Post-race press conference - France 04 Jul 2004
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Drivers: 1st Michael Schumacher (Ferrari); 2nd Fernando Alonso (Renault); 3rd Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari).
Q: Michael, a stunning four stop victory today in the French Grand Prix, but at what stage of the race did you switch to that four stop strategy?
Michael SCHUMACHER: Basically after the second pit stop, we decided to go for that. Towards the back it was clear there wasnt really a challenge; there was only the challenge forward. We knew it was optimistic but no risk, no fun so Ross decided for it and it was just brilliant, not only the strategy but the teamwork again in terms of pit stops, the guys have just done fantastic pit stops, very precise, very prestigious and just unbelievable. I wasnt really so optimistic going into the race but our tyres today worked fantastically well towards the end of the stint, whereas our competitors struggled, and that was one of the key issues why we were able to close the gaps before pit stops and then attack and go for the strategy.
Q: Astonishingly, though, this is one of the circuits with the slower pit lane speed limit of eighty kilometres per hour. Did that come into the thinking at all?
MS: Certainly you calculate all this as well, but on the other hand its a rather short one, so I think it evens out compared to other circuits but its all included in the calculations. But as I said, there was no risk to fall back, there was only the opportunity to go forward and we did it.
Q: Well, as it happened, when you came out after that fourth stop, you still had a seven second lead over Fernando. Were you surprised by that?
MS: In a way yes, in a way not. I was surprised after my second pit stop how good Fernando was able to keep on me because according to our calculations, he was able to stay (out) a lot longer than we thought and to do the pace he was doing that was obviously concerning. At that stage, we were thinking we were behind schedule. Then we saw him pulling in very early, putting in a lot of fuel for his last stint and that was our opportunity because his tyres, from my point of view, struggled a little bit towards the later end, and having so much fuel was our opportunity to open the gap we did, and thats why we were where we were.
Q: Fernando, Michael in a way has said what happened to you there: a lot of fuel in that third stint of yours
Fernando ALONSO: Yeah, a lot of fuel. Well, I didnt understand also the strategy. I think we changed a little bit the plan we had at the beginning basically because Ferrari stopped very early in all the stints and I think we tried to protect ourselves a little bit in the third stint and we changed a little bit and to carry so much fuel was a little bit of a penalty at that point. But anyway, I think we did the maximum we could today. We pushed from the beginning to the end, and maybe second position was the maximum target we could achieve today.
Q: Well, you certainly pushed from the beginning. It was a great start and great opening few laps of the race too.
FA: Yeah, the start was quite clear. No problems, I started good and then I pushed in the first stint. I saw Michael come into the pits quite early and I kept pushing during the three laps that I had and then after the first pit stop, I was in the lead position again and when Michael stopped very early again for the second stint, I think the team was a little bit surprised. I was surprised and after my second stop, Michael was in front with a good gap, so in those laps I think Michael was pushing very hard and it was impossible for us to keep up that pace.
Q: Based on Michaels pit stop times, were you and the team aware that he was doing a four stop race?
FA: Yeah, at the end, yes. After the third stop, regarding the lap and the fuel time, we knew that the fourth stop was coming, but even with that, it was difficult to be close to him.
Q: Rubens, a fantastic race from tenth on the grid eventually to finish third at the last corner.
Rubens BARRICHELLO: It was a great race and I must say that people have been very fair on the race track. I had no problems at all. I had a very fast car so in a way, I was sorry that I had the hydraulic problem yesterday in pre-qualifying, because being first in qualifying was really a penalty but I was playing my cards and playing everything I had. I think Jarno, unfortunately for him, made a mistake slowing down a bit too much on the exit of turn 13 and I was able to pull alongside him in 15. It was risky but I took the risk because I thought it was worth it. So Im very glad for myself and for the team that we could pull from tenth to third.
Q: Michael, as we look ahead to the British Grand Prix next week, it looks as if the opposition is getting a bit close and youre having to come up with some tricks to beat them now.
MS: Its not a surprise to us that the opposition is getting closer and there are circuits where we were expecting certain teams to be strong. I think Silverstone is going to be another tough one for us from what we have seen in testing but thats why we do racing, to try to be better.
Q: Michael that was an extraordinary race and a tremendous pace as well. But when did you know that you probably had it won?
MS: Basically only sort of coming to last pit-stop, five laps before because I wasnt informed all of the time about the gaps, but I was at stages informed, and I think five laps before the pit-stop Ross came on the radio we have the gap we need to have but we have to consolidate obviously. From that moment on as I knew I was going faster, had less fuel, good tyres compared to Fernando.
Q: The pace of the race, particularly early on, seemed to be phenomenal
MS: Actually I think later we were quite a bit quicker because I think we low-16s high-19s at the beginning of the race then in the end I dropped down to mid-15s high-15s.
Q: What actually decided you that you had to do four stops? Is it the tyre-wear, tyre performance?
MS: No the tyres worked actually well, they worked better towards the end but the way we started the strategy and the way we thought we could improve our position it was the only option we had. It worked out. I mean it might have worked out as well on the three-stop normal strategy but then I would had to be able to pass on the circuit, which would have been very difficult although I had a better top-speed and better braking towards the end of the stint all the time. But like this we thought no risk, no fun.
Q: Then were you surprised to stop earlier than Fernando?
MS: Actually I was expecting that. We were all pretty close together and it was I think about two laps we were apart from the pit-stops. Actually from the lap times that we did yesterday in qualifying I was hoping we would be a little longer but I wasnt counting too much on it honestly. As well, I knew that our tyres, for one or two laps, should be quicker out of the box than they would be at the end of the stint, so I hoped actually in a way that I was coming in early. Unfortunately I dropped behind Sato and couldnt get by him and lost time.
Q: And then when you came out after the second stop there you were ahead of Fernando?
Q: After the second stop you were
MS: After he stopped yes true.
Q: Because normally it works the other way round it is the driver that stops first .
MS: Yeah I mean, I pitted obviously earlier and because we then had a lighter car and were able to do good laps times and a free circuit I opened the gap and then Fernando came in. That meant obviously that I was a little bit in front.
Q: Was that a bit of a surprise to do that?
MS: No that was not a surprise because of the strategies you were doing. That was really necessary to be in front. I was right behind, I knew he was struggling a little bit with his tyres at that stage as I was behind him, and for me it was important to get those laps in. I knew I got them in so there was no reason not to be ahead.
Q: Fernando, were you surprised when the Ferrari stopped before you?
FA: We were not sure yesterday after qualifying times what the fuel loads carried by other people. We knew we were quiet heavy, as we proved today, and pole position was a good lap. Anyway I think the more surprise was the second stop when Michael stop five or six laps and that was a little bit more surprise than the first stop. It was like nine laps and at this stage we were thinking that they changed to four stops and we had to work harder.
Q: Was it anything that you considered a four-stop strategy?
FA: No. Not for us. I think also for Michael three stops today shouldnt be enough. They were quicker than us today and you know it doesnt matter with three or four the timed lap of Michael today was a bit better than us.
Q: And how was the car during the race?
FA: It was okay. Good balance throughout the race. As Michael said at the end of the stint we were struggle a bit with the tyres, but this is normal for us. I think we have very good two or three laps with the Michelin tyre and then we drop a little bit too much compared with the Bridgestone and we saw this all year. Today was exactly the same.
Q: Rubens, your battle with Jarno. We all thought it would happen at Adelaide, you had better braking and also better top-speed.
RB: Weve done racing here since 94
Q: The hairpin, its called Adelaide. You know perfectly well .
RB: To be honest with you I had better cornering speed than Jarno in turn three and I thought I had a chance but it was very difficult to follow him through the chicane here. When you are very close you can quite easily lose the reference, just like I did last year and I jumped the kerb and spun. I dont know what happened to Montoya today but it was very difficult to follow closely. Even though I was trying to do my best, he had better traction out of that and it was difficult to gain everything up to there. If it wasnt for him probably a small mistake on the corner at the top I wouldnt have been able to overtake him down here.
Q: You looked as though you almost had second thoughts about overtaking him.
RB: I am definitely feeling like I had the chance to overtake but you have to have second thoughts just to save your car because it is two corners to the end of the race and you still have to finish. It would be very sad to race from 10th to fourth and then give up at the last minute. So Ive tried 85 percent and when I saw I had a chance I put in another 20 so it became 105.
Q: You had quite a lively race didnt you? You looked like you were battling with somebody most of the time .
RB: Yeah and that is again to mention if it wasnt for the problem we had yesterday I could have qualified a lot better and probably had a much better race. But having said that I had a lot of fun today, the car was behaving fantastically well, the tyres as Michael said were working fantastically especially towards the end of the stint. I was surprised we went for so much fuel after my second stop to be honest because I was hoping to do something aggressive on that side as well but then you know I was able to conserve the tyres a bit and go for it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Stephane Barbe LEquipe) Michael, when you decided to switch from three to four stops, is it a bit of discussion in the car with Ross?
MS: It is a discussion honestly but it was not much of a discussion because I did not have too much to lose today to the rear and that is what I asked what is the situation to the back, if we go for that what will we lose. He said no we are safe for second position and I thought lets go.
Q: Do you need to understand why Ross is asking you?
MS: No. In this moment the team needs to understand my situation in the car, how the tyres are going and what I think we can go for as we pre-discuss certain A and B and C strategies and we finally come to a decision of what we think. It is normal and it is naturally a discussion between us, but the final decision would normally be done by Ross unless I have a big concern and maybe that would be taken care of. He sits on the pit-wall and he can overlook the whole scenario, he has a much better picture than I have and therefore he is the man to decide.
Q: (Pedro Fermin Flores - ABC) Fernando, you made no mistakes in the race, it was a perfect race, but you are second and Jarno is fourth. What happened with Renault?
FA: Nothing we are okay. We are more competitive than we probably expected here because we are in between the two Ferraris and Jarno was fighting with Rubens until the last corner so I think it was a very good weekend for the team at home in France and if we can keep this level in the next races we can be on the podium quite often.
Q: (Pedro Fermin Flores - ABC) And a question for Michael. Your brother was winner here last year, this year you are on top. This race is for him?
MS: My brother is not in such bad shape that I have to dedicate a race to him. I dont think we have to be so sad, he is in quite good mood and there is no need to dedicate anything today.
Q: (Alastair Moffitt Press Association) Michael and Rubens, Ferrari now have twice as many points as Renault in the constructors championship. What does that say about how perfect Ferrari have worked as a team this season and what do you put that down to?
MS: I think the points self explain your question and the reason is down to extreme good team work.
RB: I sign on the bottom.
Q: (Anna Vassilieva Auto Business Weekly) Michael you showed us brilliant Ferrari tactics and car, but when will we see just Michaels brilliant starts and overtaking?
MS: I think in between the two things, the car and the tactics, my little portion is between that to drive the thing.
Q: (Andi Yanianto - Bola) Michael, nine wins out of 10 and another great win for you. How do you rate yourself?
MS: I dont rate myself honestly. I just rate the season. The season is outstanding, by far more than we expected it to be and I thought this weekend would be much more of a struggle. If you look at the history we have not been so strong in the race, last year in particular, but we have worked our way, have understood what to do and now we are back on track. It was a tough fight, a close fight and it needed some special strategy in a way to jump towards first position even though we had a quicker car. Just being on the same strategy would have been difficult. But if you take the whole package and if you think what we, including all the journalists, thought, this would be the easiest year to beat us. Now it is the other way around and we are quite happy about this.