FIA Friday press conference - Australia 27 Mar 2009
Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA
Drivers: Fernando Alonso (Renault), Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Mark Webber (Red Bull)
Q: How have the first official practice sessions been for you? Mark, can you give a rough run down of how it has been?
Mark Webber: It didnt go that well in the first session. We didnt get that many laps in. We had a problem with the seal on the drive shaft and obviously we were pretty keen to do a bit more running in the second session which was going to plan until we had another small problem with the exhaust. Certainly not ideal in terms of reliability today, but not too bad pace-wise when we are out there. We will see how it goes for the rest of the weekend but reasonably encouraged. I have not really had a decent look at the times to be honest because I had to come straight here, so I dont know what else went on with other people, but we got on okay.
Q: Sebastien, how was your first day?
Sebastien Buemi: Everything was new for me today and I had to discover a lot of things. But I would say that the first practice went quite well and we did a lot of laps. You have got to learn the circuit as it is quite tricky out there. In the second session we had some small issues, but in general I am quite happy with how it went. I still need to learn a lot of things, so for the moment we are working hard and we will see what we can achieve tomorrow.
Fernando Alonso: It was fine. Obviously the first day is always difficult starting the championship with many things to discover in terms of the car. It is also the first time we test in warm conditions after being in winter in Europe, so useful information always on Friday. We try to analyse all the information tonight and tomorrow and hope to have a better car. That is quite normal between Friday and Saturday, we test a couple of things overnight.
Lewis Hamilton: My day has not been too bad. It is great to be back. Obviously we are not as quick as we would love to be but we are working very hard and we got though quite a good programme and made some decent steps for us at least. Dont really know what everyone else is doing on the track but I am happy with what we have done today.
Q: Lewis, we heard you say that the car was bottoming all the time and was really very difficult to drive.
LH: Yeah, it is a very bumpy track, so I think at the time we were just a bit too low. Thats what happens when you are on heavier fuel, so we will make some changes to make sure that doesnt happen anymore.
Q: You were very quick on the straight as well, fastest by about two or three kpm. Does that suggest you are not running a lot of downforce?
LH: No, it just means we have got a good Mercedes Benz engine.
Q: But where is the car lacking as testing has not been particularly good?
LH: In general it is a good car, it is just general lack of grip everywhere pretty much. It is not particularly one area of the track, it is everywhere. We cannot carry the speeds through the corners that we would like. It is predominantly aero and we are working very hard. We have made some steps forward with it and for sure the gap to the others is nowhere near as big as it was back in Barcelona but we have still got a long way to go. The guys back at the factory are working very hard to rectify that. There is no quick fix. It is going to take some time.
Q: Were you still trying new bits today? Is there still a flow of bits coming from the factory?
LH: No, today we didnt try any new bits. We had everything we needed on but I am sure over the course of the first few races that there will be some new bits coming.
Q: How much were you using KERS today and how much were you adjusting the front wing?
LH: I didnt use the front wings, it wasnt beneficial to me today as I didnt need it. With the KERS we use it. You use it over a lap. On the longer runs it is learning how to manage it but we dont seem to have any problems with that.
Q: Fernando, same question to you. How much were you using the front wing adjustor and how much were you using KERS?
FA: Same answer. KERS every lap and the front wing I didnt touch it today.
Q: Do you think you might use it more in the race?
Q: How different did the car feel today compared to testing?
FA: No big difference. I think every track is a bit different and you need to adapt the set-up a little bit to the track and also to the conditions. Today it was very windy and we expect some windy conditions for tomorrow and Sunday, so we need to accommodate a little bit to that and we need to do small set-up changes also for that. It was the same in the winter from Portimao to Barcelona to Jerez, always different tracks. Some of them a little bit bumpy, some of them slow speed corners or high speed corners, so small things that you always adapt to the track and today we tried to work on that. We came from a set-up more or less similar to what we thought was the right one from the last test in Jerez and regarding last years set-up here as well with last years car, so between everything we choose our set-up and now we are just tuning a little bit.
Q: For the first time here you have run late afternoon at the sort of time the race is going to be run. What was the visibility like, particularly going down into turn three?
FA: To be honest, it was a little bit worse than practice one and compared to last year as well as the sun is quite low at this time. It is a little bit worse but it is not a big problem and hopefully it will be fine for everyone, but there is no doubt that it is better at 2 oclock for us in terms of visibility.
Q: Is it a problem in terms of braking points for example, as sometimes it is in shadow and sometimes it isnt?
FA: No, but as I said, because it is that low in terms of looking to the mirrors and some of the corners you dont see as clearly as you see at 2 oclock in P1. But it was not a huge problem and it will be fine, I am sure.
Q: When there are loads of cars around you is that going to be an issue in the race?
FA: Hope not. If you have all the cars behind you it is even better, so that is what we have to try.
Q: Sebastien, what has been the biggest surprise about F1 for you now that you are actually taking part in the session as you have been doing GP2 and been in the paddock a lot and you were the medical car driver for three races last year.
SB: I would say that there is quite a bit of difference, but in a weekend like that everything goes fast even if we think we have got three hours of testing. But with all the stuff we have got to test you need to keep your head cool and analyse everything. We didnt do so much testing with the new car, so for us it was like a proper testing today. It is going to be a test for us all weekend, so we are going to test all the stuff on the car and try to understand it as we didnt run much in Barcelona. But I would say everything goes fast and you need to analyse everything.
Q: This is one of not very many circuits you dont know. I guess the medical car experience was quite useful.
SB: Yeah, it was useful at the end of the season on the last couple of circuits. This circuit was new to me. It is not a street circuit, but it is not a proper circuit, so it is really green and you have got a big improvement in the first session, so you need to understand well if it is what you change on the car or if it is the circuit or if it is yourself, so you have got to analyse everything.
Q: But you feel you have made a fairly good transition from GP2 to Formula One?
SB: We had slick tyres in GP2, so it is not such a big change anymore. In GP2 you work with one engineer and you work with like 15 in F1, so it is bit more tricky, but I would say that driving the car is not such a big difference. It is a faster car for sure and you have got the best drivers in the world, so you have got to be doing everything perfect if you want to be up there.
Q: Mark, your fastest lap time was fourth fastest and the only non-diffuser car in amongst there. What was that lap like?
MW: Pretty good. We did a few laps around it as well but as the other guys said we are chipping away on the car and trying to improve it. We were dealing a little bit with the wind as well and all the normal things that you have on a track like this on a Friday, so it wasnt too bad a lap. I was a bit little surprised to be there to be honest but we will see what fuel loads people run tomorrow.
Q: Do you think you can do it again tomorrow?
Q: Why not?
MW: Because other people will go faster, I think.
Q: Hows the leg holding up?
MW: Very good, very good. Luckily it doesnt give me much grief in the car. The biggest challenge is walking up and down this pit lane but Im OK with it. I just have to rest it each evening as best as I can. Ill be fine after the first few races; come Shanghai I should be pretty good.
Q: Its taken quite a recovery. It must have been a very bad break.
MW: Oh yeah, my leg was snapped in half, so it takes a while to recover. It has surprised me how long but the guys say thats exactly how much time it needs. Its quite a big break. Ive had good people around me and Ive had very, very good advice at crucial times to get the right decisions made at the right time to get the other surgery done and go from there, which was very, very important for me because we didnt have much time. Also with the testing, I wanted to make sure I didnt interfere with the testing with the team, in terms of not being able to do the work that I should have been able to do. Yeah, I was lucky to have good people and here we are.
Q: These reliability issues that youve had today, have they come as a surprise or have you had those sorts of problems in testing as well?
MW: The amount of them, yeah. Obviously Sebastian also had a few today as well, so that was quite a few for the amount of laps we did for both cars in terms of the little niggles that we had and it only takes a small niggle to be a show-stopper on Sunday, so we want to make sure that theyre not there. Of course, winter testing doesnt go without its problems, but we were a bit surprised by some of the problems, yeah.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Frederic Ferret - LEquipe) Fernando, were you happy with your first day, and what are you expecting in qualifying and the race?
FA: I think Im happy but I could be happier. Pace-wise, its difficult to understand. Its only Friday but we were tenth in the first session, twelfth in the second, so obviously its not the perfect position from which to fight for podiums, for wins etc. So hopefully tomorrow we need to find some more performance in the cars, to be a little bit quicker and we cannot afford to start the race in the middle of the pack if we want to score some good points,. So tomorrow expectations for qualifying are more or less the same and we will try to start the race in the top six, the top eight. If not, I dont think we can be too happy if we start behind those positions.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Question for all of you: in the first seven positions there are all the cars with the diffusers except Marks, supposedly not within the spirit of the regulations. Do you fear that it could be a hard championship for those who dont have the diffusers, that it could be two championships in one?
MW: No one here knows the ultimate pace until we get going on Sunday and even then we might see some teams not showing their full pace on Sunday if theyve got something up their sleeves. I think that they will be very, very keen to keep this advantage if they can, legality-wise, which so far they seem to have done. But I dont fear that there will be two different championships in the race. I think it will still be a competitive Grand Prix and that should not get in the way of what the ruling is. Im sure it will be looked at a bit further, by the sounds of it, and we will go from there. As you all know, the drivers cant do much about this stuff, its up to the boffins to sort it out.
Q: (James Allen - Financial Times) For Fernando and Lewis, the two drivers using KERS here, is it simply a case of using it in one place on the track or have you been experimenting today with perhaps using it out of some corners and trying different things with it and if so, would you be able to share some of your discoveries?
LH: I dont think its rocket science. Its the same for all of us, we use it as much as we can and we have 400 kilojoules, around six and a half seconds, I guess, to use over a lap, so you generally try to use two seconds or a second a time out of every corner if you can use it but you have to spread it out throughout the lap.
FA: Same. Obviously for optimum lap time normally we follow the instructions of our team, our engineers which is to use a little bit of KERS every place they tell you. But we still have the capacity or the possibility of using all the KERS in one place but that will be maybe more in a race situation if you are fighting with someone, if you really want to attack in one manoeuvre, try to overtake him. Maybe you save all the 400 kilojoules for one time but this is something that we will discover in the race for the first time because in testing its different and it will be the first time that we race with KERS obviously and it will be a new experience for everybody.
Q: (Ian Parkes - The Press Association) Lewis, youve been used to running at the front in Formula One for the past two years now, pretty much throughout most of your career. Im just wondering how difficult it might be for you in the short term until you hope the car comes good, running towards the back of the pack, midfield if thats the way its going to be, looking at the practice today.
LH: I think its tough for anyone, but weve got a lot of experience as a team, but personally Ive got a lot of experience of running at the back in other categories, so its not completely new to me and we have had some races where I have been a bit further back but for sure were not in the place where we would rather be but were working extremely hard, as hard as we can and its actually a good opportunity for us to try and turn it round. Weve got a steep, very tough challenge ahead of us but if anyone can do it, I believe my team can and so weve just got to remain positive and keep pushing.
Q: (Mike Doodson) Mark, I understand that marshals have had to take special precautions if they are handling a car thats fitted with KERS. I believe this involves heavy gloves. I wonder if you, your fellow drivers, the GPDA are concerned at all about the possibility of the delays that this could create in intervening if theres a serious incident.
MW: Thats a very good question. Obviously if there is a large accident, like Roberts for example, and we need pretty good medical attention and very fast, it has been mentioned a while ago that we would like it to be addressed. Theyre pretty sure that they have the right type of gloves to still do the procedures that they need to do quite quickly, the important procedures that they need to do at the scene of such an accident, to make sure everythings OK, so hopefully we dont have to experience that at all. As usual, you do gain knowledge and experience sometimes on the front line, so we will see how it goes. I think that theres not many cars with KERS anyway, so hopefully they will have some common sense that they know that the cars with KERS, the cars without KERS, can be treated a bit differently in the case of a panic or an emergency.
Q: (Mike Doodson) I dont want to put you on the spot, but there was an incident in Adelaide involving Mika Hakkinen in the nineties when it was instant intervention which actually saved his life. Presumably you have that sort of thing in mind as well.
MW: Of course, yeah. Now we know what procedure Mika Hakkinen had on the day and that was of course what saved his life very quickly. The FIA and the medical team and all those people understand what we need in a very critical situation like that, so they need to be aware of it and deliver for us, of course, they need to do it. I bloody hope so.
Q: (Chris Creswell - Herald Sun) Ive just been reading your diary, Sébastien, its very funny. Did you really get your Toblerone chocolates taken off you by the customs?
SB: No, it was a joke.
Q: (Chris Creswell - Herald Sun) And that $350 taxi fare was a joke too?