Melbourne: Thursday Press Conference
Participating: Fernando Alonso (McLaren Mercedes), Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri), Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Alex Wurz (Williams).
Q. Alex, it must be great to get a full time Grand Prix seat?
Alex Wurz: Yes, but hopefully it's the last time in the back row.
Q. You're tall enough to sit in the back row, you see.
AW: OK, if that's the reason, I'm happy to be here. But of course I'm happy to be here, coming back to racing. It's been a few years but somehow they've been erased from my brain and I'm here to attack, same as Anthony next to me. I can't tell you more than that. I'm quite excited.
Q. In fact you haven't raced here since 2000, but you have had a couple of seventh places here.
AW: But this was with the old point system where seventh was the first loser. Anyway, that was some time ago and I've moved on since then. I've had some very interesting years with McLaren where I moved on a lot.
I haven't been away on holiday for six years, I've been driving in World Championship-winning teams, compared myself in long runs and short runs to World Champions, race-winners, future talents and that raises your level. And also I'm mature, so I hope I'm a much stronger guy than I was then.
Q. And testing has been very good, reliability good.
AW: Well, to be honest, I'm always quite harsh on myself, and the team, so you're never happy after winter testing because not one of us here can be, because you've always got one problem. But that's what testing is for -- you're pushing the boundaries, trying to go to the limit, trying to adjust the driving style to the new tyres.
Of course you have to learn about the new car and so on. But generally I think we're in good shape, better than we have been last year at the same time. We only had the first two tests because we stayed in Europe when all the others went to Bahrain where we came straight out of the box when the car was good, long runs looked quite competitive for where we think we can be.
Therefore, I am quite pleased, but in the end, you are never happy. Tomorrow the bullshit stops and the chequered flag drops!
Anthony Davidson: It doesn't drop tomorrow.
AW: Thank-you, a very precise answer!
Q. To be serious, Alex, you stay on Bridgestones this year, but very different Bridgestones to last year, I think.
AW: Yes, it's like a completely new thing. You can't take any ideas, set-ups, directions you had in the past. It's a really different tyre. You have to start from zero, so there's no advantage, in my opinion, for any Bridgestone teams.
Saying that, I think this tyre is quite similar to what Bridgestone had in 2003 and 2004, so I guess guys like Ferrari or Spyker, if there are any engineers left from that time in those teams, they might know a little bit more about weight distribution and how the tyres perform in the race, but I think that advantage has gone already and everyone has basically the same starting point here in Australia.
Q. Anthony, again, a similar situation: you've been around in Formula One for an awful long time, just three races in your career. Is it a relief to be racing?
AD: Yeah, definitely. It's great to be here and knowing that I'm not going to be going away on Saturday. You'll have to stop me from packing my bags from routine.
Q. But the car's fairly late coming to you, isn't it?
AD: Yeah, it is. Obviously we're a small team and we're working flat out to get everything ready. It's not the best situation for a driver to be in by any means but as long as I've got the same car as my teammate then I'm happy.
Q. Is it a problem adapting that car, because it was actually built for Michelins?
AD: The main thing, from a driver's point of view, is lowering your expectation of grip levels. As Alex was saying, it has been quite difficult, over the winter break, and it was good to go to the Bahrain test to have hotter conditions and really see how the tyres perform. The main thing has been lowering your expectation, to less grip.
Q. And what's the big aim in this first race?
AD: To finish it, because I haven't finished one yet, and that's what I want to do.
Q. Robert, welcome back; one or two problems with reliability during testing do you think they've been beaten?
Robert Kubica: I hope so. Definitely the winter was quite difficult for us, but in Bahrain we have finished race distance simulations with both cars so there is some room and possibility that reliability will be good. So the team is confident so I am also confident.
Q. But it's been mentioned that you've perhaps done only 30 to 40 percent of your running so far of your development programme?
RK: Well, we've done less running than we should have done and often the running was interrupted by problems so it was not easy to understand to adapt to new tyres or set-up working and work on driving style which has to be quite different in my case. So it was not easy, but I think we have shown quite good pace and if the car is working we can fight for quite good lap times and make a good pace on long runs so we will see how we will be tomorrow and after tomorrow and then everything will be more clear.
Q. You talk about adapting your driving style; could you just go into that a little bit more?
RK: I think it will be easy to see, during Friday driving it will be easy to see. You have to be smoother, the rear axle is much loser, I'm driving with less steering angle compared with last year, I'm driving with three times less or even more. It's quite a different driving style from my point of view but it seems you have to drive like that with these tyres, at least in our car.
Q. Felipe, this time last year, you were still, what has been described as fast and furious and yet you then made a huge amount of progress. Starting from here, is there still progress to be made?
Felipe Massa: Yeah, for sure. It didn't change a lot, just a bit more experience in a top team like Ferrari. I think it was a great learning year, and also learning how to fight at the front, not just understanding the race and everything, so I am pretty happy the way it's developed so far, so working hard to keep improving race by race.
Q. And yet this hasn't been a good circuit for you...
FM: No, definitely not, so hopefully we can take all the bad luck I've had here in the past to be good luck this year.
Q. Are you aware of the fact that a lot of people say that Ferrari are the favourites?
FM: I think it's normal when you are quick all the time, and I think the winter tests have been very good for us, improving every few days of testing we were stronger and stronger, right up to the last day in Bahrain.
I think it's normal for people to have high expectations, looking at the times and everything. But testing is testing, racing is racing and now is the time that really counts, so hopefully we can remain in the same direction, especially now, starting the first race.
Q. Is there a different feeling at Ferrari, given the changes that have taken place since the end of last season with no Michael, no Ross Brawn, no Paolo Martinelli?
FM: Yeah, for sure there's a big change for us, without Michael, without Ross, without Martinelli but if you look on the other side, everyone who is running the team is very important, as they were last year. The people who built the car last year are the same people who built the car this year.
The people who took a little bit more responsibility were already important last year. I trust the people, I trust the engineers, I trust the team. Everybody is really a hundred percent motivated to keep pushing hard, to keep having the good results Ferrari has always had in the past. So hopefully we can achieve our targets without Michael, without Ross, without Paolo Martinelli. I pretty much think that the people can do the job.
Q. Fernando, a different team for you, a different team atmosphere; what are the changes, do you feel, between McLaren and Renault?
Fernando Alonso: Well, I think it's difficult to compare and even not fair to compare teams. At the end of the day, all the Formula One teams are similar: they are very good, they are very professional, they try to be the best, very competitive people.
At McLaren, I have found a great atmosphere, the people are really very focused on the target to come back with success and to regain the dominant position in Formula One, and I have to say thanks to the team for all the huge work they did in the winter. They have improved and developed the car a lot compared to last year.
They work day and night and I think we arrive here in Australia with a really competitive car and I think we can fight for victory. I feel really really happy with the move and really confident for the championship.
Q. Has it been difficult to unlearn Michelins and to learn about Bridgestones?
FA: Yes, I think there's a big difference in the cars now with the new tyres. I think it's the same for everybody. We've lost grip, performance and as Robert said before, I think the driving style is a little bit more complex and a little bit different.
I think all the Michelin drivers, including me, have been used to them and we accommodate our driving style to suit the Michelin tyres and I think new drivers who have come in this year have a big advantage because they don't have past experience of Michelin tyres, so they don't need to change their mind set.
It has been a very long winter and now finally here we are at the first race and now it's time to put everything on the table.
Q. Well, you won from third on the grid last year, so your feelings this year?
FA: I hope to be first on the grid and repeat the result for sure. To be honest, I've always had very very good races here in Melbourne. In 2005 I started 16th, I think, and finished third. Last year I won here.
But I think this year we arrive with a very interesting championship, very open in the first races, probably. Ferrari has been the strongest, especially the last part of the winter, but last year we saw in some tests that Ferrari was very very quick in August, September and then we arrived at races and everything was really really close between all of us, but as Felipe said before, I think the races are very very different. The important thing is our team will be there in the fight and then it's up to us to do the job.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Salvatore Zanca - Associated Press) Fernando, what is the most important thing in winning your third straight title?
FA: I think everything is important. We talk about the package because everything is important in these days of Formula One. I think the team has to be really focussed and working hard all the championship long and with no mistakes, the driver has to do a perfect job in testing, Friday sessions, in qualifying and races with no mistakes in 17 races and that is not so easy sometimes and the car performance, for sure, is maybe the most important thing.
With the new tyres, I think the team that accommodated the chassis and the aerodynamics to the new tyres maybe will have some advantage so I think everybody is running flat out to find something different compared to the other teams.
Q. (James Allen - ITV) Felipe, from your point of view, have you seen the best yet of Kimi Raikkonen?
FM: I think for sure Kimi is very quick and a great driver and so I expect him to be tough in terms of competition, which I am pretty sure he will be. But testing, as we said before, is testing and now is when it really counts and I am very much looking forward to being competitive as well like I was in the second half of the year with Michael and it is important on the other hand to work well as a team and have the best car that we can (have) and then do the job on the track, the two of us, together with the team and the result in the end is the most important thing and we need to work together to get the result.
I am confident about the team. It is has been a great winter and I am looking forward to the races now.
Q. (Juha Paatalo - Financial Times Deutschland) Fernando, Renault was the team where you grew up as a Formula One driver. McLaren is the team where you start as a two-times world champion. How much does this change the role you have in the team?
FA: Well in some ways, nothing changes and in some other ways there is a big difference in all the technical things maybe when my opinions, it seems, they take care of what I say! Maybe with Renault because we grew up together because when I joined they were fighting for seventh or eighth positions always we grew up together and we understand ourselves maybe more rapidly and with not so much talking.
All this winter I spent a lot of time with the engineers and designers and with everybody in the factory as well just to understand better the car and as I said maybe they were asking me questions that I was really happy to answer because they really take care of what I say. So, that was nice.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Fernando, in the past, teams and drivers tuned their cars to suit one type of tyre, how much compromise will you have to make now to be on two types of tyres during the race?
FA: We will see. To be honest, in all the tests we did in the winter, we didn't find any huge difference between the two types of tyres that we have in some of the tests so to be honest it shouldn't be much of a problem in the races to have different types of tyre. The car should be very similar, no change in balance and maybe two or three tenths slower when you choose the worst tyre in the weekend, but as I say it shouldn't be a problem.
Q. (Mike Doodson) This question is for Robert, Anthony and Alexander – if I were to give you one hundred euros and ask you to place a bet on who you think is going to be world champion this year, who would you nominate?
AD: The person with the most points… MD: I said who… your personal opinion.
AW: For me, being an Austrian, if you gave me 100 euros, I would keep them. I would probably suggest you put it on Fernando…. And I get a cut, of course.
AD: I said my bit.
Q. (Salvatore Zanka – Associated Press) Fernando, what is the first thing you noticed when you got into the McLaren car for the first time?
FM: The colour!
FA: The car that picked me up in the airport, it was very nice! I was very impressed with the factory, all the facilities that the McLaren team has there in England and I think the team has a huge potential.
They are very professional people and they are extremely good at their job, everything is well-organised and everything is focussed on winning again and we have plenty of sponsors to help us and the atmosphere is to win everything and with all the facilities we have I think we should be competitive enough to win many championships and now it is up to us to take all this potential into race victories. That was the first thing to impress me was the facilities and the atmosphere of the people.
Q. (Juha Paatalo – Financial Times Deutschland) Felipe, you have already said that testing is testing and racing is racing and that's what counts, but you were faster than Kimi in all the winter tests and that has made you the favourite for many experts including Bernie Ecclestone. How does this make you feel?
FM: Well, nothing. I don't feel (I am the) favourite and I will never feel (that). I think you have to do the job, day by day, many things in Formula One change very quickly and the most important thing is to keep working hard with the feet on the ground and do our job and in the end there are 17 races to go it is starting now and everything people say happens and you have just to take it into consideration and to do your job - that is (the) most important thing for me.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) For Anthony and Alex, how different was it for you to be out there and improving the car for yourselves?
AD: It was a lot easier to find motivation, that's for sure, knowing that all the work you are putting in is for yourself at the end of the day. And even though you worked very hard in the old role, it came a lot easier now and is a lot more enjoyable to know it is all for you at the end of the day. It is fantastic. And that's it!
AW: Well, I can only copy what Anthony has said, but at the end of the day when I was in the car I never had any problem as a test driver. And I want to point out that test driver is not a bad job.
It is important for all the teams to have this and to have very good test drivers -- and I think all five of us here came from the role of test driver, all five of us, and it shows that it is important and you can step up. And even though I had a long break I still stepped up and at the end it is very sweet that the work is for you.
Q. (Ottavio Daviddi - Tuttosport) There are many rumours about the possibility of racing under artificial lights. I would like to know your opinions on that?
FA: I did a demonstration in Valencia when we launched the car there in January and it was at night and it was extremely difficult to see anything, to see the road. For me, it is hard to believe they will have strong enough lights to see perfectly ok and to have a race, a Grand Prix, but sometimes Formula One surprises you! From a drivers point of view it would be better not to say anything until we are not driving…
FM: The same comment. The most important it is to have a great visibility like you have during the day and I think if that is possible, then maybe: why not? But you have to make sure everything is perfectly safe for us to race at night.
AW: I think DTM did it and had great success and I think if these guys can see in artificial light then we can see enough as well, but of course I share their opinion, but personally, for Formula One, I wish we go to the cities, more street races, more action, because it makes it more action and more fun.
AD: At the end of the day, we do it for the fans anyway and I think it would be quite a good spectacle. If they can get it right, then it would be good. It works in America and like Alex said they got it right in DTM so surely we have the technology in Formula One to make it work, so why not?
RK: Let's wait and see.
Q. (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) On Sunday, we have a race without Michael Schumacher. Does it mean anything to you?
AD: I didn't realise it was aimed at me! I've only been in two races with him there so it doesn't make much difference to me.
AW: Well, for all the Schumacher fans, and there are lots, they are big footsteps to fill and he gave the sport a lot, but he also took a lot from all the other drivers because he took seven championships and however many races, but for the sport, at the end of the day, there won't be any recession in the TV viewers, maybe locally in Germany, but worldwide I don't think so…
And here we have so many great talents coming in – like Fernando, who beat him with his own force in the last two years, so the driver level is extremely high and from the sporting point of view it might excite things and so it is a plus and a minus. Personally, I won't miss him, but then I won't miss any one of these guys anyway…
RK: I think someone might think that it will easier for other drivers to win, but still you have 21 drivers on the grid to beat to be first and that is what counts. Maybe it will be easier for someone, but when you are on the track there are 21 other drivers and you have to finish in front of them.
FM: First of all, he is a legend. He gave a lot to Formula One and he proved a lot and my opinion is that he was the most complete driver in Formula One since a long time and I think people will miss him, especially in the beginning of the championship.
As long as the championship starts to be more interesting and attractive, with more competition going on, I think people will start to get used to Formula One without Michael. That's the way it is and how it was with some big champions in the past, so I think it will be in a similar way…
FA: I don't know. I think I will not miss him.