FIA post-race press conference - Japan 12 Oct 2008
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
1st Fernando Alonso (Renault), 1h30m21.892s; 2nd Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber), 1h30m27.175s; 3rd Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), 1h30m28.292s.
Q: Fernando, that was a great Grand Prix win, a fantastic start, lots of action in front of you at the first corner, let's talk about that, and then talk about that great race-defining second stint.
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, the start was probably the most exciting part of the race, for sure. I saw the people in front of me going quite aggressively into turn one. I myself locked the front tyres and I went a little bit wide. But I think it surprised us in a way as with the cold temperatures most of us started with the prime tyres and then we locked the tyres and everybody went long, so I took the benefit of that and I put myself behind Robert and from that point the race was a little bit easier. Then in the second stint we managed to have some free air, no one in front of us, the car was very nice to drive again and I was pulling a nice gap and maybe part of the victory was in the second stint.
Q: You took on less fuel in the first stop, so perhaps that was influential in how the car handled?
FA: Yeah, obviously we were P2 when we stopped for the first time, so I asked the team if we can manage to exit the pits in front of Robert because I wanted some free air in the second stint, so they had to give me less fuel to do that but the problem is you need to open a gap in the second stint. Sometimes you can do it, sometimes you cant but today the car was perfect and I was able to do it.
Q: I guess Robert got in front of you at the first corner when you locked up?
FA: Yeah, he went a little bit wide and then I saw the action in front me, everybody going straight, so I backed off a little bit and Robert overtook me. Then I was trying not to lose too much of a gap to Robert in the first stint and then control the race until the end as we did not know exactly how the soft tyres would perform in the last stint, so as many seconds as possible you need to be comfortable.
Q: Talk a little bit now about the feeling within the team and after the win in Singapore, Renaults first back to back wins since 2006. How do you feel right now?
FA: Well, again difficult to believe. Obviously the Singapore win was completely unexpected and after a very sad Saturday, coming from a retirement in qualifying, there were some special conditions with the safety car etc. but today we had nothing and we won again in a circuit that maybe is not particularly good for our characteristics. I cannot believe it right now but obviously back to back wins is a very nice feeling and the team did a great job to improve the car. We are now maybe just behind Ferrari and McLaren and this is completely amazing.
Q: Robert, what about the first corner from your point of view?
Robert Kubica: I didnt manage a good start. I had some slipping clutch in the initial phase of the start, so Trulli went by. I think it was Trulli, one of the Toyotas. Then I decided to go on the inside, I braked really too late and if someone had managed to take the apex I would have for sure hit him but suddenly everybody was straight. I locked the front wheel quite a lot but managed to stay on the track, I think I was the only one who did really. Okay, I didnt take the apex but I was still on the track and managed to pull out first after corner one. Then I was not really able to pull away, Fernando was keeping the gap and I was trying everything. After the first pit stop he was in front of me. I had a graining problem which influenced the last sector where I was very slow and in low speed corners he was pulling much better traction out of low speed corners and then the last stint it was a great battle with Kimi for three or four laps when I again had very big problems with the graining but then the tyres cleaned out. I managed to pull a comfortable gap of two seconds and thats it.
Q: Talk about the battle with Kimi, especially at turn three.
RK: Yeah, there is no space for two cars to go through there. I was on the inside and I just did not back off and he didnt back off. I managed to stay on the track, but nearly went off, but thats it. I knew I had to survive this four or five laps. I didnt know exactly how much graining there would be but I did survive them. Once the tyres were cleaned out I was able to pull away.
Q: Given where you were in qualifying I imagine this is a great result for you?
RK: Yeah, I think this is much better than the Canada win with a car I think it is not a secret anymore, not the one from the beginning of the season. We didnt improve a lot in the last two or three months, so to be able to finish second on the podium in front of McLaren and Ferrari, to be able to keep quite a good pace in qualifying, is amazing. Again qualifying was crucial. I managed to do a really good result with the car I have and then in the race I managed to keep a consistent pace and with a bit of luck at the first corner finish second. A great result for the team in, I think, a very difficult moment. Everybody is pushing but we cannot find better pace and I think it is a good boost for the last two races as we are still in the fight, so lets try.
Q: How was the first corner from your point of view?
Kimi Raikkonen: I got a pretty good start and got into the first place but then braking into the first corner I was trying to turn in and there was first one McLaren and then a second and I think they both hit me and I had nowhere to go. I needed to go straight and I lost many places and got some damage in the front but luckily enough I was able to get back on the circuit but then I was all the time behind people. I was catching up and getting past some people but then just before the pit stop I was behind Robert and then I was fighting against him and in the last stint I got a few tries to get past him but I always caught him just in the last part of the circuit, the main straight, and he always went on the inside, so I didnt have anywhere to go, so I tried the outside and then the inside and once we were side by side but I knew that if nobody was going to lift in corner three, I had no options than to run off the circuit. I tried but then my tyres started to grain a bit and his started to clean up, so I lost a bit of an opportunity there. It is a bit disappointing what happened in the first corner as we could have had a better result but at least I got to the finish this time and got some good points for the team and we will try to do better next race.
Q: There was some damage to the left front wheel. What did the car feel like in those few laps?
KR: The front didnt feel the same anymore. I think it was Heikki who hit me harder. The front felt quite light, it didnt feel the same as before but I didnt know. I asked if we had damaged something but I couldnt see what happened really. The car was okay but for sure we were missing something as we were not able to be fast enough to catch up with the guys in the front. Just before the second pit stop I was stuck behind, I think, Barrichello for one lap and I lost like a second or something and it was just enough to get me behind Robert after the stop. But in the end it was quite a difficult race but we got third place, so hopefully we can start scoring better from here.
Q: Fernando, your thoughts on how the team feels. Is this the same motivation as in 2006?
FA: Yeah, more or less similar but obviously in 2006 we had the championship battle, so everybody was maybe more concentrated on getting the points and pushing to the limit. This year we keep learning about the new regulations, the new electronics. Again we did improve the management of the tyres quite a lot in the race pace, in the long runs. We understood the problems at the beginning of the season and we concentrated on working on those areas of the car and now the results are coming with improvements in the season, so I am very happy and very proud of my team to have the key to improve all the problems we had. A great job from everybody in the factory and this is the result, these wins are for everybody.
Q: Fernando, how much of a surprise have these two wins been?
FA: A lot, obviously. The first one was a surprise because I started 15th and obviously you never expect to win a race starting in that position. This one is still a surprise as even if I start fourth in a good position we think that we dont have the pace to win the race, so when I found myself second after turn one I tried to be close enough for Robert and then maybe I fight with him for second, third or fourth place, maybe a get the podium after a nice start or whatever. But I realised after the second stint that I had the possibility to win and if I had no mistakes this win will be for me.
Q: Was there a lot of conversation with the pit?
FA: Yes, normally we talk a lot and obviously when we are P1 there is a bit more stress for me and for them as you need to calculate what gaps you need in the pit stop and what pace is good enough and we keep talking but everything was okay. Especially the last 20 laps, after the second stop, we saw that the gap was big enough and we managed to save a little bit of the engine for China and everything was under control.
Q: Give us some idea what the tyres were like during the race?
FA: I had three different problems. The first stint I had huge graining in the tyres, especially the front.
Q: Those were the harder tyres?
FA: Yeah, with the hard tyres. I think the problem was to run too close to Robert in the first three or four laps and I damaged the tyres a little bit too much. In the second stint I was lucky enough to exit the pits in front of him, so I had fresh air and the tyres worked perfectly okay in the second stint. And again in the third stint when we put on the soft tyres we had graining but we knew that. On Friday we had problems with graining with the option tyre and today when we fitted the option tyre there was graining but I think it was the same for Robert, so I think the gap stayed more or less the same, around 10 seconds.
Q: Given the performances in the last two races can you be a contender in the final two races?
FA: I dont know what to say now because I am still thinking not, but my heart says yes. The feeling I have now is that we can do anything because of a circuit like this and we were not too light of fuel. Regarding the laps people stopped today in the first stint, yesterdays qualifying is a real fourth place, so I am still confident for the next two races. Maybe no wins but who knows, maybe podiums are possible now.
Q: Robert can you give an idea of the tyre wear during the race? Was it a similar pattern hard, hard, soft?
RK: We overall had quite a lot of graining problems, already on Friday. Unfortunately yesterday the weather was a bit colder temperature-wise, so we had even more graining problems. Yesterday in qualifying I was struggling to do one single lap without the graining starting already, so I was hoping for real nice sunshine which didnt come. That was quite a big problem. Before the race I was expecting quite a lot of problems with graining but in fact part of the first stint where you accommodate the tyre with the formation lap and with the initial pace which is not really very quick you stress the tyres less and I survived pretty well but I was not able to pull away the gap, so the car was a bit lighter. As soon as we put a lot of fuel on board I had to really push on the out laps as I was fighting with Fernando, so after half a lap I already have graining and he managed to stay in front of me and then I was really struggling I was not able to keep up with the pace with first the front tyres, then the rear tyres. I was playing with the diff to help the problem but it was not enough and on the last stint when Kimi was very close to me I had massive front graining which cleaned up fortunately, otherwise we would have had a very tough last 10 laps. But I managed to clean the tyres and managed to pull away and finish second.
Q: What are your feelings about the final two races and the championship?
RK: My feeling doesnt change. Being leader of the championship after seven races, once you are able to be leader after seven races, you should be able to fight for the championship. Initially, I think I missed a bit of come and go. I was hoping we could be able to fight for the championship. We didnt improve a lot lately with the car, so this didnt help me but still, I think Im 12 points behind the leader. In the last two races everything is possible. Over the last three races - mostly apparent here it shows that everything can be possible. In Monza we had changeable conditions. I started eleventh, I finished third. In Singapore I would easily have finished on the podium, I think. My race was ruined by safety cars, so its changeable. We have to be there and I hope this is a good boost for the last two races and I hope we can find a few tenths which will help me in the battle.
Q: Kimi, the performance seemed to be very much up and down during the race?
KR: Yeah, a bit but then when youre behind people its very tricky, the tyres dont last as well and the car doesnt work as well as if youre on your own. Overall it wasnt too bad, we got six points but we definitely wanted to challenge for the win. It already went away in the first corner when the McLaren came and I had nowhere to go and I had to go straight on and they hit me. After that I was always trying to recover and you know that the people who started behind you often have a bit more fuel, so in this kind of place its hard to improve but we did the best that we could, not as quick in the race as we were hoping but that was the end result today.
Q: What about your battle with Robert and you also had Nelson behind you?
KR: Yeah, I think he caught us because we were fighting together but two or three times I had the chance to get past him, I just caught him in the last part of the straight but he always defended on the inside, so I didnt have much choice. I needed to go outside, try to cut inside. One lap I managed to get on the inside of him on the exit of corner two. I was a bit ahead of him in corner three but he was inside and I was outside, so I knew that if we were both pushing one hundred percent in the corner, I would only have one way to go and that was running off the circuit, so I tried but then after that I got some graining on the tyres and his tyres cleaned up, so the chance was there but I couldnt get by him. It would have been nice to be second but at least we got some valuable points for the team. McLaren didnt score any points and I think we scored seven points, so it wasnt too bad overall. Im definitely a bit disappointed because being in first place in the first corner but then being pushed out didnt help and being in the front could have given us a better result but anyhow, thats racing.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Fréderic Ferret LEquipe) Question to Kimi and Robert: youre still in the battle for the championship, how do you rate your chances?
KR: I dont even know the points situation now. Theres always a chance. Its not going to be easy but we saw today that the guys in front of us were quite excited. Anything can happen, they can crash again and we could end up in front. But Im in the worst position out of the four guys. I saw last year that things can go right or wrong, so we keep pushing and trying.
RK: I think you at least have to try, there is nothing to lose; as Kimi says, everything is possible. I think Kimi showed last year that anything is possible. The difference is that I have two guys in front of me, not one and at normal pace its no secret that we are not as fast as Massa and Hamilton, so life is a bit more difficult but everything can still happen.
Q: (Heikki Kulta Turun Sanomat) To Robert and Kimi: you had a similar fight in Hockenheim with bad tyres. How hard is it to keep Kimi behind and for Kimi: is Robert the most difficult guy to try to overtake?
KR: I think all of them are more or less similar. Some are a bit more aggressive but it depends a lot on how your car is handling at that stage of the race and on different circuits. Sometimes you have a lot of difficulties and sometimes its easier to get past people but I think the differences are not very big and on this kind of circuit, you probably have one or two places to overtake. I couldnt get close enough, early enough. It was a good fight but I lost it, so next time I try again.
RK: From my point of view it was not so easy but I knew that it was only possible for him to overtake me under braking into the first corner. I was trying to exit the last corner as fast as possible to get as much speed as possible but of course with the tow he was catching me. I had quite a lot of problems with graining, so I was hoping the graining phase would soon finish, so I was also trying to clean the front tyres with quite aggressive driving into the hairpin, just to try to pull out of this graining phase. For four or five laps it was very difficult and then I was able to pull away and that was that.
Q: (Juha Päätalo - Financial Times Deutschland) Robert, you said that your car is probably not as fast as Hamiltons and Massas car but todays race showed again that everything seems to be possible with these tyres, especially in the second stint when you could easily match Kimis pace. Do you think thats a possibility for you?
RK: Well, I was able to keep pace with Kimi but I was not able to keep up with Fernandos pace. They were quicker, this time Renault was very strong. We were lucky that Piquet made a mistake in qualifying otherwise he would also have been there. We saw yesterday in qualifying that I just made it into Q2 by two tenths, so the pace was not fantastic. I managed to have really good pace throughout the race with consistent driving, not really exaggerating, just the right amount of pushing and just taking care of the tyres and it worked out. But to be honest, I think in normal conditions its very difficult to beat Felipe and Lewis, but as I said, everything can happen and the last three races in Singapore, Monza and here are good examples.
Q: (Fréderic Ferret LEquipe) Kimi, were you surprised to be doing the same lap times as Robert ahead of you in the second stint? Do you think that had something to do with the damage to the front end of the car?
KR: As I said, we hoped to have a little more speed today. I was catching up sometimes and just as the car started to get a bit better I got stuck behind Barrichello in the first part of the lap. I lost around a second at least. It was a crucial moment. And then at the end, just before the pit stop, I caught up Robert a lot but it was a bit too late. It was a close fight but I just didnt have the speed to beat him today. For sure, we expected to have a faster car in the race but it didnt happen today.
Q: (Livio Oricchio O Estado de Sao Paulo) To all drivers: the stewards decided to give Lewis Hamilton a drive-through penalty for what happened at the start. Do you consider that was fair?
FA: I agree.
KR: I dont know. I didnt see the whole thing. I only saw him when he came up next to me. Im not sure if he hit me or not but they make their decisions, so I have nothing against it.
RK: I dont know what happened in the first corner, so its difficult to judge.
Q: (Michael Schmidt Auto Moto und Sport) Fernando, how much is still missing to Ferrari and McLaren under normal circumstances, in terms of lap time?
FA: I think about four tenths, half a second. The average disadvantage we find OK, there are some circuits where we are a little bit closer, some circuits where its a little bit more than half a second but I think another four or five tenths would put us in a very strong position.
Q: (Erkki Mustakari STT) Fernando, do these two back-to-back victories help you to make up your mind where to drive next season? You said that you will make up your mind after the season is over.
FA: No, no. I said that I would make a decision after Brazil but it doesnt mean that I dont know what to do. I know what to do but I will announce it after Brazil.
Q: (Fréderic Ferret LEquipe) Fernando, how do you rate this victory and was it an easy one?
FA: No, never easy. I think victories are always a combination of things. Obviously we were lucky to be in fourth place yesterday because with some milli-seconds we would have been fifth or sixth and maybe the race was very different. And then the first corner was the key part of the race because the McLarens and the Ferraris were out of (the track at) turn one, so after that my race was with Robert. At this moment I dont think the BMW is maybe as quick as before, so to have to beat Robert was today maybe not easy but hes a friend, so he would slow down if I had the possibility to win!