Thursday Press Conference - Part One 04 Mar 2004
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
With world champion Michael Schumacher and Jaguar's Mark Webber.
Q: Mark, tell us all about the pins and the scheme that has been launched by the Grand Prix Drivers Association to give fans a chance to tour the paddock...What is it all about?
Mark Webber: The GPDA decided to try and put a little back to the fans and to give them a chance to get a little bit closer to our world. Michael and I had a bit of a discussion about this a few weeks ago about how we could come up with an idea. The helmet pins idea was already under way because I was a patron for Brainwave Australia which is a cancer charity for the young kids here in Australia so we thought we would incorporate the pins and a raffle or a draw on Sunday morning and then six people can come into the paddock and have a photo taken. I think it is a very good idea and I'd like to see if we can do it at five or six races this year maybe with some karting or some football. Its just the way in which the GPDA wants to be able to do something to help the fans a little bit more.
Q: Are there other ideas in the pipeline?
Michael Schumacher: Yes, as Mark said, we are planning different things and we will find out something else for the future for the fans.
Q: So this is really something that has come from the drivers?
MS: Yes, I think so.
Q: This is the drivers' giving something back?
MS: Yes. I think Mark explained it very well. Things have just moved further and further away, but there is no real thing to just open the pit lane and let the people come to you as that would be a disaster so Mark and I sat together and thought what can we do, what is possible. That was the first step and we've gone on from there.
Q: We saw what happened in Indianapolis last year when the pit lane was open and quite a few of the drivers were available as well....
MS: I think it is very critical to do things like this as well in my view because you have to imagine if you do that and take the top teams and top drivers and they will be under a big command you only one person against so many and you will make only a few happy and a lot more unhappy because you cannot deal with those. So with having a lot of people to control this in certain countries it would get out of control. So I am a bit sceptical to see this as a general happening.
Q: Here the promoter has arranged general autograph sessions. Is that something you may be thinking of as well?
MW: We are still looking at quite a few ideas and the main thing is that everyone wins. We have to please as many people as we can, but we have to draw the line somewhere. And also the charities have got to win as well and we want to try and kill a few birds with one stone and make sure the GPDA can sell off some race suits for the benefit of some of the charities. Clearly, the charity here in Australia will have a good win from what we've done here and more autograph signing sessions is a possibility and Mr Ecclestone has supplied the passes for the winners so everyone is pushing hard.
Q: You said five or six other Grands Prix, but could it extend to the whole championship?
MS: We'll see how it goes and then we'll take it from there.
Q: Are there any other GPDA concerns at the moment?
MS: No, not really. We have some little issues that we deal with internally, but otherwise things are going smoothly.
Q: Michael, looking forward to the coming season, you had a fantastic test at Imola...
MS: Not only at Imola!
Q: Tell us about it...
MS: We had good test session all winter long. The car came out with no serious trouble and we were running very competitively in our view and reliably too. That was the impressive thing. You cant stress that enough. To achieve what we did straight out of the box is tremendous.
Q: How much of an improvement is it on last year's car?
MS: It is an improvement, but exactly how much, and where, we don't know because none of us - Rubens, Luca Badoer or myself - has stepped into the old car and back into the new car to do a real back to back straight comparison. We know its better but how much we will find out here. You have to take into consideration the temperature and the circuit condition and in the winter time it is different from how it will be here.
Q: At Imola the particular run was 14 laps at about three degrees I understand?
MS: It was three degrees for the others as well. Its not a concern. We don't know. Nobody knows. That is why we are here. We will find out. That is why we are here. It will be a thrill to get behind the wheel and get the new car going.
Q: A thrill? No apprehension?
MS: No, none at all. It is just pure pleasure and thrill. One hundred per cent.
Q: And confidence?
Q: That's really worrying.
MS: Not for me.
Q: What about the Bridgestone situation. People say they are on their own with Ferrari, but what are the advantages and disadvantages?
MS: You can argue in two ways. I have heard from the competitors side that when they are alone it is an advantage, but now there are so many teams it gives them an advantage that way too. You can argue the same way for us. At the end of the season, you look at the points and then you can see what is right.
Q: Do you feel there is enough feedback?
MS: We work very closely with Bridgestone and having Sauber the way they are cooperating now and doing the tests it is very helpful. Sometimes it is quality work rather than quantity work. Sometimes you are not able to do enough. It is possible, but I don't see that problem for us at the moment as we have been able to work through all of the programme we wanted and we have done a very methodical job in sorting out the directions and separating things and I am pretty confident. Bridgestone have certainly raised their game.
Q: You have noticed an improvement?
Q: In what way? In the way they work as well?
MS: Yes, because they are much closer to us so it keeps on improving. The relationship of Ferrari and Bridgestone is going on and on.
Q: New people?
MS: Ask them.
Q: What about the new schedule. How will that effect you, particularly, with Sauber, tomorrow? Will they work for you to some extent in the morning?
MS: No. I don't think there is a third car for either of the two teams. I am not involved in this honestly.
Q: What about the new schedule for qualifying on Saturday?
MW: Well, to be honest, I thought Friday was a very strange event last year. The circuit was always very dirty and the guys who were doing well in the championship always had a difficult situation. That may have flattered some of the other people on a Friday and given us a good slot for Saturday but I think it is nice to have both sessions together. I think the new 100-minutes session is good, ten minutes in between, what fuel level you run in the first session is down to you and as for the second one it is first stint fuel and race set up so I think the changes they have made for qualifying are good for the fans and good for the teams in general.
Q: Michael, your feelings?
MS: More positive than last year because the way the circuit has been most of the races on Friday in the first qualifying session I thought it was in bad shape due to other cars running after our last free practice, before qualifying, and I think this is not the case on the Saturday and there is no racing happening and so the circuit should be consistent and should be a fair chance to the first drivers out for the first flying laps and help you settle in for the runs straight after.
Q: Mark, how do you feel things have gone?
MW: I am very happy with the R5. We have made some good progress over the winter. We didn't get the mileage we would have liked at first, but the guys worked very, very hard at the factory to make sure that when we got the new car out... The last few tests went very well. We always did about 120 or 130 laps per car which is not easy with good tyre testing with Michelin as well and the vices we had on the R4 last year, we tried to chip away at those areas - you know, tyre management and chipping away at the aero and the brakes and things so we were doing it in a very controlled manner and it was very disciplined testing. We are not kidding ourselves. Clearly, in Valencia, we did a very reasonable lap time, but that wasn't the real pace of the car and we were concentrating on the long runs as well. And we've made a good step on that too in this year's car.
Q: So, have you succeeded in getting to where you wanted to get to?
MW: Yes, I am very happy with the progress we have made with the R5. Initially, we couldn't get the running we wanted, but at the end we could and we could fine tune a few things and start to work. We have a bigger balance window with the R5 and we can move things and make things easier for us to balance the car and make it better for us or globally better over a Grand Prix weekend, or over the 18 races of the season. So, yes, we have made clear progress and there a few departments doing a very, very good job with the car and I am very happy for them.
Q: Michael said he faces the season with total confidence. What about you?
MW: I am very, very confident as well to be honest. I probably won't get as many points as Michael, but I am looking forward to the season. It is a building process from last year and I thoroughly enjoyed last year. The reputation of the team has made it easy for me and I did the easy job in driving the car and I think this season will be phenomenally competitive and there are a lot of teams up there doing a very, very good job. The level in Formula One now is very impressive.
Everybody is pushing very hard. Not that they weren't in the past, but it just seems very compact at the front. If we can hang on the back of that, it would be nice. We have full respect for our opposition, but we try and get amongst them when we can.
Q: There must be a lot of pressure on you at this race?
MW: There is and it is getting worse every year in terms of the off track activities and we are trying to control it as best we can. Its always something very special for me to come and race in Australia and not just because it is the first race, but to compete in front of my home nation is special. When I watch other sports I like to see Australians do well and I suppose they like to see the Aussie do well down here as well so that's important for me to get the best result possible here. Probably a few more percent than other races but always pushing very hard at all races so once I'm in here, once I start I obviously focus on the weekend and I'm in the car, then I am working with the engineers, I could be at Valencia, Jerez, Brazil, it doesn't really matter, I'm getting the most out of the package.
Questions from the floor
Q: Michael, do you think Juan Pablo was justified to react as he did when a couple of comedians came into his press conference yesterday?
MS: Its funny but I am not surprised you asked that questions.
Q: I live to serve.
MS: I think to live in Formula One and do what we are doing means there is always a lot of tension and sometimes you feel better and sometimes you feel worse and do things you don't do normally. I don't know what happened exactly I've heard a couple of things but everyone has his personal reaction.
Q: Would you have seen the joke if a couple of comedians came in...
MS: I was not there so I don't think it is a point to talk about how I would have behaved.
Q: There is a lot of discussion particularly after your sixth world championship about who is the all time great in Formula One. Who do you regard as the all-time great and why?
MS: I don't think it is fair to say there is one in particular in anyway as each one is responsible for his time and working and being successful or not.
Q: But who do you most admire of your predecessors?
MS: It's actually not anything I was interested in. I wasn't interested in racing before I got into Formula Three or sports cars. So I never watched any of those guys or had a hero in that era. Not in the way you would say. Not in the way I did in soccer because Toni Schumacher, he was my idol in soccer. But I didn't have the same thing for any of the racers.
Q: If you were not involved in motor sport in any way, what job would you like to do?
MW: Probably in some outdoor activity. Probably biking, with some racing activity in there, but definitely something that tested the body. An adventure school in Tasmania, yes, exactly, somewhere I can drink all the red wine and eat all the chocolate!! Exactly. Providing the school runs itself.
MS: And, can I join you for the later part?
Q: We have a lot of incidents here every year and Pat Symonds of Renault has suggested that while the drivers test a lot in the winter, they are not racing... Do you feel you lose the edge of your race craft during the winter?
MS: No, I don't have that feeling. But I sometimes do some competition in karting here and there in the winter. I think this is just a coincidence.
MW: I probably agree. There's been some races where nothing happens and it is just straightforward. Actually, in testing, I like sometimes to get close to the guys and get a feel for the disturbed air and have a look around at some of the other cars as well. We are not racing, but we are still close to each other in testing. Pat may have a small point.
Q: We have two new circuits this year, Bahrain and Shanghai. What do you think?
MW: I am looking forward to going there. It is always a great chance for the drivers and the teams and it is a great challenge. Bahrain will be hot potentially - like Malaysia which is a hot race - but it is just new and I've never been to china before or Bahrain so I am looking forward to going there. I think the whole paddock and the whole industry is excited about it. I think expanding it to 18 races is quite a good thing actually and broadening our touch with people is good.
MS: I agree absolutely. It is great to see the new circuits and new countries and I have heard of two very impressive projects in Bahrain and in China so it would be good to see them.
Q: You touched on the 18 races. Are you worried about the six races in eight weeks after Monaco?
MS: So there is less testing and more racing and that is good.
Q: And physically it doesn't worry you?
MW: I think it is fine and of course you have to be in good shape for that period. Like Michael said, there wont be a huge amount of testing going on so if you are going through a bad phase there whether it is reliability of something with the team you have to make sure it is not there because it will all happen very very quickly in those races. There are a lot of different circuits, high downforce, low downforce, all different characteristics, a real blend. So it will a good part of the championship.
Q: Michael, Suzuka was an odd race from your point of view. Do you just forget it, park it, or have you analysed it?
MS: I went through it, but there were certain circumstances that made it into an unusual race for me but to come from where I came and to finish where I finished, I was in the end not really happy, but I had no need to be disappointed. I could have finished further down and other things could have happened. But qualifying decided that and that is the way it is.
Q: But, nevertheless, it certainly wasn't one of your better races was it? Was there any reason for that? Did you feel any different on the day?
MS: You know sometimes in life there are moments when it is difficult and you know that for whatever reason it is supposed to be a difficult race and it is just one of those bad days that you have from time to time.
Q: This year there is no launch control or automatic gear change. Are you happy with this?
MW: Yes, I think it is good and it gives more responsibility back to the drivers. I think the start this year in Melbourne will this year be quite interesting and everyone will have their own philosophies about how to get their cars away as quickly as possible. And we have ours. I hope it goes well and it is also down to me to do a good job and that is what it is about. Not like in seasons gone by where someone who might be a very average driver would be able to beat Michael off the line because he has a better season, which is not really the name of the game. Now I hope we have a system which gives a bit more feel to the driver and so a lot more finesse is required. It's going to be a difficult part of the race to get the cars away with all the noise and all the rest of it. It is a tough part. I think the fans will win there. We will see some different starting events to those we have seen in the past. And the manual shifting thing is not really a big deal for the drivers. It takes you three laps after the winter, testing, and you get back and sometimes you go into the limiter and then, you know, you are pretty sharp after that. It is not a problem.
Q: Alonso said two days ago that he believed some of the drivers he raced in karts were harder than those he races against now. What is your opinion?
MS: It is true to some degree, because you don't have the close competition in Formula One that you have in karting, because in karting it is permanently wheel to wheel. It's a close thing plus its easier to get the good equipment and be there. In Formula One it is something else again. And that is why I like karting very much. To say that means the drivers in Formula One are not as good as the ones in karting would be the wrong way to look at it.
MW: I agree with Michael totally.
Q: What is your impression of the one-engine rule - do you think it will open up the podium positions for the smaller teams?
MS: I would not expect that because if you imagine the resources that a big team has available and the way they approach this new rule they will be very well prepared. The top teams have done very many kilometers and they have prepared themselves. It is just a question of preparation. I see the possibility of an engine failure just as big as I did last year. We will adapt to that strategy. The smaller teams have less resources available and it will be a bigger struggle for them than for the bigger teams.
Q: So you think Ferrari can make a 750 kilometres engine better than Renault, better than McLaren?
MS: I don't think Renault or McLaren are not top teams. I am talking of teams further down the grid in terms of resources because you suggested we would have problems, but I see it the other way around... The new rules sounds impressive from a mileage point of view, but it is not as difficult to achieve as you or we may have thought. Not such a problem.
Q: And will it make you more cautious over the beginning of the weekend?
MS: Oh, yeah, you will be aware of that fact and deal with it appropriately and not try to stress anything unnecessarily.
Q: So you might have a lower rev limit?
MS: There are plenty of ways to deal with it.
Q: Does that include less laps?
MS: It may include less laps, but on the other side you want to work and prepare for the race and to check out the tyres and prepare properly and you cant reduce your laps too much. You have to find the right compromise.
Q: Mark, what about from where you are, what are your feelings, and what work is Bjorn Wirdheim going to be doing for you, for example?
MW: Bjorn is going to do a lot of running tomorrow in both sessions. Clearly, it doesn't matter how much mileage he puts on his engine, compared to the two race-cars. We are expecting to do some good mileage tomorrow, even on my car and Christian's car to confirm things for ourselves and I think we will see the one engine thing changing slightly in the next two or three months in terms of what teams do, just to build a bit of confidence with the new regulation. We will see when we get back to Europe -- in terms of maybe laps completed or how aggressive they are even with the general running of their engine. Like Michael says, there are lots of ways to adjust the engine so it's feeling happier when it's on the track than when it's highly stressed. So, we have done some good work in testing to make sure that we have enough laps to prepare for the Grand Prix and also make sure we get to the chequered flag on Sunday.
Q: Is the third car going to be a big advantage?
MW: I think it's nice to have in your pocket, definitely. Ideally, it would be good if Bjorn had more experience under his belt in general, just before he came to this race, but that wasn't possible, unfortunately. So, I think he will do a good job for us tomorrow, but he will learn in general because his experience in the next few events can make it better for us as team. But it's great for Michelin that he can fulfill our work for us.
Q: How much do your engines deteriorate over the period of a race weekend? I know it's hard to judge now because you haven't used the one engine for a full period, but would there be an advantage in perhaps bolting in a fresh engine and taking the 10-places-down-the-grid penalty to start the race with a fresh engine?
Q: No advantages?
Q: Do the engines deteriorate as they get older to any noticeable degree?
MS: Very small amount, I would say.
Q: Thank you very much indeed, gentlemen. Thanks for your time.