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FIA Thursday press conference - Australia 30 Mar 2006

The FIA Press Conference (Back Row (L to R): Mark Webber (AUS) Williams; Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) McLaren. (Front Row (L to R): Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda Racing F1 Team and Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 30 March 2006

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

Drivers: Rubens Barrichello (Honda), Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault), Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren), Mark Webber (Williams).

Q: Rubens, you were so quick in testing pre-season yet it hasn’t really been reflected by the races so far, how have you felt about the start of the season?
Rubens Barrichello:
It was disappointing in the way that I really felt on top of my problems. We tested a lot at every circuit, and every time I got onto a circuit, I spent the first day getting used to everything. I say that because even though the seat fitting is good, the way I am driving the car is not the way I’ve driven in my whole life. I have to be a little bit different. So every time I get to a new circuit, the Friday seems to be a small struggle before I actually get on top of it. In Bahrain, I had a problem with the right rear brake which was running hot and we only got on top of the problem right at the end of the weekend. We had a problem with the sensor so we couldn’t really read that there was a problem. And in Malaysia I struggled, big time. Right from the first moment I went out I never got a balance. I was having some problems with the brakes, so it was a struggle. I think you learn from these difficulties. I went back to Vallelunga, did some testing there, effectively I think it was a little bit better. So I come to a place that I enjoy very much, so it should be less of a struggle.

Q: You’ve had a pole position here and second last year from eleventh place, so this is one of your favourites, is it?
RB:
This is one of my favourite tracks, the people and everything. I love the place … Melbourne is the third race this year but for me, it’s just like the last couple of years when it was the first race, because I haven’t scored at the other ones.

Q: You are in a different team this year – Honda - is it very different to Ferrari?
RB:
In so many ways they are very much the same but the way that they operate and the way they work is a bit different. It’s good, I like it. It’s something that I look forward to getting my problems solved, in a way. They are doing things for me, they are on top of everything and it should be OK. But it is different, not because… in Ferrari, we talk in English, it wasn’t such a problem on that side. Now it’s an English team with the Japanese, but there’s no problem with communication or anything. It’s just the learning method, what I bring from other teams that I think is good and the way that they should put it in as a working manner, and some methods from them that I quite like, and it’s a combination of things.

Q: So change of team has been a breath of fresh air for you?
RB:
Absolutely, yes.

Q: Giancarlo, winner of this race last year, winner of the previous race – you must come here with much confidence?
Giancarlo Fisichella:
Yes, of course. There’s a fantastic atmosphere here for me. As Rubens says, there is a great atmosphere in Australia, the people are really friendly and it’s a nice place. The circuit is not the best circuit for me, but it’s good. I’ve got a good feeling and I won last year so I have a good memory (of this circuit). Coming here and being the winner of the last race is fantastic for me so I am really looking forward to it and I am really optimistic for Sunday, again.

Q: Actually, until last year I don’t suppose it was your favourite circuit because you hadn’t really done very well here up until then…
GF:
Well, in the past I never really drove a competitive car in comparison to last year and this year, and even then, I’ve had a little bit of bad luck. Last year, we had a good package, I did my best and I won the race.

Q: Looking back at a year ago, the first two races were very important to get a good start in the championship and once again, the team has done the same thing. Can you see a parallel to last year?
GF:
Looks like it, looks like it’s on target for Renault to be competitive straight away, but the most important thing is to have a reliable car. Apart from the problem with the (throttle) butterfly I had in Bahrain, which was very unusual, we have been able to do a lot of mileage during testing and in the last race, as you saw, we finished with both cars at the front of the race.

Q: Michael Schumacher said that the key to winning the championship this year is going to be development of the car throughout the season; would you agree with that?
GF:
Yeah, this is the secret of Formula One. It has been like that even in the past, so you need to carry on, you always need to develop the car, the package, and never stop.

Q: And you’re confident with Renault?
GF:
I’m really confident, yes.

Q: Juan Pablo, can you compare the start of this season with the start of last, from your point of view, the first two races?
Juan Pablo Montoya:
I think last year we had a really quick car and I think I struggled driving it, probably a bit like Rubens at the moment with the BAR (Honda), and it was hard, even though I scored good points. This year, in the last race we struggled a lot with cooling and the performance of the car wasn’t there. Kimi came in a lap earlier than me in the race and everything so I think the pace of the car was down from the start. We had to open up the car for cooling and we lost a lot of performance but I think we are going to be really quick here. I think the car has great potential and I’m a lot more comfortable than I was last year, and as long as we keep scoring good points, we’ll be there at the end of the year.

Q: What about your own preparations for this season?
JPM:
I did a lot of work over the winter. Last year it was the same. This year is the same, but it was easier this year because I knew how everything worked. Last year I went to the factory just to learn how things worked. Now I go to the factory to develop. We have the simulator and that helps us a lot to develop the car and bring new things forward, so it’s OK. I think things are going quite well. In a couple of races we have new suspension coming which should help us quite a bit if it works as we expect. We keep bringing on aero packages and the engine just keeps improving. We had a big handicap to everybody in the first few races because the engine struggled a bit, but now the engine is up to speed and running well. It lasted the two races, no problem for me, and here we have a bit of a step forward so it’s looking good.

Q: Were you running the engine quite cautiously in the first two races?
JPM:
Yeah, well within the margins of the engine, just to make sure. But it’s OK, you’ve always got to have a margin for it, but I think the problem we had, especially in the first race, was a little bit of a mistake on the mapping, which they changed for the second race and it was a different engine… it was the same engine but there was a big difference. In the first race I was about four kilometres, even five kilometres per hour down on Kimi down the straight. In the second race I was as quick. I didn’t like it.

Q: So this race should be OK?
JPM:
Yeah, it should be OK. We have to see how the car behaves. We’ve got a very good, stable car here, so it’s a matter of how much graining you’re going to get and stuff like that, but I’m pretty confident we’re going to be strong here.

Q: Mark, third on the grid to fifth in the race last year, your best results here; can you do better than that this year?
Mark Webber:
I hope so, yeah. I think that the competition is probably a little bit more compact this year than it was last year. At the start of year last year everyone was a little bit more spread out, potentially. Renault are still the form team, they are going to be strong this weekend, I believe, and the bunch after that is very very tight, so there is a chance to improve on that, maybe. Could have been a strong race, we could have had a bigger fuel tank last year but we didn’t so that won’t be a problem this year, so we’ve got some other… total new ball game, new rigs, engines, tyres, first time I’ve been here on the Bridgestones with Williams, so lots to learn, so I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to seeing how the long runs go tomorrow with Alex in the third car, obviously, compared to some of the other running that the race drivers will do, so yeah, see how we go.

Q: As we’ve heard from the drivers we’ve spoken to so far, one or two drivers have been handicapped, Juan Pablo by the engine, Rubens by the brakes; do you think it’s going to show that as those drivers come on form, are you going to slip back, or have you had your problems as well?
MW:
I think we’ve been pretty solid actually. I’ve been on other tyres for my whole career in F1 and had to make a change this year and that’s been different the other way. Especially on Friday in Malaysia, it was definitely a different situation to what I had the year before so I had to work a bit harder on Saturday and then Sunday I was going to enjoy the race, obviously, until we had the problem. But no, I think collectively we’ve done well as a team and we’re pretty strong and solid. There’s no huge problems with us inside. We know what we’ve got to work on, we know what weaknesses we’ve got to get more complete.

Q: Expecting a cooler day on Sunday than in the last two races; do you think that’s going to be an advantage for you?
MW:
I think we would like it to be clear skies and reasonably warm, just by the fact of what happened in the first two events and that worked well for us, as a team. Winter testing has been a bit tough for us in terms of balancing the car and just getting the situation as we would like. It’s nice to be better in the races than you are in testing; I don’t like it the other way around so hopefully here, obviously a month later (than usual), but we’re going to have other races (which are cool) this year; Melbourne isn’t going to be the only one - the next three: Imola, Nurburgring very early in the season as well. We’ve got plenty to learn and hopefully we can learn in the right direction and not do too much learning on Sundays, do our learning before we go on the front line.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) For Mark, Paul Stoddart has filed an entry for 2008, assuming it all works out, what are your thoughts of having Stoddie back and the Minardi name back in F1?
MW:
I am ready to drive for him. There is no question about it…. Well, actually, I didn’t know about that and – brilliant. He is a competitive and passionate guy and good stuff. Why not? Its going to be interesting, Formula One in 2008, probably could be a little different to how it is now potentially and I am not totally wound up on how it will be, but I am happy for Paul if he wants to come back in and get into it. He is a popular person in the paddock.

Q: (James Stanford - Herald Sun) For Juan Pablo, the McLaren – how close do you think it is to the Renaults in terms of speed? Is it much behind or as quick?
JPM:
I think we are a little bit behind, but you know it is going to be interesting to see here because we have a new engine and it is a bit of a step up and it will be interesting to see what it does. I think if the car is competitive and everything goes well, we should be able to fight them in the race. I am not sure about one lap in qualifying, but we’ll have to wait and see. The only way to beat them is to be a bit smarter than them in the race.

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Juan Pablo, how much of a distraction is it for you not knowing what 2007 will bring and maybe having to ask questions all the time about 2007?
JPM:
I don’t really care to be honest. I am okay. I am focussed on this year and when something comes up for next year and you are happy then you will sign the deal, wherever it is. And that’s it. You know what I mean. I am driving for McLaren Mercedes this year and I am going to do my best for them. It doesn’t matter. It is like when I was in America and I was going to move to Formula One. I signed a deal eight months before and even like that when I was there I was still pushing and doing the best I could. You know, I think we have got a good chance of winning the championship this year and you can’t waste it and I need to try and score good points at every race and when there is a chance of winning, winning.

Q: (Brendan Cormick - The Australian) To Mark, not being respectful in asking this, but 70 races under your belt, you work very hard at what you do – is it very frustrating not being able to post your first Grand Prix victory?
MW:
Yes. We are all here to win. No question about it. But it is a reasonably competitive industry and there are a few people that want to do the winning. I think there’s been two Australians win Grands Prix in the last 50 years so obviously it is not that straightforward, but I am very keen to be more competitive at every race. Giancarlo had some tough years at Jordan, but this year he is having a very good season. It is a very fickle game. The drivers are very important to the performance of the car, but also the team has to be on it as well. I thoroughly enjoy my situation at Williams at the moment and I hope we can go towards the front and challenge the pace setters of the moment. Yes, I am very competitive and I want to be towards the front so rest assured I am doing my best.

Q: (Livio Orrichio – O Estado do Sao Paulo) Question to all drivers. Your teams signed a document asking the FIA to check the Ferrari front wing and Ferrari has a new front wing here. Do you think it will affect their performance here?
JPM:
I think maybe they had something a little bit tricky and everybody thought it was open and so for that reason they asked them to do something different. If it was a big advantage it may affect them a little bit, but if they have a good solution then it shouldn’t. I don’t know. It shouldn’t really. I will be amazed if it does.
MW: Yes, that’s it isn’t it?
RB: I agree.
GF: I think if there was something illegal, then it was correct to make adjustment and as all the other teams have to be legal. I don’t know if they have a new aerodynamic part it has to be legal.

Q: (Todd Balym - Australian Associated Press) Giancarlo, Juan Pablo just said that for them to beat you on Sunday, they need to race smarter. Is that the sort of view in your team – that you have the fastest car and it is just a matter of putting it all together on Sunday?
GF:
Well, we know McLaren has a fantastic potential to be quick, as we do. In the last two races, we were quicker than them and I just heard now that they are going to have a better car aerodynamically and maybe on the power side and maybe they will be a little bit closer now, but we are still very optimistic because we have fantastic pace and even last week, at Paul Ricard, we did a fantastic job with Kovalainen and we have been able again to be the quickest and so we are looking forward to tomorrow and especially to Sunday.

Q: (Peter Windsor - F1 Racing) A question to Rubens, Mark and Juan Pablo, despite all the changes to the technical regulations this year, specifically with engines, it appears as if the Renault still has a marked advantage off the line at the start of a race. Firstly do you agree with that and secondly if so why do you think that is?
MW:
I definitely agree with you Peter. I think they are phenomenal off the line. There is a combination of a few things which in terms of the torque of the engine which is helping them, where the weight is in the car and also the electronics and how obviously the clutch and that stuff is working. In all that stuff, they have had the best situation and have had so for a few years even with the V10 and there were a lot of good V10s out there at the end, so that makes the torque one a bit less of an argument but I think the V8 enjoys some good torque. Fernando and Giancarlo also eat a lot of carrots to look at the lights, but apart from that, that’s the lot. They are the parameters that have the biggest effect. Tyres, too, obviously.
JPM: About the same, really, yes, gear ratio and it all depends how much torque you have. If you look at an on-board camera from them in Bahrain you can hear there are corners where they have like no revs and it still pulled out of the corners where … it is just a characteristic of the engines and so on.
RB: You know, I think it is just a little bit too early to say they really have an advantage or that they used to... If you look at their start in Malaysia, I think Jenson was pretty level with Giancarlo. I still think that Giancarlo beat him by a little bit but I think Honda did a phenomenal job with the starts so we are quite happy on that side too. And if you look at Alonso, too, if it wasn’t for his great move on the outside I don’t think he would have gained any positions on the start. Obviously they know how to do it, because they have done it in the past, but I am not so sure that they still have the advantage of the past.
GF: Secret….