Today’s press conference with Zak Brown, Toto Wolff, James Vowles and Frederic Vasseur.
It’s been a very unfortunate start to the on-track proceedings. Fred, perhaps we could start with you. What has Carlos Sainz said to you since FP1 – and have you had a chance to look at the car yet?
Frederic Vasseur: What he said, I think it was on the air, that I hit something on track and he didn’t know exactly what it was. The situation is that we damaged completely the monocoque, the engine, the battery and I think it’s just unacceptable.
Well let’s look bigger picture…
FV: This one is a good one, I don’t need to have a bigger picture than this one.
OK, but Fred, I did just want to ask you about this event, in terms of what it means for Ferrari, if we could just talk about the Las Vegas Grand Prix. How big it is. Talk to me about the activations that Ferrari are doing here.
FV: Yeah guys, I’m not sure that is the topic for me today. We had a very tough FP1. This will cost us a fortune. We fucked-up the session for Carlos. We won’t be part of the FP2 for sure. We have to change the chassis out of the car, to set-up the car. OK, the show is the show and everything is going well but I think it’s just unacceptable for the F1 today.
[off-mic from Toto]
FV: You would be upset in my situation.
Fred, this is the last chance we’re going to get to speak to you in the FIA press conference…
FV: At least good news!
…I thought you might say that. Fred, let’s look at 2023 as a whole. OK? Your first year as team principal of Ferrari.
Toto Wolff: You’re putting yourself in more trouble, I have known him for 20 years…
OK, we’ll come back to you Fred. Zak, can we talk to you, maybe, about the bigger picture. McLaren has a truly global perspective. You’ve got teams in series all around the world. Tell us how significant Las Vegas is for you and your team.
Zak Brown: It’s a huge event. It’s been a couple of years of build-up for Formula 1. Probably going to be one of the most watched grands prix in the history of the sport. Unfortunate, obviously, the way we’ve kicked things off but hopefully we’ll get things rectified here shortly. Feel terrible for Fred and I think another car as well had some significant damage. But yeah, putting that aside, we have a tremendous amount of corporate partners out here, lots of fans, lots of attention on this sport as a whole and I think it’s Liberty taking the sport to yet another level – so hopefully we get the show on the road here shortly.
And Zak, I’d like to take you back to the whole of 2023. You look locked into P4 in the Constructors’ Championship now. Given where you were at pre-season testing, how do you sum-up the year?
ZB: Well, I wouldn’t say we’re locked into P4. We’re only 21 points ahead and, especially when you get into a street race, some crazy things can happen – but we’re in a good spot, I should say. That was the goal. I didn’t think we’d quite get there by being the ninth or tenth quickest team at the start of the year and then we’ve been kind of bouncing around between second, third, fourth quickest team, the second half of the year. It’s been an awesome effort by Andrea Stella and the entire team. The upgrades have been fantastic. Drivers are doing a great job, we’ve got great power coming out of our Mercedes power unit, so it’s been a wild ride and I’m glad we’re ending with the momentum that we have now created – because hopefully that will carry us forward through the winter and get started with a much stronger year in 2024 than we were in 2023.
Well, you’ve made a lot of hires over the last 12 months. Does McLaren now have everything it needs to win.
ZB: We have everything we need but we need a little bit more time. The upgrades were not done with some of our latest technology. We’re now in our wind tunnel, we have our new simulator, our new manufacturing unit, so that’s quite exciting for us because we haven’t yet benefitted from those. We’ve got great people back at McLaren but we do have a couple of big hires that start in early January that I think will be additive – but, of course, our 2024 car is already started. So, I think we’ll have everything in place come January but not everything… ’24’s already started, so I think it’ll be ’25 before we’ve fully maximised everything. I feel good about the ’24 season – but we need to close-out ’23 strongly first.
Toto, if we could come to you now. Tell us about Vegas and your experiences of the event.
TW: Well, it’s big. For me it’s a first, in Vegas. I must really say that the job that Liberty has done is phenomenal, considering that this was over two years. I think this was a construction site here a year ago. And then to pull that off, you really need to take your hat off. And it’s going to become a fixture, and I think an important fixture for the sport.
And in terms of performance, do you think the W14 is going to be more competitive here than it was last time out in Brazil?
TW: We didn’t have the tyres… so… you can’t say Tom. We didn’t have a proper lap, the tyres were never in the window and… too early.
But do you understand why you had the problems last time out?
TW: We do, yeah. We were a little bit… we got it wrong with some of the tuning we did on the car, and, with a Sprint race weekend… you can’t change that. If we’d had an FP2 session it would have been so obvious that we were in the wrong spot – but this is how it goes. Same for everybody and we got that wrong.
And when you reflect on 2023 Toto. I mean, you look like you’re going to have a better finish in the Constructors’ Championship than you did last year. Do you feel it’s been a better season in terms of execution for the team?
TW: Well, second is not a given. Ferrari is just 20 points or so behind us and, like Zak said, this is a street circuit, many things can happen and I think it’s between the two of us, you see who can score more points here and in Abu Dhabi. But in any case, if we look back in ten years, and we look at the score and say we finished second in the World Championship after winning eight years and then a third, you would say that is respectable – but if there is one guy that wins all of the other races, you can’t say that any more. We just need to do a better job to be competitive. The season was a rollercoaster, up and down. Some very promising races, like in Austin and Mexico, which we could have won – but could have is not enough. And then Brazil. So, I hope we can end it on a more positive note. Here the unknown and then Abu Dhabi.
James, first of all, many congratulations on the birth of your daughter. Mum and babe doing OK?
James Vowles: Yeah, thank you for asking. Both are absolutely fine. I don’t think either one is sleeping but they’re both home and healthy, which is the main thing.
Good. Give us your thoughts on the whole Las Vegas experience so far.
JV: I think, first and foremost, it’s enormous for the sport. As Toto said, this is a private entity, Liberty, that have done this incredible surround that we have here, and it is top class, it is, I would say really, a jewel in the crown that is the calendar. And it’s brilliant to be really represented across all elements of the United States. For example, we’re activating a very large pop-up store and a number of other items. You can see the amount of teams that have done liveries just in celebration of how important this event is. And Liberty have done a great job with it. Yes, we have problems, and I’m… what happened in FP1 is incredibly disappointing. I’m incredibly sorry for both Ferrari and Alpine that have suffered damage as a result of it. If it had been us, I think that would have affected the Championship quite significantly. But we will get on top of it and we will get the show back on the road as a result of where we are and how important this is.
And, of course, it was Williams back in Baku in 2019, wasn’t it?
JV: That’s exactly what we thought about immediately this happens. We’ve been on the receiving end of it and it’s incredibly painful both in financial damage and in loss of time on track. It’ll take a long time to get that repaired.
And when you look at 2023 James, you took over a team that was tenth in the Constructors’ Championship last year. You’re currently seventh. Is that the trajectory that you were hoping for when you joined?
JV: I think it’s better than what I was hoping for but you have to remember I’m sitting on a sofa alongside people where… we were fighting McLaren in Bahrain and they’re fighting for podiums and wins. We have the top four in the Championship all lined-up next to me and that’s the aspiration. To get somewhere there. And the reality behind it is that there are teams this year, McLaren’s one of them, AlphaTauri is another one of them, that are putting huge performance on the car and starting to fight with the giants. Our aspirations are very clearly to keep moving forward in the way that we have. Now, Williams has gone from not scoring points to, since the Summer break, we’ve been scoring at near enough most events – Or have the ability to score, so that’s a very different circumstance to where we were 12 months ago. But, as I said, our aspiration is to keep moving up the grid, beyond where we are now. And that’s going to take a lot more effort from where we are.
Check out our Friday gallery from Las Vegas here.