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FIA post-race press conference - Australia 02 Apr 2006

The post race FIA Press Conference (L to R): Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren, second; Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault, winner; Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota, third.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 2 April 2006

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

1. Fernando Alonso (Renault), 1h34m27.870s; 2. Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren), 1h34m29.699s; 3. Ralf Schumacher (Toyota), 1h34m52.694s.

Q: Fernando, I guess Giancarlo’s problem before the start opened up the first corner for you…
Fernando Alonso:
In a way, yes... It was a little bit difficult with Jenson because he did a good start, so I guess if Giancarlo had been there on the inside it would have been a little bit more difficult. I don’t know what happened to him exactly. We will have to see and check that it doesn’t happen any more, to him or even to me. Apart from this, I think the race was a little bit crazy. I didn’t understand some moments of the race, when I was maybe 20 seconds ahead and the gap disappeared after three or four safety cars in ten laps. But I think the car was perfect, there wasn’t any risk of losing victory at any time so I was quite confident.

Q: There seemed to be a lot of problems for others getting temperature into the tyres, but at every re-start, you got a fantastic lead.
FA:
Yes, it seems that our car was warming the tyres better ready for the first lap. It happened on the first lap, when Jenson was leading the race, I overtook him quite easily on the straight on the restart and then in the other ones, I was pulling away in the first two laps like six seconds, but that was enough to maintain the gap and so it was a little advantage for me today.

Q: Just talking about Jenson - it was very close with him on the opening lap of the race.
FA:
Very close, especially at the start. I locked up the tyres and nearly hit him in the first corner. Then we fought really closely for turn three, but as always when I fight with Jenson I had no problems at all. We have a lot of respect for each other and we didn’t have any problem. I think after that he dropped back and disappeared from the leading places and it was a little bit easier for me.

Q: Then you had late race pressure from Kimi…
FA:
Yes, as I said before, I was about 20 seconds ahead and then that was gone because of the safety car. After the re-start, I also had quite a good car, no problems at all with the balance, so it was not too difficult to pull away today.

Q: Kimi, an interesting and spectacular race for you, perhaps talk us through it… You obviously had a problem with your nose section at one point, and perhaps a vibration too.
Kimi Raikkonen:
Yeah, at one of the restarts, I overtook Jenson and I locked up the inside wheel at turn one. I still managed to stay ahead of him through corners one and three, but fortunately, even with the vibration and a front tyre the car was still quite quick and I was able to keep up with Fernando, but then suddenly I think we lost part of the endplate because of the vibration. I was quite slow at that point, but luckily during the safety car period we had enough time to change the nose. After that, I think the speed was there, in the car, to really fight for victory, but my little mistake cost quite a lot in the end and also there were some lapped people always between me and Fernando, but the car is quick. If we get a proper race without any problems I think we should be able to fight for wins and then we will see what happens.

Q: The car must have been really good at the end; but I believe you were on slightly different tyres to Renault. Do you think that was a factor?
KR:
Yes, I think we have different tyres, but I think they were good for us. But with all the problems with the car, with the nose really, I was not able to push. The car was quick all the time but of course he slowed down in the end, so it wasn’t really realistic but you can see that the speed is there so that’s positive. As long as we get a good race without any problems we should be OK.

Q: Ralf, with a stop-go and where you came from in Bahrain and Malaysia, this almost feels like a win for you…
Ralf Schumacher:
Oh yes, yeah. You can imagine, we are all very happy with what we achieved today. As you said, the drive-through was because of my mistake because I didn’t hit the limiter button. But I was lucky that due to the safety car I think we achieved a lot more than we ever thought before this weekend.

Q: The safety car allowed you to regain some time after that stop-go and you also picked up some places in the final safety car period just before the yellows came out…
RS:
I thought we only had the (tyre) warm-up problems this weekend, but it looked like some Michelin runners had the same problem. Jenson struggled and Nick as well. So Nick went off and I was able to get by and that obviously gave me another position. With all the backmarkers in between us, it was a bit of a fight really, but yeah, we went through and finished third. It was great.

Q: Looked like you had a very spectacular phase on those opening laps…
RS:
Similar thing you know: we were all sliding so I just saw a lot of locking wheels and stuff like that. It was very interesting, very difficult for me today because the car grip was never really there to fight the whole race, to keep it there but it worked out.

Q: Where do you think Toyota are? Do you think you are back to where you were in 2005?
RS:
I think we had a good result today, but we were far away from the top teams, I guess. I have seen the lap times and we have to work, but I have no doubt at all that our crew is able to do that. We’re strong people and they are really pushing hard so I’m looking forward to the next few races.

Q: Fernando, a nice early lead to the World Championship, Renault very strong too. It’s all looking great…
FA:
Yeah, I won the first one and this third one. Fisi did the previous race and I was second so 28 points out of 30 is a dream come true again, this start of the season, so let’s hope it finishes like last year.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Fernando, how difficult was it for you to keep abreast with what was going on?
FA:
Well, not too difficult because I was always leading. All the strategies worked OK and the safety car was not too difficult to know if it was the time to come in or not. It was quite clear. Thanks to that, and thanks to the nice gap I had, we pitted both times with a safe gap and no worries. The race was difficult in terms of keeping up the concentration and the motivation, because I pushed hard all the way through the first part of the race, I was 20 seconds ahead in spite of one safety car period – if not, maybe more – and I was ready to turn down everything at the end, in a nice way, and then the gap disappeared every time so I needed to push a little bit more again. But it was a safe race and the important thing was to save the engine, to keep it fresh for the Imola race, to try to do a good result there again, and we did it, so it was quite nice.

Q: Did you have problems getting the tyres up to temperature after the safety car periods?
FA:
Yes, a lot, but I warmed the tyres very, very aggressively in this race. On the first lap, when I overtook Jenson, I think one of the reasons was that. I saw Jenson in front of me not warming the tyres too much and I was much more ready for the re-start. And the same happened in the next two restarts.

Q: Tell us about that overtaking manoeuvre with Jenson.
FA:
Well, he had very cold tyres in the last corner so he went off the line and I was much quicker, but I didn’t overtake him before the line, so I was on half-throttle on the straight in order to be side-by-side and then when we crossed the line I was on full throttle.

Q: Then you were pushing hard until lap 51 and then you eased off?
FA:
Yeah, we turned down the revs, but even with that the car was extremely competitive and we were maintaining the gap to Kimi. So, I pushed one lap just to check how quick the car was – a 26.2s or whatever – and from there the gap was nine seconds with five laps to go, so I was just cruising.

Q: And the team told you to relax; what was the reply you made?
FA:
No, they were telling me the gap. Every time we crossed the line they told me ‘five laps to go, seven seconds’, ‘four laps to go, six seconds’ and I said ‘don’t worry, I’m relaxed. I’m not pushing.’

Q: Finally, I have been asked to ask you about the rabbit gesture – and what else do you have in your repertoire for the rest of the season?
FA:
I don’t know. Every race, hopefully, if I win more races I will do something different. This was something like a kangaroo for Australia, for the fans.

Q: Kimi, I noticed on lap 12, the lead went up from 1.9s to 4.1s. Was that the nose section problem you talked about just now?
KR:
Yes. Even with the flat-spotted tyre, the car was quite quick and I was able to keep the distance and then suddenly I lost the front end completely. We had some vibration and we lost some part of the front wing and the car started to understeer very badly and it wasn’t very quick any more. Really, at that point of the race, we had lost it.

Q: So did you wait until your scheduled stop on lap 21 to have it changed?
KR:
We changed it under the safety car. We kept the same front wing on the first stop, otherwise it would take too late. The car was not quick because I was understeering all the time and then at the safety car, we had enough time to change the front wing. We really didn’t know what was the problem before. We were expecting to have a small problem, maybe with the front wing, but it would have taken too long so we needed to wait. That’s why we were so slow for half of the race.

Q: What about the early part of the race; you were right behind Jenson for two or three laps?
KR:
Yeah. I overtook him when I had that flat spot. I almost went off, but I was able to keep him behind. I think we touched a little bit in corner three, he touched my rear tyre or something, we were so close to each other, but apart from that it was OK, fair play, a bit tight, but it was good.

Q: And it was pretty exciting with Juan Pablo, the two of you side-by-side.
KR:
Yeah, on the first lap, but I was able to keep him behind so it was OK, but unfortunately with the problem that I had with the front tyre we were not able to really use our speed and try to challenge Fernando; but I think the car is still quick and without any problems, we should be able to fight.

Q: And you had the Midlands as well…
KR:
Yeah, it never helps, but what can you do? It’s part of the whole thing and it’s easy to lose so much time, even when it’s one or two cars. You can’t push 100 percent. With them in between two fast cars, and when you’re trying to warm up your tyres, it’s not the easiest thing. I think the race result is still good, looking at what was going on at the beginning of the race. I was not really expecting to be able to keep second place but luckily we were able to change the front wing, so that car was back to normal.

Q: Ralf, it is mike Gascoyne’s birthday today and I am sure he is very happy to see you on the podium. It is a great birthday present for him and for you after the disappointments of the first couple of races…
RS:
I am sure he will have a long night ahead of him on the plane and he will use that opportunity! It has been great for us and we had a particularly difficult start to the season, but we are still fighting to get our performance back and today we were a bit lucky at the same time. We had a decent pace but still too far away from where we should have been and that is clear. Nevertheless, I am pretty happy with what I achieved and for the guys. I mean they worked very hard over the winter and we were disappointed at the first race and second so this is quite good for them.

Q: You lost a couple of places after the first safety car. Is that the incident you were describing just now?
RS:
The tyre warm-up was particularly difficult today. I had the pleasure of seeing a car spinning twice in front of me while he was trying to warm up his tyres. I took it easy, maybe too easy, and that is why I lost a lot at the first one, but I got it back at the third safety car, which then really helped.

Q: Do you think you can repeat this in the forthcoming races?
RS:
Imola is going to be coldish temperatures again and so it is going to be difficult to judge for the moment with the problems we have. I mean on Friday we struggled a bit and worked overnight on set up and got it right on Saturday so it could happen at Imola. There are two tests before then, so we have time to work on it and we try to stay where we are.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Mark Fogarty, Auto Action) Ralf, you know Michael better than anyone. What do you think? Do you think Michael is getting very frustrated?
RS:
Maybe you ask him. We have other things to worry about to be honest.

Q: (Livio Orrichio – O Estado do Sao Paulo) Ralf, as far as you know one of the problems you had at the beginning of the season was the tyre temperature and here where everyone suffered from this problem, it seems that you had less problem than the others. Is that true?
RS:
Well, yes, less than the other Bridgestone runners, but there were reasons for that. I was still surprised watching all the other drivers today. Everyone had problems with warming up the tyres. It is not only us, suffering. In the first race, we definitely suffered, but we are still learning with the new tyres and we are on top of the game now.

Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Second place is your best result at this place. Was this your best result and race here?
KR:
Not really. I think I’ve never had a proper race here. Something always happens. It has never been a perfect race here for me. It looks like something always happens here, but we have had a good result and I think we are getting back in the championship now. Maybe it is not ideal, but if you look at last year we are in a stronger position now than we were then and it is still only the beginning of the championship. So we will just see what we can do.

Q: Do you think that basically you were lacking mileage during practice, particularly yesterday morning when that turned out to be wet? Is that a part of the problem?
KR:
It doesn’t help, but it is the same for everybody and we know that at some places the tyres are not so easy to warm up. We had a similar thing in the winter when it was very cold and maybe here it was an issue, but it could have been at any other place also.

Q: I was just thinking that not many people did much running on Friday and maybe that would have solved the problem?
RS:
I don’t think that is a big issue. I think a lot of us, we had a particularly strong winter back in Europe and a lot of people thought just ok it is extremely cold so it will get better and don’t worry about the warm-up problems. And, I think, we were caught out by that, a little bit.

Q: (Tony Dodgins - Autosport) Fernando, when it comes to that warming-up process, obviously everybody is changing direction, but you seem to be almost locking the wheels and then starting again by spinning wheels. Is there a special technique there?
FA:
No, I think we do always a different warm up for the tyres in the Renault team, especially for the out laps and going to the grid. When I see another driver in front of me, they spin the tyres in a different way and maybe they are using different traction controls or whatever and we have to really move the car a lot to get the spin and I think this extra work we were doing today was help enough to warm all four tyres in one way.

Q: (James Stanford - Herald Sun) Fernando, how much quicker do you think the Renault is compared to your main rivals?
FA:
I don’t know. I felt quicker than the rivals probably yesterday and today. Yesterday I had a little bit of traffic and not a perfect qualifying, but today I had a normal race and felt quicker in all the stages of the race. But, also, Kimi had some problems with the wings so we don’t know in equal conditions how we are… But I think we are again one of the top teams and in some races we are fighting with the BAR (Honda), like we did in Malaysia, and some races with Ferrari, like we did in Bahrain, here with the McLarens. The important thing is to be always there.

Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat ) Fernando, last year you had 36 points after four races. Are you able to beat that record this time?
FA:
Well I am 28 and so I need to win in Imola and I think that will be extremely difficult, but if I repeat the same number I will be extremely happy if I finish in the first two in Imola. The important thing is to be constant in the championship, try to be on the podium – as I was last year 15 times, I think – and concentrate and try not to do any mistakes and just to do good weekends in a professional way and finish the races and score points. It doesn’t matter if it is 10, eight or four – any points are important.

Q: (Anthony Rowlinson - Autosport) Fernando, you had a similar start to the season last year, but McLaren came on very strong throughout the year. Do you fear something similar this year?
FA:
Yes, I am pretty sure that the little advantage that we saw at the beginning of the championship last year and this year will disappear sooner or later and the only thing we have to do is to take the opportunities as we are now and to win these race sand then when the other teams improve and are similar to us or quicker than us we just have to finish the races, to be 100 per cent from the drive-ability point of view, and push the other teams to the limit.