FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCE - 4 APRIL 2003
DRIVERS: Fernando ALONSO (RENAULT), David COULTHARD (McLAREN), Juan Pablo MONTOYA (WILLIAMS) and Michael SCHUMACHER (FERRARI)
Reproduced with kind permission of Federation Internationale de l'Automobile
Q. First of all gentlemen a quick question about driver aids. The decision about driver aids such as launch control, traction control, etc, the ban has been put back to the end of the year. What are your feelings about that?
Michael SCHUMACHER: Great.
Q. You weren't looking forward to the ban anyway were you?
David COUTLHARD: Ultimately it is the same for everyone whatever the rules are. We did actually test without the driver aids and were pleasantly surprised by the performance of the car and the engine so we weren't too...as concerned as maybe before. I think as Michael said before there are, from a driving point of view, there are some genuine safety issues with having the driver aids help you with and I understand that the purists think it is not good for the drivers to get assistance when you are behind the wheel but the reality is that it makes you push harder in other areas. You know your entry into the corners, the way you carry the speed through the apex. I think you can be faster and more effective than in the past. So it just moves the way in which you drive, so with or without them you will have the same guys in the same cars at the front, you would maybe just see a few more incidents.
Juan Pablo MONTOYA: I don't mind. If they take them off, they take them off. I think it is a good thing to take them off over the winter because you get more time to work with the car and everything.
Q. Your not worried whether you have them or not?
JPM: Not really no. They've done it for how many years without it.
Fernando ALONSO: For me it doesn't really matter as well. I think as far as all the drivers have the same conditions and it doesn't matter whether it happens after Silverstone or at the end of the year. But I think it is easy for the teams...leave the cars with electronics and for traction control and all those things and now to change mid-season it is maybe a little difficult for the teams because all the parts were all completely new....I think it is a good change.
Q. Now this morning when it was very wet there was a bit of a movement amongst the drivers not to go ahead with qualifying and to...I don't know what you were going to replace it with. Juan Pablo can just give us...bring us up to date. What actually happened? There were rumours you had a petition, that all but one driver signed, that all the drivers signed, that some drivers....can you just bring us up to date with what happened?
JPM: Everybody thought it was too wet at the beginning. I think we were a bit concerned with the tyres we had that it was going to be recklessly dangerous but you know it dried enough to run. I don't know who signed and who didn't to be honest, you better ask those two guys.
Q. David can you tell me how many signatures you had?
DC: I'd prefer not to because it was something in confidence between the drivers so I don't really think that is fair to say other than to clarify...it was really just to assist Charlie (Whiting) and those who make the decision as to the real conditions from the drivers' point of view because obviously he has to rely on driver comments and also the safety car comments, which is not quite the same as driving an ordinary car. But ultimately it wasn't an issue and you know if the same situation arises in the future I think it is responsible of us to give the same advice to him and allow him to make the decision.
Q. Was he quite sympathetic to your viewpoint?
DC: There wasn't a position to make a decision because at the time of qualifying it was quite clear it was safe to run. The only way you can judge that is if we're all standing there saying 'we don't want to go out on the track' and he was saying 'yes'. As that situation didn't arise really there is no point to discuss it anymore.
Q. But Michael, I'm sure you don't want to get to that position again so what can be done to avert that situation in the future?
MS: Maybe have a second rain tyre.
Q. And are the team principals sympathetic to that viewpoint?
MS: I hope so....From our side yes. I guess after the experience, whoever maybe voted to have only one tyre maybe sees the complication of it and has a different opinion now.
Q. You went out fairly early in the session. What were the conditions like in fact at the start of the session?
MS: I think they were varying a little bit. I'm not sure whether I'm right to say I maybe had the worst rain around but there were drier and a little bit worse periods. It was still acceptable to run, I mean it was far better than what we saw this morning at the end of the session for example.
Q. You had a spin during the session, what was all that about? Just finding the limit?
MS: No not too much, it was just aquaplaning - off you go.
Q. So there was quite a lot of water about?
MS: I think there were two issues. First of all there was water, probably enough to make me spin, and also this commercial break we didn't mean there was a car in front of me to put a dry line, so everything was completely wet which made it an extra bit difficult.
Q. Fernando your team-mate seemed be at the forefront of this, he didn't want to go out if it continued to rain. What were your feelings?
FA: For me at the beginning I started to think about....we had quite a wet track at that moment because I went off this morning in the test session and also in the free practice. So the conditions were quite bad, but it was better to wait until 14.00 because the conditions changed a lot. In the end it was dry enough to do qualifying and we did it without problems, so it was okay.
Q. Juan Pablo the circuit has been partially resurfaced. Was the resurfaced part very slippery and have they eliminated the bumps?
JPM: The bumps...you can't really tell too much about the bumps in the wet. For us it was more slippery and you know I went off braking on the new surface. It's the same for everyone isn't it?
Q. David, on a different subject altogether, the new car is coming fairly soon. How badly do you need it? It doesn't look as though you need it at the moment, two victories.
DC: You answered the question for us. I think we can't be too disappointed with the start of the season, but of course you hope and believe the new car is going to be quicker and you always take pace. It will be ready when it is ready and it is getting near to that time now.
Q. Michael what about the new Ferrari? There were rumours there was going to one at Imola or both at Imola. Do you know what the situation is?
MS: I guess we will try to have two ready or even three
Q. How badly do you need that car?
MS: Having a new car you would love to run it because knowing it is faster you would love to have it. But I think we still have a car, the 2002 car, which is still able to win races. Fast in Australia, probably not in Malaysia but we will see.
Q. Fernando since Malaysia I understand that your situation in Spain has changed quite a lot. Is that the case?
FA: Yeah, a little bit. After pole position and podium finish is the first time for a Spanish driver and you know in Spain we are a little bit crazy when we have a good opportunity. Yeah there were big repercussions after the race in Spain and I hope to keep this level to be a top eight, top nine driver all the year and to do a good season.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: What would be the best course of action to take on Sunday if we have the same conditions as we had today, given the fact that Formula One will be under the spotlight?
DC: With reference to the levels of standing water that we had this morning, I don't think we could run a normal race without the safety car and obviously that's what the safety car is there for. You just wouldn't be able to see (where you would be) aquaplaning, particularly as you come onto the last part of the start/finish straight. You aquaplane through there and in traffic, you obviously wouldn't see where the puddles are. So the only sensible option would be to run with the safety car, I believe. I know it's always a bit difficult for the public to understand and for you to express to the public why the best cars and the best drivers in the world would need to have a safety car to help them get round but somehow you have to convey to them just how difficult these things are, with the planks, how easy they aquaplane and with the one tyre rule, we would not be in the perfect condition for that type of tyre. You've got to take a tyre which will go from full wet down to full dry but that doesn't exist so you pick something in the middle which is what we have.
MS: Yeah, basically you will see what has happened in Magny Cours some years ago when we had these conditions, and even then we had rain tyres. When the conditions are too bad, you simply put it out and you go, whether it's at the beginning, the middle or at the end, it depends whenever it's necessary and in some conditions the safety car even has to slow down for us to be able to follow it.
Q: In those conditions, how much of a difference is there between the old wet tyres you would have had and the tyre that you've got here this weekend; just give us an idea of the scale of the difference?
MS: I think in the very bad conditions that we saw this morning, not even a wet tyre would have helped us honestly.
Q: After a couple of races of the new qualifying system, how do think it's going, both from your own and the public's point of view?
DC: I think it's great. No. I miss the real feeling of pushing a car to the limit and developing that limit during the course of a session, but really it's a bit futile giving me that opinion because these are the rules, so you go out, you finish your lap really before you've even started it. It's over so quickly that it's difficult to really get stuck into it. I'm told that it makes good television, but I'm not too sure if that's ultimately for the long term good of the sport, what you ultimately need to have. You need to have a good feeling in the paddock; you have to have everyone who's here believing in it and passionate about it for that then to be conveyed to the public, rather than the other way around. This is reality, it's not fantasy.
JPM: I think for me it's gone pretty well. The first mistake I've done in qualifying was today and it was a good thing it was on a Friday and not Saturday. What David said, you've got to push yourself a lot harder for one lap in my opinion, but with the fuel difference I think you can get a pole position or you can be tenth depending on what fuel you've got, so from that perspective it's a bit disappointing because, last year, I had seven poles and they were seven poles because we managed to get a really good lap and a really good car, really nice balance and everything. Well now, if you're not quick enough you just take some fuel out and you would be in the front. It takes a bit of the excitement out of it, for us at least.
FA: I think it's much better for TV. I saw the last race on TV when I got home and the qualifying system was quite exciting. But from the driving point of view, we miss pushing the car to the limit and finding the last couple of tenths to be in front, especially on Saturday. Friday's qualifying with low fuel is more exciting for the driver than Saturday. Saturday, depending on what quantity of fuel you have in the car is not a fantastic feeling for the driver, but it's like that.
MS: Yes, I agree.
Q: You guys all drive for big teams but the little teams are struggling; how important is it for Formula One to have the small, independent teams on the grid?
FA: It's very important. I think the small teams are important. They give you the opportunity to get into Formula One and then you prove with them that you have the level to stay in Formula One. It's a good starting point for all the drivers, I think. Anyway, you know the sport; you have big teams, small teams, just as you have good players in football and bad players. It's a normal thing.
JPM: In my opinion, apart from Minardi, which everyone knows is a small team; I don't think there's any other team which you can say is really small. All the teams have got a lot of people working for them. Do you consider Sauber a small team, Jaguar a small team? They're not small teams, they just haven't done such a good job with the cars and they are further back on the grid than us. That's what I think happens. The next one up is probably Jordan at the moment, but Jordan is not a small team, it's been in Formula One for a long time.
Q: If there isn't a clear situation on Sunday, with perhaps a safety car situation, do you think it's fair to leave the decision of the race in the hands of the stewards? You are taking the risks, but you don't seem to have the power to decide what should be done?
MS: As long as the other people do consider the opinion of us, which does happen, as later on we have the drivers' briefing when we will discuss with the stewards and the people responsible what are our feelings. In the past, they have always considered this and it has improved the situation a lot compared with years ago, maybe.
DC: Yes, I think there are many issues that have to be considered and obviously we drivers only consider our immediate position which is driving the track and the conditions. Whereas the organisers have to consider things like media, television, spectators so you have to find the right balance between the two. As Michael says, we give our opinion and then ultimately if we see that the track is safe to race, I for one will be out there because that's the rules and you're never going to walk away from the track alone, you're going to be out there trying to score points.
Q: Generally speaking, looking back, can you think of times when you have been unhappy with decisions made, about the safety car coming out or going in too early?
DC: I can't recall off the top of my head. I'm sure there have been circumstances. Again, as Michael mentioned, there was some difficultly at Magny Cours two years ago, just the pace at which, difficult as it may be for some to understand, the pace at which the safety car can run in wet conditions sometimes can be quicker than a Grand Prix car, because it doesn't have a plank running one millimetre above the ground and issues like that. These cars are designed to drive within certain conditions in the same way that a speedboat wouldn't go round Interlagos very quickly, we don't go across the Med very quickly.
Q: After two races, can you give us some ideal how your individual teams' technical approach has changed to the weekend?
FA: I don't think the weekend has changed too much from the drivers' point of view. We are in the car, we try to drive as fast as we can and nothing more, but basically for the team it was a big change. Now, especially on Saturday, you have to prepare the car for the race because you cannot touch the car after qualifying and the way that the team approaches the weekend has been changed a lot but not for the drivers.
MS: It does change because you basically have to decide everything on Saturday, what is optimum set-up for yourself for the qualifying condition and have a reasonable race pace, and the set-up is a very complicated thing, mechanical set-up at least. Electronics are still free to be changed but that is quite substantial so you need to put in a lot more effort with your engineer to do it in the time that you're allowed to work in and that's very short, the time that you have available. Basically, after qualifying, that's it and it's a day less than you had in the past.
DC: The way you run your weekend, the time that you have available, the decisions you make; obviously the biggest difference is on Saturday afternoon, because after you've done your qualifying run, there is no more you can do other than a wing adjustment on the grid or reacting to a particular problem you may have just prior to the start. So it is a little bit strange. You have a long period from Saturday to, like Malaysia, a three 'o clock race start; you don't drive the car again. I'm not quite getting as much from my money in the slot. I'm driving less during a Grand Prix weekend than I did in the past. More time standing around, sitting around.
Q: Is that somewhat frustrating, Juan Pablo?
JPM: Not really. You've got a lot less time, as Michael says, to work on the car and you've got to try to get the car balanced quicker. Now you only have to worry about one real set-up and that is the race set-up, which is probably a good thing, because before you used to struggle to get both sometimes. It is pretty hard to come in with one session straight into qualifying; like today, rain, if it's dry tomorrow you've lost a day of work. But what can you do?
Q: The team owners are meeting next week to review the rule changes. If there was just one rule you could change, which rule would it be?
JPM: I would change qualifying probably, change the way qualifying is with the fuel and everything. Maybe one lap, to keep the show the same but then you can qualifying with real fuel level or something like that.
DC: It probably deserves more thought than an instant reaction because I didn't really think I have any influence over the outcome of the rules, but I think what Juan Pablo says is probably a good suggestion to get a little bit more feeling that you're actually driving these cars in their quickest capabilities would be to have open qualifying and back what we had was good. Then the rest of the rules can stay.
MS: Basically to have more time to work on the car, that would include having the possibility to work on the car after qualifying for the race and maximising your opportunity to both of the circumstances, because both have been a big challenge in the past and now it's less of a challenge, in all honesty.
FA: I agree with Michael, to have a little more time to change something on the car, especially after qualifying because in races like here, when probably it will be wet again in qualifying, and then it might be completely dry in the race and a sunny day, what do you do? Do you start qualifying with dry settings and you take a risk, or do you take a risk for the race? It's maybe a rule that is not fantastic for the teams, for the drivers and for everyone.
Q: Michael, do you have the feeling that you're losing a big part of the fun of your sport during a weekend?
MS: No, I wouldn't say that the fun is suffering in an extreme way. I did prefer the work with the engineers and changing little things on the cars. I'm not talking about qualifying engines and things like this. I think it's easy to stop that, but springs, dampers, bars and wing settings, just to maximise, just to optimise everything. That's missing now, but on the other hand it's the same for everyone and it's still fun to do what we are doing.
FIA Press Conference, Friday, Brazil 05 Apr 2003
FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCE - 4 APRIL 2003