With four legs remaining in the season, Alfa Romeo is five points ahead of Haas for eighth place in the Constructors’ Championship. The head of the Hinville team, Frederic Wasseur, spoke about why Alfa Romeo dropped out of the middle group of teams, what problems had to be overcome in 2020, and whether surprises in the balance of power in 2022 are possible after the transition to the new technical regulations.
Q: What challenges has Alfa Romeo faced this season?
Frederick Wasser: We did not immediately identify our main problem, which was partly related to the engine. Last year we fought for 6th and 7th places, and this year we suddenly found ourselves in 17th. This means that we were somewhere seriously mistaken, but after three races we could not understand what exactly.
Realizing the problem, we changed the way we work. If we are, say, 17th, then the next goal is to move up to 16th place. After the fifth stage, the team began to move forward step by step, but this work has not yet been completed, since we are not in the positions we want to be. At one stage, we cannot reach the second part of the qualification, and at the next we find ourselves in the middle of the teams of the middle group.
Question: If we compare the current car and last year’s, what, apart from the engine, is worse now?
Frederick Wasser: I don’t think there is anything wrong with our chassis. Rather, the problems have to do with how the team and riders reacted to the difficulties. If things don’t turn out the way you want them to, then trying to force a solution to the problem does not always help.
Question: How difficult is it to stay calm in such a situation?
Frederick Wasser: We’re having a weird season. During the first stages, from 30% to 40% of employees were present at our base. In the first race, we earned points, and in the second stage, the rain prevented us from qualifying. In Budapest, we showed a good pace in the race, but we did not have speed in qualifying. In such conditions, it was difficult to understand what was wrong with the car. Only after Silverstone did everything become more or less clear.
Q: Is it harder to catch up during the coronavirus period?
Frederick Wasser: Definitely. The team’s income dropped, and the staff was only partially employed. The last third of employees returned to work at the base only in September. As a result, it was difficult to change anything. Some teams suffered less, but our direct rivals were not much better than us. I often talk to Gunther Steiner. We have similar problems with them.
Question At the end of the season, teams will receive only 50% of their usual income. How hard will it hit small teams?
Frederick Wasser: This is a huge loss for us. The problem is that by the time we arrived in Melbourne, we had already spent 50% to 60% of the planned budget. This money went to build cars, pay for engines and transmissions. Then when you are told that the prize payouts will be reduced by 50%, it is difficult to solve this problem. In order to save money, we temporarily stopped development, production and work in the wind tunnel.
Q: How many updates have the team prepared this year?
Frederick Wasser: For the first race of the season in Austria, we brought parts that would normally be ready for a stage in Barcelona. Then we had two or three more aerodynamic upgrades. I’m not even sure if they were the main contributors to the team’s progress. Rather, we managed to improve by adjusting and improving the balance of the car.
Question: Are you still planning to bring new items this year?
Frederick Wasser: We received the latest aerodynamic innovations in September. Since then, work has been going on only on the new car. In the remaining races, we will get a couple of small new parts, but nothing more.
Question: Do you agree that one successful race can decide the fate of the eighth place in the Constructors’ Cup?
Frederick Wasser: Yes, that is why it is always important to be ahead of the main rivals in order to seize the chance to earn points if the opportunity arises. It makes no sense to be ahead of rivals six times in a row and finish 13th, and when there is a chance to earn points, lose to them.
Question: Is eighth place in the Constructors’ Cup really important to you, or is it better to finish the championship ninth and get more time to work in a wind tunnel?
Frederick Wasser: The eighth place is definitely important for us. We are racers and we want to get ahead of our main rivals. This attitude to work and motivation is the key to future success. We must never give up. In the future, for the eighth place, you can get big prize money.
Question the Haas team is most dependent on Ferrari. Are you planning to integrate more with Scuderia in the future?
Frederick Wasser: The principle of our team is to maintain independence. Under the new regulations, it is important to produce certain parts on your own, since then their impact on the budget will be less. Our team has a structure to do this.
Q: Are you worried that you are dependent on Ferrari in the question of which areas of car refinement to spend credits?
Frederick Wasser: We are not obliged to spend conditional points on the same as Ferrari.
Question: But if Ferrari spends notional points on improving the gearbox, and you put this gearbox on your car, will these points be written off from you, too?
Frederick Wasser: We are free in our choice and can use the old box. Then our conditional points will not be deducted.
Question: So independence is still important?
Frederick Wasser: I don’t want to criticize the Haas model. Each team has its own project, its own structure and its own limitations. We have a factory, our own wind tunnel, so we can produce a lot ourselves. These are our strengths and we must make the most of them. We will continue to work in this direction.
Q: How long do you plan to continue working with Ferrari?
Frederick Wasser: We have a contract with Ferrari until the end of 2021.
Question: And then?
Frederick Wasser: We are currently negotiating.
Q: Next season, Ferrari protégé Antonio Giovinazzi will continue to play for you. Who made the decision on the lineup?
Frederick Wasser: We have good relations with Ferrari, so the question of the composition of the team was decided jointly. Nobody pressed us. We had an open discussion with Ferrari and the drivers. The rider must fit the team and feel comfortable.
Question: In 2022, Formula 1 will switch to a new technical regulation, budget constraints will be in full swing. Will this provide additional opportunities for small teams?
Frederick Wasser: We are in for a surprise in 2022, but I don’t think small teams will have huge chances. I believe that this will happen later, when the regulations remain stable for several years. In the first year of reform, large teams will retain the edge because they have more resources.
Q: Are you ready to sacrifice next season to perform better in 2022?
Frederick Wasser: Everyone will do that. Everyone will switch to preparations for 2022 as early as possible. No one can afford to start a new era far behind. In this case, you simply have no future.
Question: Are you happy with the amount of budget constraints?
Frederick Wasser: Budget constraints are not my problem, as our budget is still less than the upper limit. Revenues will decline even further if the coronavirus crisis continues.