FIA Thursday press conference - Japan 05 Oct 2006
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Drivers: Fernando Alonso (Renault), Jenson Button (Honda), Takuma Sato (Super Aguri), Jarno Trulli (Toyota), Sakon Yamamoto (Super Aguri).
Q: Sakon, Im sure it was a relief to finally finish your first Grand Prix last weekend; whats been going wrong up until now?
Sakon Yamamoto: Well, it has certainly been difficult for me, and for everyone in the team, but our team members worked really well, so finally I could finish a race and it meant a lot to me.
Q: You came into Formula One halfway through the season; have you found it difficult?
SY: Well, it was difficult for me to find out about the level of Formula One, especially the technology and the people, but I can really enjoy that.
Q: Youre becoming a little bit more comfortable with that now.
SY: Yeah, for sure, yeah. I always try to do my best and Im getting better step by step.
Q: Takuma, youve had some great performances here; what are your feelings coming here to your home race and particularly the last Grand Prix here for a while?
Takuma Sato: Yeah, I think I enjoy the driving, the challenge of coming here. Its always a challenge coming here. Its very demanding for the drivers, the cars and the teams so we all love Suzuka. Weve heard the story that the Japanese Grand Prix will move over. Its obviously sad, but taking the positive side, its obvious that this year will be enormously enthusiastic for everybody coming here, so Im really looking forward to it.
Q: Is it very tough on you as the focus of so many Japanese fans?
TS: Yes, we will, hopefully, be the main focus for this weekend, but to be honest, lets talk about the whole season. For us its been a tremendous challenge this year and to be at the back of the grid all the time, it is very very difficult to motivate everybody, but I think we have achieved everything we wanted and thats why I have really enjoyed every part of it. So coming here, especially after Shanghai where we had a really strong race, and I think it was absolutely a team effort to battle with other teams at the same level and to beat our nearest rivals in a straight fight. That gives us really good motivation and great momentum to come to Suzuka.
Q: What was your view of the incident on the last lap at the hairpin in Shanghai?
TS: Well, I dont think I did a wrong thing. The facts were that three laps before I let Nick past because he obviously caught me up in the normal way and I let him go. But obviously after we had the rain and under those circumstances I was quicker and I caught him and then he simply ran wide into turn one and I overtook him. Afterwards, I saw that we had very similar pace and there was a blue flag situation. So then we went into the last corner, unfortunately six cars just all coming together. That was a really unfortunate moment, but I do really strongly think I did everything right.
Q: Jarno, a best of fifth here, what do you feel about this circuit, this race?
Jarno Trulli: Well, obviously Suzuka is a very nice challenging circuit. I like it very much. Its our home race for Toyota so we expect to be challenging strongly, and I hope to do a good weekend.
Q: But the last few races havent been fantastic for you, however.
JT: Monza, wasnt too bad but obviously I made a mistake over the tyre choice in Turkey and the last Grand Prix was a bit unfortunate for both drivers because the weekend started wrongly from qualifying when we had a red flag at the wrong moment, otherwise we would both have been in quite easily. From that time on, it was very difficult to recover from the back, because we were stuck behind Coulthard all the time, all the race and then when we gambled on dry tyres, that was obviously a big risk. We took it but it didnt work.
Q: So you feel that you should have been in the points.
JT: We cannot really judge the last race. In Monza I finished seventh. We were very competitive in Turkey. Ralfs tyre choice was good and he was very competitive, so in the end I believe that the team has got good potential but sometimes we dont use the full potential during the weekend because we still have to manage to get the right choice.
Q: Fernando, 16th to third last year; that was pretty good wasnt it?
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, it was good, I think it was good for everybody. There were two or three quick cars starting from the back because of the qualifying in wet conditions and the race was very interesting with a lot of overtaking manoeuvres, I remember, and it was good, but I prefer to start at the front and not have to recover so many places.
Q: It could be wet again according to the weather forecasts; what are your feelings about that?
FA: Its not a problem for us. I really think it doesnt matter what weather conditions we have this weekend. I think we are competitive in wet, we are competitive in dry. I prefer dry conditions for the race, because its better for the people here, for the grandstand, for us as well, a more normal race. In wet conditions we always see so many different things happening in the race, up and down, so probably a dry race would be better for everybody.
Q: Because its a bit more predictable for the drivers in that way?
FA: Yeah, for the teams, for the strategies, for everything. I think normally in dry conditions, we have more normal races. In wet conditions it can be very good, it can be very bad.
Q: Jenson, a year ago your Honda future was confirmed; looking back, what were your hopes then, have they been fulfilled?
Jenson Button: For sure not. We came into this season wanting to challenge for a win at every race and that hasnt been the case, but we have had our first win as a team, which is fantastic. The thing that we know we have to work on is to have that at every race we go to, but we are working as hard as we possibly can, to improve the car in certain areas. For sure the new wind tunnel has helped us massively. Its obviously helped us a little bit this year, our improvements, our race performance improved a lot when we arrived in Hockenheim and since then weve been reasonably competitive, but I think its for next year that the wind tunnel is going to make a bigger difference. The way things are going, Im very very happy with the situation and not just for next year but for the future.
Q: Youve had good results here, so what are your feelings about the race?
JB: I think Ive raced here six times and every time Ive been in the top Ive scored points so hopefully were going to have a good race. If its wet it throws everything up in the air and we might be in the right place at the right time. I think strategy-wise were very good. I think we do get the best out of what we have. At the moment we dont have the best car but I think were doing a very good job with what we do have and if its wet, we have a chance of challenging at the front. If its dry, its a lot more difficult but I think that we need to think that were going to be fighting for a podium. I think thats got to be the aim.
Q: So in that way, youd prefer wet in a way?
JB: Yeah, I would. In Shanghai it didnt really work out for me. I had a few issues with damaging the tyres but yeah, the car works well in the wet and I think we can have a good result.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Heinz Prüller - Kronen Zeitung) Fernando, can I ask you about the first pit stop in China? I hear all kinds of stories: your radio did not work in the car, you could not see the tyre from the car and there was a misunderstanding in the pit stop over changing the front tyres or not. Can you explain what happened, please?
FA: Yeah, I said already in China it was not a misunderstanding. I think everything was clear. The tyres from the car, and from TV, the left front looks OK, but a lot of wear, obviously. Nearly a slick. And because the second stint was 22 or 23 laps long we thought that maybe it was risky to leave that tyre on and maybe to wear it too much and so we decided to change the front tyres. The first couple of laps are always difficult, you have to scrub them and to get them into condition but this time we took nine or ten laps to clean up the front tyres and I lost all the advantage but it was just for safety reasons. Afterwards, looking at the tyre, maybe it was OK, like Giancarlo and Michael, they kept on their tyres and they worked fine. Probably in my case it would have been exactly same but its only after the race (that you can be sure). At that moment, with 20 seconds gap, it was no risk to put a new tyre on and lose a couple of seconds just for safety.
Q: Fernando, apart from the tyre issue, there were a lot of rumours this week about your bad mood; you were quoted as criticising the team, accusing them of boycotting you and I read too that you were angry with Fisichella because he couldnt help you in a proper way. May I have some clarification about that?
FA: No, not a problem at all with anybody. I think all the rumours I think Also there is a funny story from Germany that Fisichella was going to Michaels party after the race and Fisichella was there and I was angry with him and the team. There are always rumours that they try to put there but there is nothing true. What I felt there is that maybe I had a problem with the car that was a specific problem for ten laps, nine, eight or whatever, and probably I felt alone, for sure. I was first and my team mate was second and they came to me, they overtook me and they were gone. And after, when I recovered the pace, they were too far (ahead), and for sure it is like you are in the Tour de France in the mountains, climbing, you have a puncture or whatever and your team and your rival has gone uphill with no stops. That was a little bit difficult to understand.
Q: (Peter Windsor - Speed Channel) Another question to Fernando: obviously these races are back-to-back and youve just described a relatively difficult Grand Prix. Can you just give an idea of what its like for you in terms of switching off from China and switching on to the next race, and indeed, what youve been doing the last couple of days, and how youre handling that situation?
FA: Well, the last days I was in Shanghai until yesterday, just training and relaxing and switching off. Switching on is quite straightforward I think. There is nothing to think in the last race. The same thing happened to me in Monza, after a frustrating Grand Prix, whereas after China, we were in pole position, we did a perfect race apart from these ten laps: quickest in the dry, quickest in the wet so it was not difficult to switch on again to be fighting for the approach to the Grand Prix again. Here is the same thing. We switch on tomorrow in free practice and we stay concentrated all Grand Prix. We need to beat the Ferraris now, here and in Brazil, and I think we can do it. We have a perfect car now, perfect tyres, Michelin is giving us a fantastic tyre for both dry and wet conditions so we should be able to do it.
Q: (Philippe Joubin - LEquipe) Fernando, did you feel that you havent got the full support from everyone in your team, in the battle for the titles?
FA: I think its a difficult question. I think the team does the maximum they can. They are giving me a fantastic car, winning last years championship and fighting this year, and what the team does every race is unbelievable and thanks to that, we are equal in the Drivers and ahead in the Constructors, so for sure the team is giving us a fantastic car for Giancarlo and me, but for sure, on some occasions, in a different view and a different approach, I felt a little bit alone.
Q: (Yuuki Ishihara - Tokyo Sankei Sports) Fernando, your biggest competitor is going to retire at the end of the season, which is only two weeks away. How would you like to fight him?
FA: We try to have a good fight on the circuit and have a lot of respect for each other and Michael has been the driver with more titles, more wins and more pole positions and (he is) a legend in Formula One. So, it is good for me to fight with him in the last two races of his career and, you know, as we were doing all year, all season long, it was fantastic, and to arrive equal for the last two Grands Prix it is good for everybody, good for the championship and for the people and for us, as well, because the value and satisfaction for the winner of the last two races will be even bigger.
Q: (Jon McEvoy - The Daily Mail) Fernando, you said you felt a little bit alone - in what way?
FA: Well, you know, I had two difficult moments this year, one in Indianapolis, where I was not competitive, and one in China, where for 10 laps I was completely off the pace and losing four seconds a lap and, you know, these two moments, maybe, in my opinion, in team play, maybe, I should have had more help.
Q: (Jon McEvoy - The Daily Mail) How could they have helped you?
FA: I dont know. I dont know. I fight with Fisichella in the last corner, Turn 14, once and he overtook me and I overtook him again because he went a little bit longer and these things, these risky moments Three races to win the championship your team mate is a little bit (Its) not good enough, I think.
Q: (Livio Oricchio - O Estado de Sao Paulo) We read on the internet in the last few days that Jean Todt said that he realised what are the rules of the game when Fisichella pulled the car side by side with you and Michael could not overtake you and him. And he said maybe it is not a normal manoeuvre. What do you think about it?
FA: I think he did in this lap good enough because I dont know what he means - Fisichella tried to overtake me and the cars (being) side by side on the straight was to overtake me, so there was not any team play - even the opposite.
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) Fernando, do you still believe that there are people within the Renault Formula One team who dont want you to win the drivers championship?
FA: All the team, all the people, are really focused for the championship and anyway we have been leading both championships all season nearly and now the last two races all the people is motivated and the atmosphere inside the team is just super and its the last two races of me in the team as well and every single person in the team is just focused on the championship.
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) But you did say, or appeared to say, exactly that in China - that there were people in the team who you believed did not want you to win the drivers championship, but that they do want to win the Constructors
FA: No, not For sure, for the team, (it) is more important the constructors, but they want to win them both. For sure
Q: (Kevin Garside - The Daily Telegraph) Fernando, you said that on two occasions you were fighting your team mate when perhaps it might have been better not to Have you made this clear to the team? And are you convinced that it wont happen again?
FA: Not really. I think the approach for the race is always to try to win the races and it is all the teams are here for - and, sometimes, if you have a problem, the teams normally try with other drivers to win the race because it is what we are here for... But, as I said, sometimes if you are fighting so close for the championship the frustration is bigger
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) Jenson, this is one of the worlds great tracks. From a drivers point of view, what do you need for a fast lap and from a set-up point of view, what are the challenges?
JB: Well, it is a very technical circuit, especially through turn two to eight and we dont know what it is going to be like in a V8 because obviously we dont have as much torque now but those corners are just crazy and it is non-stop. You need mentally to be pretty strong. They come up on you so fast. I think personally you need to be very precise and if you make one mistake through that complex you lose a lot of time. So being precise is very important and you do need a good car under you and trying to set up a car round here is tough. And you dont get so many laps in practice and its quite difficult especially if it is going to be wet conditions Friday and Saturday. It does make it very difficult. Not just for us, but for everyone.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) And of all your races here, what has been your best memory?
JB: On the podium, here, in 2004. There is a massive following here for Honda. And it was a very special moment. But this will be my best moment of my career here racing at Suzuka anyway until we come back here, hopefully, because it is the last time and you know I love this place. Its Hondas home circuit and I am very disappointed to see it go. The racing here over the last few years has been fantastic and it is one of my favourite circuits along with probably Spa.
Q: (Heinz Prüller - Kronen Zeitung) After overtaking Schumacher twice on the outside last year, would you rate the 130R as the most difficult, challenging corner in Formula One?
FA: Not any more. With the V10 last year, it was flat-out last time for some laps and with theV8 it will be flat out and not a corner anymore so this year it will be a lot easier.
Q: (Sal Zanka - AP) Fernando, you and Michael have said many times that it will come down to tyres. Do you think it is fair that the drivers world championship is determined by a technician working with rubber?
FA: I think this is Formula One and it is a lot more than that. Yes, we say that because the difference that the tyre makes to the car is bigger than anything else that you can change and for sure now with the cars at their maximum level of development and maximum performance, the two or three-tenths that you can find in the tyres one weekend can make you win or lose and I think that is what we mean when we say that - that we are dominated by tyres, the key factor of the championship now in the last races, but from the beginning of the season the championship is very long and you have to take a more general view of the championship - 18 races you need to be constantly on the podium and you need to perform well all through the season and it Is not only a tyre factor and I think it is fair because Formula One is technology and everything motor sport so you to be now in Michelin or Bridgestone hands is also quite normal.
Q: (Niki Takeda - Formula PA) Any thoughts on the last Suzuka, for all except Jenson?
TS: I mentioned it at the beginning of this session. Its great for all of us to have great racing here especially the fans who are waiting for this last race, but not only that but also the championship, but the championship is very interesting now. For us, it will be a tough one, but I think we are ready to take a charge, but we have a very good feeling mentally and physically and I am really ready. So I want to be focused and to enjoy this year the enthusiasm from the fans and hopefully we can do our best race of the season so far.
SY: It was at Suzuka that I watched Formula One for the first time and I also I started go-karting from this circuit and formula car too so for me this circuit is for me like a mother circuit and so I really want to do my best and I am really looking forward to driving in front of lots of Japanese fans.
JT: It has been a pleasure to come to Suzuka for so many years I have really enjoyed it and I hope to enjoy again a good race this season and then we move on to Fuji and we will see next year. I hope we can have a lot of fun there and the public will be as many as we have here.
FA: The same for me - it has been a fantastic feeling and a pleasure to be in Suzuka because it is one of the most difficult circuits in the world and it is a super-challenge circuit not only for the drivers, but the engineers, the tyres, engine and for sure we will miss this kind of track, especially Suzuka, but new circuits will come in and for sure a new good as well.
Q: (James Allen - ITV) Jarno both cars have got new engines here - is there anything special in this engine?
JT: Yes I have changed the engine for this race and it is a little step forward. Just a few things that we hope will improve reliability.
Q: (Felipe Motta - Radio Panamericana) Fernando, considering that China is not like Monaco and Hungary and there are a lot of overtaking points, do you believe that in that moment Giancarlo could have held Schumacher behind you?
FA: I dont know. I dont want to be in any polemic with this thing. I only said my opinion and my feeling and completely understand the position of the team of how the race went. I am happy I am second place and you know I lost the race because my pace was not good enough in ten laps, but a part of this you know I have a different feeling maybe inside.
Q; (Ed Gorman - The Times) If Michael wins here, and you dont finish, its all over. Is that going to affect the way you approach this race?
JB: Youre really helping the guys confidence here. He is fighting for the world championship
FA: No, not at all. I think we have to risk, we need to approach the race thinking of the maximum performance and take the maximum from the car and if arrives this unfortunate moment that you dont finish for sure try to dont make Michael win because the championship is over, but anyway if I dont finish here or in Brazil, the championship will be over anyway. So we need to finish both races and both in front of Michael and this is what we have to do. It is not easy, but it is not impossible.
Q: (Yuuki Ishihara - Tokyo Sankei Sports) I have a question for Fernando again - you just said Suzuka is fantastic, but you have raced here four times and never won. Do you think there is a reason for that?
FA: Well, 2004 I did wet qualifying and I start 12th and 2005 I had a wet qualifying again, like the last four cars on the grid, and I start 16th and for sure the lack of qualifying and always starting from 10th or over is not a help here at Suzuka so hopefully with a normal qualifying here this year and a competitive car I can try to win and I know the statistics (for me) are not good here in Suzuka, but I try to change it this time.