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FIA Thursday press conference - Malaysia 16 Mar 2006

The FIA Press Conference (L to R): Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing F1 Team; Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) BMW Sauber F1; David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing; Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, 16 March 2006

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

Drivers: Jenson Button (Honda), David Coulthard (Red Bull), Ralf Schumacher (Toyota), Jacques Villeneuve (BMW Sauber).

Q: Jacques, how much difference do you see in the team compared to last year?
Jacques Villeneuve:
Well, quite a bit. Everybody’s excited, it’s the feeling of a new team, with the budget of a big team. We’ve built on the people we had there last year, added people, added budget and everybody’s just excited. The workload that can be achieved is a lot more because of that.

Q: What did you think of the new qualifying at Bahrain? You were bumped out of it at the end by your team mate, but otherwise what did you think of it?
JV:
I guess it can be seen of as exciting. It’s quite stressful, it doesn’t feel like qualifying because you never sit in the car, figuring out how you are going to get the perfect lap. You just keep doing laps, new tyres laps and it doesn’t feel like qualifying, but the fans like it and why not? It’s the same for everyone.

Q: Quite busy then?
JV:
Very busy. It’s funny because it’s the time of the weekend, before the race, when we do the most laps but we’re not even allowed to set the car up. It’s all a bit strange.

Q: Would you prefer more opportunity to change more things?
JV:
It would be nice to work on the car a little bit.

Q: And in the race itself, what were your feelings of the car’s performance up to retirement?
JV:
It was quite good. The car was going well, getting better with the laps and the car was easy to drive, easy to push. Compared to last year it’s a big improvement.

Q: So you’ll have a new engine here, in this heat.
JV:
Yeah, which is good for here definitely. The only problem is, having been bumped out of qualifying I’d saved 12 laps which I was hoping to use this weekend, so we lose those 12 laps with the new engine, but at least the heat shouldn’t affect us too much.

Q: Ralf, you had a good battle with your team mate, but there wasn’t much else to get excited about, was there?
Ralf Schumacher:
It was certainly a difficult race, but nevertheless we used it as a race to learn a lot from, which is why we had two different strategies. I favoured my way even if you didn’t see it from the outside until the end, just to find out what we were able to do. I think it’s pretty simple to see that we have a lot of work to do. Having said that, everything is possible: it’s a different track, different weekend, so let’s see how it works out here.

Q: And what was the basic problem. I understand lack of grip…
RS:
General lack of grip. The car was a bit difficult to drive but that had to do with a combination of car and tyres, certainly. The tyres were capable of doing better things, that was easy to see. It’s just down to us to find a way to do that.

Q: Can that be solved for this weekend, with a different tyre choice?
RS:
We have a different tyre choice here. The track conditions should be a bit better for us so in general, yes, it should be a lot better here.

Q: So it is possible that there could be a quick fix.
RS:
For this race, there definitely is. At the same time we have to admit that we still have to understand the reasons for Bahrain, and it still hasn’t happened yet.

Q: Again, you suffered a bit in qualifying but otherwise do you think it’s a good format?
RS:
Well, that was due to the red flag and the chaos we had and since we had the warm-up problem I couldn’t really warm up my tyres and stuff like that, so it was just a disaster for me. Still, I think it’s a good format, we still have to get used to it and get the most out of it. Let’s hope we get a bit further this weekend.

Q: David, your feelings about Red Bull Racing’s performance after qualifying, after the race?
David Coulthard:
Well, pace-wise at various points, Christian and I were reasonably competitive but obviously you’ve got to do that consistently throughout the race so they can understand the drop-off after both our pit stops, or his last stint and my last stint. So otherwise we are in the group behind the top three teams and battling in among the next few cars.

Q: Top three teams, not top four?
DC:
You know, it’s based on one race so obviously we will need to review it as we go through the coming races. I think by the time we get to Europe we will have a pretty good understanding as to what we can expect for the majority of the year.

Q: What about your battle with Nick Heidfeld? How did you see that?
DC:
It was a bit of racing and the stewards obviously felt that it was… It’s interesting, actually, because it is one of the things we’ve been asking for a number years in the GPDA: to have a steward that represents all the Grands Prix, to try and have some consistency, and if you remember three years ago, or rather two years ago, Sato took Ralf off at turn two and for me it was quite clear that Sato was in the wrong. And because at that time everyone was going through the ‘it’s great to have a Japanese in a quick car’ phase, they were all praising him for being a racer but he effectively drove Ralf off the track and you couldn’t do that in somewhere like Monaco, for instance, where you don’t have the run-off. It’s quite clearly a non-contact sport and if you look at what happened in Bahrain, Nick didn’t touch with me, but I ran off the circuit because I could, to maintain my position, and the stewards felt he was in the wrong because he was not alongside me and therefore I had the line for the corner. So, what I’m saying is: same incident, a couple of years apart, and a different view. But I think what we’re going to see now is that there’s a permanent steward and we will see a lot more consistency and clearly the stewards were a lot harder on Nick, potentially, than we would have seen in previous years, which is good if it’s consistent from race to race, because we just need to know how far we can push it.

Q: What about this race?
DC:
Well, a fresh engine. Obviously we had the engine problem after the chequered flag in Bahrain, which is disappointing.

Q: What happened there?
DC:
I don’t know whether Ferrari have put out a statement or not to be honest as to what failed, so I won’t say what failed but clearly there was a drop-off in performance from the engine in the last few laps and it would have been nice to have known that and stopped the car before the chequered flag, which meant I wouldn’t have got the penalty here in terms of the ten places, but because I crossed the line, tenth place, no points, I get a penalty. I know those are the same rules for everyone, but it just seems a bit strange that that can’t be reviewed, so I keep my penalty and we see how the performance of the car is here. But I like the track, and obviously I’m not particularly looking forward to the heat, like everyone but looking forward to getting out there and seeing where the performance is.

Q: Jenson, there was a slight tinge of disappointment with third on the grid in Bahrain; what about fourth in the race?
Jenson Button:
Well, if you look at the end result, you would say that fourth place isn’t great, looking at our performance in testing, but if you take the start into account, I think it was a reasonable race for us. And also our lap times were very comparable to the front cars but I lost a lot of places off the line. I actually went back to ninth place from third so yes, it was very disappointing. If you have any sort of issue these days, with how competitive the field is, you have no chance of getting on the podium, let alone winning a race.

Q: On the other hand, Räikkönen came up from last…
JB:
Yeah, but he was on a one-stop strategy, whereas our strategy was to be qualified in the front and because we dropped back to ninth at the start, we lost a lot of circuit positions. But also, when I came out after my first stop I was in traffic whereas if I was up at the front where I should have been, I wouldn’t have been stuck in that traffic and our strategy would have worked very very well. Fair enough, Raikkonen came from last and finished third, but he did a one stop strategy and that’s what works from where he was on the grid and you have to take all of that into account.

Q: Do you think this will be a more level playing field given that nobody has tested here whereas some had tested at Bahrain?
JB:
We’ll have to wait and see. I think we’re going to see the same cars that were competitive in Bahrain competitive here and it’s going to be a great time. There are a lot of quick cars out there but we have just got to do a faultless weekend and then we will see what our results are but I’m happy with the feeling of the car and the confidence I have in the car and also the confidence within the team, so I’m in a good position at the moment.

Q: And looking back, did you basically enjoy the new qualifying format?
JB:
Yeah I did. I think having Kimi’s problem in the first qualifying made everyone a bit nervous that they weren’t going to get a lap in but I think the system is good and I think the view is fine but my mum was a bit nervous at home. Apart from that I think everyone enjoyed the new format, so I think it’s a step forward.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) Talking about the heat, David said you are not looking forward to it. I know it is the same for all, but could you explain a little what it is like out there in the car and when you come into the pits?
DC:
It’s like having to do some physical exercise in a sauna effectively and unless it was having sex I cannot imagine why anyone would want to do anything in a sauna.

Q: (MC) Are there any other analogies that anyone else can give us?
JB:
It is very tough because even on the straights it is difficult to breathe and because it is so humid here and when you are trying to get some proper air into your lungs it is difficult. It is really, really hot air.

Q: (MC) Yes, drivers often say that if they are feeling unwell, or have a bruise, that they can forget all that, but you actually do feel the heat more than anything else. Is that true, Ralf?
RS:
I don’t know. It really depends. There are years when I have had a difficult car to race here and it was tough. There were other years when it was totally easy and so it depends on the whole package. If you have a nice running car then it is not a real problem. But if you have a lot of work to do in the car, then it is a problem usually.
JV: The other thing is that you sweat a lot here which means that you get dehydrated so the second half of the race you start losing a lot of your capacities because of that.

Q: (MC) Have you planned for drinks in the car?
JV:
We usually have a big half a litre drinks bottle in the car.
JB: We’ve got more than theirs. We’ve got a litre.
RS: We’ve got less…
DC: 400 mill.

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speedsport News) Just to follow up on that, last year Alonso and I believe Heidfeld went the whole race without drinking anything so it is possible, but how hard would it be to do a race without liquids?
JB:
I know he won the race, but he didn’t do too good, did he, after the race? You definitely need liquids in the race and before the race, too. I normally drink about five litres in the morning before the race. It makes a massive difference. I didn’t have a drink here a couple of years ago and I was so dehydrated that I was shivering and getting cold in the car and then you start to lose your eyesight. It is much better to be hydrated.
DC: Yeah, and I think that what Jacques said is (right) and any of the physios should be able to give you figures on what the percentage drop-off in a human is once you start to lose a certain amount of body fluid. So you definitely lose performance. You are not going to be as sharp in your reactions, your mental capabilities drop off as your body dehydrates. And you just cannot battle against that. You just get on with it because you are focussed, but in any circumstance in normal life you would be admitted to hospital with severe dehydration. And you know we just get a cold towel and a glass of water and you guys think ‘ah, you don’t do anything for your money.’

Q: (David Croft - BBC Radio) You touched on this David, having been demoted 10 places on the grid and through no fault of your own, isn’t it about time that these rules were reviewed by the FIA?
DC:
Yes and not just because I get a penalty this week. I have consistently said that (we should) take away this handicap formula as much as possible. This should be about the fastest cars, the guys who have done the best job during an individual Grand Prix weekend. Clearly the penalty is not the same for the mid-grid runners as it is for the guys at the front. Naturally, they don’t suffer as badly and if I had stopped just before the chequered flag, then obviously I wouldn’t have had a penalty here, which is one of the things they didn’t want cars and teams to do, also. So I think there are definitely improvements in the qualifying systems and we can continue to improve the overall weekend on the whole to give the best show possible.

Q: (Ian de Cotta - Today) This is for Button. Six years in F1. No wins yet. You got a great car this year and after the first race what do you think of your chances for this year in terms of the championship?
JB:
The same as I thought going into Bahrain. We have got a car that is capable of winning and a team that is capable of winning. So the same. It wasn’t a perfect race for us for the reasons I have given already and there is a lot of competition as always in Formula One, but we are in a good position here because we have got a great car, a reliable car – most of the time – and so, yeah, we are looking forward to this race and the rest of the season. We know it is not going to be easy, but it never is.

Q: (Ian de Cotta - Today) Do you think you will break your duck this year?
JB:
That’s my aim. Yes, as I just said. I think we have got a winning car and if I can’t win in it then that’s an issue obviously.

Q: (Dan Knutson – National Speedsport News) Jacques, could you tell us how you think this weekend is going to go from a chassis point of view?
JV:
Well, we are very miles-limited with the rules, so it is difficult. If you start with the wrong set-up, usually you keep the wrong set-up for the rest of the weekend. So, a lot will depend on how we start the first few laps and it was a lot cooler than expected in Bahrain and for myself at least we had a hard time warming the tyres up which was a problem in qualifying and definitely won’t be a problem here so I think we should go quite well.

Q: (MC) Jacques, we saw that Robert Kubica was competitive on Friday and was up there all the time. Was it a false impression to think the rest of the team was going to be up there as well?
JV:
Well most of the teams that were in front of us didn’t have a third car on Friday morning.
DC: I think the thing that is confusing with the third car thing is that they run seven sets of tyres and they can run maximum rpm so they don’t have the same restrictions. I think Jacques touched on that there. Our restriction on engine mileage was that we had 11 laps available on Friday and 17 on Saturday before going into qualifying. It is a consequence of the regulations of having to use an engine for two race weekends and where Ferrari are with their reliability. Now I accept that if they did a better job then we could run more miles, but what I am trying to highlight is that the regulations, as they stand, restrict track time and the whole point of somebody coming to a Grand Prix weekend is to obviously see the cars out there and to give us the time to set up the cars. I think within the regulation changes that are there, there are others that can be done to further enhance the show and make it better for everyone rather than giving away an advantage.

Q: (MC) Maybe that is only at the beginning of the season with the new regulations and if you look at last year the reliability of the V10 was phenomenal.
DC:
Yes, absolutely. But again various teams will have their set kilometres for the two Grand Prix weekends and I am sure someone …
JV: Also with the new qualifying, we do a lot more laps – and they are laps that we don’t do on Friday. So I think that last race we had six or eight laps on Friday and 14 on Saturday. That’s not much to get ready for the race and at the end of the day if you can get more horsepower or more laps, you’ll go for more horsepower. So you want to get more laps during the season, you’ll probably get more horsepower and you’ll get used to doing less and less laps and relying on the third driver and I don’t think that’s the right direction for Formula One. I think if people wanted to come and see third drivers, then we wouldn’t even show up on Friday.

Q: (David Croft – BBC Radio) Well on that point, would the drivers prefer not to see a Friday driver being employed and for themselves to be given the chance to go out on the track and do without that third car?
DC:
Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to take away the opportunity for a driver to show himself and I understand the reasons. Initially, it was brought in to help the small teams raise extra funds because it could sell the car on a Friday. And clearly the reason it was brought in has been lost. You had BAR last year weren’t able to use a third car because it finished second in the championship and this year they can. But with McLaren last year having a third car, it was outside the spirit of the rules so for me I think the regulations should be flexible enough to adapt to the spirit of the original rule rather than saying that’s the way it is because it will change eventually. It confuses the whole thing – who is going quick and who is not, our preparations. I totally accept the people who say that if you as a team do a better job then you will have a more reliable package and you will be able to do more laps. But everyone is definitely restricted and has been since the two engine rules and the amount of laps they run out on the track and if we weren’t restricted – to answer your question in a long-winded way – I would definitely be on the track and the other drivers would be so as well.

Q: (MC) Ralf, your feelings on that?
RS:
Honestly, I haven’t thought about it. I have different things to do at the moment than to think about rules.

Q: (MC) It’s just that obviously at the moment, you don’t have a third car set-up.
RS:
It is clearly and advantage and for the reasons David mentioned to give young drivers a chance to step into Formula One in a good way and to get some experience is good and it has a lot of good reasons.

Q: (Thierry Wilmotte - Le Soir) Jenson, last year it was no question for you to go to the Williams team. Did you revise a little bit your opinion after the winter testing and their first Grand Prix?
JB:
I am with Honda this year. They have done a good job and seemed to go well last weekend. But that is one race. We have to see what happens the rest of the season.

Q: (Heinz Prüller – Kronen Zeitung) David, which was the best form of qualifying of the last 10 or 12 years in your long experience?
DC:
You are being kind to yourself. You were there at the very beginning were you not? Well, I think there is a lot of excitement in this new one, it was really quite busy. I didn’t have time to practice the format before the first race, for various reliability issues, so it was quite a surprise how quickly the session unfolded. And then as Ralf mentioned, at the end of that first stint, when you are going out and there are 10 cars in front of you and you know the red light is going to come on, it is very difficult to get your lap so it does create an excitement and some cars will get knocked out from time to time because they didn’t get a clear track. I didn’t compete in the last part, but I think people will quickly become bored with watching cars run round doing 10 laps. Ok, it uses up mileage that they can’t use at the next race, but I don’t see how that adds to the show. For me qualifying should be about seeing the quickest car, driver, tyre, engine combination on that given day. I’d love to be able to come out of Monaco this year and to see the quickest lap that can be done and, as you have at the moment, pole position is slower than the guy who qualified 11th because 11th is low fuel and pole position is with 30 kilogrammes or whatever fuel they choose to run. Again, if you ask a thousand people you will get a thousand opinions. I still like the old four-laps format because you’ve got that sort of building to the last run, you tended most weekends to see what the quickest car could be, but I accept that you would always typically see the fastest package at the front and the slowest at the back and then you didn’t see much racing.