The fourth FOTA Fans Forum took place today at the HQ of Pirelli in Milan. It was the first FFF to be conducted in a language other than English.
An audience of 200 Italian fans interacted with a panel comprising Ferrari boss Stafano Domenicali, drivers Nico Rosberg and Jarno Trulli, Sauber engineer Gianpaolo Dallara, Toro Rosso aerodynamicist Niccolo Petrucci.
Veteran Italian journalist Pino Allievi was the master of ceremonies and it was a lively discussion ranging across many subjects.
Fans had a wide variety of questions for the panel on topics from the cost of tickets for Monza, young drivers and 2013 technology to changes to Pirelli tyres next season.
Hembery said that he would be aiming for a gap between the soft and medium tyres of around 0.6 to 0.8 seconds next season and would improve the colour markings of the tyres to make it clearer which is which.
Domenicali faced several questions about why the Ferrari seems to struggle with the harder compound tyres, as we saw in Spa. Fans argued that this is a problem Ferrari has had for some time.
He said that his engineers were working hard on it, particularly for next season.
“It is a historical problem,” he said. “The warm up of our tyres has been a problem for a decade. Conditions change, tyre constructions change. It’s always been a problem. This year after a significant change of supplier from Bridgestone to Pirelli that’s been even more of a problem for our car. Bridgestone matched our car better, but Pirelli has done a splendid job. Obviously some tyres can benefit some cars better than others and we need to tune our cars.”
The panel all agreed that it was important for F1 to go to Japan, despite concerns voiced by bike racer Valentino Rossi that it isn’t safe after the nuclear power plant disaster. Rosberg said that the GPDA has conducted its own research and has concluded that it is safe to go.
There was an interesting discussion about teams being able to choose which Pirelli compounds they run at Grands Prix; “We may let them do that,” said Hembery. “This is what we did in WRC where teams chose a few months ahead of the event. We are very happy with what we’ve done so far so we shouldn’t exaggerate. We received a memo from the drivers asking us to review the tyre allocation, normally they are left with one new set of tyres of the harder type and it would be good to see if we can allocate differently.”
Hembery was asked if he could provide four or five different compounds. He said it was all about logistics, as it is Pirelli takes 1,500 tyres to every GP and they have to cut up any unused tyres at the end of each weekend as they have to glue the tyres to the rims.
Fans wanted to know how long the drivers sleep the night before the race. Rosberg said that he sleeps up to nine hours and revealed that he always feels anxious on the morning of the race. Trulli, who says he has no idea how many races he has started (it’s 245) sleeps only 7 hours.
Trulli said that Ferrari is the symbol of Italy and they are all very proud of it, but at the same time it makes it hard for Italian drivers to get noticed and get support.
Domenicali acknowledged this in an answer about why Italians don’t get to drive in F1 for Ferrari. He said that he has started the Ferrari Driver Academy, which has a number of promising Italians in it, and he wants to help prepare them better for the life of an F1 driver. “We think it’s time to invest now because these young men will nourish us in the future,” he said.
There was a nice exchange where a fan said that he felt Trulli hadn’t got out of F1 what he deserved, to which he said he always tries his best, but noted that Rosberg is a “great, great driver” and suggested that Domenicali should have a chat with him.
I’m sure the idea has crossed his mind before today..
The final chat was about the cost of tickets, given that 50% of the price goes to teams. One fan said he would like to argue with his wife that it was worth 500 euros to him to attend Sunday’s race at Monza, but was sure he would lose the argument.
Domenicali agreed that the cost of entry is a barrier to fans, but said that the organisers pay a high fee to FOM and they pass it on to fans, to cover their costs. He said that when the Concorde Agreement ends in 2012 and is renegotiated, this is one of the main items on FOTA’s agenda. He spoke about possible “grants” to organisers to allow them to lower the prices. He also reminded the fans that teams need revenues, as the costs of competing are high. But he said that at the same time, it’s important to have the venues full.
He said that F1 needs to work hard to attract new fans. Everyone agreed with that.