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Malaysia - selected driver preview quotes 17 Mar 2004

David Coulthard (GBR) at the Mclaren lunch party at the Stokehouse, Melbourne.
Australian Grand Prix Preparations, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 4 March 2004 Olivier Panis (FRA) Toyota.
Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 6 March 2004 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Sauber.
Australian Grand Prix Preparations, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 5 March 2004 Mark Webber (AUS) Jaguar.
Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 6 March 2004

The Malaysian Grand Prix may have only been on the Formula One calendar since 1999, but it has already established its reputation as one of the most demanding on the Formula One calendar. The drivers look ahead to this weekend's event at Sepang.

David Coulthard, McLaren:
"The Australian Grand Prix was not an ideal start to the season for myself, Kimi and Team McLaren Mercedes. Everyone has been working hard on the test track and our facilities in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart and hopefully we will be able to improve in Sepang. A key influence in Malaysia is the extreme atmospheric conditions, the humid heat is very energy sapping for the drivers and teams, which we take measures to manage (see page 2 for additional information). To acclimatise to this, myself and Kimi have spent the time between Australia and here in Thailand. The temperature of course affects the cars as well as us, for example we run with an increased flow into the radiators to ensure the cooling systems are operating at their optimum level. The 3.443 mile / 5.542 km circuit includes a good variety of challenges from the very fast, long straights, the quick corner complex towards the end of the track and the slower tighter turns at the start. This sees us use a medium to high downforce configuration."

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren:
"The Malaysian Grand Prix is of course an event that has good memories for me, as I took my debut Formula One victory at last year's race. Although I would like to repeat that result, the main focus for this weekend is to work on improving our performance from Australia and hopefully to score some points to kick-start our 2004 season. The Sepang circuit was purpose built for Formula One and therefore provides a number of real overtaking opportunities, and as a result the race is usually fairly eventful and interesting to watch. Malaysia of course has the massive grandstand that sits between the two main straights with, I believe, room for some 30,000 fans. These spectators will have a great view of the opening and final corner complexes on either side, both of which often see some exciting action."

Nick Heidfeld, Jordan:
"I am looking forward to this race very much. I scored points here the last two seasons and of course I would like to do it again. I hope that we have more success than in Melbourne and I am optimistic because there are some differences with the tyres and the car for this weekend and hopefully we will get something out of analysing our last race."

Giorgio Pantano, Jordan:
"I think the track looks beautiful and hopefully will be easier to learn than Albert Park. The heat and humidity is a little bit worrying but have I travelled to Kuala Lumpur early to train in these climate conditions. It's my second Grand Prix and I'm keen to see what we can do - I know the car and team better so I hope we can achieve an improved result. The last race was a good experience for me and for sure, there's a lot more to come."

Cristiano da Matta, Toyota:
"Malaysia is one of the nicest circuits on the calendar and I think its characteristics should suit our car a little better than Albert Park. The track is faster and more flowing with two long straights, which put more emphasis on engine performance, an area in which we have been quite strong. We have some new aero parts coming for this race, which will hopefully help us out a bit, but the bigger developments will not be ready until the start of the European season. For the Malaysian Grand Prix, we will just concentrate on doing the job in hand and see what we can bring home on Sunday afternoon."

Olivier Panis, Toyota:
"After the results from Australia, everyone in the team has rolled their sleeves up and is working very hard to try and turn things round to improve the car for the rest of the season. Our development plan is quite intensive and both of our test drivers, Ricardo (Zonta) and Ryan (Briscoe), have also been hard at work in Valencia in preparation for Malaysia. We expect to have some new aerodynamic parts for the coming race and I am feeling psychologically and physically very strong entering this second race of the season. Despite the difficult start to the season, we are all as motivated as ever to attack the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend."

Fernando Alonso, Renault:
(Q: You have raced in Malaysia twice: how do you enjoy it?) “The Malaysian Grand Prix is full of fantastic memories for me: I scored my first ever pole and podium for Renault at the circuit last year. I think it is the best circuit we go to in terms of facilities - they really did a great job on the paddock and garages - and the track itself is very challenging. I can't wait to start running.

(Q: You say the circuit is particularly challenging: how so?) “Honestly, I think Sepang is perhaps the most difficult circuit of the year, and it is certainly one of the most technical that we go to. When I say technical, I mean that your car needs to be strong in every area: all the corners tend to be high-speed, so you need a perfect car balance and good aerodynamics. The long straights mean good performance on the brakes is an absolute must. The corners open out, so you need to be careful with tyre wear. Everything has to be absolutely spot on to go quickly at Sepang. And of course, it's fun for the drivers: lots of high speed corners and overtaking opportunities are what we look for from every circuit.

(Q: You scored a podium finish in Melbourne: what can you do in Malaysia?) “Our main objective has to be to take points. From what we saw there last year, we should have a good car, and the tyres should work even better in the hotter temperatures. Realistically, we believe the car will become very competitive with the performance steps on the engine and chassis when we reach the European season, so the important thing during these first races is to be reliable, finish the races and score points. Finishing in the top five or six is our minimum target.”

Jarno Trulli, Renault:
(Q: You are reputed to be one of the fittest drivers in Formula One: can you explain a little of the physical challenges of Sepang?) “For the drivers, the weather conditions are the extreme challenge: it is terribly hot, and also very, very humid. Fernando and I have done some training in the Maldives over the past week, to get used to physical effort in similar conditions, but you can't make that much difference in one week: this is the first race where your winter preparation really begins to count. In the car, we try and keep as cool as possible, and I run with my visor open a little further than usual to try and generate airflow in the helmet. But overall, the key is physical preparation and endurance to maintain concentration and speed.

(Q: What is your perspective on the circuit itself?) “Sepang is an interesting, very technical circuit, and in terms of tyres and the forces they are subjected to, the most demanding of the year. The track itself is extremely high quality and the surface smooth: it was well designed, and has good run off areas everywhere except Turn 1. The layout is interesting, and overtaking is possible although, as always, it depends on having a big enough performance gap between the cars.

(Q: Finally, how do you expect to perform in the Malaysian GP?) “Obviously, Australia was disappointing from my point of view, but in Malaysia, we can hope to be very competitive. I qualified on the front row last season and in spite of the collision with Michael, I think it was a kind of breakthrough race for me: from the back of the pack, I came through to finish fifth. Last year's car was very good there, and as the R24 is stronger in every area, that shouldn't change. I believe we can be very competitive.”

Mark Webber, Jaguar:
"Since my disappointing finish last weekend at my home race I have been focusing very hard on my physical training and mental preparation for Sepang. The weather can often be the main challenge for drivers over the course of the weekend as temperatures within the car can rise dramatically making the body work far harder to stay cool. Although I was unable to return to the factory during this time, I know that the team has been working day and night on the R5 looking at the gearbox and understanding why we were unable to finish the Melbourne Race. I am positive that we are taking steps forward and the fact that Christian (Klien) finished the race ahead of both Toyotas is encouraging for all of us. Sepang is a track that I enjoy racing at and one that is challenging for the car, as the temperatures are so high. We have yet to see the full potential of the R5 and I am looking more than forward to putting it through its paces next weekend. The car is working very well with the Michelin tyres and of course we are very pleased that Cosworth was able to deliver on reliability last weekend. We will be looking for more of the same in Malaysia. I will certainly be doing my best to deliver in qualifying but of course with my focus on finishing the race and taking any opportunity that we have to score points"

Christian Klien, Jaguar:
"I can hardly believe that the second race has come around so quickly. I really enjoyed Melbourne and I was very pleased with having been able to finish and get some miles under my belt. I have spent the last week training in Langkawi with both Mark (Webber) and Bjorn (Wirdheim) and I am really starting to understand that your physical and mental fitness is so important in the fight for finishing the race. The R5 was really good for me at Albert Park and although I suffered a hydraulic failure in my qualifying the car withstood the test of the race and we were reliable enough for me to see the chequered flag. I will be using the Friday practice as an opportunity to familiarise myself with the track which is where the other drivers have an advantage over me. Bjorn will be a great help as he can focus on tyres while I am out learning the corners. I am working well with my mechanics and my engineers. They are a really good team and I would like to reward all their hard work with some points. I know that this will take time but if I can work on my qualifying then anything is possible."

Bjorn Wirdheim, Jaguar (third driver):
"I am really enjoying my time at Jaguar Racing and I am pleased to know that my Friday practice is really making a difference to the team and Mark (Webber) and Christian (Klien). Although we don't get long out there on track or certainly as long as I would like I am making the most of getting to know the R5 and getting to know some of the circuits in more detail. A lot of my time is spent focusing on tyres to help the team make their choice in time for Saturday and I know that this is a big step forward for the team from 2003 when the drivers were racing and testing all of the time. I have been training this week with our physician and this really helps me as I have made some good improvements since I joined. The temperatures that we will be driving in next weekend will be a big change for me and I am hoping that I will be prepared for it."

Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams:
“Following our disappointing race in Melbourne last weekend, we immediately started working on improving the FW26 in order to be competitive for the next race and close the gap to Ferrari. The hot temperatures, typical of Malaysia and Bahrain, should be favourable for our car, so we are hoping that the next two races will be more positive for us. The BMW engine has been very reliable over winter testing, so we expect it to be able to tolerate the extreme heat. Similarly, the Michelin tyres should perform much better in the warmer conditions.

“During the winter I have been going to the gym, playing tennis and riding my bikes to keep fit, so the humidity and the heat that we're going to face in Malaysia doesn't worry me too much. I only hope my water bottle doesn't stop working during the race like it did last year! We should also remember that in 2002 we achieved the BMW WilliamsF1 Team's first ever one-two victory in Sepang.”

Ralf Schumacher, Williams:
“The season opener in Melbourne clearly demonstrated that there is still quite a lot of work ahead of us if we want to fight for the World Championship this year. Even if we can't close the gap to Ferrari straight away, we must do better in Malaysia. The car and the Michelin tyres are better suited to Sepang and Malaysia's hot weather, but we can't rely on this alone.

“From the physical perspective, I feel well prepared for the heat despite what happened last year. When I was climbing up the field from 17th to 4th place, the device that drives the air into my crash helmet was ripped off by accident. As a result, the temperature in the helmet was stiflingly hot, making it hard to drive. Hopefully though, I'll have a better experience this year.”

Jenson Button, BAR:
"After the encouraging start we had in Melbourne last weekend, the Malaysian Grand Prix is looking good for us. It's great to be on the scoreboard already and we are going to Sepang with an even better package, so there is no reason to think we can't qualify and race well again. The Sepang circuit is really enjoyable and it has a lot of quick, flowing corners and some really fast straights. I've gone well there in the past. There are more overtaking opportunities than in Melbourne, and I think you will see a more closely-fought race. It's given me confidence that the B•A•R Honda 006 was so reliable in the first race and now that we have so much more experience with the car and Michelin tyres, we should be able to further improve on our race pace."

Takuma Sato, BAR:
"We are confident heading to Malaysia as the car has proved to be reliable. I was personally disappointed not to get a point in Australia, but I think it was a very good start to the season for the whole team and the team is very focused. I genuinely think we will have a better package in Malaysia, as we have some aero revisions available, so I'm really looking forward to it. I have only raced there once before but the track is great and it is a really good Grand Prix. It was only built recently, and you might expect that it would be less challenging, but Sepang is so unique and the high-speed corners are always very demanding, as are the heat and humidity. Fitness is very important, and I am going to a physical training camp in Langkawi for five days to prepare before heading to Kuala Lumpur."

Giancarlo Fisichella, Sauber:
"Sepang is a very challenging track, which is why I really like it, but I'm not so keen on the temperature; it's too high for me! It's a very hard track physically. Most of the corners are quick - at least three-quarters of them - so the G force puts a lot of strain on your neck and shoulder muscles.

"Malaysia is a wonderful country and though we stay near the airport I am looking forward to seeing more of the country during our pre-race PR activities organised by Petronas.

"After the way my car went in Melbourne I'm feeling optimistic. Our package is improving all the time, as we learn more about setting it up."

Felipe Massa, Sauber:
"Sepang is a very nice circuit. I really like the challenge it presents, and of course have the fond memory of scoring my first world championship point after finishing sixth there in 2002. There are a lot of quick corners and quick changes of direction, and I like that. It's not as hard on the brakes as Melbourne, it's more flowing, but you need good tyres there because it gets so hot, and good chassis balance. I really love driving there.

"The last time I was a Sauber Petronas driver I was lucky to see a lot of Kuala Lumpur. It has some great hotels and I learned a lot of the good places to go, so I'm really looking forward to being back there. I missed it last year.

"You cannot compare the Sauber Petronas C23 to the C21 I last drove there. It is in another world because Formula One progresses so much even in just two years. I think the C23 is really going to suit the circuit, as our set-up work keeps paying off."

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari:
“Little by little I am becoming impatient for the next race. The fact is that after such a good start to the season I can’t wait for Sepang. In Formula One things can change very rapidly and we shouldn’t forget that we have always done well in Australia. Malaysia, as well as being a very difficult race, is also unpredictable because of the climate. It isn't one of our favourite tracks.

“At Sepang we will be able to really understand what the set up of the car is like and whether we can challenge for victory. For us the season has opened well; things look promising. If, on the other hand, we get left behind in Malaysia then things will become more difficult. Malaysia, with its very high temperatures, will make it particularly difficult on the car and, above all, on the tyres. I have to say that if the tyres function perfectly in the high temperatures of Malaysia…well things would be looking decidedly interesting. We will find out soon enough!”

Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari:
“Everyone was surprised how competitive we were in Melbourne, and I know other teams and some people in the media are hoping that we will not go as well in Malaysia as we did in Australia, but I am afraid I am just going to have to disappoint them. The first day of the Valencia test was something of a washout because of the rain and I only did 19 laps. But the second day was much more productive. It was a good test and we were able to finalise our choice of Bridgestone tyres to use at the Sepang circuit. We have got a very good compound, with plenty of grip and with good enough wear characteristics to deal with the heat and I think it is going to be very strong for us. The tyres are getting better all the time. This is only the beginning and we are still trying many new tyres for the rest of the season.

“The last couple of years in Malaysia, we raced with the previous year’s car and we were up against tough competition so we struggled a little bit. I don’t think we will have such a big advantage over our rivals as we did in Australia and we can expect it to be a tougher weekend than in Melbourne, but we are going to be competitive. This car runs better in hot conditions than its predecessor and we will be better prepared for Malaysia than in the past. We could be facing tougher opposition, but I expect we will be on the pace. We know what to expect and we just have to do our job and get the full potential out of the car.

“As for the heat in Malaysia, it does not bother me and in fact I quite enjoy the conditions there and I am looking forward to it. It’s great to be racing again and I am looking forward to this eighteen race season. I think more races and less testing is the way to go. I have to say that while I was testing in Valencia, sometimes I felt like sleeping after all the travelling! But, now I’m here in Malaysia I’m on top form again. I can’t wait for Sunday.”