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Formula 1 Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing

Formula 1 Media Conference

Gil de Ferran
April 7, 2005


NICK FRY: Good day, everyone. It's Nick Fry speaking. I'm very pleased to have Gil on board, of course. Gil will be with us in England from Monday and will be with us in Imola for the next race. I think as we've said in some of the printed material, we've been having a discussion for some time, and I think Gil is going to complement the technical skills of Geoff Willis and the more business or commercial skills of myself outstandingly well. I wanted a real racing person in charge of racing for some time. That's now what we've got. Having just had calls from down in Spain, I think Gil is joining us at the right time. I think as some people know, we've been testing new aero equipment and modified engine in time for Imola. They tell me as of a few minutes ago, we're first and second down there. So Gil is joining just at the perfect moment. Over to you, Gil.

GIL de FERRAN: Hello, everyone. This is Gil de Ferran. Like Nick said, you probably read the printed material. I will reflect very much that. That is an amazing opportunity for me to develop my life and my career. This type of role is definitely something that I had in mind, I was trying to get into when I retired from driving. It's all coming at the right time. Obviously, I'll be leaving my friends and colleagues here in the United States that I made over the last 10 years with a high degree of sadness, but I won't lose touch completely with everyone. But certainly looking forward to start everything on Monday. It's going to be a huge challenge for me. Onwards and upwards.

Q. Gil de Ferran, you had a long-term relationship here in the United States with Roger Penske. Did you maybe go to Roger to get some advice before making this decision?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, Roger has not only been my boss in the past, but a friend and also somebody I bounced ideas to and from. He remained so even after I stopped driving in the end of 2003. I spoke to him regularly. This is one thing that we did talk. He's encouraged me to put my teeth into things that are in my heart. That's certainly one of them.

Q. Did you maybe want or seek a position with Penske Racing and maybe when that didn't come about you looked elsewhere?

GIL de FERRAN: No, I did not. You know, Penske Racing, my role there as a driver lasted for four years. I had great relationship with them. I did not seek any other position with them. I guess in a way I had a unique view on how they operated. To me they were in very, very good shape.

Q. I listened to you on the IRL broadcast last week. It kind of indicated a couple of times that maybe you missed the competitive atmosphere of the racetrack and the track side. Is that what led you to leave the booth and to definitely get back to racing more on a competitive basis?

GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. I mean, certainly one of the things I've learned over this last year or so is that I am a racer at heart. I miss the competition side. When I stopped racing, I didn't want to leave the sport completely. Over the last year or so, my competitive juices kept flowing. That didn't mean that I wanted to get back driving. So I think this role answers all my emotional and intellectual needs.

Q. When this all came about, how much of this was wanting to be able to use your engineering background as well as wanting to get back into the competitive side?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, my interest in racing was very broad from the day I started. I mean, obviously I love driving, I love competing, but I also love the machines. Even when my interest in driving was waning during the last year and eventually led to my retirement from that side of the sport, my interest in everything else remained high. I guess over the years I accumulated different experiences, both behind the wheel and in other parts of motorsports, you know, including the technical part. Hopefully, as time goes on, I'll be able to contribute more and more to the team. But my main role is more sporting related or racing related and I suppose in a way less technical.

Q. How difficult is it going to be making the jump from IndyCars to the Formula 1 cars?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I'm sure there are many nuances about the Formula 1 race team that I don't know about. Therein lies some of the challenges that I speak of. But on the other hand, you know, I feel like I accumulated all the experience I can over the years. This type of role is definitely something I wanted to do. I feel ready for it. I mean, I guess time will tell how successful I will be.

Q. The most important question, are you going to be leaving Fort Lauderdale?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I guess I am. Taking this role entails moving to England. Obviously, I lived in the UK before, for seven years of my life. I'm looking forward to that in a way, but in a way I'll definitely miss my home here in the US.

NICK FRY: It's raining here, Gil.

GIL de FERRAN: I won't tell you what the weather looks like here.

Q. Nick, are you confident that this new partnership will start bringing Jenson the wins that he needs?

NICK FRY: Yeah, I think it's all part of -- you know, it's like building, you know, a wall or something: it's bit by bit. We have struggled obviously with some technical issues, but it looks like we're getting to the bottom of those. The appointment of Gil is really a long-term appointment. Clearly Gil has got to get himself up to speed, which frankly I don't think will take too long. But we're doing this to get the right blend of people to eventually win the World Championship. I don't think that Gil is going to change things immediately, but I'm sure he will have significant impact in the medium and longer term.

Q. It must be great news with the times coming in from the Barcelona test. Do you think that will mean the start of the European season, there will be a big change in results?

NICK FRY: Yeah, I'm still completely confident that we can achieve our aim of winning a race or maybe even better than that this year. Clearly the start has been a little bit disappointing for various reasons. We're on top of the issues. We know exactly what we wanted to do. Yesterday and today we've been testing some new aero bits. It looks very positive. We have another day of testing tomorrow, then Gil will be with us testing at Paul Ricard in France for a couple days next week. I think by the time we get to Imola, we are going to be in good shape and hopefully be able to provide Jenson the service he needs to be able to do better and eventually win this year.

Q. Have you promised him that, that things will pick up; it's just a matter of patience? There's certainly the speed there.

NICK FRY: Oh, absolutely. Jenson really is part of this team. He's fully aware of everything that goes on. We keep him completely involved in everything. He's been in racing a long time, so he knows that sometimes it gets a bit tough. We've always said that we'll provide him with the equipment he needs and anything that we can identify which will help the team and Jenson meet his needs is done. It really is all hands to the pumps.

Q. There's no worry if the results don't improve, you could potentially lose Jenson?

NICK FRY: Well, obviously race car drivers want to be in the best car. It's our job to give Jenson the best car. That's our job and we're clearly focused on doing that. Clearly our aim is to keep Jenson for as long as we possibly can. If he can be with us for the rest of his career, that would please us immensely.

Q. Gil must be a great addition to the team because he does know how to win. He can bring that winning aspect into BAR.

NICK FRY: Yeah, it is part of a strategy. Gil and I have been talking since before Christmas. I very deliberately called myself chief executive in that I don't try and compete as team principal. I'm trying to be in charge of the company. I've got a range of skills that allows me to run companies, racing teams and otherwise. Geoff Willis is a great technical director and has got the range of skills to design and develop great cars. The third part of the jigsaw puzzle is a great racer. I think we've got someone who is going to be sitting on the pit wall that, in fact, is going to be the match or can better everyone else sitting along there.

Q. Do you think the puzzle is complete now; the formula to win races and also compete for the World Championship is there?

GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. Yeah, we'll continue to tweak. As I say, this is no holds barred. We will do what it takes to win. Gil is another critical part of the jigsaw puzzle.

Q. Can Alonso be caught this year?

NICK FRY: Oh, I think so. I think everyone, including Renault, are very conscious that the season is incredibly long this year. While I wouldn't underestimate anyone, I think with the amount of testing that Ferrari are now doing since they have chosen to do their own thing, go against the rest of us and even the Suzuka agreement, is allowing them to catch up pretty fast. I would think Ferrari are going to be back on it in two or three races at the latest. I think McLaren will improve. I'm sure we're going to improve. It is going to be very tough. Alonso is far from home and dry.

Q. Bobby Rahal came over before you. You must have looked at what happened to him in that he had a lot of success in America, as you have done. Does that worry you, what happened to him in Formula 1?

GIL de FERRAN: In a way it doesn't. You know, I know Bobby for several years. I think there are situations and situations, and different people. I mean, all I can tell you really is that, you know, the people that I have dealt with so far, which have been primarily or should I say mostly Nick, and I had conversations also with Geoff Willis, it's been - how can I say - a wonderful courting period. I feel very comfortable, you know. I clearly understand what I have to do. It seems to me that the role that I am fulfilling is also different from the role that Bobby Rahal was trying to fulfill at Jaguar. I'm also comfortable with the fact that the jury is out. It out for everyone. It's always been out. It's always going to be out. The only way to know that is to do your job well and hopefully deliver the right results.

Q. Was Jackie Stewart involved in the center of this? I noticed some mention of him. How much of a role did he play in the negotiating, courting, whatever you want to call it?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, in a way, like Roger Penske and other people that I know, Jackie has been somebody that I turn to whenever I have big decisions to make over, my God, since the early '90s really. The Stewart family really have been my friends since I drove for them back then. Certainly I met Nick through Jackie back in the '90s, still when we're all doing different things. When this came about, I seeked Jackie's advice.

NICK FRY: It was the same on our side, as well. As Gil says, we've known each other on and off for a large number of years. I know Jackie pretty well. He was a non-exec of Aston Martin when I was marching director. From our side, there were a number of discussions with Jackie about Gil's personality, how it would fit the job. I think Jackie can take credit or otherwise for this arrangement. He's very much been working on both sides and is incredibly supportive of Gil, myself, the proposal we're going forward with.

Q. Gil, what is going to be your first task?

GIL de FERRAN: My first task is going to be doing a lot of observing and listening. I think the worst thing I could do is disrupt a good thing in the short-term. Obviously, BAR Honda finished second in the championship last year with mostly the same people, and a very similar group to what you find there today. Like Nick said earlier, I have to find my feet first. So in the short-term, my plan is to really observe, take a lot of new information in, and hopefully over time my contribution will increase. That's really my plan. My immediate plan is to go to England on this Sunday and in the middle of the week be in Paul Ricard car test which will be my first test.

NICK FRY: He's being very modest. He's going to have two days of indoctrination on Monday and Tuesday, three days of testing, a couple days off, then it's more working with the guys, then we're on stage at Imola. This is going to be interesting, exciting and fast-moving.

Q. He'll find his feet and hit the ground running.

NICK FRY: You got it.

Q. I would like to know whether Gil got to talk to Bobby Rahal. In case you didn't, what do you think of what happened to him during his Jaguar stint, and how could you avoid a similar outcome?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I answered part of your question already, but not the whole of it. I guess I did not talk to Bobby Rahal since all this came about. I will try to repeat my previous answer. It's basically, you know, this is a different role from what Bobby was playing at Jaguar. I mean, there are different people involved, different companies involved. In a way I'm a different person than Bobby. Certainly I understand this will be an enormous challenge for me. However, you know, I'm ready for it. It's something I really want to do. I've gained a lot of experience from my racing life. Of course, the jury is still out, but it's out for everyone. I look forward to the challenge and I'm ready for it.

NICK FRY: If I can add to that, I would also add that the whole environment is totally different. Gil is, as he says, a very different personality from Bobby. But he is joining a team which was not only second in the championship last year, but is 50% owned by a company which has one of the best motorsport histories, not only in Formula 1 but also in oval racing in the States, motorcycle racing, and it's a company which is absolutely dedicated to winning the World Championship. We are going to be going forward, both forcibly and with the full backing of the manufacturer.

Q. Gil, Formula 1 can be an extremely political environment. You're the sporting director. You were in the United States during the CART/IRL years. There's a threatened split in F1. Is it possible to turn your back on all the political environment and concentrate on just the sporting and competition?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I hope so. I think I understand my role very clearly. I think in the end of the day, once the green flag flies, or shall I say the green light goes, that's all that matters. I think that in the past I've done a good job in being able to focus on the job at hand and not really get too distracted about other things that are not essential to the results in competition. I hope I'll be able to do the same in my new role.

NICK FRY: If I can just add, this is really where the division of responsibilities comes in. We wanted Gil as a real racer to be in charge of the racing. The politics are very time-consuming. Indeed, I'm sitting outside a hotel where I just spent all day with the other team principals and the manufacturers looking at the future of the sport. That is really a time-consuming role that I'll continue to take. I'll keep Gil fully informed of what's going on, but we need Gil to concentrate on winning races, not politics.

Q. There was a time when F1 was no holds barred in the checkbook; whatever you could do to go faster and win you could. This is a time when they're trying to cut back costs. Is that going to be disappointing or just maybe another challenge to try to win in a very different environment?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think the sport of racing, and Formula 1 also, has been evolving and been through many, many different phases over its history. My understanding is that my role is clear in my mind. You know, it's to try to win any competition or to succeed in any competition that we enter, find out what's the best way to gain an advantage and have an edge. Nothing changes. I think did that as a driver and I will try to continue to do that in my new role, whatever the competition is, whatever the rules are.

NICK FRY: Remember, cutting costs is all relative. The amount of money being spent in Formula 1, especially with the recent rule changes, are far beyond anything that's ever been spent before. Relative cost-cutting, yes, but in absolute terms, more money than ever.

Q. Gil, have you thought of any step-by-step plans that you want to get ready and get on with straightaway?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, in a way, like I said earlier, my initial task is really to land over there and get a lay of the land, listen and learn. Also, like Nick mentioned, it's going to be a very accelerated process. That's really my initial plan, to do that, and really not to disrupt the workings of what I believe is essentially a very good operation.

Q. Do you know a lot about Jenson Button, him as a person and character? Have you yet to really delve into his personality?

GIL de FERRAN: I met Jenson in the past.

NICK FRY: I heard you went to some good parties, Gil.

GIL de FERRAN: We did. Mostly socially. I liked him a lot. He seemed like a really nice guy. No errors in graces about him, just a guy that loves racing. Just a nice guy. My son liked him a lot, so that must be a good sign.

Q. Are you looking forward to working closely with him? Obviously, Jenson is looking for his first win and the team's first win along with Takuma. Jenson specifically, are you looking forward to working with him?

GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely. I see Jenson as certainly one of the best drivers in the world today, I think somebody that has obviously not only the potential to win races but to win a World Championship. I think he's a great asset to BAR Honda. I'm very much looking forward to working with Jenson.

Q. He's been very unlucky. What do you think he needs to do to become a winner?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I don't think he needs to do much. I think his performance has been incredible. For you to win races, a lot of things have to come right all at the same time. I think it's a job for the whole team, including him evidently, to try to make that happen.

Q. Will you sit down and have a chat with him about his driving, during races, situations that might crop up?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, my first job is I guess to get to know him better. That's primarily why I'm going to Paul Ricard, immediately to get to know the team better, to get to know him better. I intend to spend a lot of time with not only Jenson but Takuma and all the test drivers, to get to know them better. I don't think you can be effective if you don't understand deeply the people you're working with.

Q. So you'll be picking up the tab from the mail then?

GIL de FERRAN: I'll be doing whatever I need to do to get to know him better.

Q. Gil, you had Formula 1 ambitions many years ago. They were frustrated. Is this replacement therapy or unfinished business?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I don't think so (laughter). You know, I had a lot of fulfillment in my driving career, especially in my last stint with Team Penske where I was able to win many races and championships, and especially the Indy 500. I finished my career in the end of '03 very satisfied, happy with what had happened, not really bitter about anything. I was just happy the way my life had developed up until that point. As far as Formula 1 goes, I have always had a fascination with Formula 1, ever since I watched Emerson Fittipaldi battling Jackie Stewart in the early '70s as a kid. I grew up watching Formula 1. I always loved Formula 1. When I went to Europe, I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver. My road took me a different way, but just as fulfilling. I think my doing what I'm doing really has not much to do with any sort of unfinished business that I had in the past. For me it's a new avenue and it's a great opportunity for me to grow really.

Q. What happened at the meeting, Nick?

NICK FRY: I knew you were going to ask that (laughter). A good thing. Again, great alignment between the nine teams and the five manufacturers. We were working through the four different work streams that are looking at the future of Formula 1, and each of the teams reported out with very positive progress, a good endorsement of what they're doing. The work is going to take another couple of months to complete. But we're still heading towards our schedule of having something that we'd be pleased to share with the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone, you know, probably July, August time.

Q. Does that mean you're not going to the meeting?

NICK FRY: No, no one is going to the meeting with Max. There will be a press release to say that hopefully very shortly.

Q. Gil, what does this move mean in terms of your family? I'm sure Angela is happy to go back to her homeland.

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I think in a way she's happy to go back to her homeland, and very sad in another way because we've grown very, very attached to our lifestyle, to where we live, and to the friends we have over here. My children have been going to school their whole lives in the US, they made many friends here, I made many friends here. Let's be honest, it's a pretty nice place to live here in South Florida. Obviously there's some feelings about going back to her home country, but also some sadness about what we're leaving behind.

Q. In terms of leaning on support of people that are used to Formula 1, have you talked at all to Cristiano, any of the other guys that you know personally that have raced over there?

GIL de FERRAN: I have not spoken to Cristiano. I have spoken to other people that I've known in Europe for many years. It's been fantastic, very supportive, with very intelligent advice in many cases.

Q. Big challenge for you. What is your feelings inside? Is this like starting the Indy 500? Is there any way you can equate what this big leap for you is like in your stomach right now?

GIL de FERRAN: You hit the nail on the head. It's certainly an enormous thing in my life and my career, what this appointment is. I felt every emotion you can feel over the last few weeks. I'm hugely excited. I think, of course, I'm hoping this will be the beginning of my next career.

Q. Long Beach is this weekend. The Indy 500 is on the horizon. Will there be any time you miss anything about American racing, open-wheel, or will you be too immersed in this new part of your career?

GIL de FERRAN: I think it's yes to both. Obviously, the Indy 500 and open-wheel racing in America has been a part of my staple diet over the last 10 years. You can't cut something off and not have any withdrawal symptoms. For sure that will happen at some point in time. I have no doubt. On the other hand, I'm sure I'll be busier than I can possibly imagine at this very moment. When you find yourself in that situation, you don't have a lot of time to reflect on different things. I guess the answer is yes to both.

Q. There's always Monaco to replace all of that.

GIL de FERRAN: Absolutely.

Q. Gil, Niki Lauda tested a Formula 1 car on his own a couple years ago. Are there any plans you're going to be in the car, too?

GIL de FERRAN: No plans for me to drive the car, or any car for that matter. I mean, since I retired from racing in the end of 2003, I've been fortunate enough to be in a position -- had several approaches to drive all sorts of different cars. I've resisted them, in a way somewhat easily. When I decided to stop driving, I was very sure about that. I had no desire to get back in the racing car since then. This job, I think it will be so overwhelming that I'm sure not to have them in the future either.

Q. Isn't there a little sort of curiosity to get a taste of what it's like to drive a modern day Formula 1 car?

GIL de FERRAN: I can tell you that as unbelievable as it might seem, I'll tell you no. I've watched Formula 1 races since I stopped driving. I was at the US Grand Prix last year and at the British Grand Prix last year. I watched it with interest, but I had no desire to drive. Of course, my shape is nowhere near as good as it was when I was driving. I don't even think I could do very well.

Q. Nick, you mentioned the talks began with Gil last December. Can you give us some idea where the idea came from? From you, suggestion from Honda?

NICK FRY: Somewhere else, in fact. The idea of sporting director is, in fact, something David and I thought of in the rally environment probably three years ago now. Funnily enough, that led to the appointment of a guy called George Donaldson as the sporting director of the Subaru rally team. Subsequently, the same year after appointing him, Richard Burns won the World Championship. I hope that all goes well. The concept of having a team manager that looks after the organizational and operational side, a chief engineer or race engineer that looks after the engineering side, then someone with more of a racing or in that case rallying background was really derived from my rally experience. Subaru have currently got Luis Moya who replaced George in the Subaru role. The idea really came from there. As I said earlier, it was pretty high in my mind and really part of the reason why I chose the title of chief executive rather than anything maybe more exotic. I had this position firmly in my sights.

Q. Are there any specific job roles laid down yet? Will you be involved in strategy, going to team meetings?

NICK FRY: It's all fairly well-defined. It won't be fluid at all. Gil will have reporting to him the team manager, so all the operational side of the race team, and the chief race engineer, all the race engineers. He'll be in charge overall of all those things. Yes, it will include race strategy, he'll be working with the drivers and the race engineers and the team on setup of the car. Clearly motivation, communication, all those soft skills that make a good team are very much in Gil's bailiwick. Team boss meetings, going back to the earlier question about politics, that's something I'll do. There will be a very clear sort of demarcation between what it takes to win races, which is what Gil is going to do, what it takes to design and develop a car, which is what Geoff Willis is going to do, and then the overall management of the team and company, which is what I'm going to do. It's all extremely clearly laid out.

Q. Gil, how difficult are you expecting the world of Formula 1 to be from what you experienced? This is going to be a completely different world?

GIL de FERRAN: I'm sure it will be very challenging in many ways. I'm sure there are a lot of difficulties that I can't even foresee at this very moment. In the end of the day, a lot of characteristics and ingredients in racing are common worldwide. I think what I have learned over the years puts me in a good position to assume this role. Like I stated earlier, I feel ready for it. I feel like -- it feels like it's a natural progression for me to assume such a position, however difficult it may be.

Q. Nick, can you please give us a brief update with the wind tunnel at Brackley.

NICK FRY: The wind tunnel is exactly on target. We see this new investment as absolutely key to the future success of the team. We do need it up and running by the middle of next year, which will be the shortest build and implementation time of any wind tunnel full stop, end story. That's a great challenge. At the moment this week all the groundwork, sort of foundations, et cetera, will be completed. That's a major task. We have 140 piles which go down 75 feet into the bedrock of the earth below. This has been a major construction task. To make sure the concrete pouring could be done properly, even though the weather is not that great, in fact, we adopted the same technique as was first used on the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, by building a tent, which covered the are where the concrete will be poured, which will keep out rain and keep the temperature right. We really are following the construction hour by hour. At the moment we are completely on schedule.

Q. What is going to happen with the old facility?

NICK FRY: It will keep working. We intend to work both tunnels. The small facility which we run at the moment which by Formula 1 standards is relatively rudimentary currently runs 24/7 bar about four hours' maintenance on a Sunday night. We intend to run both tunnels which is what it takes to get to the top. What all the Formula 1 teams have found is that aerodynamic development and number of hours expended, the lines are completely congruent and linear: the more hours you do, the more results you get.

Q. Are there any plans to rent the old tunnel to external companies?

NICK FRY: Not at this stage. It's something we might consider. I think that decision will be a couple of years away. Of course, that's quite a competitive market, the old Lola wind tunnel which is nearby is out for rent. There are others around the world which you can rent. Our prime aim is to win the World Championship and to use the two tunnels to support that. Thanks very much for all the questions. Very much looking forward to seeing you on Monday morning bright and early, Gil. It's going to be a great relationship. Let's go win something.

GIL de FERRAN: Thank you very much, everyone. Same here, Nick. I guess I'll see you on Monday and I'll definitely see everyone in Imola.

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