FIA Thursday press conference - Bahrain 12 Apr 2007
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Heikki Kovalainen (Renault), Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Jarno Trulli (Toyota).
Q: Heikki, Ill start with you. Obviously you were very pleased to score your first world championship last weekend in Malaysia, but has the car been cured of its problems?
Heikki Kovalainen: In one week I think not, unless there has been a miracle we dont know about. Clearly we are behind the top pace and obviously we are not happy about that. The whole factory is trying to understand the cause, but this weekend the gap to the leaders will be about the same. Hopefully, though, well score points again.
Q: Perhaps the point I should have made is that there are fewer high-speed corners here than in Malaysia and you looked better in testing here than you did at Sepang.
HK: The test before Sepang was pretty good, too, and we thought wed made a good step, but looking back other teams had made an even bigger step because there was a bigger gap between us and the leaders in Sepang than there was in Melbourne. As you said, there are fewer high-speed corners, which should help us a little bit, but in any case I think we shouldnt think about that too much and just get on with it.
Q: Is it a specific front- or rear-end problem or just a basic lack of grip?
HK: Since the day we bolted these tyres on before Christmas, the balance between the teams shifted significantly and we havent yet recovered from that well enough. We dont exactly know what the problem is with the tyres, but the feeling is not the same as last year and we have not been able to point out a single element that is wrong with the car. I think it is coming from many different things. We still have a strong team, with the same people that won championships last year, and a strong engine. We are looking at many different questions. When can we answer them? We cant say at the moment. We dont have any time scale, but we are working very hard.
Q: Thanks, Heikki. Robert, it has been a very good start to the season for BMW Sauber, but what about your own start?
Robert Kubica: Not so good, really. I had one retirement and then finished last in Malaysia, which is not as we were expecting - or at least not what I was expecting.
Q: Have the problems been solved?
RK: Well, there is a problem and I think everyone in our team realises there is a rear-axle problem, which we hope to resolve because it has cost me quite a lot of points in the opening two Grands Prix. I finished in Malaysia but at a really slow pace. The car was really difficult to drive - it wasnt possible to get it stopped before any of the corners. I couldnt make any apices and braking even 30 or 40 metres early was very difficult. In Australia I showed strong pace all race until my failure. Im not worried about performance because Nick has shown the cars potential. In Malaysia I was the only one who could stay close to the pace of McLaren and Ferrari until qualifying, when we had a problem with our timing. The pace was there but we have some problems that need resolving.
Q: How do you feel you have progressed as a driver since last year?
RK: It was quite difficult at the beginning of this season because of the switch to Bridgestone, because the tyres work differently. Set-up is different and the driving style is different, but I was very happy about our pace in Australia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, both races went in the wrong direction.
Q: Jarno, is it fair to say that performances so far have been better than expected?
Jarno Trulli: Yeah, winter testing was a little bit difficult, as was last season, but nevertheless we are always positive and thats a help. In Australia and Malaysia we did quite a good job. We managed to get the best of the car and qualified two cars in the top 10 for both races, which was good, and we also scored points. We can be happy about the general job weve done, but obviously we need to look forward over the whole season and we need to develop the car if we want to get better results.
Q: Is the team capable of a big step forward?
JT: Yes, I think it is capable. It has the potential and the resources are there. We need to see what we can do because the gap to the top teams is quite big and we need to close it. At the moment Ferrari and McLaren are at the top, then BMW is looking very strong, but Williams, Red Bull and ourselves are right behind and fighting hard. We are going to need to make a step if we want podium finishes.
Q: What about Bahrain? Is it likely to be a good circuit for you?
JT: Statistically? No, it hasnt been such a good track. We didnt have such good pace in testing but we have to stay positive and see what we can do. We have to get the best out of the circumstances, qualify in the top ten and try to score some points. We are waiting for a big step in Barcelona, so we have to try very hard.
Q: Lewis, you were clearly delighted to be second in the last race, but perhaps we didnt appreciate how much that took out of you. How exhausted were you at the end? What did you feel like in the press conference?
Lewis Hamilton: I felt fine once I got to the press conference. It was just extremely exhausting defending my second place. If you are on your own in the lead you have a slightly easier time than you do when youre trying to keep your position, especially when there are two extremely quick Ferraris behind you. It was extremely intense and by the end Id run out of drinking water, so it was tough trying to stay ahead of Kimi. It was unlike any other race because it was extremely hot, but Id prepared extremely well and had acclimatised to the hot weather for a couple of weeks. I felt quite emotional, I think. Id worked extremely hard to get that position and to come away with it. Sometimes you might have it taken away from you and fortunately I didnt.
Q: As a young driver coming into a new category, as you are in Formula One, to what extent are you trying to lay your own markers when youre battling against the established front-runners, when it comes to fighting wheel to wheel against drivers such as Felipe?
LH: Ive been fortunate enough in my career that whenever Ive got to a new category Ive usually been able to challenge at the front. To be honest Ive always found that Ive had a decent amount of respect from the other drivers. I havent spent much time on the track with a lot of the other drivers here in F1 and its difficult to know what theyll do and how far theyll go. Youve just got to Each time you go out on the track you start to gain confidence and respect in the other drivers. Ive experienced that in the last couple of races, especially in Malaysia with Felipe. We know where we are and Im sure there will be a lot more tough challenges in future.
Q: As far as we can see you havent made any major errors so far. Do you look back and wonder when you are going to make a mistake? How much pressure is there on you?
LH: As competitors, most drivers find that most pressure comes from within. You really do kick yourself when you make a mistake, so the whole point is preparing yourself well enough and trying to keep yourself in that zone, or whatever you like to call it. So far I havent made a mistake but we all make them trying to push the car to the limit and trying to better ourselves in the race. When you push a car to the limit 100 per cent its inevitable that you are going to make mistakes. Its going to happen at some point. I dont know when, but you try to limit it and Ill try to deal with it the best way I can when it does happen.
Q: Felipe, obviously last weekend was a bit of a funny one. What are your own feelings looking back?
Felipe Massa: I feel something is missing. The first weekend, in Australia, I wasnt very lucky and then last weekend I didnt get a very good start and for sure that was my biggest problem. After that it was just a normal race. I had a chance to try to pass Lewis - and Im not disappointed that I tried. I couldnt manage it, but that wasnt the worst point of the race. That was definitely the start. We see in racing that its very hard to pass and most drivers were sitting behind other cars without any chance to overtake. I saw a chance and I tried. Looking at the pace of Lewis at the beginning of the race, it was my only chance to get the race back. I didnt want to just sit there and wait and finish on the podium, even if it was better than finishing fifth. I took a risk and tried to get the race back. To finish the question, I think something is missing because we have been unlucky in the last two races, so now hopefully we can put everything together.
Q: Some people might say your lack of pace in the last race was a consequence of the change in floor regulations. Is that something you noticed?
FM: For sure not. We tried the new regulation in pre-race testing and the car was exactly the same.
Q: So what are your feelings about this race?
FM: Absolutely positive. We had a very good test here at the start of the season and had a good pace. The car was behaving quite well. Thats a positive. I think we have a good car, a good package and a good team. If something was missing in the first two races, well, it was only two races and there is still a long way to go. Hopefully we can put everything together to be successful next time.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Peter Windsor - Speed TV) Felipe, you say the problem was at the start, but actually what happened at the first corner; obviously Fernando got past but were you also worried about Kimi at that point?
FM: No, actually Kimi was quite safely behind so I saw Fernando, I was for sure more worried about Fernando and in the first corner I just lost the line a little bit as well and then I just gave space for Lewis and that was also the second problem. But the first problem, for sure, was looking to Fernando who was completely beside me but he was inside. I even tried to brake late but when you are inside its much easier. I think the first part of the start was quite good, but as we were pulling up through the gears Fernando was getting closer and closer and then suddenly he was beside me so I was looking at him.
Q: (Peter Windsor - Speed TV) As a follow-up to that, when you were behind Nick Heidfeld for so long, how did the two cars compare, particularly with reference to top speed?
FM: Well, he had good top speed. For me, it was impossible to get closer to try something. When I was behind Lewis, the only way to get very close when I did get very close, is because he made a small mistake in a corner and then I was able to get out of the corner closer to him. But Nick didnt make a single mistake and therefore it was impossible to get closer.
Q: (Heinz Prüller - ORF TV) Felipe, do you think the pole position in Malaysia was on the wrong side of the track because of the grip situation? And how will it be here on Sunday?
FM: In Malaysia, for sure it doesnt count so much because if you look at the cars coming from the right and going to the left but going to the left more at the end of the straight, so I think when you pass the grid, you are more on the right than on the left, or maybe you are in the middle, so the difference there is almost nothing, from one side to the other. Here, for sure, the difference from the left to the right is a big difference because we know that here its quite dirty off-line and the start here on the left is much better.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Lewis, you trained hard all winter and as you said, you went to Malaysia and did everything right leading up to the race. Still, you must have learned something. Did you and your physio perhaps do anything to fine-tune your fitness or your preparation between Malaysia and this race?
LH: No, I was already able to finish the race in Malaysia and I think that was probably the toughest race theres going to be this season, so physically Im not worried, and for sure weve done a little bit of training this week, but you do have to recover, its not all just training and training. Weve done some recovery and weve done exercises to refresh me for this weekend.
Q: (Marco Evangelisti -Corriere dello Sport) Heikki, Felipe and Lewis: this year McLaren is clearly more competitive than the last few championships; Renault the opposite. Is Alonso switching from one team to the other a key factor in this improvement and why?
HK: Obviously, if you ask the question to me, its not a problem. Clearly (the difference in) our pace compared to the front runners is so big - I think the engineers have calculated it at about 1.8 percent in terms of lap time so I dont think even Alonso would be able to overcome that deficit. Thats not what were looking at the moment. Were clearly trying to understand the car better, give it better feeling for the driver, so we are able to push more. Thats my opinion.
FM: I think Alonso, for sure, is a great driver. I think the drivers point of view in terms of developing the car is very important. I think that is important, for sure. But I dont think its just because of Fernando. I think, clearly, Renault has a kind of problem to put everything together in some areas and I think McLaren made a step forwards. Fernando started the testing, just at the beginning of the season, the car was already there, it was ready, so for sure, by then, it was important to develop the car but I think the car was already born. So I think clearly Renault made a step back but they must maybe have a reason, maybe in the tyres or whatever, and McLaren made a step forward. Thats clear. We saw that last year Fernando and Giancarlo were always there. This year, Giancarlo and Heikki are not there any more, so its clear that they have some problems.
LH: I think that whats most important is the transition from Michelins to Bridgestones. For all the teams, apart from Ferrari, its had a major impact on the way the car works and I think Renault have struggled. I think were fortunate to hit the ground running but not have as much of a problem with the tyres. I think Fernandos had a huge impact on the team. His enthusiasm, his experience has definitely brought a lot to the team in terms of developing the car and pushing the team forward. But I think where we have mainly improved is just that the team has really pulled together this year. Even towards the end of last year, theyve really said OK, this is it. We need to develop the car for next year, we want to win. They are all extremely enthusiastic and determined to get the win, they can smell it in the air, so theyve worked extremely hard to make sure that the steps that have been made to develop the car have mainly all been positive and so I think the main improvement has come from the team really: people pulling themselves together, weve got two new drivers, its exciting for the team, new sponsors, so its a whole new package and I think they just all wanted it to go extremely well and smoothly and it has.
Q: (Heikki Kulta - Turun Sanomat) Heikki, things going like this with Renault and McLaren, it seems you are not able to compete to become the rookie of the year. How disappointed are you with that?
HK: Well, of course thats something that would have been nice to achieve and its still possible with many races to go but at the moment, thats clearly not the priority for us. I think the priority for our team is to understand exactly why we are not able to run at the front, and obviously at the same time, we need to keep developing the car like we planned before the year, but then when we find the solutions and Im sure eventually we will find the answers why we are not competing, then we put the problem together to develop the car and if it happens early enough, we will fight back, but honestly, Im not thinking about that at the moment. The priority is to go forward as a team.
Q: (Mark Hughes - Autosport) Robert, in both qualifying sessions so far, youve mistimed your second run. Are there any procedures being put in place for this weekend to stop that happening again?
RK: Well, I hope so, for sure. We were lucky in Australia because I dont think it cost us any positions on the grid but in the case of Malaysia, we paid quite a big price for this mistake. Im pretty sure it was two positions and it might even have been three. Where you start in Formula One is very important, but it didnt make a big difference on how the race went because we faced the problem straight away at the beginning of the race. Of course, we have to take these mistakes as a lesson and dont repeat them again.
Q (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Jarno, following Marcos question about Fernando, you know him quite well, so do you think that hes a key man for McLaren and what is his best quality in the development of the car?
JT: Obviously Fernando has proved that hes a key man in winning races and championships. I agree that the Fernando switch is the not the reason why McLaren is doing well and Renault is doing badly. Its just a case of tyre switching and the McLaren has done better than Renault, for whatever reason. For sure, Fernando now has got experience in developing the car and especially as he has been driving a winning car for the last few years, he knows what it takes to win races, so obviously he can give a direction to the team and he can contribute on many things, on his team-mate, on the team in general, on the performance, on motivating people, because even last Sundays victory motivates the whole team and everybody to push harder on the cars development.
Q: (Jacques Deschenaux - SRG / TSR TV) Felipe, do you think that you could miss Michael during the season in terms of development of the car and have you had contact with him after Australia and Malaysia?
FM: Well, for sure, Michael is already a great driver in terms of development, in terms of how to work with the team but I think were doing a good job. I think the team is really prepared to work, to keep working, to keep developing the car. Im sure were going to have good development from now until the next races and I think the way we are working, even with Kimi, the whole team together, is going really well, so its not because of the last race that we are missing something. I think we are really in the right direction and we need to carry on like that.
Q: (Jacques Deschenaux - SRG / TSR TV) And did you have contact with Michael?
FM: Yeah, I spoke to him before the race and after the last race.
Q: (Dan Knutson National Speed Sport News) May I ask all of you what you think about racing without traction control next year?
FM: I never drove a Formula One car without traction control. It will be quite new for me, but it will be the same for everybody, so we just need to find the settings to make the car more stable, to try and work on the engine, on what we can work, because were going to miss a lot of electronic parts next year, but I dont know how its going to be. So its going to be new for everybody. We just need to find ourselves quickly under the new rules.
LH: I think it will be better. I enjoyed driving GP2 without traction control and it puts more control of the car into the drivers hands, I think. Its not easy driving, its a different driving style, a different technique is required and I think its going to make for exciting racing. You get up the inside of someone, you can really use the power to get yourself past on the exit of corners but then also you have to learn to use your tyres in a different way because obviously the more spin, the more the wear. Its going to be interesting, but obviously were going to have to make a lot of changes to make it safe.
JT: I think its going to be interesting and definitely better. From my point of view, the more you give the car back to the driver, the better it is, or the better it is for me. I feel like Im more in charge of doing things. At the moment, the cars are too easy. Im really in favour of it.
RK: Well, I think it will be same for everybody, so everybody will have to adapt a bit their driving, a bit the cars, a bit the set-up to do this. Now Formula One cars are built with this and in some ways, we know we have this, so we choose some different way, maybe for next year but we will know this and we cannot rely on traction control.
HK: I think its absolutely the way to go. Lets just stick in a third pedal, a clutch pedal under your feet and put in the old H-box; thats the way to go in F1!
Q: (Peter Windsor - Speed TV) Felipe, you said that you spoke to Michael or he spoke to you after the Malaysian Grand Prix. Can I ask what he said?
FM: No. Its confidential. Hes an important part in the team, so now we just work together like we dont say what we say with the engineers, but it was a nice conversation anyway.
Q: (Kevin Garside - The Daily Telegraph) Lewis, I think most people would agree that they have been surprised by your start to the season. Have you been surprised by it, and do you feel that youve adjusted in this company and do you feel that youve gained the respect of your rivals as a result of the start that youve made?
LH: I think for sure anybody would be surprised in my position, firstly to be given the opportunity to be with such a great team. For sure it was a surprise but Im privileged to be where I am. I think I know the guys here quite well over the last few years, and I think I already had a huge amount of respect for them already, so I think for sure, as weve got into the race and weve been out on the track, your friendship builds and your respect for each other grows. I think it has been tough and I think Ive had luck on my side, Ive been in the right place at the right time and done a good job, but so has the team.
Q: (Flavio Vanetti - Corriere della Sera) Lewis, how close to your first victory do you feel you are?
LH: I think thats a difficult question to answer. I think you have to keep things in perspective. Yes, I have had two podium finishes but I am still a rookie, I still have a lot to learn. I know it may not particularly look like it but theres a huge amount for me to learn from Fernando, from the team, different tracks that I havent been to, theres going to be some major challenges for me this year that can take me by surprise or I might be fortunate enough to prepare for them better than other people may have and it might go smoothly. Im pushing, Im working as hard as I can. It may be this weekend, it may be the last race of the year, it may be next year. Its difficult to know.
Q: (Ottavio Daviddi - Tuttosport) Lewis, you have done two fantastic races; do you expect to make a mistake in one of the next races?
LH: Lets say Im not planning to make any mistakes, as we said earlier on, thats not the expectation. I am working as hard as I can to make sure I make as few mistakes as possible because you have very little opportunity in this game and its all about maximising your opportunities and Im someone who does that. Im going to try my best.
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) Felipe, at the end of the race in Malaysia, Lewis claimed that he had tricked you into going off when you were trying to get past him, implying that he was late braking and you fell for it and went off. Is that true?
FM: Well, I would do the same if I was in front. I think there we proved that its very difficult to pass in Formula One. I think it also depends on the track. It was not an easy track on which to pass in Malaysia and I think Lewis did the right job. He was fighting for his position and for sure, he would not give me the position, that would never happen. We need to try to go to that position. Unfortunately it was a difficult corner, it was very dirty off-line but it was the only place to try, otherwise I would be sitting behind him and for sure when Lewis would be behind, I would not give him an easy life either. Thats the way it works, so I think he did his job, he did a very very good race and nothing new.
Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times) Did he actually trick you to go off?
FM: No, no, I dont think so
LH: Sorry, can I Id like to change that phrase. I said the wrong thing. I didnt trick him, you cant trick drivers. Were all extremely intelligent, we know what were doing. I think what you try to do when youre out there is its the same when youre behind someone, you try to force them into an error and thats what I tried to do because thats the only way that I could keep ahead of him, especially if hes coming up the inside so I pushed as hard as I could and as we were dicing, I tried to force him into an error which I managed to do. So its not tricking, its .
FM: But this is not dirty driving, this is just normal so