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Press conf - Alonso & the Schumachers 24 Sep 2004

(L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault; Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrar; Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Shanghai, China, 24 September 2004

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

With Fernando Alonso (Renault), Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Ralf Schumacher (Williams).

Today’s guest questioner was Dan Knutson of National Speed Sport News.

Q: I will ask you about the track in a second, but first, let’s talk about Shanghai and China. Tell us about when you arrived, what have you seen, what have done, what do you think of the city, the country and the people?
Fernando ALONSO:
Obviously, for me it is the first time in China and I am very impressed with the city. I don’t know how many people are in the city but quite a lot compared with the cities in Spain. Everything is so big, especially here in the circuit, the facilities etc, etc. I have felt quite impressed from the beginning. I arrived on Tuesday morning and I spent the time in the hotel, in the gym and I went out shopping on Tuesday afternoon and I enjoyed my time until today, today even more when I’m in the car

Q: Michael, what do you think of the city and the country?
Michael SCHUMACHER:
I can’t say much about the city, honestly, because I only know the hotels from the functions that I’ve been at away from the circuit. That’s all I have seen. The circuit is obviously quite impressive, the way it is done, it has been done very interestingly, pretty unique, I would say. It’s quite a challenge for us because there are a lot of blind corners and it is very tricky. So I think most of us, at least from my point of view I’m quite happy to be here and to enjoy and experience this adventure.

Q: And Ralf?
Ralf SCHUMACHER:
Certainly, since I am used to holidaying over the last three months, the first day I organised a city guide and made the tour through the city which was quite interesting. I had some lessons in making tea and saw the Bund area and saw some very interesting stuff. It is a very nice city, actually. There’s a lot of building going on. It is surprisingly clean for a huge city like that in various areas. Good food, nice people, the traffic is a mess, it is a bit dangerous to cross the street but apart from that it has been brilliant.

Q: Fernando, what about the circuit itself?
FA:
I think, as Michael said, it is quite unique with very different corners to what we are used to. Turn One and Turn 15 are very long corners. It has been done in a different way to make a few more opportunities to overtake with a very long straight. I think for the mechanics, the engineers, they work in a nice area in the paddock. I think for the journalists as well you have good facilities so I think it’s been done with good ideas.

Q: And Ralf, your comments on the track?
RS:
I heard there were a few complaints about Tilke (the architect) building similar tracks and I must say it is a totally different thing here. It’s enjoyable, very enjoyable so I think they did a great job again, it is very technically demanding place for a driver, it’s very safe, very good facilities, so it’s really great to be here, yeah.

Q: Ralf, for the first time since you were a boy, you have had a long break from racing. You had time to think, about everything, about your life, racing, driving. Did this break change you as a person and as a driver? And maybe now you have a different perspective on life and on racing.
RS:
First of all, after being back in the car after three months I realised how much I missed it and how enjoyable it really is to be allowed to be a driver of a Formula One car. It is really nice to be back working with the people although it’s only for three more races. It was my wish to be back and doing something. I have never really for one second thought about not racing again. That was never my problem, for two reasons. First of all, I love what I do and secondly, I can’t remember a thing about Indianapolis. So for me that race stopped before the start, it never started really for me. So even if I see pictures it’s basically as you would look at them, I just see them as a spectator so that’s never been a problem for me.

Q: Michael, the same thing in 1999, maybe not thinking about retiring but just thinking about everything when you’re away from the cockpit for so long.
MS:
I don’t think you think so much about everything. You just think when you are going to be ready to drive next, that’s what you have mainly in focus, because when you have had an accident you have to be a certain time in hospital, you see your muscles going away so you get concerned, you think about your training and it’s all about focusing to get ready for the next time you’re ready to race. And that doesn’t leave you a lot of time or maybe you don’t want to think about other things because that’s what is the priority to think about.

Q: Ralf, you watched the races from a different perspective, on the TV instead of from the car. What are Grand Prix races like on TV?
RS:
It is actually very interesting to watch a Grand Prix, to have the time to really just look at it: what kind of strategy people have and obviously getting the information from the track, what’s happening to the car and to the team. Certainly, it’s not so easy. For the first three or four weeks really, I didn’t mind so much because I could barely move but then after that it got back to the state where you think you could drive even if you’re not allowed to, it starts to be a bit annoying and boring to watch races because you think that you could try and get back in the car and help the situation a bit. I must say Antonio and Marc, both of them, did a very good job anyway.

Q: For all of you, this is a magnificent track and we have tracks like this in Bahrain and Malaysia, but we also have some great old tracks in Europe like Silverstone, Monza, Spa. Those tracks maybe don’t have the money to be like this. How do we balance having new tracks like this, but also keeping the history of the old tracks in Formula One?
FA:
I think it is a good combination what we have now. All the new circuits are safe and are nice, with good facilities, as we’ve said. So it’s good to come here, out of Europe, to show Formula One to everyone, to open the doors of Formula One for the Chinese people, or those in Bahrain or Malaysia. At the same time we drivers like to race on the historic circuits, like Monza or Silverstone or each driver’s home Grand Prix. I think what we have now is a good combination of both. More old circuits means that it’s maybe less safe, less money and less facilities. More new circuits I think is a little bit less feeling for the drivers and less legend for Formula One.
MS: Not much to add, honestly. That’s what we should have, a nice mixture.
RS: I have nothing against the mixture but obviously as soon as the budget could be found to improve even the older circuits, concerning the safety, I wouldn’t mind so much but apart from that, yes.

Q: Fernando. Let’s talk about team-mates. How difficult was it from a personal and technical point of view to lose Jarno Trulli?
FA:
It was not an easy solution. For me, I think I had to concentrate on my job, to get the maximum out of myself and to help the team and to help myself. It doesn’t really matter who is with you in the garage. But obviously, as you know I have a very good relationship with Jarno. We still have, as if nothing happened outside the races, we can be normal friends. For the team, it is a team decision. I think Jarno was not completely happy with the team, the team was not completely happy as well and they agreed to stop now for these races to improve the atmosphere for both of them and if they are happy with this I am happy as well. With Jacques, I have a good relationship as well, we’ve been working only two weeks at Silverstone and here, but so far it has been fantastic.

Q: In the last few races, the momentum has switched from Renault to BAR; how difficult will it be to switch that momentum back to Renault?
FA:
I hope a little bit easier than it was at Monza but I don’t know. Obviously it will be a close fight, as it has been in the last five or six races, very close, and in Monza we had a very unlucky weekend when we didn’t score any points and they finished in a strong position: third and fourth. They overtook us, but our job is to try to change the coin as well, to be second at the end of the year. We are putting all our effort into that. We are completely confident we can do it and I think it will be a good fight.

Q: Michael, the relationship between you and Jacques Villeneuve was not always really good, but I hear that things are now quite nice and smooth between you. Can you tell us a bit about that?
MS:
So far we have only spoke through the press to each other. I have not met him yet at all. Put it this way, the past is the past and now we are living in maybe a different situation and maybe we have a chance to get on better.

Q: Ralf, how much better is the car now than the one you drove back in June.
RS:
The car is a bit easier to drive. At the beginning of the year we had a few problems. It is obviously not up to the speed it should be although it’s looking relatively good here so there’s still a lot going on, but it has become easier to drive, especially in high speed areas which is good for me. It’s simply enjoyable to be back and it’s easier to set up. It was far more difficult to get it to a decent racing car before than it is now.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Beniamino Natale - Ansa) Michael, what motivation do you have to win this race?
MS:
To beat the others.

Q: (Richard Williams – The Guardian) Michael, could you be a bit more specific please about what makes this circuit different to the other Tilke circuits and what features seen on the evidence so far to offer an interesting challenge to the driver?
MS:
Simply a different architecture of circuit, corner combinations. Like Turn One and Turn 13, with a long straight getting into such a tight hairpin. I don’t know if we have that elsewhere. I don’t imagine we do. There’s slight banking in Turn 13 and it is quite interesting to see because if you see Turn One, Two, then suddenly you get into this tight business at Three, it’s all very different, for me at least. Very challenging, because you can make a lot of mistakes but at the same time you can make up a lot of time. So that’s probably, from our point of view, very different. I didn’t explain it enough, but you can see it enough.

Q: (Richard Williams) Where do you think your main overtaking opportunities are?
MS:
Mainly towards Turn 13 I would think, but because it is very easy to go off line here and you can make mistakes, as happened to me today, then you can be overtaken quickly.

Q: (Bob Constanduros) If I can follow up on that, it looks as though it was very bumpy at the end of the back straight here going into the tight corner, is that a concern for you guys?
MS:
No, it’s not.
RS: It is not a concern yet but it might become over the years. It is the only place where you really have bumps.
FA: It’s not too bad.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzeta dello Sport) Ralf, did you expect a performance coming back? How did you judge your performance today?
RS:
Well, it is a bit early. It is really only Friday. I felt really familiar with the car at Silverstone already. I’ve been driving a Formula One car for eight years, so even if you’re out for three months, it’s like riding a bicycle. The circuit is a bit difficult technically. I think I get along with it quite well which is important. I think we’ve found a decent balance, so yes, I’m pretty happy with what happened today.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi) Michael, did you expect to be so far from the top today, what is the picture for Ferrari after the first day?
MS:
If you look at the time difference, I think Rubens was three tenths off what Jenson is, so we are pretty much all close together. Usually I may be up front but for whatever reason we are not today and I’m pretty sure we will find solutions to that.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi) And Fernando, how do you judge the performance of your new teammate today?
FA:
I think Jacques did a good job today. The timed lap is very close to what I did today, so it means he could go well in the car. It should be difficult for him, it is only his second time in the car and even without that he’s performing well, so I am sure tomorrow he will do a good job and hopefully both Renaults are in the top of the cut.

Q: (James Allen – ITV) Fernando, you were in the meetings with Jarno in the last few Grands Prix since Magny Cours when his performance started to tail off. You’ve been close to him all this time. What explanation do you have as to why his car and he were just not on pace the last few races?
FA:
I don’t know. Who knows? I think we have to be careful with that as well, because Jarno had an engine problem in Hungary so we don’t know what was the position at the end. And then he did pole position in Spa, the results are too important at the end of the race and it doesn’t matter what you did before that, for you especially, for the journalists. I think Jarno maybe lost motivation a bit, or who knows, when the team announced their drivers for next year. The atmosphere was not perfect in the team from both sides and they decided to stop. They are happy. Who knows?

Q: (Matthias Brunner – Motorsport Aktuell) Michael, what happened to your car this morning?
MS:
We had a software issue that stopped the car.

Q: (Frank Schneider – Abendzeitung) Michael, you have spent quite a few days here in China. What is your impression of the Chinese fans? How do they treat you?
MS:
They are quite enthusiastic about Formula One as far as I can see from the fans I have had contact with. It’s quite good to see, coming to a new country with such an impressive set-up and see that the emotion and interest in our sport is there in the way it is, so it’s quite positive.

Q: (Marco Evangelisti – Corriere dello Sport) For all three drivers, even though it’s probably more a matter for the technical directors, what is your opinion about the fact that the main teams can be forced next year to have three cars on the grid because Jaguar is quitting and other cars are not in a good situation?
FA:
I don’t know. We have to wait and see. At the end we don’t know what is the position of these teams, they have no engine supplier, so we don’t know, and also Jaguar will maybe find a different solution. In my opinion we have to wait a little bit.
MS: I don’t even think this is a question to the technical directors, it’s to the owners.
RS: What can I say other than I hope not, because otherwise we have three Ferraris on the podium each time. (Laughter)

Q: (Ottavio Daviddi - Tuttosport) Ralf, we were talking about Jarno. Jarno has signed for Toyota and will be your teammate next year. What is your opinion about him?
RS:
It’s very good, it’s good for us that he could start that early. It was the best solution for us, as Toyota, that Jarno could already test last week at Silverstone. I think, as we saw, he’s a very strong teammate and so I’m really happy to have him with me. It will be a lot easier, with a teammate like that, to bring the project forward.

Q: (Yi Lu – China Radio International) All three drivers, we saw some drivers off track today. What do you think of the difficulty of the circuit and the safety of the drivers?
FA:
The track is not in perfect condition today. It is quite a new circuit so it is quite dirty, especially in P1 this morning at 11. Now the track conditions are improving, tomorrow we will see less people going off and Sunday hopefully no-one. This is normal when we come to this type of circuit, so we have not to be too worried about this.
MS: Exactly. It just needs to have a good clean-up after the first proper usage and then it should improve each day. Safety, anyway, is not a problem as far as I could see.
RS: The circuit is certainly nothing. The only thing is in the pits it is pretty dirty and slippery so that is something for the mechanics to look after, otherwise we might find some of the mechanics in a different pit stop area. I think that’s really desperately necessary.

Q: (Alain Pernot – L’Auto-Journal) There are 18 Grands Prix this year, 19 next year, what is your feeling about the increasing number of Grands Prix?
MS:
Let’s wait for number 20.
FA: We enjoy being in the car and more races, less testing. It should be good for Formula One.
RS: Yeah, well, nothing to add.

Q: (Alain Pernot) Does Michael share the same opinion about less testing?
MS:
Yep.
RS: No. Definitely not. It’s not good, less testing.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi) Michael, if Ferrari had to run a third car, do you believe that it is possible that there is some chance to see Valentino Rossi in the third red car? (Laughter)
MS:
Interesting thought. I think he liked very much his experience. But there are too many ifs, anyway.

Q: (Frank Schneider) For Michael, this is the first racing day ever in China for Formula One but there are hardly any spectators at the circuit, what do you think about that Michael?
MS:
As far as I have heard the circuit is sold out for Sunday. We have seen very often this year that people keep the main focus for race day and I guess that is why we have not seen so many today. Let’s see what happens over the weekend.