Bahrain: Thursday press conference
- Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)
- Heikki Kovalainen (Renault)
- Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber)
- Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
- Jarno Trulli (Toyota).
Q. Heikki, I'll start with you. Obviously you were very pleased to score your first world championship last weekend in Malaysia, but has the car been cured of its problems?
Heikki Kovalainen: In one week I think not, unless there has been a miracle we don't know about. Clearly we are behind the top pace and obviously we are not happy about that. The whole factory is trying to understand the cause, but this weekend the gap to the leaders will be about the same. Hopefully, though, we'll score points again.
Q. Perhaps the point I should have made is that there are fewer high-speed corners here than in Malaysia and you looked better in testing here than you did at Sepang.
HK: The test before Sepang was pretty good, too, and we thought we'd made a good step, but looking back other teams had made an even bigger step because there was a bigger gap between us and the leaders in Sepang than there was in Melbourne. As you said, there are fewer high-speed corners, which should help us a little bit, but in any case I think we shouldn't think about that too much and just get on with it.
Q. Is it a specific front- or rear-end problem or just a basic lack of grip?
HK: Since the day we bolted these tyres on before Christmas, the balance between the teams shifted significantly and we haven't yet recovered from that well enough. We don't exactly know what the problem is with the tyres, but the feeling is not the same as last year and we have not been able to point out a single element that is wrong with the car.
I think it is coming from many different things. We still have a strong team, with the same people that won championships last year, and a strong engine. We are looking at many different questions. When can we answer them? We can't say at the moment. We don't have any time scale, but we are working very hard.
Q. Thanks, Heikki. Robert, it has been a very good start to the season for BMW Sauber, but what about your own start?
Robert Kubica: Not so good, really. I had one retirement and then finished last in Malaysia, which is not as we were expecting - or at least not what I was expecting.
Q. Have the problems been solved?
RK: Well, there is a problem and I think everyone in our team realises there is a rear-axle problem, which we hope to resolve because it has cost me quite a lot of points in the opening two Grands Prix. I finished in Malaysia but at a really slow pace. The car was really difficult to drive – it wasn't possible to get it stopped before any of the corners. I couldn't make any apexes and braking even 30 or 40 metres early was very difficult.
In Australia I showed strong pace all race until my failure. I'm not worried about performance because Nick has shown the car's potential. In Malaysia I was the only one who could stay close to the pace of McLaren and Ferrari until qualifying, when we had a problem with our timing. The pace was there but we have some problems that need resolving.
Q. How do you feel you have progressed as a driver since last year?
RK: It was quite difficult at the beginning of this season because of the switch to Bridgestone, because the tyres work differently. Set-up is different and the driving style is different, but I was very happy about our pace in Australia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, both races went in the wrong direction.
Q. Jarno, is it fair to say that performances so far have been better than expected?
Jarno Trulli: Yeah, winter testing was a little bit difficult, as was last season, but nevertheless we are always positive and that's a help. In Australia and Malaysia we did quite a good job. We managed to get the best of the car and qualified two cars in the top 10 for both races, which was good, and we also scored points. We can be happy about the general job we've done, but obviously we need to look forward over the whole season and we need to develop the car if we want to get better results.
Q. Is the team capable of a big step forward?
JT: Yes, I think it is capable. It has the potential and the resources are there. We need to see what we can do because the gap to the top teams is quite big and we need to close it. At the moment Ferrari and McLaren are at the top, then BMW is looking very strong, but Williams, Red Bull and ourselves are right behind and fighting hard. We are going to need to make a step if we want podium finishes.
Q. What about Bahrain? Is it likely to be a good circuit for you?
JT: Statistically? No, it hasn't been such a good track. We didn't have such good pace in testing but we have to stay positive and see what we can do. We have to get the best out of the circumstances, qualify in the top ten and try to score some points. We are waiting for a big step in Barcelona, so we have to try very hard.
Q. Lewis, you were clearly delighted to be second in the last race, but perhaps we didn't appreciate how much that took out of you. How exhausted were you at the end? What did you feel like in the press conference?
Lewis Hamilton: I felt fine once I got to the press conference. It was just extremely exhausting defending my second place. If you are on your own in the lead you have a slightly easier time than you do when you're trying to keep your position, especially when there are two extremely quick Ferraris behind you.
It was extremely intense and by the end I'd run out of drinking water, so it was tough trying to stay ahead of Kimi. It was unlike any other race because it was extremely hot, but I'd prepared extremely well and had acclimatised to the hot weather for a couple of weeks. I felt quite emotional, I think. I'd worked extremely hard to get that position and to come away with it. Sometimes you might have it taken away from you and fortunately I didn't.
Q. As a young driver coming into a new category, as you are in Formula One, to what extent are you trying to lay your own markers when you're battling against the established front-runners, when it comes to fighting wheel to wheel against drivers such as Felipe?
LH: I've been fortunate enough in my career that whenever I've got to a new category I've usually been able to challenge at the front. To be honest I've always found that I've had a decent amount of respect from the other drivers. I haven't spent much time on the track with a lot of the other drivers here in F1 and it's difficult to know what they'll do and how far they'll go. You've just got to...
Each time you go out on the track you start to gain confidence and respect in the other drivers. I've experienced that in the last couple of races, especially in Malaysia with Felipe. We know where we are and I'm sure there will be a lot more tough challenges in future.
Q. As far as we can see you haven't made any major errors so far. Do you look back and wonder when you are going to make a mistake? How much pressure is there on you?
LH: As competitors, most drivers find that most pressure comes from within. You really do kick yourself when you make a mistake, so the whole point is preparing yourself well enough and trying to keep yourself in that zone, or whatever you like to call it.
So far I haven't made a mistake but we all make them trying to push the car to the limit and trying to better ourselves in the race. When you push a car to the limit 100 per cent it's inevitable that you are going to make mistakes. It's going to happen at some point. I don't know when, but you try to limit it and I'll try to deal with it the best way I can when it does happen.
Q. Felipe, obviously last weekend was a bit of a funny one. What are your own feelings looking back?
Felipe Massa: I feel something is missing. The first weekend, in Australia, I wasn't very lucky and then last weekend I didn't get a very good start and for sure that was my biggest problem. After that it was just a normal race. I had a chance to try to pass Lewis – and I'm not disappointed that I tried. I couldn't manage it, but that wasn't the worst point of the race. That was definitely the start.
We see in racing that it's very hard to pass and most drivers were sitting behind other cars without any chance to overtake. I saw a chance and I tried. Looking at the pace of Lewis at the beginning of the race, it was my only chance to get the race back. I didn't want to just sit there and wait and finish on the podium, even if it was better than finishing fifth. I took a risk and tried to get the race back. To finish the question, I think something is missing because we have been unlucky in the last two races, so now hopefully we can put everything together.
Q. Some people might say your lack of pace in the last race was a consequence of the change in floor regulations. Is that something you noticed?
FM: For sure not. We tried the new regulation in pre-race testing and the car was exactly the same.
Q. So what are your feelings about this race?
FM: Absolutely positive. We had a very good test here at the start of the season and had a good pace. The car was behaving quite well. That's a positive. I think we have a good car, a good package and a good team. If something was missing in the first two races, well, it was only two races and there is still a long way to go. Hopefully we can put everything together to be successful next time.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Peter Windsor – Speed TV) Felipe, you say the problem was at the start, but actually what happened at the first corner; obviously Fernando got past but were you also worried about Kimi at that point?
FM: No, actually Kimi was quite safely behind so I saw Fernando, I was for sure more worried about Fernando and in the first corner I just lost the line a little bit as well and then I just gave space for Lewis and that was also the second problem. But the first problem, for sure, was looking to Fernando who was completely beside me but he was inside. I even tried to brake late but when you are inside it's much easier. I think the first part of the start was quite good, but as we were pulling up through the gears Fernando was getting closer and closer and then suddenly he was beside me so I was looking at him.
Q. (Peter Windsor – Speed TV) As a follow-up to that, when you were behind Nick Heidfeld for so long, how did the two cars compare, particularly with reference to top speed?
FM: Well, he had good top speed. For me, it was impossible to get closer to try something. When I was behind Lewis, the only way to get very close when I did get very close, is because he made a small mistake in a corner and then I was able to get out of the corner closer to him. But Nick didn't make a single mistake and therefore it was impossible to get closer.
Q. (Heinz Prüller – ORF TV) Felipe, do you think the pole position in Malaysia was on the wrong side of the track because of the grip situation? And how will it be here on Sunday?
FM: In Malaysia, for sure it doesn't count so much because if you look at the cars coming from the right and going to the left but going to the left more at the end of the straight, so I think when you pass the grid, you are more on the right than on the left, or maybe you are in the middle, so the difference there is almost nothing, from one side to the other. Here, for sure, the difference from the left to the right is a big difference because we know that here it's quite dirty off-line and the start here on the left is much better.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Lewis, you trained hard all winter and as you said, you went to Malaysia and did everything right leading up to the race. Still, you must have learned something. Did you and your physio perhaps do anything to fine-tune your fitness or your preparation between Malaysia and this race?
LH: No, I was already able to finish the race in Malaysia and I think that was probably the toughest race there's going to be this season, so physically I'm not worried, and for sure we've done a little bit of training this week, but you do have to recover, it's not all just training and training. We've done some recovery and we've done exercises to refresh me for this weekend.
Q. (Marco Evangelisti – Corriere dello Sport) Heikki, Felipe and Lewis: this year McLaren is clearly more competitive than the last few championships; Renault the opposite. Is Alonso switching from one team to the other a key factor in this improvement and why?
HK: Obviously, if you ask the question to me, it's not a problem. Clearly (the difference in) our pace compared to the front runners is so big - I think the engineers have calculated it at about 1.8 percent in terms of lap time – so I don't think even Alonso would be able to overcome that deficit. That's not what we're looking at the moment. We're clearly trying to understand the car better, give it better feeling for the driver, so we are able to push more. That's my opinion.
FM: I think Alonso, for sure, is a great driver. I think the driver's point of view in terms of developing the car is very important. I think that is important, for sure. But I don't think it's just because of Fernando. I think, clearly, Renault has a kind of problem to put everything together in some areas and I think McLaren made a step forwards.
Fernando started the testing, just at the beginning of the season, the car was already there, it was ready, so for sure, by then, it was important to develop the car but I think the car was already born. So I think clearly Renault made a step back but they must maybe have a reason, maybe in the tyres or whatever, and McLaren made a step forward. That's clear. We saw that last year Fernando and Giancarlo were always there. This year, Giancarlo and Heikki are not there any more, so it's clear that they have some problems.
LH: I think that what's most important is the transition from Michelins to Bridgestones. For all the teams, apart from Ferrari, it's had a major impact on the way the car works and I think Renault have struggled. I think we're fortunate to hit the ground running but not have as much of a problem with the tyres. I think Fernando's had a huge impact on the team.
His enthusiasm, his experience has definitely brought a lot to the team in terms of developing the car and pushing the team forward. But I think where we have mainly improved is just that the team has really pulled together this year. Even towards the end of last year, they've really said OK, this is it. We need to develop the car for next year, we want to win.
They are all extremely enthusiastic and determined to get the win, they can smell it in the air, so they've worked extremely hard to make sure that the steps that have been made to develop the car have mainly all been positive and so I think the main improvement has come from the team really: people pulling themselves together, we've got two new drivers, it's exciting for the team, new sponsors, so it's a whole new package and I think they just all wanted it to go extremely well and smoothly and it has.
Q. (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Heikki, things going like this with Renault and McLaren, it seems you are not able to compete to become the rookie of the year. How disappointed are you with that?
HK: Well, of course that's something that would have been nice to achieve and it's still possible with many races to go but at the moment, that's clearly not the priority for us.
I think the priority for our team is to understand exactly why we are not able to run at the front, and obviously at the same time, we need to keep developing the car like we planned before the year, but then when we find the solutions and I'm sure eventually we will find the answers why we are not competing, then we put the problem together to develop the car and if it happens early enough, we will fight back, but honestly, I'm not thinking about that at the moment. The priority is to go forward as a team.
Q. (Mark Hughes – Autosport) Robert, in both qualifying sessions so far, you've mistimed your second run. Are there any procedures being put in place for this weekend to stop that happening again?
RK: Well, I hope so, for sure. We were lucky in Australia because I don't think it cost us any positions on the grid but in the case of Malaysia, we paid quite a big price for this mistake. I'm pretty sure it was two positions and it might even have been three.
Where you start in Formula One is very important, but it didn't make a big difference on how the race went because we faced the problem straight away at the beginning of the race. Of course, we have to take these mistakes as a lesson and don't repeat them again.
Q (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport). Jarno, following Marco's question about Fernando, you know him quite well, so do you think that he's a key man for McLaren and what is his best quality in the development of the car?
JT: Obviously Fernando has proved that he's a key man in winning races and championships. I agree that the Fernando switch is the not the reason why McLaren is doing well and Renault is doing badly. It's just a case of tyre switching and the McLaren has done better than Renault, for whatever reason.
For sure, Fernando now has got experience in developing the car and especially as he has been driving a winning car for the last few years, he knows what it takes to win races, so obviously he can give a direction to the team and he can contribute on many things, on his teammate, on the team in general, on the performance, on motivating people, because even last Sunday's victory motivates the whole team and everybody to push harder on the car's development.
Q. (Jacques Deschenaux – SRG / TSR TV) Felipe, do you think that you could miss Michael during the season in terms of development of the car and have you had contact with him after Australia and Malaysia?
FM: Well, for sure, Michael is already a great driver in terms of development, in terms of how to work with the team but I think we're doing a good job. I think the team is really prepared to work, to keep working, to keep developing the car.
I'm sure we're going to have good development from now until the next races and I think the way we are working, even with Kimi, the whole team together, is going really well, so it's not because of the last race that we are missing something. I think we are really in the right direction and we need to carry on like that.
Q. (Jacques Deschenaux – SRG / TSR TV) And did you have contact with Michael?
FM: Yeah, I spoke to him before the race and after the last race.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) May I ask all of you what you think about racing without traction control next year?
FM: I never drove a Formula One car without traction control. It will be quite new for me, but it will be the same for everybody, so we just need to find the settings to make the car more stable, to try and work on the engine, on what we can work, because we're going to miss a lot of electronic parts next year, but I don't know how it's going to be. So it's going to be new for everybody. We just need to find ourselves quickly under the new rules.
LH: I think it will be better. I enjoyed driving GP2 without traction control and it puts more control of the car into the driver's hands, I think. It's not easy driving, it's a different driving style, a different technique is required and I think it's going to make for exciting racing.
You get up the inside of someone, you can really use the power to get yourself past on the exit of corners but then also you have to learn to use your tyres in a different way because obviously the more spin, the more the wear. It's going to be interesting, but obviously we're going to have to make a lot of changes to make it safe.
JT: I think it's going to be interesting and definitely better. From my point of view, the more you give the car back to the driver, the better it is, or the better it is for me. I feel like I'm more in charge of doing things. At the moment, the cars are too easy. I'm really in favour of it.
RK: Well, I think it will be same for everybody, so everybody will have to adapt a bit their driving, a bit the cars, a bit the set-up to do this. Now Formula One cars are built with this and in some ways, we know we have this, so we choose some different way, maybe for next year but we will know this and we cannot rely on traction control.
HK: I think it's absolutely the way to go. Let's just stick in a third pedal, a clutch pedal under your feet and put in the old H-box; that's the way to go in F1!
Q. (Peter Windsor – Speed TV) Felipe, you said that you spoke to Michael or he spoke to you after the Malaysian Grand Prix. Can I ask what he said?
FM: No. It's confidential. He's an important part in the team, so now we just work together like we don't say what we say with the engineers, but it was a nice conversation anyway.
Q. (Kevin Garside – The Daily Telegraph) Lewis, I think most people would agree that they have been surprised by your start to the season. Have you been surprised by it, and do you feel that you've adjusted in this company and do you feel that you've gained the respect of your rivals as a result of the start that you've made?
LH: I think for sure anybody would be surprised in my position, firstly to be given the opportunity to be with such a great team. For sure it was a surprise but I'm privileged to be where I am.
I think I know the guys here quite well over the last few years, and I think I already had a huge amount of respect for them already, so I think for sure, as we've got into the race and we've been out on the track, your friendship builds and your respect for each other grows. I think it has been tough and I think I've had luck on my side, I've been in the right place at the right time and done a good job, but so has the team.
Q. (Flavio Vanetti – Corriere della Sera) Lewis, how close to your first victory do you feel you are?
LH: I think that's a difficult question to answer. I think you have to keep things in perspective. Yes, I have had two podium finishes but I am still a rookie, I still have a lot to learn.
I know it may not particularly look like it but there's a huge amount for me to learn from Fernando, from the team, different tracks that I haven't been to, there's going to be some major challenges for me this year that can take me by surprise or I might be fortunate enough to prepare for them better than other people may have and it might go smoothly. I'm pushing, I'm working as hard as I can. It may be this weekend, it may be the last race of the year, it may be next year. It's difficult to know.
Q. (Ottavio Daviddi – Tuttosport) Lewis, you have done two fantastic races; do you expect to make a mistake in one of the next races?
LH: Let's say I'm not planning to make any mistakes, as we said earlier on, that's not the expectation. I am working as hard as I can to make sure I make as few mistakes as possible because you have very little opportunity in this game and it's all about maximising your opportunities and I'm someone who does that. I'm going to try my best.
Q. (Ed Gorman – The Times) Felipe, at the end of the race in Malaysia, Lewis claimed that he had tricked you into going off when you were trying to get past him, implying that he was late braking and you fell for it and went off. Is that true?
FM: Well, I would do the same if I was in front. I think there we proved that it's very difficult to pass in Formula One. I think it also depends on the track. It was not an easy track on which to pass in Malaysia and I think Lewis did the right job. He was fighting for his position and for sure, he would not give me the position, that would never happen. We need to try to go to that position.
Unfortunately it was a difficult corner, it was very dirty off-line but it was the only place to try, otherwise I would be sitting behind him and for sure when Lewis would be behind, I would not give him an easy life either. That's the way it works, so I think he did his job, he did a very very good race and nothing new.
Q. (Ed Gorman – The Times) Did he actually trick you to go off?
FM: No, no, I don't think so…
LH: Sorry, can I… I'd like to change that phrase. I said the wrong thing. I didn't trick him, you can't trick drivers. We're all extremely intelligent, we know what we're doing. I think what you try to do when you're out there is… it's the same when you're behind someone, you try to force them into an error and that's what I tried to do because that's the only way that I could keep ahead of him, especially if he's coming up the inside so I pushed as hard as I could and as we were dicing, I tried to force him into an error which I managed to do. So it's not tricking, it's….
FM: But this is not dirty driving, this is just normal so…