Malaysia GP: Thursday Press Conference
DRIVERS: David COULTHARD (RED BULL), Nick HEIDFELD (SAUBER BMW), Nelson PIQUET JNR (RENAULT), Nico ROSBERG (WILLIAMS), Takuma SATO (SUPER AGURI)
Q: A question for you all: first of all, you’ve obviously tested here for the first time. What difference has it made to you and what difference has it made to your teams?
Takuma SATO: As a new team, we’ve hardly ever tested over the last year and over the winter we were able to do some testing, but it was still very little compared to other teams. So coming here, especially after we’d just been able to shakedown the SL7 in Melbourne, and we didn’t have a proper test before that, so it was very useful to come here and do the test, and obviously the tyres testing and the two specifications which was a real surprise during the race in Melbourne, so it was good to learn more, and also from a purely driving point of view, it’s great training. I drove one and a half days in this extreme temperature. I was happy with the result so I think we are a lot happier than they were before.
Nelson PIQUET Jnr: It was a good experience. Unfortunately I didn’t get to drive a lot because we had a number of issues with the car so I did about 30 laps. I would have liked to have done a little bit more. But I think the team learned a lot throughout the week and the car got better. I did some good laps at the end on the Friday, and the team just improved. It was the hottest test that we’ve had during the year, including Bahrain and I think we had good information, and it was a good test. We learned quite a lot for the race.
Nico ROSBERG: Yeah, I thought it was a very nice experience to test out here, because it gets a bit boring to always test on the same tracks in Spain and I really like this track, so I thought it was great. And to get in these temperatures was good for the team and everything. I think it was also good from a physical point of view to get a few days in. I was lucky that it rained, so I got an extra day, which I was quite happy about. So it was very good.
Nick HEIDFELD: It was a good test. I think our testing went quite well for our test for the first time, but unfortunately we were delayed after I had to use the fire extinguisher, but otherwise it went quite well and smoothly. We were a bit unlucky with the weather, but I think it’s good for our team to try out parts, especially with the gearbox. After the (Melbourne) race we had some problems on Robert’s car, but we had some new parts and it seems they were successful.
David COULTHARD: I think it’s funny to hear Nico saying that testing somewhere else is nice because it gets a bit boring even though he’s only been in Formula One for a couple of years. Imagine how I feel! It was great to be somewhere different and this season we have the luxury to test at Spa as well, which is going to be fantastic. The others have said just about everything is true from tyres and testing point of view and there is nothing much I can add to that.
Q: Good performance in Australia, were you surprised by that?
TS: I think it was a fantastic performance, a fantastic achievement for the team, really. It was a very exciting moment for us. Obviously we’d never been through to Q2 before and then straight into Q3. It was very exciting moment. It was funny because it was a kind of situation like we didn’t know what we do in those situations. We’d prepared all the things even from last year, even if we knew that there would be almost no chance of needing them, but the team coped very well under huge pressure and didn’t make any mistakes, and we achieved getting through P1, so it was a great Saturday and then Sunday as well. You could argue that we were a little disappointed that my actual result was of a slightly lower performance than the Saturday performance, but I think it was still a great achievement from the team. There’s a lot more to come from this new car and really, we won’t be knowing that we’re going to duck much of the performance, so Sunday was a bit of a surprise to see the conditions change, but we are very, very happy and we hope we can carry that momentum through here.
Q: Does testing suggesting you can carry that through?
TS: I think the test was very positive but I think Melbourne was more like… it’s like anything can happen because it’s the opening race and the characteristics of the circuit, weather, it can include anything, so I think it was a good performance for us and I think it helped us to get up the grid, but I think that having tested here everyone knows the benchmark and everybody has basically improved. Difficult to improve like we did in Melbourne and it’s good that Silverstone or Barcelona where you have tested already. I don’t expect too much from this weekend, but I hope to do a solid job and I think we can do a very similar performance to what we did in Melbourne on Sunday.
Q: Nelson, obviously you’re a test driver, but what’s your role at races?
NP: I’m here to learn, to get as much as experience as I can. It’s my first year in Formula One, so I need to learn to deal with everything, what the drivers are doing, what the tyres are doing, what kind of situations happen… things that you learn with experience and time, that’s how you learn it. I’m the third driver and if anything happens, I’m prepared to be ready to drive.
Q: And are your expectations for the team this year?
NP: I don’t think the team had the start that we wanted, coming from winning the championship last year, we were expecting to be in front, of course. But changing the tyres, we didn’t know what was going to happen and the team could not build the car until late in the year, so when I first drove the car, the tyres didn’t seem to be that different, but afterwards the team has evolved, quite a bit, but we didn’t step up quite as much as we hoped to. I don’t think we’re far back, we just need to get better and slowly by slowly we should achieve it. It’s not going to happen from night to day, it’s going to take us a couple of races to get back onto the pace and get our results back.
Q: Nico, third on the grid last year here, a good performance in Melbourne, what are your feelings after Australia?
NR: Mixed feelings, because especially for qualifying we had expected to do better in Australia and so we were a bit disappointed with the pace there, but then again in the race we were quite satisfied with what we were able to do with our qualifying position. We were quite happy with seventh, to score points was our aim at the beginning of the season and I think what we have to try and do now is to keep the consistency going, keep on scoring points and I hope we can do that all year. I am quite confident we can make good use of the test here and we can do it again.
Q: Obviously the pace of development is very important all the way through the season. Are you confident that Williams can keep that up?
NR: Well, walking around the factory, I’m very confident of that, yeah. They are definitely pushing very very hard and I don’t really see a problem there at all.
Q: Nick, obviously a good performance in Australia. You’ve been on the rostrum here. What are your feelings about this circuit?
NH: I enjoy it a lot. Each year I come here it feels quite well and I think we should be able to continue our form from Melbourne to the end. Some people believe that Melbourne is a very strange circuit and probably will mix up things for here but honestly I don’t think so because testing saw a similar pace for everyone as in Melbourne, testing also showed the same level and we are getting some new parts and hopefully we will finish with both cars – that has been our main concern with Robert not finishing in Melbourne, but as I said in testing we have tried some new parts and we should be ok.
Q: Where do you think you are in the hierarchy in comparison to the others?
NH: Well, after Melbourne, I would say we are in third position, which is actually a little bit better than I expected after testing. I hoped we would be there, but honestly I expected Renault to be a little bit stronger probably they will become stronger for the rest of the season, but we are working very hard to close the gap to the front. McLaren is not that far away, but for anyone to catch Ferrari it will be quite difficult. I know, it’s a long season, but we will give it our best.
Q: David you must have been encouraged by Mark’s (Webber) performance in Australia so what are your feelings coming into this race?
DC: The analysis would suggest we are in a very tight group in the middle so basically Mark was able to achieve what we expected in a quali-situation outside the top three teams, so obviously the goal is to make sure we are always at the front of that group and it is very easy to find yourself in the seventh or eighth row if you have problems. Again, as has been said by the others, everyone’s team is working hard, everyone is motivated, everyone is trying to develop during the course of the season, but the key thing of course is how you start the year. If you start quick, then that is pretty much where you stay so I would like to be in a situation where we hit the ground running at the first Grand Prix, rather than trying to develop during the course of the year, but nonetheless that is why we test and in what is still a transitional stage for Red Bull with a lot of new people and every test we are getting new parts on the car which is fantastic and did not happen before.
Q: Your initial reaction to the accident in Australia was very honourable, putting up your hand to say ‘it was my fault’. Having had a look at it, what has been your reaction?
DC: I think it highlighted just how at risk the driver can be in that kind of situation. I never obviously when I started the manoeuvre ever imagined that I would crash into Alex and if I was silly enough to start that manoeuvre thinking that was going to happen I would never imagine I would come across the top of the cockpit missing him by a very small amount… So, inevitably, that is an area that will be talked about and looked at for the future for safety. It is part of Formula One to have open cockpits and obviously in the last decade we have had the head impacts panel thing, or whatever you call it, developed and that has improved safety a good deal but I think we can continue to work in that area.
Q: It has been suggested that traction control is to be banned. What is your reaction?
DC: During my time in Formula One, I have gone from three and a half litres, slick cars, wide track… right through to what we have today. So honestly it is just another thing to keep everybody talking. You will still have Formula One. You will still have the quickest car-driver combination running at the front and the slowest at the back. People will talk about it (being) more pure and it is more this and that… It is just another development. Take away your laptops, you will still write your reports and you will file them in some form to your papers or magazines, or whatever it is you do, and it will just be a little different to start with. The key thing if we think what may improve the racing is that potentially in wet or damp conditions, it will be a little more unpredictable for the drivers and that has always been the area in which traction control has helped the most. I think in dry conditions, the driver has an in-built traction control system and that won’t change.
NH: I am really looking forward to it. As David says, it is just another change, but one I am looking forward to because I think it is one of the biggest parts of the driver which you need to control – braking, accelerating, steering, obviously that is the main part. It is a lot more fun to drive and I agree with David – I don’t think it will mix up things massively. I mean a couple of years ago we went from no traction control to traction control, quick cars and quick drivers were still at the front and probably the gap was just a little bit bigger and it could mix things up probably in wet conditions. I have worked with the TC now for a couple of years and it was interesting to do that, but I think it is the right direction to go and I also think it could make the races a bit more interesting especially if you pressure the car in front of you… (It will be) a little bit easier to make mistakes. We will see maybe a little more sliding, but ideally we will try not to slide too much. It is not going to be a huge difference, but definitely I am looking forward to it.
NR: I think it is a step in the right direction because as a driver also it will increase the fun a bit to do it yourself to be able to do it yourself, it is a good step and I am looking forward to it although I must say I think it is exaggerated how much people believe traction control makes it so much easier. I think that is not really the fact. I think you still need to control it yourself with the foot occasionally and things like that so it is not going to make a huge difference but it can increase the fun a bit.
NP: I agree it is going to be better. Coming from GP2, when you see the races – not that is only by traction control – but in races you can see more mistakes by drivers and more tyre wear from two cars of the same team and a big part of that difference is the driver controlling his foot on the accelerator at the exit of corners. For sure, there are laps when you are pushing. It will make it more fun and more of a difference. I am looking forward to it. It is going to make it a bit more fun and a bit more difference. A good step and make more fun for everybody.
TS: I think it is good for the sport, but there is a little concern for safety because Formula One has developed so much and aerodynamics and tyre characteristics on all the tracks now are in a narrow, narrow band now and it is really peaky to drive, so obviously traction control is a tool that helps to make you attack (at the) maximum, but having said that we have changed the regulations for the engine and with a normal three litres v10 engine I would be surprised and a little worried about that much power without traction control in the wet, but nowadays I think we can cope and hopefully we have more exciting racing. From outside the car, nobody notices with the traction control what is going on and that is just a matter only for racing people’s satisfaction. If you are a spectator, it is a completely unknown factor. Without it, there will be more fun. Last year, in our car we didn’t have the traction control like this and I had to manipulate the throttle so it was a good practice!
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Erkki Mustakari - STT) Niko, in Australia, you pushed hard through the race. At the end, did you think of saving the engine for this race?
NR: No, I didn’t push at the end anymore, so yes we were saving the engine in a way of course as I had no pressure at the back.
Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado De Sao Paulo) For all drivers, about the new system that controls maybe some movements of the flat bottom?
NH: For us, there is no new system. It is the same as before.
DC: I don’t think it is anything that will change our performance, but obviously the FIA have clarified the regulations and so the teams have to respond to that.
Q: (Erkki Mustakari - STT) David, what do you think of the rule about using both tyre compounds during the race?
DC: At first, when I heard that was going to be the case, given that someone from Michelin said that the tyres were quite similar so you didn’t have such a big variation in most cases, then I didn’t think it was going to be a big issue, but Bridgestone have actually pitched the tyres at quite a distance apart so it does mean there is a very clear disadvantage on whatever tyre on that given weekend. The slower in Australia was the softer tyre that didn’t perform as well, so it does play its part. The strategy, I think everyone apart from two drivers started on the hard tyre in Melbourne and I think in most cases unless someone is out of position there will be a quickest way to run your race so I think you are not going to see such a variation. At the sharp end of the grid, you might see if someone has an engine failure where they normally start at the front of the grid, but they start at the back, then they choose in traffic to run the ugly tyre – the one that is not quite as good in performance – because they are going to be in traffic anyway. So I think very quickly it will become a bit of a non-strategic event.
Q: Nick, you started on the softer tyre. What are your views?
NH: I think it is okay. It is the same for everybody and especially in the beginning it is going to be interesting to see what strategies people choose and actually in Melbourne it worked better than expected. I thought I could be in big trouble with the soft tyres in the beginning but they held on quite well and as David said the difference between the tyres are quite big but that is simply the case because we have only four different compounds and they have to cover all of the races and as a driver you would like to have the best tyre for each race and more compounds available, but under the circumstances of the moment Bridgestone did a good job and it creates a bit more work for the engineers and the drivers to get the best out of it. It is not a big thing.
Q: (Adam Hay-Nicholls – Metro) A question for DC: the clash between you and Alex could have been quite nasty. What are your recommendations going to be at the next GPDA meeting? Is a closed cockpit the way to go?
DC: I think that goes against the basic rules and regulations for a Formula One car, as an open top, but my recommendation would be that any discussion with the Technical Working Group is brought forward because inevitably in these situations it is when it is brought home how easy it would be to have a serious incident, then it moves it up the importance list. When I spoke to Patrick Head after the event, he suggested it was a couple of years away before they might look at doing something, but maybe now it could be possible to have an improved cockpit protection for next season already, so that is something to be discussed and agreed and we, as the GPDA, can only encourage them to do that and see what the result is.