(…because the love story title was getting old)
Picking up from where we left off, here is the second part of our conversation about the future of Infiniti, insight on the Infiniti Red Bull family and a few questions for the F1 fan, not the businessman.
There is this trend in both road cars and F1 with hybrid systems and green technologies; what does the future hold for Infiniti in this direction?
Yes, we can hear it here, you hear the cars outside and you have mixed feelings. Some people who are more old-school are going to say it was good with V10s or V8s because they were loud and powerful, but now it’s time to learn about sustainable performance. I want a little bit of both; if you look to where the industry and the society are going, is towards an eco-lifestyle but without compromising performance. So people want to have less fuel consumption and less CO2 but they still want to have performance and Infiniti is a performance brand. So for us the trend is actually as expected I think, we go towards V6, towards electric supercharged hybrids – not as a compromise but as a booster because what they’re getting right now is extra power.
So we welcome all this, and from an engineering point of view it’s going to be a very interesting challenge. For the F1 drivers as well, because they will have to change and adapt which I think is good for the team because they’re young but if we look at the show, as Sebastian just said, I am a little bit concerned; there is so much going on that I don’t think the normal audience will understand. So I think it needs to be more transparent, and easier to explain, but as a trend I think is good. It’s right where we are heading as a company with the whole concept of sustainable performance.
Is sustainable performance viable for luxury cars?
I think so but it doesn’t need to be seen as a compromise, because usually when people hear hybrid they think they’re slow and it feels like you’re giving something up. And with our approach they’re actually getting something extra.
As for sustainable performance in F1, it will be interesting with the style of driving because over the years it was either engine, aerodynamics or managing tyres and now it has come down to resource management instead of only pushing. I think this year will be the same; it will not only be about raw power but also how do you find the balance. Which is interesting but it just needs to come across as exciting too. The moment it becomes boring it’s no longer a show.
Speaking about show, did you think last season was boring?
No, it was great of course because we were leading but there are so many things that can happen in sport; until the end there’s still something that could happen. And of course we want to win and have the predictability of success because it feels good, but if it’s boring and people turn off the TV we’re losing the audience. But I don’t think it was boring, just different dynamics, but I can promise you this year it’s a whole new game.
People keep talking about the cars’ reliability and predicting a close competition. Would that be good for you?
Right now people have nothing to talk about so I think they’re hyping up a lot of things. In reality I think Formula 1 is still very good at solving problems. The new formula gives you a framework and everyone will figure it out somehow. I think there will be a reshuffle but we’ll still have the top teams performing. For us, I think we are spoiled because you cannot expect to be a world champion every time but as long as you’re amongst the top teams you’re part of the fight. And then if we win that’s fine but we shouldn’t assume five times in a row is a given. It’s nice but it’s not our thinking at the moment.
You said before that you are like a family here, how is it like spending every race weekend inside the team?
It’s interesting but of course we also have another life with Infiniti operations. I think for us it’s interesting because you get to experience the automotive world and Formula 1 as an industry but also as sport and show. Personally I get to see all of our different markets that not everybody within Infiniti sees: different countries and different markets every other week. So I get to see what’s going on in Spain today and then you get to see what’s going on in the Middle East in Bahrain, then in Australia. So you cut across the regions and you cut across executives and VIPs all the way to dealers, investors and customers. So it’s a very good overview of the company that not many people get.
So would you consider yourself more of a businessman than a Formula 1 fan?
I never want to be labelled a Formula 1 fan because then you’re out. We come in as a business first and it is a business relationship because of the position we’re in, but it’s also about passion and excitement and even if you try to stay cool you get sucked in. Even when you come in here and there’s no racing you still get sucked in, which is what we want, but then you still have to stay cool a little bit because when you have the drivers running around here and you go around taking photos then you’re no longer credible. And you’re no longer a business person; you’re a fan and the next time you want to negotiate with a driver and get him on a contract for example you lose some power.
I think you need to be a little more objective over what’s going on but that’s what I come here to do. We also bring a lot of people because we want them to get just as excited about this, otherwise we could be anywhere else, investing in something else, but this is passionate for us. And doing this with Red Bull is also about doing things a little different, in a more provocative way – it’s fast, it’s grand, it’s things we didn’t do before that are the right thing to do.
If you were team principal which two drivers would you choose for your team, besides the two current Infiniti Red Bull Racing drivers?
It’s interesting because we’re seen it recently with the choice we had between Kimi and Daniel. I think you need to look on the inside somehow, to who you are and how you want to behave. Of course, it’s easy to go by the statistics and say I’ll take the best performing and put them together. Maybe that works with one but if you put two together then it becomes a little bit of an exciting mix. But there’s still a case for bringing and training drivers.
For us, with the Infiniti hat on, I would look at where our biggest markets are: I would look at the US and China and have one driver from each country. I would also like to have a female driver maybe. But I would need to be performing and also be representative of the brand.
And from the current grid, who would you choose?
I think there are some good drivers that we saw today as well. Me personally, I would look at the Jenson Button type: good guy, good performance over the last years, a classic type. I would also prefer someone who is experienced and performing next to a younger one, who’s up-and-coming and pushing hard. The situation we have right now is pretty close.
Looking back to the history of Formula 1, which is your favourite F1 car?
I would go all the way back to the 70s, when I grew up with the John Player Special in black and gold and with Mario Andretti. For me that’s very classic, and when I met Mario, together with Sebastian, we had his car there next to our new car. For me it was perfect to have today’s work and what I grew up with in the past.
And the usual question, who is your favourite driver overall?
Obviously, our Director of Performance. I think Seb is great but again, I grew up also with Niki Lauda then Schumacher, who were great but in today’s world it has to be Sebastian.
…and with that concluded our Q&A. I didn’t actually realize how much of his time I took but it was such a pleasure chatting with him that I lost track of time. To be fair I still had a few curiosities left, for example if there will ever be an Infiniti Newey edition (because who doesn’t want to drive a Newey-designed car?) or his opinion on the consequences of this villain image that Sebastian sometimes gets in the media. Oh well, maybe next time, when I will remember to ask for a photo. In the meantime, here’s one of Sebastian and Jenson – that should spice up traffic! And one last thing, I’d like to thank again the InfinitiGP team for this opportunity, it was (and still is) much appreciated.
Disclaimer: For any inaccuracies I blame the lovely ladies and gents who were moving tables around while we were doing this. Also, all images are “borrowed” from InfinitiGP (except the Jenson one, no idea where that is from).