• Norbert Haug Q&A

'We know we cannot jump from fourth to first'

ESPNF1 Staff
February 22, 2012

After the launch and first morning of public testing for the new Mercedes W03, Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug talked to the press about his hopes for the team, its new technical staff and Michael Schumacher

Norbert Haug is the president of Mercedes' motorsport activity © Sutton Images
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You shook the car down at Silverstone and here [Barcelona] on Sunday, can I just ask you for your initial feedback on how the car seems to be handling?
It's still early days, but we ran faultlessly this morning and also at our previous test here and at the filming day. We've had quite a few laps in the meantime, not as many as our competitors, but certainly it's going according to plan. As I say, it's still early days and it's tough to compare ourselves. I think we have a reasonable pace.

What about the change in philosophy in terms of bringing the new car in from the second test?
That was the plan from the outset. We wanted to make use of our development time as much as we could and we learned from last year. But if you're in the catching-up process you usually need a little more time so we thought it was not a bad idea to compare the tyres on the car we know [at Jerez] with the new generation tyres and then compare the data. This was quite relevant information for us. But of course you could have done it the other way round if you had a quick, sorted car already and you just need to do an evolution step, then it's probably a different philosophy. But our car was not ready and we didn't use the missed test [to hide anything] like the speculation said. I can understand that in the circumstances you get speculation, but it is not necessarily telling the truth.

What are your targets for this year?
We are in our third year now as you know. We have been two times fourth [in the constructors'] and we want to improve step-by-step. We know we cannot jump from fourth to first and the six cars that have been regularly up there last year, on most occasions, have been very difficult to beat - Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes are very difficult teams to beat. McLaren-Mercedes I know inside out from working with them for over 15 years and our target is to mix among them and then go step-by-step in the right direction.

You mentioned that you know McLaren inside out, do you think Mercedes now has the resources and the factory to fight a team like McLaren?
We'll see on the race track of course. We're still in the building up process but we've strengthened our team during the course of last year while accepting and following the resource restriction agreement. Of course, the team has come from Brawn GP which won the world championship, but if you look at it from the inside it was completely different. Afterwards there were much less people, budget restrictions and we want to be very efficient from a Mercedes side as well so that we're not putting all the money into it. There are quite strong [resource] restrictions and I think that is right, otherwise you are not learning. I think we have faced a few examples in the past where a lot of money was at various teams but not much success. So you need to combine both and we are learning that and we are approaching our goal step-by-step.

Michael Schumacher was in action on the first day of testing at Barcelona © Sutton Images
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This year is the last one on Michael Schumacher's contract. Are you going to push him to continue and do you plan to make a decision about him?
We certainly have time [to decide] and we certainly will not push Michael. I think that would be the wrong approach, you should not push any driver. It needs to fit together. Michael is very committed and has a very strong team-mate in Nico [Rosberg] that's for sure. I think we have a very good combination of drivers and once we have the right car we will have the right results. But we are not under any time pressures with the decision. Nico has a longer-term contract and as you know he is very committed. We think Nico will win when he has the car to win and I think Michael is in that position too.

What kind of result does Mercedes need as a company this year?
I think I just explained it. We have been fourth twice and we want to take the next step in approaching our target which is winning races and winning championships, which Ross did before and which our leading technical guys have done before. I think we can develop the right recipe, but it takes time.

You talked a bit about the Resource Restriction Agreement being quite tight already, but there are some teams that seem to want it tighter. How would you feel about that approach and is it possible to reach an agreement like that now FOTA has split?
It's still not an ideal situation, as you know. But we think, Ross thinks, I think, that this [RRA] is vital for the future of Formula One and we are all working on that and hopefully we can find the right solution.

To make it tighter?
I think what we have and what was agreed in Singapore is a good baseline and we should go from there.

How soon are you hoping and expecting to get podium finishes this year?
You always hope at the next race, but let's wait and see what happens at these tests. Making predictions is … well, you will not gain a tenth of a second by making predictions. It's better to concentrate on getting the right car and delivering on the race track. That's, of course, what we want to do. But as I said, you need to accept a learning process and you guys know as good as I how strong the three teams ahead of us are, how many resources they have. That should not be an excuse, not at all, but I use it only to explain where we are. Ultimately we will go forward step-by-step. We did it in the past with our partner McLaren. Brawn GP won the world championship and Ross knows how to do it. Our leading guys - Bob Bell, Geoff Willis, Aldo Costa - have all been involved in successful teams and are all very motivated to deliver again in the future and make this team a winner.

A proud Mercedes team with the new W03 © Sutton Images
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Talking about Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa, how much confidence do they give you for the future?
We should put our heads down and be motivated and work very hard. As soon as you start to be confident you probably drop off a little bit. I think these guys are great, they have the experience, they have great expertise and they know what they are talking about. This combination will make it happen ultimately. How long it will take depends on the competitors. If you have a very good car and your competitors have a very, very good car it's going to be difficult. But I think we are well equipped to go forward step-by-step, but I stress step-by-step. You're not going to jump and leapfrog the other guys. You need to put in a very concentrated effort and that's what we are doing.

Is this car heavily influenced by Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa, or will we have to wait until next year to see the full impact of their presence?
No, their input has been in this car. Certainly more from Bob who joined us in April. Geoff joined us in mid-October and Aldo in December. But it's not only the drawings and the sheer design, it's the execution as well - the guys who are producing all the parts and the discipline you need to employ. It's a puzzle that you need to fit together and not a magic switch that one guy can turn the world around with. It's a team and it's a build-up process, but again, Ross is the boss and he steers things in the right direction. I can only repeat myself again, we need to accept that it will take some time. But we have a target and we will achieve it.

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