AMuS's interview with Otmar Szafnauer
(translated by Google)
Aston Martin wants to become a top team with Sebastian Vettel. In the interview, team boss Otmar Szafnauer talks about the first weeks of cooperation, the season's goals, possible victories, the distribution of resources in vehicle development - and the pitfalls of production under Corona.
The corona virus is still omnipresent. How hard is it to build a new car in these times?
Szafnauer:It's a little harder than usual. You need robust logs to make sure your workforce is safe - and not in quarantine for ten or 14 days. When that happens, you will no longer produce vehicle parts. But there are also factors that are not in your hands. For example the supply base. You don't always know everything about the companies and their precise precautions. That increases the risk. We had to interact with them to make sure they were working according to the same guidelines as us. We give them quick tests. All that is needed is a missing component to paralyze the production of the car. We have to avoid that. So far we've done a good job. We're about to build the car. I am hopeful that we will make it in time.
Will postponing the winter tests help?
Szafnauer: It was a relief in terms of the risk that we were within our schedule for production. In case the virus breaks out. With the tight schedule, an outbreak within the factory would be catastrophic. The postponement of the test drives gives us a little more air to breathe - even in an emergency. So far there has been no outbreak. Our logs are very robust, so we can act quickly in the event that someone catches the virus. We can then quickly narrow it down even before an employee enters the factory. We test everyone who wants to get in. Everyone needs a negative test.
Do you test every day?
Szafnauer: We carry out rapid tests every day that spit out a result after 15 minutes.
More than 50 percent of the new car is a takeover of the old one. How much will homologation save the teams?
Szafnauer: The big savings will not be achieved by homologating this year's cars. We spend a little less, but roughly the same because the FIA has changed the aerodynamics rules so much. We therefore had to invest a lot in the 2021 car, even though many parts are homologated. The big relief was that in a pandemic year we didn't have to develop the current car and start the new project at the same time. This cost saving was huge. So it was a very good decision to postpone the new car by one year to 2022 with completely different regulations.
Can you give three examples of how Sebastian Vettel can make the team better?
Szafnauer: First and foremost, he can bring in the experience and working methods of his world championship days. He has already instructed our race engineers which data he needs to help us with the vehicle setup. He's already helped us to improve the ergonomics in the cockpit. For example, where the switches belong and how they should be used to make the car easier to operate. He's already driven in the simulator and compared it to others he knows. What's good about ours? Where do we need to improve? We can work with that.
So it brings new approaches.
Szafnauer: There will be a lot more to come. Sebastian had only been with us a few days. And already in this short time he has given us this useful feedback. He hasn't even driven our car yet. We can still learn so much from him and thereby improve. Lance, who has far less experience than Sebastian in Formula 1, can also benefit from him. Just the other way around. Lance is a very talented and fast racing driver. Together they can bring our team to a higher level.
How long will Vettel's acclimatization phase take? He has previously worked with Red Bull and Ferrari on two teams of entirely different sizes and different resources.
Szafnauer: Not long at all. We must not forget that Sebastian was with Toro Rosso for a couple of years. That's about the same team size as we have. And Sebastian has a great memory. He already suits us very well. We have the same philosophy of how we want to race. For us, performance is our top priority. We strive to have the fastest car possible. This also applies to other areas, such as the pit crew with the tire changes. We want to make the most of the races - including victories. That's what it's all about. And that's exactly what Sebastian is about. Our racing philosophies are 100 percent the same. So we will work very well together to optimize our performance.
The team has often said that you can create an environment for Vettel in which he will be the same again. What does that actually mean?
Szafnauer: We can offer him an environment in which racing is fun again. In which it is a pleasure to be in Formula 1. That's exactly why most of us do this job. What does it mean to have fun? You can ask Seb that yourself. I think it means to him that you get the most out of every branch of the team and the car. This is what this team stands for. We have shown that in the past. We cultivated this environment - and he was looking for this environment. He'll get the best out of us. And we get the best of him.
So it's about racing itself, without politics or other games in the background. Vettel had two difficult years at Ferrari. Do you see a lack of self-confidence?
Szafnauer: No, not at all. He's already driving us. He is very inquisitive. He keeps asking us: Why do you do it this way and why not differently? In just two days he had so many questions. He not only asks us questions, but also passes on his experiences. That is exactly what we need. We want to turn every stone to improve performance so that we can say in March that we made the most of our opportunities over the winter. Both Seb and us as a team. I don't see a lack of motivation, no lack of self-confidence.
How is the contact going when he's not at Silverstone? Do you make phone calls every day, does he bombard the team with text messages?
Szafnauer: I speak to him regularly. He exchanges ideas with the engineers a few times a week.
What are the plans with him until the test drives?
Szafnauer: It all depends on how you can travel. The plan is for him to come back to us before the tests. It's only a few more weeks. We still have to update the simulator so that it can run the latest development specification.
Why can't he test an old car?
Szafnauer: We are not a big team. For example, we lease our engines and transmissions. They don't belong to us. We have to return them after the season. So we don't have an old, drivable car that we can give him.
What are the goals for 2021?
Szafnauer: We want to start the season like we left off the last. We had the third fastest car for long stretches. But we only finished fourth behind McLaren. We were unlucky. For us, it will be about smoothing out the downward swings. We need more consistency in scoring. If we can do that, we can become third. That has to be our realistic goal.
What about the individual results?
Szafnauer: I think we should get off the starting blocks quickly and fight for podium places. If things go in our direction, like in Bahrain or Turkey, we should be able to put the car on pole position and have the chance of a few wins. Anything beyond the season is much harder to predict. The rules will change profoundly. The cars will be completely different. Completely different from what we are used to. Nobody can say who will come around with the right solution. We hope, and are confident, that we will do a good job in 2022 and beyond.
What is the team's approach to development? How are the wind tunnel hours divided between 2021 and 2022?
Szafnauer: First of all, we have to see how we compare with the other teams in terms of performance. Are we where we see each other? Are we meeting our goals? Then we have to make a strategic decision about when to stop developing the 2021 car and fully focus our attention on the 2022 project. We will likely have to make that decision in the next four to six weeks.
Will the budget cap make a difference as early as 2021?
Szafnauer: I think so. Over time, of course, it will have even more impact as the cap keeps falling. We move easily within the limits. But some teams have to work hard to get under the budget cap. You have to do certain things differently to do this. That will affect different areas. How they approach the races. How they can develop the car. Down to how they do their daily work in the factory. The budget cap has no effect on us. If you compare the 2021 season with previous years, when there was no budget cap, we will benefit relative to the others.
What are the three biggest weaknesses the team needs to address compared to 2020?
Szafnauer:Actually, I believe that happiness doesn't just appear, but that you have to work for it. But I really think that we just failed last year because of bad luck. We had two engine failures in a row. Once we dropped out in third place. Without the damage in Bahrain, we would have finished third in the World Cup. Next example: Lance had a puncture in Mugello when he was fourth - chasing third place. Without this accident, we're third in the championship. In Turkey he drove over a curb, a part came off that slid under the front wing and made him aerodynamically useless. And that in a rain race. If the baffle does not get caught under the wing, it scores significantly more points. Half the race he was the fastest man. Bad luck again.
They have been a very efficient team in the past. Do you still have to learn to deal with the possibilities and greater resources since the change of ownership and to act like a top team?
Szafnauer: Yes, we have to. If you are consistently at the top, you drive different races. Sebastian will help us with that. We have to get used to it. But we are able to. Over time we will fight more and more at the top - and also feel more comfortable up there.
"A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool."~William Shakespeare