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FIA Thursday press conference - Japan 09 Oct 2003

THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE - 9 OCTOBER 2003
DRIVERS: Jenson BUTTON (BAR), Heinz-Harald FRENTZEN (SAUBER), Kimi RAIKKONEN (McLAREN) and Michael SCHUMACHER (FERRARI)


Published with permission from the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile.

Q: Heinz-Harald, how satisfying was the result of Indy for you?
Heinz-Harald FRENTZEN:
Ah, great pleasure, great pleasure to be on the podium after some time and to see some old mates. And for the team it was also a nice situation, particularly in the championship where we were not able to be close to our target, finishing fifth in the Constructors' championship as we were planning at the start and now we're a bit closer to that target. And coming to this race, we again feel that we still have to finish the job.

Q: Since then, both of you drivers have been told that you won't be continuing with the team next year. Do you feel the team has been justified in getting rid of you both, even though Peter Sauber has said that there's nothing wrong with his drivers?
H-HF:
Well, Peter Sauber is someone who has big responsibility to his team and he needs to make decisions which take care of everybody in the factory for the future of the team so from my point of view, I would wish him all the best for the next years. I think he's bringing forward a strong package for the future together with his future manufacturer and he has got a very modern wind tunnel, perhaps the most modern wind tunnel in the world starting at the end of the year and this is a very strong package. So I could be a little bit jealous of the situation but obviously our destinations are in different directions.

Q: What direction is yours going in, have you still got more to offer in Formula One?
H-HF:
Yeah, well, there are some options which I am considering at the moment, what I could do, driving with another team next year and I could also leave Formula One and do another championship. I'm still pretty much in favour of motor sport, I like the sport and whatever happens, I will be happy doing my motor sport. I will see. I'm weighing up the options at the moment and I am in no hurry to make a decision.

Q: Jenson, I believe you've been here for a little while, three days of promotions. Tell us the high spots of those promotions?
Jenson BUTTON:
I've been here for three days doing stuff with BAT and also with Honda. I went to Tochigi, R&D, which was quite good fun, where there is the longest corridor I have ever seen in my life. It was good, it was good to meet everyone and good to see what they've got for the future.

Q: I hear you had quite a good reception from about 6000 engineers?
JB:
Yeah. The corridor must be about 500 meters long and it's just crazy, people clapping and waving flags. It's very unusual for us, but it was a nice feeling and I think it was for everyone there also.

Q: Now you had a bit of a problem while leading at Indianapolis, with an engine failure. I believe there's another step forwards here. Did they reassure you that you wouldn't have the same problem here as at Indy?
JB:
The important thing is the step forward, not just in speed but in reliability, that's the main issue. But that's something that they have been working on very hard and I think they've sorted that problem out.

Q: Of course the other thing is that we've just heard that your former teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, is not going to be driving this weekend, but instead you've got Takuma Sato lining up with you. You've got to defend the team's fifth place in the championship, which is very very close as well, so how do you see the weekend coming up?
JB:
Very tough. Hopefully Takuma is going to do a good job and I think he will. Hopefully the pressure won't get to him, but I think it's a strong team. I think we've got a good car for here, hopefully the reliability will be good, and I think we've just got to wait and see.

Q: You become team leader for this weekend and next year; does that change anything?
JB:
I'm not sure about team leader, but I'm very happy and what's happening with the car over the winter is very interesting for next season.

Q: Any thoughts on JV's leaving?
JB:
It's disappointing that he wasn't here for his final race. Things change. He's been there for five years, he's had a very up-and-down time, but it's disappointing to see him leave Formula One.

Q: Kimi, obviously the pressure is on you this weekend. Are you approaching this weekend any differently?
Kimi RAIKKONEN:
Um, no, not really. I guess the same way as the last race and I guess we just need to win the race and then see what happens.

Q: Are you feeling the pressure?
KR:
Not really because we can only gain. I don't mind because if we don't win the championship then I don't really mind if we lose the second place to third place. It doesn't really make much difference if you finish third or second. Only first place is really worth winning.

Q: Is there any more than you can do this weekend? Any more that the team can do this weekend?
KR:
Drive as hard as I can and hopefully it will be enough. I guess we are doing exactly the same things as in all the other races this year and it's difficult to say if we are quick enough or not but I think what we did in the last race seemed enough to be quite competitive and hopefully this is the same here.

Q: Your compatriot, Mika Hakkinen was very popular here in Japan; what's your following like?
KR:
It seems to be OK, lots of people asking for autographs. Maybe they like Finns, but it's not the easiest place to win fans so I guess we're doing quite well.

Q: So is people power going to help over the next few days?
KR:
I don't know. We'll see what happens but I guess it's nice when you have people cheering you on from the grandstands. But I don't really know, it doesn't make any difference to my driving, because you can't hear them, but it's nice if they are enthusiastic.

Q: Michael, has it been a bit strange over the last couple of weeks, because you're fairly certain to be World Champion - but you're not? How difficult has that been?
Michael SCHUMACHER:
Not so difficult because my mathematics are quite good and I obviously feel that I am the champion if I am and I'm not. So a lot of people think that the thing is done, most of the people do, but I don't think so.

Q: So how do you approach this race, especially given the team's position in the World Championship?
MS:
That's the point. We still have to win the Constructors' championship and accept the typical approach where we have to be very careful not to retire which we have been in the last few races as well. We obviously have more to lose than to gain in a way, as I said before, but in the end, as you sit in the car, you just do what you naturally do. There's not much about it. It depends a little bit on the situation you're in after qualifying, how the start will go, but I will just enjoy racing and that's what I'm here for.

Q: Someone has trawled up the fact that the last two times you've tried to win the World Championship at the last race, you haven't managed to do so each time, although you have managed to do so earlier in the championship. Does that enter into the equation at all?
MS:
I think there are many statistics you can put out which can speak in favour or against you. You took one which speaks against me but probably you can find some others.

Q: A lot of talk about retirement over the last couple of weeks; anything to say on the matter?
MS:
I thought I was asked about this at Indianapolis and I made very clear statements. I keep on making clear statements but some people struggle to understand that no, no, I'm not thinking about it at all.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: Michael, after the first three races of the season when you were so far down in the standings did you think you would be in this position?
MS:
I was thinking we still had everything open to fight for the championship. I didn't write off the championship at that stage, but I probably would not have imagined coming here with nine points in the lead.

Q: Kimi, when you were so far ahead of Michael did you think you would come here trailing behind?
KR:
This was so early in the season and I was not expecting it to be an easy season because sometimes you hit problems and have bad races and it can be a completely different story. That is what happened to us and ever since we have been trying to close up again. We haven't come close enough but at least we are still in it for the championship.

Q: Michael, you said a moment ago that you have everything to lose. How comfortable is it that Kimi can drive with nothing to lose where as you have to be a bit more careful?
MS:
There is this feeling but on the other hand I have more option to beat him. But in my past experience whatever you think before is different to when you sit in the car. When I am in the car I just think of the situation and I react to the situation.

Q: Do you feel calmer going into this championship than you have in the previous ones?
MS:
Probably not the last two ones. It was 1994 and 1995 where we had a similar situation.

Q: If you get your sixth world championship will you find it very, very hard to get the motivation to push for the seventh?
MS:
That is the same question I got asked after my fifth championship.

Q: And what was the reply then?
MS:
I'm still here.

Q: Michael, when was the turning point of the season when you realised things were not so bad and you had a chance?
MS:
I always thought we had a chance. We had some bad luck and it didn't go too well in Hungary. This time although you know you still have it in your hands leading the championship at the same time you know how difficult it could be. But probably Monza, when I sort of hoped to predict the turn of the situation.

Q: Which car out of Williams, McLaren and Ferrari is the better at this circuit?
JB:
They're all great.
HHF: Well, I don't want to answer this question too specifically. I would say generally this is a fantastic racetrack here. When I was racing here in Formula 3000 I really enjoyed it and it doesn't really matter what car quality you have to make it enjoyable. I look forward to this race because it is big fun to drive here.

Q: But would you say one of those three was better than the other at this circuit, from what you have seen in the last 15 races?
HHF:
I have never driven the cars. All I have seen of them was always when I received two flags. Only in Indianapolis did I have a chance to drive with Michael and with Kimi on the same lap and the cars are all pretty quick.

Q: Kimi, you didn't test between Indianapolis and Suzuka. Was that something that was scheduled before?
KR:
We had already decided our tyre situation and I didn't think it would make much change really to be driving in Silverstone.

Q: Kimi, do you regret that so much money was thrown at the 2003 car some of which could have rather usefully been thrown at the one you are racing here this weekend?
KR:
I don't know the money situation but I guess once you have two cars at the same time it is going to take time from the older one. So I think that was part of the reason they made the decision that we would use the 17D after this and then try to get the 18 ready for the race. It is just it didn't work out and once they decided they would race the whole season with the 17D they started to work with that again and it has improved quite a lot since then. I guess without the 18 we wouldn't have been able to improve the 17D also because we have taken a lot of new ideas from that. It is really difficult to stay how it affected my season. We are in the situation where we have this car now and it seems to be quick still. I think it was the right decision to keep the 17D.

Q: Michael, this is a big weekend for the Italian Tifosi because after the Grand Prix we have the motorbikes with Valentino Rossi fighting for the championship. Do you follow the championship?
MS:
I am not following it too closely, honestly, but I can imagine the feeling of the Tifosi with Ferrari and Rossi close to winning the championships.

Q: Tyres have been a big factor this season. What do you see the situation if the weather stays as warm as it is today?
MS:
I thought Indy wasn't too warm and the competition was pretty close. Monza was close and it was quite a reasonable temperature. I don't think we will receive a massive temperature that will hurt us. I have seen the situation pretty even where whoever takes 100 percent out of his car, out of his package, he may win.

Q: Michael, are you going to drive thinking about both championships or only the drivers'?
MS:
No, I am going to drive for both championships because, I mean, it is pretty easy - Rubens is going to win the race and I take one point so whatever Ralf and Juan Pablo do then we win the championship anyway. We have two drivers in the team and both are responsible to do the best job. We both will try to win the race and it is obviously a very good opportunity for Rubens as well.

Q: For all the drivers, what do you think of the circuit changes?
MS:
I just flew in a helicopter over it just coming in but I didn't really see it very closely. I know there is two chicanes and I don't even know which one we are going to take of the two. Someone has to tell me.
KR: I have only seen it on television from some other races.
JB: I had a look at 130R and it is not 130R any more but it looks good. It looks quite easy, which is a good thing because I think you can sit closer coming into the chicane. But they have made the chicane not quite as tight and I think it is easy to block, so I think you will be seeing less overtaking.

Q: What is your opinion on the Grand Prix weekend format for next season?
MS:
I would rather speak about it when it is decided. Is there some decision done?

Q: It has been decided but not yet ratified by the world council.
MS:
I think we have all heard many solutions.

Q: Does this year's format need changing?
MS:
Maybe a bit more sleep on Saturday would be good. Honestly, if you see the first cars have to go out on Friday, have to face the dirty circuit - what does it mean? It means as much as when the cars have different fuel on board. You don't know in what state they are. You don't really know, 70-80 per cent of the time, what is the competition level.
JB: Friday doesn't really mean too much, does it? But then again, you don't really know who's quick and who's not on Saturday, so it's very very difficult for the watching public to understand why a certain car is further back or further forward than it should be. I think a change next year could liven things up even more.

Q: Michael, you've had so many adversaries come and go. It's been a long time since you have had to race Jacques, but your thoughts on him as a competitor?
MS:
I think he was quite strong, in particular in the last races when the conditions were clear. He was very strong. He was obviously still adapting, that there were certain moments when he wasn't yet fully into the system of Formula One, but whenever he was, he was going very well.

Q: Michael, you've had some very high moments this year. What have been the high points this year, not necessarily races that you've won; any one moment that gave you particular happiness?
MS:
Certainly there are, indeed they were probably usually with the victories but probably even the race at Silverstone.

Q: Michael, 37 Grands Prix without any technical failure. Is the explanation that you have a certainly feeling, special preparation at Ferrari or back-up systems?
MS:
I think I just have a good team, which is very methodic, very precise and they just do a master job. That's it.