Paddy Lowe: “Above all, we must maintain F1 as the pinnacle of motorsport”

paddy lowe

Q: Thank you for that. Coming to you Paddy, the speed with which Ferrari has closed up the gap, does that reflect also that you’ve been perhaps a little bit conservative from last year to this, focusing on reliability rather than chasing performance at the start of this year?

Paddy Lowe: No, not at all. We put in a very aggressive programme over the winter, both on the engine and on aerodynamics and other parts of the car. So, no, not a bit of it. We expected a very tough season as the second iteration of this new formula and we weren’t going to get through that without a lot of development on the performance of the car. No, I think credit to Ferrari, they’ve done a good job over the winter to make a big step to approach and even exceed our performance from time to time, so that’s set the place for a very tough competition through the year.

Q: What about your two drivers then? Nico obviously is yet to match Lewis, is that just that he’s not done a good a job or is there a technical story behind that? 

PL: No, I think Lewis is performing, really, at the top of his game. I’ve worked with Lewis actually throughout his Formula One career and I would say at the moment he’s really at his peak – the best he’s been driving so far. That’s a tough prospect for any driver to compete with. Nico’s doing a great job. I was particularly pleased with how he performed in Bahrain. We let him down at the last minute, which is why he lost the second place, but you saw he did some fantastic driving, some great overtaking, which showed that he had great race craft. I think Nico is doing a good job, it’s just tough to beat Lewis. The season is still young and there’s plenty in prospect for a good battle between them.

Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action and Speedsport) Gentlemen, the rules can change in 2017. Name a couple of things that would be at top of your wish list, even if it’s not practical, that you would like to see coming? 

PL: I agree with Jonathan that above all we must maintain Formula One cars as the pinnacle of motorsport. That’s the presentation that Formula One is and that’s what maintains the show and the attractiveness to a global audience. Even amongst topics such as cost saving, which often comes up, above all we’ve got to maintain that show and that means the cars must be truly spectacular. But in terms of rule changes, I think it’s not absolutely clear that we need to change the cars radically, that’s something being discussed. As Nick correctly says, performance will increase anyway through normal development and we may arrive at the position we want to be through natural development. I think an interesting area is just in the sporting regulations. There are a lot of thing we can do that would improve the show without spending a huge amount of money changing the cars themselves. Changes to sporting regulations generally don’t attach a lot of cost and can change the sport in subtle ways that improve the spectacle, improve the interest, improve the uncertainty, which is what you really want from race to race – that it’s not absolutely clear who is going to win.

Can you give us an example of what you’re thinking?

PL: I think we’ve been discussing ideas like the use of tyres, how tyres are allocated – but I think we’re actually on the lookout for people to come up with interesting ideas. But I still say in that context, again agreeing with Nick, the sport, in my view, isn’t in a bad shape. And I don’t think we need to run around thinking we need to do drastic things.

I wonder Paddy, if we need an explanation of this phenomenon, why it is that this has happened here?

PL: I’m not a great expert about GP2 but it may be that they’ve improved a bit. Formula One is in an early phase of a major regulation era. This is the second year of a set of regulations, so generally performance will increase until the next reset is required. Those resets are normally introduced to control safety through cornering speed. So I think we’ve got a period now where we will stretch out relative to some of those other formulae. For 2017 it may be that we need to give it a bit of a nudge and that’s what’s being talked about. Perhaps some more aerodynamic performance could be added – but historically we have always reduced aerodynamic performance step-by-step. I can’t recall us ever increasing it in all the years.

Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) We’re all taking about making the cars go faster, changing the aerodynamics, playing with the engines, whatever – but no-one seems to be talking about the tyres when we all know the drivers are driving within themselves for the entire race distance, pretty much. Why not?

Rob did address the whole question of degradation but has anyone got anything to add on the subject of the tyres? Paddy?

PL: That subject comes up repeatedly. I think it’s always been a factor in Formula One racing that you have to consider getting the most out of the tyre over a long distance. I don’t think there have been many tyres over the years that one could sprint with on every single lap. I think with the current tyres we have an interesting situation which I think has improved the spectacle a great deal, where the nature of the tyre degradation is such that cars are obliged to stop at certain points, and it produces a lot more variety. I think we’ve seen far more exciting races as a result since Pirelli came into Formula One. So, there is the aspect around drivers having to manage and not necessarily drive as fast as we would like – but I think that’s been an element in the past. It may be a slightly bigger element at the moment – but it also adds to the skill necessary from the driver. So, it’s still all part of an exciting package. And in qualifying, of course, they are going absolutely flat out.

Q: (Sebastian Scott – This is a question really for the three people from the works teams. If you look at the World Endurance Championship now Porsche, Audi and Toyota seem to be fairly reliable for an endurance race and they seem to have a great power output. Is there anything you could learn from what they are doing and apply it to the current set of regulations? As you were saying, not to make a massive change to make a quick fix or just a little fix.

PL: I’m not a great expert, I’m afraid to comment. I would just say that the power units we have are extremely sophisticated. They incorporate hybrid systems which are very road car relevant and I think that’s been a great direction for Formula One. I don’t see a great need to change the engine formula now because we’ve only really just adopted it.

PL: I think it’s worth mentioning, because I forgot to mention it, that talking about the World Endurance Championship… these engines now are doing a huge mileage compared to history, four, five, six thousand kilometres compared to barely three hundred kilometres in the old days so they are already endurance engines and I think that’s a point to note and a point which we should appreciate and celebrate actually.

Q: (Mike Doodson – GP Week) Next week there’s going to be a meeting with the strategy group when I think you’re going to decide on whether or not to have a fifth power unit. I realise that given the alarm and disparity and reliability between certain power units which we won’t mention there is a danger that the World Championship for Drivers is going to be compromised in some way. Bearing that in mind, what do you think the chances are of there being a fifth engine permitted or agreed by the strategy group? 

PL: I think the original reason that people talked about a fifth engine was because in this year where we first reduced it to four per year, there was very little running on Fridays and it was seen that this was the explanation so the original reason it was agreed that we would look at introducing a fifth engine to improve the amount of running that was done on a Friday. We would agree with it in that context. We will see what happens in the strategy group.

Q: (Craig Scarborough – Scarbs F1) General question to everyone: we’ve been speaking about wanting to improve lap times. We always want to talk about cutting costs. I imagine that a lot of your R&D budgets actually spend on actually trying to circumvent previous cost-cutting attempts. We don’t want to play with engines, we don’t want to play about too much with downforce. Is there a potential that we could lose some innovative technology in 2017 or in the future? Maybe things like active aero or active suspension to improve corner speed, straightline efficiency in order to get the lap time but without having to spend too much money? 

PL: Yeah, I agree with Rob and Jonathan. I think that where it relates to costs, often it’s not more expensive and a suspension is an interesting example that has been studied over the last few years. Sometimes we spend more money designing systems that get around the constraints of the regulations in an indirect manner, so some of the suspension systems we have at the moment are incredibly complex and therefore expensive and maybe cheaper if they were implemented using electronics.

Q: (Christopher Joseph – Chicane) A question to both Rob and Jonathan: you talked about how vital it is that the technology is relevant, not only to the businesses, the suppliers and yourselves as engineers.  Do you think enough is done to promote the technology side of the sport and if not, do you think we could do more in terms of more media times with people like yourselves and your colleagues and relating that technology to the fans? 

PL: I wasn’t asked that directly but if I could add to that question, slightly correct Rob because I think Mercedes spent a great deal of effort actually publicising…  making the most of the hybrid power that we produce. That’s been used in a lot of advertising over the last 12 months, making a big story around that. Hybrid is a name that I think now, through Formula One, it’s being more associated with a cool car rather than an uncool car and I think there is a lot going on. Of course we could do more but it is beginning.


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