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FIA Friday press conference - Australia 16 Mar 2007

The FIA Press Conference (From back row (L to R)): Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing F1 Team; Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari; Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing; Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault; Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2007

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

Drivers: Jenson Button (Honda), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Heikki Kovalainen (Renault), Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Mark Webber (Red Bull).

Q: Lewis, a pretty good day, third fastest, how was it for you?
Lewis Hamilton:
It’s been a fantastic day for me. To go out, first time here for me in Melbourne, to go out of the pits, go out of the garage, down the pit straight for the first time, it was living my dream, so it’s been quite a decent day. Obviously it rained at the beginning so it was quite slippery and to learn a circuit when it’s wet is pretty tough, especially here with it being a street circuit and there’s a lot of white lines around. But it went pretty smoothly, especially in the second session we made some steps forward and we’re looking pretty strong.

Q: Could you have imagined being third fastest?
LH:
No, not really. As I said, it is a steep learning curve. This is testing so it’s not really… tomorrow is what matters so we will see what happens tomorrow.

Q: Has the whole weekend been fairly daunting, because there’s a big build-up here?
LH:
Not really, I think it’s been like any other time when you’re preparing your first race of the season. I haven’t found it daunting or any different to any other time. I didn’t expect it to be like that, but I feel quite relaxed about it.

Q: Obviously in GP2 you’ve been using Bridgestones, has that been helpful in the move to Formula One racing?
LH:
No, I don’t think so. They are different tyres. I think the compound is quite different. Driving on grooves compared to driving on slicks is again, slightly different, so I’ve not really found it a benefit.

Q: Heikki, eighteenth today, obviously not what you were hoping for…
Heikki Kovalainen:
You are right there. Obviously it wasn’t the best day for us, but in any case, I think the main thing is I managed to learn the circuit and the car balance feels good so we can look forward to tomorrow. I don’t feel worried about that.

Q: Quite strange that both cars stopped out on the circuit, it’s not something we expect from Renault.
HK:
No and we didn’t expect it either. It’s actually the same problem in both cars. The fuel system failed. We don’t know any more details about what was actually the cause of the problem, but it is related to the fuel system. Shame it happened earlier for me, but in any case, Giancarlo’s (Fisichella) runs were promising so I think we are in good shape.

Q: What do you think of the circuit?
HK:
To me it’s great. I find it quite exciting. It’s quite difficult as well, but coming out of the garage, to be honest, wasn’t any different to coming out of the garage in Jerez. I just turned the other way. I like it.

Q: Like Lewis, you have a tough call this year being a newcomer in Formula One racing in a world champion team. Is it a tough season, a tough learning curve?
HK:
Yeah, for sure. Your first season in Formula One is always going to be tough but I think I’m well prepared and the team is well prepared, so we have to stay confident and cool and I think we can do it, no problem.

Q: So what chances over the next couple of days?
HK:
I think the chances are good. We need to work to the maximum, myself and the team, and then at the end we will see what the results are. I think at the moment we don’t know exactly where we are, so we will find out tomorrow.

Q: Jenson, I’m sure 13th is not what you were hoping for…
Jenson Button:
I think it’s probably quite realistic in a way. We haven’t had the best winter really. We’ve been improving the car all the time but it’s still not where we want it to be. As I’ve said before, this weekend is going to be a tough weekend for us, it’s also a very important weekend for us, to completely understand what our issues are with the car.

Q: Have the problems basically been the handling, balance of the car?
JB:
Yeah, we’re really struggling, as a few other drivers behind us have been, we’re really struggling under braking. We just can’t slow the car down, and we’ve got a stability issue as well. That’s not all really… that’s part of it. We understand the issues, I think, and we’ve just got to keep working very hard and this weekend is going to be a tough one in the way of results, I think.

Q: With these Fridays like this, is it difficult not to be distracted by the fact that it’s obviously followed up by two days of qualifying and racing, rather than concentrating on solving your problems?
JB:
No, not really, because I think coming into this weekend we sort of knew where we were going to be, and that hasn’t changed. We haven’t suddenly changed our views on things. We know where we are and we’ve just got to get on with the weekend. Tomorrow’s practice is also important to us to work a little bit more with the balance, because the longer runs are obviously slightly worse than the one timed laps so we’ve got to work a bit on that and get a consistent balance. Then we will be looking okay for the race.

Q: So is there light at the end of the tunnel and if so, how far away is it?
JB:
I don’t know how far it is yet. That’s the only thing, I don’t know how long it is. I’m with a very strong team, Honda are very strong and we’re very focused on our job and we’re very committed. We’re not just going to sit back and forget about this year. This is an important year and we need to get our heads down and solve our problems and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Q: Kimi, that last lap, which you didn’t complete, looked like it was going to be your quickest. A good day?
Kimi Raikkonen:
Yeah, but I think it was one of those days. I think it’s always been raining here for the last three years and difficult weather so not exactly what we wanted. But I think we’ve done what we wanted to do, we tried different tyres and we learned something even though there was traffic but I’m pretty happy.

Q: Do you feel the car is suited to the circuit?
KR:
Yeah, of course there’s always things we can improve but overall I think it’s pretty good. I think the biggest thing is to find the balance and the speed over one lap and if we find that, the race should be OK.

Q: And you’ve found that?
KR:
Probably, we will do the best we can tomorrow but I think we just need to fine-tune it a bit and it should be OK.

Q: An interesting team with Felipe; how do you see your relationship with your teammate and closest rival?
KR:
I think we have a very good relationship. The team is working well. I think we have a good relationship and there’s a good, positive feeling in the team. Everything seems to be going in a good way so I think it’s a perfect way to start the season, so we shall see how it goes.

Q: And a different atmosphere within the team, to what you’ve been used to?
KR:
Yeah, a little bit. It’s good, everything’s good. I really enjoy it.

Q: Mark, 17th, not where you wanted to be.
Mark Webber:
No. The gearbox played up at the end so we lost the last half hour or 36 minutes. We had the problem when Rubens (Barrichello) caused the red flag along with Heikki. It would have been nice to have run at the end of the session, to get some more information for me on the track, but David (Coulthard) did some of the work, so at least we’ve got something, but it’s always nice to do it yourself as well. But the guys pretty much spotted what happened with the box so I’m pretty confident they will fix it for the rest of the weekend.

Q: That’s not a problem that you’ve had in testing?
MW:
Yup.

Q: It is the same?
MW:
Similar, yeah. They tried something different today and they’re going to go back.

Q: What do you feel about the potential of the car; is the potential there, once you’ve got the running in?
MW:
Yes, it will be, but not in the short term, meaning in the next few races. I still think that once we’ve made the car reliable and more of a consistent balance, and start to get a genuine understanding of the car, as you say, more running, and it’s good to go racing because that’s when you actually find out where you’re weak, more so than in testing. So once we do a few Grands Prix and work out what… well, we know the problems we have, but it also focuses the departments in the factory once you go racing, to get on with things. There is definitely potential in this car, no question about it. Adrian’s (Newey) working hard and he knows… he’s shown in the past that he can deliver a good car. But it’s not easy, you don’t just roll them out and they go quick, you’ve got to work with them.

Q: Christian Horner (Red Bull team principal) said that you’re perhaps as much as four weeks behind?
MW:
Yup.

Q: Can you catch up those four weeks?
MW:
Four weeks gone, they’re under the bridge. Four weeks gone, that’s exactly what he’s saying. When it’s gone, it’s gone in this game.

Q: You’ve had a difficult time choosing teams in the past; is it the right one this time?
MW:
Yes. I think we can do well in the future, no question about it. But I don’t think there’s a team in the pit lane that isn’t under pressure. Probably Ferrari are doing well, BMW seem to be doing pretty well in terms of where they probably expected to be in the overall scheme of things, the two Japanese teams, Williams, Red Bull, Renault as well, there’s lot of teams… that’s the game we’re in, it’s not easy, we’re going to have to work hard to be in front.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Salvatore Zanca - Associated Press) Lewis, what is the biggest difference you notice in moving up to Formula One and what is the biggest thing you have learned from your first official practice session?
LH:
I think coming from GP2 to Formula One is a lot more intense in terms of physical training, preparing yourself mentally but also the winter testing has been pretty hectic. I have needed to squeeze as many miles in through the winter as possible so that did mean I was testing three days a week and coming up from GP2 it was also a different physical level so while I am training I am also getting used to the longer races, so that has been the biggest step. On the technical side, there is so much more to learn technically - compared to a GP2 car, you don’t have all the system controls in the car. You don’t have all the toys to play with so getting used to traction control and being able to use your diff, and in braking, and all that sort of stuff has been something new. Also you have 20 buttons on the steering wheel, which I have never had before and trying to remember all of those and their functions and trying to optimise them - that has been the hardest part of it. But coming to my first day here in my first Grand Prix it felt pretty similar to all the other tests I have done, or the testing we have done, but it was extremely special for me because it is my first here and it is my debut. So it is a great feeling.

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) For Lewis and Heikki, how much have your teams coached you for outside the cockpit?
HK:
We haven’t at Renault done any specific courses to deal with that. We have had quick briefs, what to say and how to do things, but I think common sense is the best tool and also at Renault we are quite open about things so when we have problems we quite openly tell them and when we are doing well we quite openly tell then as well. So, nothing special done about that…
LH: I agree with Heikki. Coming up through the ranks, you have interviews and you get used to dealing with the media. So it is not something you are taught, it is something you learn along the way. And, yes, we have a briefing to tell us what we should be saying and what we shouldn’t be saying, but that also is common sense. So I agree with Heikki.

Q: (Juha Paatalo - Financial Times, Deutschland) Also for Lewis and Heikki, how well prepared do you feel you are for the rest of the weekend?
LH:
Definitely, it has been fortunate for me, and Heikki, to come into Formula One now, from GP2, which had definitely taken me a step closer. Doing the Friday testing will help as I think there are seven circuits that I don’t know. Being able to get as much mileage on the track as I can is definitely beneficial, so it has been quite good for me.
HK: I felt before arriving in Australia that I had prepared 100 percent with my team and myself, but today I would have liked to have done a few more laps to get a bit more feel for the track for the car and to try different tyres and so on but it did not happen today and in any case I can rely on my team mate’s data and carry on my job tomorrow. I don’t think my lack of laps today should not affect too much the rest of the weekend.

Q: (Livio Oricchio - O Estado de Sao Paulo) Kimi, why did you not complete the lap in the morning and in the afternoon that should have taken you to the first position?
KR:
The session was finished and I did not want any penalties. It was the in lap.

Q: (Dominic Fugere - Le Journal de Montreal) Kimi, I wondered if you had time to look at the progress of your ex-team mate (Juan Pablo Montoya) in NASCAR and what happened to him in Mexico (KR laughs)… I guess you have, so I would like to know your thoughts on that.
KR:
I have not looked too much as I am not too much into the NASCARs, but I saw the incident or accident, or whatever happened, but that is a part of the racing and I don’t know if it is good or not, but if he wins the races it is not too bad.

Q: (Jenny McAsey - The Australian) Mark, you said you hoped they could fix the gearbox. Do you have any concerns that the car may not make it?
MW:
There are always concerns early in the season, but there is no re-wind button and when we push away on Sunday afternoon there are many things that can ‘ping’ you undone. You try to minimise those as much as you can. Obviously today’s failure wasn’t planned and they are going to go back to something that they have more information on and then we’ll try and do the best job we can on Sunday. But there is always a slight concern yet.

Q: (Paolo Ianieri - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Kimi, from what you have seen today, do you think Ferrari still has the advantage over the other teams that it had during the winter testing?
KR:
I did not really have time to look at the lap times and the details of what the others have done, but like I said before it really depends from circuit to circuit. Some circuits will suit other teams better, but it looks like we still have a very good package and we are working hard to improve it and at least we are in a good position, but I don’t know if we have any advantage. We will see in the race what is going to happen.

Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Jenson, what is your impression of the public response to Honda’s environmental message?
JB:
I think it has been pretty good, as it should be. I think it is a fantastic idea and I fully back it.

Q: (Mike Doodson) In that light, have any of you guys made any changes to your personal lives, as Jenson has done by getting himself a very expensive Honda hybrid car to travel from his yacht to his jet?
JB:
If you actually checked, I haven’t actually got a yacht or a jet... Very funny!
HK: My car is a Renault and it is environmentally sound.
LH: In terms of car, I haven’t changed my car but I think it is fuel-efficient. I am quite concerned about the environment and we all need to notice this and take action. Whatever that is, I am not really sure, but once we know we all need to put our hands together.
JB: I think it perfectly puts forward the reason behind it - awareness. As you can see, I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the big issues. I think it is a great idea. We get through to hundreds of millions of people and I wasn’t aware of the issues six months ago and now I am and I have changed my life in little ways. It might not be big ways, but it makes a difference, if we are capable of making these changes, which I think we are.
MW: Yeah…

Q: Changed your life?
MW:
Less baked beans… (laughter)…You know it is important. It is the way the world is going. We all know that. I think the big countries - China, India, the places with the really massive populations and the big cities where there is a mass of population…. Not just a few cars here and there… It is how they run these places that is a pretty big deal as well. I like the outdoors. I like being out there and hopefully in 100 or 200 years guys like myself who like going outside can still do it.

Q: Kimi, any changes in your life?
KR:
No.

Q: (James Allen - ITV) Did all or any of you run both types of tyres today and can you tell us about the performance differences between them and will that be a headache in the race?
LH:
I think it is very similar to what we experienced in testing. The option tyre always seemed to be three or four-tenths faster and I think the same applies here. I think everyone is experiencing the tyres going off especially the rear tyres, and graining, and I don’t find it any different to any other circuit. Sure, it is going to be tough on both tyres during the race.
KR: There is definitely a difference between the two tyres. We just need to make sure we get them both working as well as we can for the race. Sometimes it can make a difference to win the race. We have to wait and see, hopefully, if the weather gets a bit more warm - let’s see what happens.
JB: Yes, we have run both tyres and I didn’t have any clearer feeling of a big difference between the tyres, yet, but hopefully tomorrow morning will reveal a bit more.

Q: (Stephane Barbe - L’Equipe) How are things going for you with Ferrari and Felipe Massa compared to last year?
KR:
Like I said before, it is good, the atmosphere is good. Of course every team has a different way of working, but it is good how we work. It is very clear way of working and atmosphere is good. I am happy with the way the team works.

Q: (Alan Baldwin - Reuters) Mark, looking at the speed of the Williams and the Toyota, I wondered which you consider to be the B team at the moment?
MW:
I think Williams will give the main team a touch-up, yes.