some hurdles for Italian drivers because all eyes are on Ferrari. I’m sure Nico [Rosberg] learnt Italian because he wanted to drive a red car!
- Nico, if the top eight drivers on the grid all raced the same car, who would be fastest?
Nico Rosberg: I would be ahead of everyone else by half a lap! Seriously, it would be a close call. All of the drivers would be very close to each other.
- Nico, was Michael Schumacher good or bad for you? Nico Rosberg: It’s been a great experience to have him in the team. It’s great to work side-by-side with him because he has won seven world championships. He is a real benchmark.
- Nico, does it give you a lot of satisfaction to beat the best in history? Nico Rosberg: If he’s the best, what does that make me?
- A question to both drivers: when do you feel in perfect harmony with your car?
Jarno Trulli: When you are in harmony with the car, that’s when you are able to perform at your peak. That’s when you’re racing as fast as you can. You feel perfectly comfortable and you can even go faster. It doesn’t happen much because when you drive a car on the limit new problems emerge, but it has happened and when it does you feel invincible.
Nico Rosberg: I agree. Unfortunately I don’t feel like that very often, but when it does happen I feel no-one could drive faster than me. Everything is just perfect.
- What is being done to help young Italian drivers?
Stefano Domenicali: Let me go back to what Jarno said before. In the past, Ferrari was seen as a constraint by Italian drivers, but we now have a group of young drivers – of all nationalities – and we’ve decided to focus on them from a very early age, in karting. When I chaired the sub commission for speed at CSAE I decided, along with Mr Dallara, to do something like that and there’s now a great desire to bring Italian drivers back to the top of F1. We think now is the time to invest in this programme because the young drivers will be the sap that will nourish us in the future.
- Nico, what did your father, Keke, say when you wanted to become an F1 driver?
Nico Rosberg: He was happy because he knew the sport first hand. He knew it was a great job and he knew that everyone who got to work in it were very lucky. When he saw me getting passionate about it, he was happy for me. From a young age I wanted to go all the way to the top and my dad was happy about that.
- Stefano, what was your dream when you were a boy? Stefano Domenicali: I had a big passion for the space industry, but my feet have had to remain firmly on the ground.
- One of FOTA’s intentions is to reduce ticket prices at races. What is being done about that?
Stefano Domenicali: The cost of the tickets is a barrier that prevents people from getting closer to the action. However, at the moment the organisers pay a very high fee to Mr Ecclestone’s company and they can only recover from that if they keep ticket prices high. As I’m sure you already know, the Concorde Agreement is due to expire in 2012 and ticket prices is one of the items on our agenda for the new one. There are two things that we’re interested in: we need revenues so that we can invest further, but we also need to have lots of fans lining the tracks. The same is true in soccer. Without supporters in the stadium, it changes the experience entirely. F1 needs to be more accessible. It needs to get closer to the younger generations in the ways that it operates. F1 has a big following from people aged 30 – 50, but we need to attract teenagers as well. We will not succeed if we’re not careful.
- Who’s going to win the Italian Grand Prix?
Jarno Trulli: I think it’s either Ferrari or McLaren, looking at the characteristics of their cars. Nico has a chance to make the podium.
Nico Rosberg: It’s too difficult to say. Anyone from the top three teams.
Nicolò Petrucci: I think [Lewis] Hamilton. At Spa he missed a great opportunity to stay close to the Red Bulls, so he’ll have something to prove this weekend. And McLaren have always been strong at Monza.
Paul Hembery: Without wanting to put too much pressure on Stefano, I think Alonso.
Giampaolo Dall’Ara: It’s a match between Ferrari and McLaren.