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FIA Thursday Press Conference - Part One 06 May 2004

(L to R): Jenson Button (GBR) BAR and David Richards (GBR) BAR Team Principal in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2004

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

With Jenson Button and David Richards of BAR.

Q: Jenson, coming here, everyone’s putting pressure on you, they all want you to win, they think you can win. What do you feel about it?
Jenson BUTTON:
Hopefully I am going to win - it’s just how long (it takes) really. I think our Imola result was very good. We weren’t jumping with joy, as you might have noticed. I was very happy with the result, but standing up on the second step of the podium is great but looking up at Michael, you know, that’s where we want to be and hopefully it’s not going to take too long for us to get there. Here we’re looking strong. We’ve done a lot of testing here over the winter and our pace has been good, over one lap and over a long run. But you know, it’s a different story when you get to the race, but hopefully we’ve made some good ground compared to Ferrari over the last two weeks.

Q: David, what are your feelings coming here?
David RICHARDS:
As Jenson said, we’ve had very good testing times. I remember some of you being somewhat sceptical during the winter period when you looked at the times and at our press launch. I feel reasonably confident here. But the good thing is – you talk about pressure – I always think that you experience pressure when you believe it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I personally believe that Jenson and BAR will have many opportunities like this in front of it over the coming years, so I think we just have to take it as another step in the right direction. And certainly I think the team is not unduly under any great pressure. I think it’s feeling more self-confident than it’s ever felt before but hopefully it’s got its feet firmly planted on the ground and realises that there’s still an awful lot of work to do if we’re to do this on a consistent basis.

Q: Jenson, going back to the tests, how much was being changed during those tests? Obviously testing here has been encouraging and also at Mugello last week.
JB:
”Taku” went very well in testing in Mugello. We found it a little bit more difficult finding a set-up there but it went very well. We did some tyre testing, which was positive, and also the car in the wet seemed to work very well compared to the Ferrari, so that’s very positive. So if it’s wet or dry here I think we’re confident we have made a step forward.

Q: Has the car advantages here that it didn’t necessarily have at Imola?
JB:
I think a good car should work in every area, at every circuit. On the slow speed circuits it’s proved that it’s fast at Imola and I think here it’s proved that it’s quick and reliable on a high-speed circuit. There’s no reason why we can’t perform like we did at Imola and we’ll probably be a step forward because of what we’ve done in testing. We’ve had a few new parts on the car.

Q: Do you think that the fact you test here probably more than Ferrari is going to be a great advantage for you?
JB:
You know, they’re obviously a very experienced team and they’ve done quite a few miles here in testing. I think they know where they stand, so it’s nice to hear Michael and other people from Ferrari saying that they’re slightly worried coming to this race, or looking at us knowing that we’re going to have a good result here. It’s nice to hear that.

Q: One or two people have said they feel that you’ve changed this year in comparison to last. Would you say that even more so now?
JB:
I’ve gained a lot more experience and I’m pushing a lot harder for results. I’m working a lot better with the team and pushing them very hard so, yeah, I have changed in my approach, but a lot of it is through experience, it really is. You know I’ve changed three or four times in career, supposedly, in Formula One, but not all of them are true. But I definitely have gained a lot of experience over the last year, 16 months, and I’m very confident in my ability and also that of the team.

Q: David was talking about pressure. Do you feel a lot of pressure on you and on the team? How do you react to it?
JB:
It’s difficult. I don’t feel under pressure to perform, from outside. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform and I seem to work OK under pressure, under personal pressure anyway. I think I did an OK job in Imola, so outside pressure is not a problem, it’s personal pressure that is the tough one.

Q: What about the new haircut, can we have a look at that? An official unveiling?
JB:
No I can’t. I’ve got to keep this (cap) on. Yeah, I thought I’d go for a trim, a nice spring trim.

Q: Yes, a bit more round the chops too, a bit more streamlined…
JB:
Yup, a bit less weight, gotta help!

Q: David, you mentioned briefly the team atmosphere, but is it hugely optimistic or is it cautious? What is the team atmosphere?
DR:
I think it’s just growing in self-confidence. The team’s very realistic, they’ve been around for five years, just taking the odd crumb off the table, and here we are, each weekend coming to race circuits expecting, hoping and anticipating to be on the podium, and that’s the sort of change of attitude, a significant change of attitude which is not just prevalent in the race team here, it actually goes throughout the whole factory. It was surprising, at the start of the season, when we set the goals, when we set our agenda for the year in private back at Brackley, we all sat down and talked about it, we shared it with the management, we shared it with the entire team, we set the goals together – and I was suspicious that people hadn’t really bought into it. We did a survey, though, of all the staff, shortly afterwards and in the survey 90 percent of the staff agreed that our goals for the season were fully achievable and it’s turning out that way.

Q: You haven’t achieved them yet, then?
DR:
No, but we’re slightly ahead of the targets that we set ourselves, and they were fairly tough targets compared to where we’ve been in the past.

Q: So what’s the step forward here in comparison to Imola?
DR:
It’s all small detail. Honda have done another change and they’re relentlessly moving forward. I think the major step you’ll see in this year’s engine will not be until Canada. Aero work, there are obviously some improvements in that area, and we work more closely with Michelin these days - we’ve been getting better and better in our understanding of the tyres. Earlier in the year, we didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities in qualifying in Bahrain. We learned our lesson from that. If you look at our last race at Imola there were some issues about our pit stops. We understand those now and we’ve addressed that problem for here. It is all about identifying the problems and working together to solve them for the next race.

Q: Do you think Michael genuinely has a case when he says you can win here over him, or is it just politicking?
DR:
Ah, Michael’s incredibly strong. There isn’t a circuit in the world that he can’t go to with total confidence that he’s the man to beat. You can let this flattery go to your head and you can slow down your pace and be caught off guard. We’re working as hard as we ever have done and we will not let up from now to the last race of the season in Brazil.

Q: On the subject of the meeting at Monaco on Tuesday, it seems extraordinary that everyone went there with such a positive attitude. How much politicking, how much preparation was done amongst the team owners before you even got there?
DR:
Well, we obviously discussed the situation. I had a dinner with some of my colleagues the night before to talk it through, but the fact that you have to accept is that, with the Concorde Agreement coming to an end in 2007, it is the FIA’s entitlement – it’s their F1 championship – to write a set of regulations going forward which are in their opinion in the best interests of Formula One. That’s what Max has put forward and he makes no bones about it. Many issues are contentious, many issues you don’t necessary agree with, but nonetheless, he’s put that on the table now and we’ve got to work from that position. I don’t think there’s a team out there…certainly BAR is totally behind an improvement in the show for Formula One. We all want the same thing, we just probably have different ways of going about it. As you say, the meeting was very cordial, there weren’t any major confrontations or issues there, and I think there’s a general desire from everybody now to move forward in a positive direction, as quickly as practice. I think some of the issues that have been put on the table, the timescales for them, there are some complexities which haven’t been thought through totally as yet.

Q: What are the contentious issues for you, even just timescale?
DR:
I don’t know. The problem is if you go into any detail of any particular aspect and it has a knock-on effect to another aspect of it. I think as a total package, I think the great thing about what we’re doing now is we’re looking at the whole of Formula One in a total way. We’re not picking up little bits and saying ‘it doesn’t work here, let’s change the qualifying rules,’ or ‘it doesn’t work for this reason, let’s put another groove in the tyres.’ We’re saying ‘let’s look at the whole package again and see if we can make it all work together’ and that’s quite clearly the right approach to take. It has my full support, even if some of the detail doesn’t.

Q: So there’s a still a lot to be decided, although the basic policy of doing what you have to do is agreed upon?
DR:
There’s not a lot to be decided about what will happen in 2008, it’s how we bring it forward from that date that’s the critical thing and clearly that’s the great desire of the audience out there and I’m sure it is in this media room as well. And that, naturally, gets embroiled in vested interests and the politics of the sport, and hopefully people will look at the bigger picture and take a view on things that maybe the good health of Formula One should be put ahead of their own personal interests.

Q: But the vested interests didn’t necessarily rear their heads at Monaco on Tuesday?
DR:
It probably wasn’t the opportune forum for that.

Q: But they will?
DR:
I dare say over the coming few weeks you will see those issues come out to the fore. One of the fundamental ones for me is Max’s desire to bring the engine regulation forward to 2006. In the cold light of day, most of the engine manufacturers could develop a new engine in 18 months’ time. It’s a hard task, but it isn’t impractical. However, if those engine manufacturers are frantically designing a new engine over the next 18 months and developing it through 2006, where do you think the teams who don’t have engine manufacturers, or, for that matter, any new teams coming into Formula One, are going to get their engine from? So maybe the timescale for that is maybe a little optimistic.

Q: You mentioned qualifying a moment ago. Have you got your own personal ideas as to how that could be improved?
DR:
I’m quite happy to give Bernie my full mandate to come up with whatever scheme he thinks is appropriate for the TV audience and spectators alike, and as long as it’s the same for everybody, we’ll support it 100 percent.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Mike Doodson – Mike Doodson Associates) David, when you finished your first stint as a manager in Formula One, you said you would only come back as an owner. When you moved in at BAR, it was probably as cheap as chips. Due to your own good efforts, peculiarly, the team is now probably very expensive to buy. I’m assuming that you’ve got some sort of a deal going with BAT who’ve said that they want to be out of Formula One by a given date? Can you tell us what your plans are to become a fully fledged team owner in accordance with your own stated plans?
DR:
I’ll give you the same answer I gave you last time Mike, when you asked the very same question probably in this very same room a year ago. The very nature of these arrangements are confidential but you’re quite right in many of your assumptions about my relationship with BAT and the future of the team.

Q: (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sports News) David, you talk about this whole change of atmosphere and attitude in the team. How much is Jacques Villeneuve being there or not being there having any difference? Was it a case of maybe the Villeneuve era had run its course and now the team is going off in a different direction?
DR:
I don’t think you can necessarily pinpoint a change in attitude to one individual. Things have changed over a period of time, and that’s what happens in organisation and they just quietly adopt a new style, a new attitude, a new culture, and that’s just an observation I would make and I certainly wouldn’t pin that down to Jacques or anyone else for that matter. It’s just how things have evolved over the last couple of years, and certainly I sense the change. I know Jenson has seen a change, but how that comes about? I don’t know. It’s better for other people to judge rather than myself.

Q: (Stéphanie Morin – La Presse) Can we put the same thing to Jenson then? What do you feel is the main difference this season in comparison to last season?
JB:
I think it’s before that. You can’t make a leap forward from where we were at the start of last year to where we are now. It takes time. It takes a lot of hours and a lot of hard work. I think that’s where it comes from. It’s probably even before the start of 2003.
DR: I think there’s a tendency for people to look for simplistic answers in these questions and in an organisation that encompasses the best part of 400 people and a very complex technological challenge in a Formula One racing car, the answers aren’t simple. They span a wide spectrum from the drivers at the most obvious end of it to the people back at the factory who are already designing next year’s car and all the work that goes on in between. A team and its culture is built up about a whole raft of issues that all need addressing and given equal priority. If you fail to give the priority to one individual area that, sure, is going to be area that’s going to let you down at the end of the day. I always describe it a little bit like the circus act where the man goes along spinning the plates and there are 20 plates spinning away and he’s only worried about the one that’s about to wobble and fall off, because that’s where you’re going to come unstuck.

Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Could I ask you to clarify something that came up in the meeting on Tuesday. There’s no spare car from 2005 and it may not affect you next year or thereafter but is the Friday third driver going to vanish at the end of this season? What’s the plan there?
DR:
The Friday third driver wasn’t discussed at all and that’s obviously something that will be discussed further down the line. The third car situation is in reality what we have today. The third car is not really available to us other than on the Friday for the third driver. It’s not available to the other drivers effectively unless there was a first lap incident and the race was stopped. In reality, going forward, we’ll have a car in a box at the back. You will carry a chassis and a tub round the back and be able to rebuild it should you have an accident that warrants that. The theory was put forward that in Formula 3000 they have no spare cars and at no time has anybody failed to take the grid as a result of an incident, so the argument was did we really need to carry third cars around the place?
You’ve also got to consider that there’s an interesting point here about the whole proposals. To my mind, the primary objective has to be to improve the show, to improve the overall packaging of Formula One. We shouldn’t try to masquerade things up in cost-saving exercises, because in point of fact, all we’re doing is moving cost into another area. The reality is that I will get a budget for next year, it will be the largest budget I can acquire by whatever means I can and we will allocate a proportion of that to spend on our racing activities and our job then is to spend that as effectively as possible.
Now if you turn round and say ‘well you’ve got spend less on whatever it might be, whether it’s gearboxes or suspension’ then we’ll look at the next performance area and we will spend that amount of money in there, so all we will do is effectively shift expense around the car. What we’ve got to look at more and more is the enormous disparity we have from one end of the sport to the other end of the sport and we’ve got to find ways of closing that gap and whilst you have one or two teams able to spend vast fortunes to win a world title, and at the other end of the spectrum teams who don’t have the funds available to them, nor the engines available to them, you will always have that disparity and it’s a very difficult thing to address and so the whole notion of saving of cost is… yes, it will have benefits. But what we should be doing and hopefully will address, is we should minimise the cost to build a competitive car, i.e., if you were drawing a graph, the cheaper it is to have a competitive team, and then the more expensive it is from there on to get those incremental gains, the more level playing field it will become. But it doesn’t get away from the fact that if one company just sees it is worth so much money to win this title, over and above everybody else… motor sport tends to favour those with the deepest pockets.

Q: (Heinz Pruller – Kronen Zeitung) David, may I ask you to make a comparison between the budgets of the big rally teams and the big Formula One teams?
DR:
Yeah, you can say that the rally team budgets are probably about 40 percent of the current Formula One team’s costs. I would estimate that sort of order. You can take the top rally teams’ budgets at… it’s always hard to judge but I would say they are around the $100m mark, something of that nature. And then they range down to about $50m, a bit more, $60m.
I came along to Ford with £1m sponsor that was Rothmans and that effectively got Ari (Vatanen) and myself into the World Championship. I’d like to find £1m sponsor now if anyone knows of any…

Q: David, if you look at the rally situation with those two extremes of budgets, how much more of a level playing field is rallying than Formula One and what lessons are there to be learned?
DR:
Well, I think it’s a very different discipline, very distinctly, and I think that what you’ve got there is the driver influence playing a far bigger part and I would suggest that the top drivers, if they moved around cars, it would have little influence, it would be the top drivers that would still win, and I do have to say that some of the proposals that Max is putting forward should achieve that in Formula One, because I think that if you tend to look back over the recent past, it’s been a truism that it’s been the teams, and you look at the rankings and it’s been much as to how good the car has been, and yes, you still need superb drivers to drive Formula One cars but the priority has tended to be on the technical side and hopefully we can move that backwards now to where the driver becomes more of a dominant force.

Q: (Alastair Moffitt – PA News) Jenson, leading from pole position at Imola, how important is that psychologically as you look for your first win?
JB:
Not really. It’s good that I’ve experienced that but I don’t really think it changes anything. I suppose you’ve got a bit of experience starting from the front row of the grid with no cars in front of you, but that’s the easiest place to be at the start of a race, it really is. To me it feels like less pressure and you’ve just got yourself and the lights instead of having to worry about other cars around you. So no, I don’t think it psychologically helps in any way.

Q: (Dan Knutson) Jenson, this year, in battles, we’ve seen cars almost knocking each other off, pushing one another off on the grass. Where do you draw the line? What’s fair or not fair when it comes to passing and fighting?
JB:
Well, the regulations aren’t down to me, and I haven’t been in that position yet this season. But I think that if you’re at high speed, you’ve just got to use common sense. You can’t drive somebody onto the grass, even if you’re holding your line, even if you’re coming out of a right hand corner, ending up on the left hand side of the circuit, I don’t really think you can push somebody off onto the grass which I saw in DTM the other week when I was watching it. But I think on a slow speed corner, you can exit and take your line, as long as it’s safe.

Q: (Joe Saward – F1 Grand Prix Special) David, there’s been a lot of talk this year about you and Honda and the relationship; can you tell us where exactly you stand on that at the moment?
DR:
I can’t give you the detail of it all but I can assure you that we will be with Honda for some years to come.

Q: (Mike Doodson) Jenson, there was only two laps difference between you and Michael (making your first stops) at Imola. I realise that you’ve got to balance things out between qualifying and the first stint, but you did get murdered in the first pit stop. Looking back on it now, do you think that you could still have been in front and had pole position if you’d had those extra two laps of fuel in the car?
JB:
The thing is, if Michael didn’t make his mistake there was a good chance of us having a very similar lap time and if we’d put two laps more fuel in the car, we might not have been on pole position and we would have been behind already and I think Michael would have just driven away. They were so much quicker than us throughout the race. I think there was an average of about 0.8s quicker per lap, so there was no way to beat Ferrari as long as they did their strategy as they should have done, so it was an impossible thing to do for us, sorry to say.

Q: And you can be confident of actually catching that up here, that 0.8s?
JB:
Eight tenths? No, that’s a big margin, but I think we can be closer and they might make a mistake or they might not qualify as maybe they thought they would. There’s a lot of things that could go wrong, but if they do a perfect race, which they seem to do at every race so far this year, it’s going to be very difficult to beat them here also.