Australian GP: Thursday Press Conference
DRIVERS: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Narain Karthikeyan (HRT), Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Mark Webber (Red Bull)
Q. A question to you all starting off with your feelings about your preparations so far. How do you think testing has gone? How do you feel coming into this race? Pastor, your debut about to take place in a couple of days time, how are your preparations before your first grand prix?
Pastor MALDONADO: For sure it was so great especially the pre-season. My first time with the team, working hard, looking forward to the first race especially. It was not so easy, but it was quite tough, quite difficult to adapt myself to a new team, new cars, everything, new rules but I really feel ready to do the race and start the championship.
Q. Narain, bit of a difficult question for you really.
Narain KARTHIKEYAN: Yeah, we had some mileage in the old car but the new car, we will have to see how it goes tomorrow as it will be the first time. An uphill task but I will go with the flow and see what happens.
Q. Has it been difficult coming back into Formula One for you?
NK: Yeah, things have changed a lot. The old car wasn't so bad so I will perhaps adapt quickly and that's the plan. I have a good team-mate in Tonio Liuzzi so I think it is easy to benchmark and see where I am.
Q. Mark, the car seems to have been quick and very reliable so far.
Mark WEBBER: Yeah we have had a pretty smooth winter. It is always easy to have niggles and little problems with it being a completely new concept, new regulations as well so the team have done a good job to get on top of those to a degree. There are always niggles here and there but in general a pretty smooth winter. Both myself and the team put a lot of effort in, also Seb (Vettel) to make the most of the limited testing days that we have. We couldn't quite achieve the mileage Ferrari did. They did a good job in terms of mileage but in general it went pretty well for us getting an understanding of the new regs. Bit of rain here and there in the testing but generally it was a good winter for us and we will find out in the next few weeks where we are performance wise so the first three races will be interesting.
Q. Kamui, Sauber had a lot of red flags, more than anybody else. Thirteen red flags during testing. That was not a record I expect you wanted, but also the car was quick in Sergio Perez's hands in the last test.
Kamui KOBAYASHI: Yeah I think the car's performance overall was quite okay. In the beginning we had quite a lot of car issues but I think winter testing was going quite well as we had a lot of problems. Last year we didn't have any problems in the winter tests but then we had trouble during the season. I think it was a good sign. I hope. All the testing went quite well especially the last Barcelona test so I think we are looking quite well. Not fighting for the top, just scoring points like last year. I think that was enough for us. We have a new team-mate which is working quite well, I am very happy. Very difficult situation with tires but I think we still improve a lot.
Q. Fernando, your preparations. More mileage than any other team.
Fernando ALONSO: Yeah, it was okay for us. Winter has been smooth for us as well with not particularly big problems, always new challenge when the regulations change so you need to adapt your car to the new regulations. There are many things to test and many things to learn about the new things but I think we did enough mileage to understand more or less everything that we introduced this year. Finally we are racing, as from the last race of last year it has been a lot of months. Also the extra 15 days with Bahrain cancellation it was not the best thing so finally we are racing again and we are very happy to be here.
Q. Another question to you all. Your expectations this year. Fernando, The President has set the bar pretty high for Ferrari hasn't he.
FA: Well I think if you race for Ferrari there is no other goal than fighting for the World Championship. I think that is the history of Ferrari, the power of Ferrari as well and I think this team and this history around us is about passion, about motor racing and about winning so that is our aim, that is our goal for the 2011 campaign, trying to fight for the World Championship. At the end you can win, you can lose. It depends how competitive you are. It depends on many other factors as well, but we need to be there and I am sure we will be until the last moment.
Q. Kamui, you are leading the team with a newcomer so it is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders as you come into this season. What are your aims?
KK: I think it is a really different situation for myself. I have a lot of responsibility, but I think this is the way we have to be. Okay, we have a lot of pressure, second year at Sauber, a very difficult winter because we have a lot of trouble. Finally we found quite good pace so I am very happy and now we start to race. The aim is to score points. Still we know we are not a top team. If we can score points, that is a good goal for us.
Q. Do you think you can be the best of the midfield teams?
KK: Yeah, we must try. We are quite confident so we will see.
MW: We are just a drinks company but in the end we had a pretty good season last year so hopefully we can build on what we did last year. We have some sensational rivals, like Fernando touched on. The red guys are a phenomenal team, phenomenal history and that's what gives us great rewards to come out and compete against those guys. The team again has a high bar set in terms of looking for championships. Both of them would be nice but again as we saw last year if we go to the end it can go either way. That is the goal for the team.
NK: The car was designed very late and we have some clever people in the team, Geoff Willis is the main man behind the new design of the car, so as the season progresses and when updates come we should be in a reasonable position. It is easy to sit here and say we want to be the best of the new teams but Lotus has made a big step forward. Anyway we will go with the flow and it is an important year for me with the Indian Grand Prix. As you know motorsports in India is going to grow a lot. I am looking forward to it so hopefully we will have a reasonable year.
Q. Pastor, your first grand prix season. What are you looking for?
PM: To finish the race first of all. To get the maximum out of the car and, for sure, to be in the points. I think we have all the potential to be there and to improve race-by-race during the season. I am quite confident even because my team-mate is so experienced, so quick so I think we can improve together during the championship.
Q. Finally, to all of you, your thoughts on this race itself. Pastor, have you had a look around the circuit? What have you seen so far?
PM: It is great, fantastic circuit. I love Melbourne. I think I will enjoy my weekend here.
Q. Have you done any laps on simulator or whatever?
PM: Yeah, sure.
Q. You know it pretty well already?
PM: Yeah, I am ready.
Q. Narain, you were here before of course?
NK: Yeah, been here before. Good memories, I like the track and hopefully we finish the race. First qualify and then finish the race, we will see.
Q. You qualified 12th in 2005. That is going to be difficult to beat?
NK: Yeah, I think for sure it is going to be hard. The Bridgestones that year were working well and it was wet and damp and everything so we got in a lap. This year will be difficult for sure.
Q. Mark, always massive expectations.
MW: Yeah, well I'm lucky to have a home race. We have several drivers on the grid who have a home race. It is always a good atmosphere whether it is in Brazil or Spain or the UK with Jenson (Button) and Lewis (Hamilton). Happy to be here. It's always a good event in terms of the race, it is always a little unpredictable, always a few safety cars here and there so looking forward to it.
Q. Front row last year but that fifth place still remains the best finishing position.
MW: Yeah, I'll try and improve.
Q. Extraordinary enough your team-mate hasn't seen the checkered flag here
MW: Yeah well sometimes it is just tracks isn't there. I think Rubens (Barrichello's) record in Brazil is pretty tough. Some tracks are just like that for drivers so hopefully we have a clean weekend and get a result here.
Q. Kamui, you can improve on last year?
KK: I think so. Last year I didn't have much mileage as I had front wing failure after just five corners. This year I hope we can find the checkered flag. I know the track very well, I love this track, it's a really nice track so let's see. But with new Pirelli tire compound I don't know how it's goes as it is a different tarmac. it is going to be very tough but I think it is a very exciting place here.
Q. Fernando, a win here and a second place and never any retirements in nine races. That has got to be a pretty good record.
FA: Yeah, I love the place. I love Melbourne, but not only the track. I think the atmosphere around the grand prix is fantastic. All the people here enjoy the whole weekend, not only the race as there are more events around the race on Sunday. They enjoy from Friday onwards and we do as well. Obviously, first race of the championship is always very exciting, always some strange races with retirements, with safety car as Mark said. Sometimes it is a race to survive in a way, the first race of the championship. We will try to do our best, hopefully score some points and start the season in a good way and in a very good atmosphere.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Matthew Cochinos - PitPass) Fernando and Mark. The change in tires this year is going to change the strategy of the race. How do you see that panning out given that we don't necessarily understand the way the race is going to shape up like we have previously.
MW: Well there is a lot of questions for us to answer this weekend. We have done mileage in the tires in the winter. They have given us a rough idea of what we should expect, but we need to go racing to see how best to adapt that within a grand prix race. We have got a pretty good idea what the tires are going to do for us, but how do we integrate that into a grand prix with pit-stops, strategy, things like that. There are some things which are not going to be a surprise probably and that is going to be the tire performance, but it is how we are going to skin the cat in the grand prix in terms of where you elect to pit, how you are going to tackle the grand prix in terms of the strategic side. Those are going to be the things that need answering and then I suppose a trend will start from this race and in subsequent events after this we will get a trend on how grands prix will unfold in a dry situation.
FA: Same. I think there are many things to learn this weekend. We've just tested with these tires. For sure there is a new way of doing the races in terms of strategy, so let's say that a new Formula One is starting here in Melbourne in terms of the strategy point of view, but we need to learn from here and keep all the new things for the coming races but this is like a new one and we need to be very focused, very concentrated on the strategy because I think it can play a big part of the race result. On the other hand, maybe qualifying on Saturday has a little bit less value compared to last year, because on Sunday there will be more things to come, more factors on the track.
Q. (Livio Orricchio - O Estado do Sao Paulo) About the tires again, the weather forecast predicts maybe rain until Saturday and then sun on Sunday. In the winter tests, the maximum asphalt temperature was 27 as far as I remember. Maybe you face a situation of 40 degrees of asphalt for the first time here in race conditions; how will you face it?
MW: I don't know if the track will be forty on Sunday , but I don't think there will be too many surprises on Sunday in terms of tire behavior. We have a very reasonable idea of what's going to happen, give or take a little bit. But maybe at Sepang we need to get a little bit more interested in track temperatures but here, it looks pretty sensible.
Q. (Phil Brannigan - Motor Sport News, Australia) For Mark and Fernando, there's been a lot of talk about the new regulations this year and in particular the rear wing. Do you expect that, as senior drivers, you will have some sort of dialogue as the races unwind about how that's going to be implemented in future races?
FA: I think everyone will have a different opinion. In my case, I don't think there is any particular problem with the new rules so all the things we need to do on the steering wheel, they are part of our job. We are professional drivers and we need to understand between us and our team, to make the most comfortable way of using all the new things. If you have no time to do all the things on the steering wheel, you don't do it, it's not a mandatory thing to do. It will take time and I think that for us, we did a lot of mileage in the winter. I think I can say that for Felipe and me we can get used to the new things and it comes automatically the things that we need to do on the steering wheel, corner after corner, and I don't see any particular problem or anything to discuss in the near future.
MW: I don't think it's too bad for racing. Obviously we have to see how the wing will go in terms of overtaking for the show. I'm a little bit surprised that we have everything at our disposal for qualifying because it doesn't really add to the show, it doesn't really add to overtaking because obviously it's not that type of session, so for us to have to get used to the overload, all that sort of stuff, it's just an added bit of tummy-tapping, head-rubbing ,multi-tasking which is a fraction unnecessary for qualifying, maybe, but I think for the race we need to see how it's going to work because we're going to use it a lot less in the race. The rear wing is not going to be used anywhere near as much. You have to understand that in qualifying we're using it every single time we're at full throttle so it's pretty busy. I'm on for a challenge. Both Fernando and I have done Formula 3000 races round Monaco with a gear stick so we can drive with one hand, this is not the problem. It's just that I think that some corners, like Eau Rouge and some of these other places, if you have to loosen your grip or do something different with the steering wheel; it's not the way you would normally do things. I think Ayrton Senna hung onto the steering wheel with both hands, even in those type of corners, so you need to be reacting, getting ready for anything that might happen. So we will see. It's just that sometimes new things come along and you need to adapt. I'm not over the top with them, but that's the way it is, get on with it.
Q. Can you envisage how many times you might use the rear wing during qualifying, in one lap?
MW: Yeah, every straight.
Q. (Tony Lopez- La Vanguardia) Question to Kamui and the other drivers if they want: do you think that the GPDA or the FIA or whatever should organize any action of solidarity with the Japanese people?
KK: We definitely need help from the world in this situation. The situation in Japan is really bad. Anyway, the GPDA, the FIA or whatever, if they can help us we do really need help because the situation is so bad, so many people with no house, no food. The situation is not easy. But at the same time, New Zealand had an earthquake as we had three weeks ago as well, it was a big one. Two countries have a big problem, so I think that at this moment we have to think what we can do. We cannot do anything when an earthquake or a tsunami is coming. The people have to understand that it's not something we have done wrong, this is an earthquake which we cannot control – the tsunami as well. I think we need to help each other. I hope they can help us.
Q. (Andrea Cremonesi - La Gazzetta dello Sport) Fernando, could you already estimate how many laps you could do with the hard and soft tires here ? And how much is your feeling with these tires?
FA: I think the number of laps is impossible to predict right now but I don't think there is a big problem because it's the same tires for everybody, so after qualifying or after tomorrow's practice we will try to understand a little bit better how the strategy can work on Sunday but I don't have any particular worries on that. The feeling with the tires is OK, obviously. It's a new tire, as I said before, compared to last year, a new way of approaching the weekend, a new way of approaching the strategies etc but it's something that we've been practicing all winter and we will have more experience after race one now and it will be OK, and hopefully more fun for the spectators.
Q. (Yoris Fioriti – AFP) I know you're going to tell me that we don't know the values of the teams now because we haven't had a race yet, but do you think that Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg, perhaps a Renault driver and their teams could be title contenders too, which means that we will have more than Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren as title contenders?
MW: I think the Renault and Mercedes are fast, yeah, they're not hanging around. They've done a good job in the winter. Renault have always been there or thereabouts. Obviously we should also touch on the fact that it's a big shame this week that we don't have our very popular mate in Robert (Kubica) so we're going to miss him this weekend but I think they will be quick this year. They've got a very experienced team there at Enstone so it will be very interesting. Whether they can put a championship together obviously remains to be seen. Also Mercedes have had a good finish to winter testing and they're going to be winning some races for sure this year. They've showed good reliability so there's no reason why they couldn't challenge for the title along with McLaren and Ferrari.
FA: Yeah, I agree. Now it's impossible to say what is the order or who is competitive and who isn't but before race one, on paper there are six teams, five teams able to win races and to fight for the championship. After three or four races you see much better that maybe only two or only three can really fight for the championship. I think the important thing for each team and for us especially is to do well and to be competitive in these three races and can be in that smaller group of two or three teams after three or four races, but at the moment everything is very open, I'm sure.
Q. (Jens Wolters – ARD Radio) Mark, how was yesterday's barbecue and do you have a special recipe for this season?
MW: Well, I'm pretty good on the barbecue, actually. I do it quite often. Unfortunately, living in the UK I don't get a big chance to get it out but I have a few Aussie mates round and we always have the barbie and it's second nature for me. My father taught me at a very young age how to handle the barbecue so it's easy. The recipe this year? A similar season to last year with a slightly different finish. That would obviously be a good season; build on what I did last year - obviously a lot of highlights for me - and go from there.
Q. (Matthew Cochinos - PitPass) Narain, you've been out of Formula One for a few years. You're coming back in with a car that you've not tested. What are your concerns for the pace of the car and is it likely that we'll see you on the grid come Sunday afternoon?
NK: Yeah, of course that is a concern, but we believe the car is a good step forward with the Williams rear end and everything else so it should be a positive step, at least on paper but until you drive you never know. We will see what happens. I can go on and on and on, but only when we drive on the track will be know where we stand.
Q. (Yoris Fioriti – AFP) Fernando, what do you expect of your teammate this year? Do you think you will still be driver number one at Ferrari or due to the change of tires could the fight be stronger between the two of you?
FA: I think that there wasn't a number one last year, there isn't a number one this year. I think we all try to do our best. I think Felipe has been very strong all his career and he was also strong last year. I think that he was maybe losing too many points in the end, also with some unlucky moments. I remember Singapore, a very good weekend for our car and he had a mechanical problem in qualifying and started last so it's not only the pure pace of the performance, it's just also some other factors to fight for a championship, so I expect Felipe to be very strong and a title contender and hopefully between us both scoring many points for the team, because the Constructors championship is a big thing for Ferrari.
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