Canada: Thursday Press Conference
Participating: Jenson Button (Honda), Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault), Ralf Schumacher (Toyota), Alexander Wurz (Williams).
Q. Giancarlo, the performance seemed to be better in Monaco. Was that a one-off, or can it continue here?
Giancarlo Fisichella: Hopefully, yes. We are really pushing for that. The team made a big step forward. We are really, really concentrating on a few areas and with the new front wing in Monte Carlo we definitely made a step forward. We finished in front of BMW but it's difficult to say. Monaco is a very different circuit and we are even quite positive for here, but we don't know how it's going to be with a new package for low downforce.
Q. Did the test at Paul Ricard reflect potential performance here as well?
GF: Yeah, Ricard wasn't too bad for us. On the last day I was the second quickest. The car balance was quite good so it looks as if it was working a little bit better even with the level of downforce for Canada and it looks promising, but I can't say if we can be better than BMW or slower. We will see, but I'm quite optimistic.
Q. You've twice been second here and fourth from second on the grid here last year. Is it a circuit you enjoy?
GF: Yes, I've got a good feeling, I've got good memories. I think I've been on the podium four times here and actually I had the first podium of my career here in 1997, so it's a good circuit for me. I don't think it's a simple circuit because the level of grip is quite low, especially in the braking points, the stability of the car is very inconsistent but straightaway I got a good feeling. I feel comfortable on this circuit, and that's good for me.
Q. Giancarlo, can you tell us about the racing school that you've started?
GF: A nice new project. It looks like a very, very nice project. I want to give back to people like me who love this sport, (the opportunity) to learn in that academy what they need to go higher, to improve, to learn everything about this sport, so it's very nice. It doesn't mean anything about my retirement! I still want to go higher in Formula One, for many years. I've got a good staff who can look after my academy at the moment, I've got all my management, so I will just be concentrating on Formula One at the moment.
Q. But you have a racing team in GP2, now the racing school; what other projects?
GF: As I said, I love this sport and I like to be involved so that one day when I stop racing in Formula One to still be in motor racing. I'm happy about that.
Q. Jenson, again, better in qualifying in Monaco; was that a one-off, do you feel?
Jenson Button: Yeah, it was an improvement, definitely. I think we were helped by Kimi hitting the wall in qualifying but even so, the improvement was there, and in the race, you can see that we didn't perform as we expected, we didn't get into the points which I was hoping for.
But 19 cars finished and we finished halfway up the grid, which is an improvement for us, plus strategy-wise we didn't have the best strategy. We thought we did, going into the race you always do, but it turned out we didn't. Our results in practice weren't correct, with the tyres and how long they were going to last throughout the race, so we didn't get the strategy quite right, but that's experience for here.
Q. Is the major improvement still scheduled for the French Grand Prix?
JB: Yeah, I think that you're going to see improvements. The good thing is that there are lots of improvements coming throughout the year and they're making a difference. We're not putting things on the car at the moment that aren't working which was happening at the start of the season, but Magny-Cours is the race that I'm personally looking forward to.
I think here, where you need a very good car under braking, you need to have confidence in the car. Before Monaco I wouldn't have enjoyed this race but now that we have a car that's a lot more driveable and better under braking, I think that we should be able to have a reasonable result here.
We really made a step forward with the car at Paul Ricard. The pace might still not be there but the consistency definitely is and the confidence given to the drivers so it's a good step forward and hopefully we can just build on that over the next few races.
Q. You've had a third here from second on the grid in 2004, pole in 2005, so you've had good form in the past.
JB: Yeah, I've qualified well here. First and second in those two years - I can't remember where I was last year – but it's just turning it into the race result here. It would be nice to get into the points. I know that that's tough at the moment because there's so much competition, especially with the reliability at the moment, it's so good with every team, but we've just got to see if we can get a better result than Monaco, because I think we ended the race thinking damn, we could have got more out of it than we did.
Q. Alex, I'm told it's the tenth anniversary of your debut in Formula One.
Alex Wurz: Yes, thank you for reminding me!
Q. Does it make you feel old then?
AW: No, it doesn't actually. No, not at all. Yeah, it was ten years ago. It seems like yesterday but things have changed since then: some years as test driver, now I'm back racing and in the end, as Giancarlo said, when you like the sport, for me it doesn't really matter how long you're in it. I'm not thinking about age or how many years I'm in it, as long as you feel the fire and you're motivated then it's good to be here.
Q. Has it been difficult coming back into racing or has it been quite natural for you?
AW: No, it has been difficult not to race because it just doesn't feel right when you want to be out there racing, and when you think you should be and so of course, coming back now is good, I like it. The competition, as Jenson says, is very tough at the moment. That just makes it an extra challenge for me and for us, for everyone here, but that's what is good. You're not in Formula One to expect an easy life.
Q. Points at the last race, was that a bit of a relief for you?
AW: Well, I wasn't very tense before, I have to say. I knew it was just a matter of time until the points were coming, because I had no problems before in terms of speed or setting up the car. All that was fine, all working very well. I was a bit unlucky in the first few races and Monaco played into my hands. I made a good race with a one-stop strategy and I finished seventh, got my first two points for Williams and that's good of course.
Q. Is the car basically going better than you expected?
AW: No, not at all. It's where I thought we would be because when you come from last year – you know Williams finished eighth in the Constructors' – you can't, with the current competition out there and the involvement of manufacturers and the reliability of the teams, you can't turn it around overnight, but the pace of the team has really moved a long way from last year. The team is a very strong group of people who work well together.
There are no egos involved, they all have one goal which is moving forwards and that's very refreshing and motivating, to be part of that team, and I think that with a bit of time Williams will definitely move forward, if we keep the patience and the motivation as we have it.
And I don't see any reason why we shouldn't but again, the competition right now in Formula One is so tough, every hundredth of a second counts, every detail is important so you need to just be concentrated and get on with what everyone is good at, just making the car quicker.
Q. Ralf, here you've had a couple of pole positions, you won in 2001, you were second but disqualified a couple of years ago. This is obviously a good circuit for you; what do you feel about it this time?
Ralf Schumacher: I don't know. Recently we have been a bit up and down with the pace. Myself, I have been struggling a little bit but we will see. As Alex just mentioned, the competition is very tough, teams have made progress, like Honda, Renault, Red Bull, so particularly in the area where we fight for points it has become very tight.
Q. The first few races were quite good, you were qualifying quite reasonably but it seems to have gone backwards; when are you expecting to go forwards again?
RS: Well, hopefully here, we will see. It comes with the development as well but in Monaco it was obviously a big struggle in qualifying which I hope won't be the case here.
Q. What are you expecting from here?
RS: It's difficult to tell because we don't really know where we are at the moment. We can, if everything runs well, fight with the teams I just mentioned but we have to wait and see.
Q. Is a bit of a worrying time, a crucial time for you with your contract coming to an end at the end of this year?
RS: Well, I think there is a lot of talk due to the results I've had recently and I think that's only normal but you don't need to worry about me.
Q. Well, if you're not worried...
RS: Not yet, no.
Questions From The Floor
Q. (Daniel Bastien – FM 103.3) Jenson, last year Honda was performing much better during the second half of the season, you scored a lot of points. Do you expect to see this again this year or do you think the team should reorganise and focus on 2008 right away?
JB: Well, if we're focusing on 2008 we need to be thinking about making the improvements now. There's no use building a car for next year that's completely different to what we've had in the past. We tried that a little bit this year and it hasn't worked. Whatever we do this season is going to help towards the 2008 car. Obviously that's our goal.
As a team, our goals are to win races and in the end challenge for the World Championship. That's not going to happen this year but we need to be working towards next year now which is what we are doing, and I think that our pace is going to improve. I'm not sure if it's going to be quite like the end of last year. It would be nice, a nice way to end the season, but we don't know. So many things can change through the season, as we noticed last year.
We started very strong, we had a slump in the middle of the year and then we were strong at the end, and that's something as a team we really do need to work on: to have the consistency throughout the season to fight at the front and that's something that we realise and it's something we're working very hard on achieving.
Q. Ralf, what has it been like this year not having your brother to compete against? Has it changed things?
RS: Not necessarily, because I don't think I have been competing with him at the track for the last five years or four anyway. But privately, yes, some lonely dinners, that's all. But he will be here this weekend.
Q. (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) If I could ask you guys about one of the FIA proposals for 2011 which is a device that stores horsepower and then when you want to pass somebody, you push that button and get that little extra horsepower. What do you think of that concept?
JB: I haven't really thought about it before. If it helps with overtaking, yeah, it's a good thing, but obviously it needs to be tested and we, as drivers, need to be able to feel that it's the right way (to go) because it's something very new to the sport.
AW: Well, I'm not in the PR department of Honda but if it's ecological it fits into their marketing strategy, but we have a Toyota engine and Toyota also has hybrid energy, so at the end of the day, if Formula One thinks that (it's) the way to go, for them, for the sport, for the marketing position, then yeah, we should go there. If it's raceable, why not?
RS: Well, anything that helps the sport and anything that makes it more interesting, really. Yeah, why not, but let's wait and see.
GF: I agree, it could be good, could be not good, but we need to test it.
Q. (Randy Phillips – The Gazette) A question for Giancarlo. How much has the change in tyres been a factor in the car's performance? Do you feel more comfortable yourself on the Bridgestones? Could you make a comparison with last year?
GF: Well, you know the compound of the tyres is completely different than last year and they are lower than last year. But anyway I feel comfortable on those tyres. I just think we lost some time from Michelin to Bridgestone on the level of the car. But now we are going in the right direction and going better. The car is working more consistently, especially in Monte Carlo with the new front wing.
Q. (Georg Nolte - Bild) Ralf, what is the most frustrating thing in your situation right now?
RS: Well, actually nothing too big. Obviously I'm not happy with the points we achieved this year, with the results I've achieved but I'm not too frustrated yet. There are times in motorsport when it is difficult, that's what Formula One is all about. You have to fight through it that is all.
Q. (Bob McKenzie – The Daily Express) To all four drivers. The pressure is very heavy on all the teams to get results. As things go on longer and longer the pressures mount. Do drivers worry about their futures, their contracts.... Or do you just accept that your fate is in the hands of the cars and the designers?
AW: In a slight way you always have to worry or look where you are in Formula One. But on the other side it's a team effort. It all depends what car you are given as a driver. It depends what feedback you give to the team, how helpful you are for the team. Sometimes only the result itself doesn't really show your positioning.
But Formula One is the peak of motorsport and in terms of television viewers, the peak of sport. Life here is not easy, that's clear, no position in the team, engineer, designer, driver it doesn't matter, it's all performance orientated. You are there to bring performances and that's why we all have good contracts. That's why we are here.
JB: It's the same for the drivers as it is for the teams. The performance needs to be there. Both of you need to perform and obviously if that doesn't happen then things change.
GF: The thing about my team is that there is a fantastic atmosphere. There is some pressure for everyone because we need to push for improvement every time. But I think so far I did my best, we've scored the best results we could have scored with the package we've got.
RS: Yes the other three are right. There is nothing to add there.
Q. (Jean-Francois Begin – La Presse) A question for all four drivers. Jacques Villeneuve managed to make headlines yesterday by being highly critical of Lewis Hamilton's style, saying that he should even have been black flagged for his so called chopping moves. I was wondering what your thoughts were about that?
JB: I haven't seen it, I've been so far back. I haven't seen any moves at the start of a race, I wish I had but I haven't.
RS: I can't comment, I didn't see anything.
AW: I think in a way Jacques might find it more and more difficult in the future to find comments he can give that we can be asked about. I see no problem with racing, you know it is hard, you just have to defend your line.
GF: I think sometimes Jacques talks quite a lot with the press and... Sometimes he talks too much. (laughter)
Q. (Dave Stubbs – The Gazette) This is a question for Alex. In 1998 you had one of the most photogenic accidents that we have ever seen on this racetrack, barrel-rolling through the gravel at the centre corner. Could you tell us what you remember about that and when you drive through that corner, or when you go through any part of any track where you've had a spectacular accident, do you revisit that at all? Or is something that happened and it's gone you don't even think about it?
AW: Well, I hope I won't revisit that one. At the end of the day I was feeling a bit optimistic. I had a very good season up until that point, finishing many times fourth, lots of points. So I thought I had to go for the podium. I got carried away at the first corner, clipped Jean Alesi, got airborne.
And just to recall a few seconds - In fact when you are rolling in the air you are kind of fearless, it's quite a cool feeling. So I thought 'well lets have a look how it looks,' because initially I closed my eyes. Then for a split second I saw only blue, I thought 'oh that must be the sky', then a second later I saw only gravel and I thought 'hmmm, this doesn't look very good.'
So I closed my eyes again, then barrel-rolled five or six times. But immediately I realised I was not injured, called on the radio to get the spare car ready, jumped out of the car and ran back. I was back already sitting in the car when Sid Watkins, the F1 doctor at the time, arrived on the scene.
He said: "Well if he's that quick to run back then he must be ok to go racing." I finished fourth starting from the back of the grid so again it was a good race. I had zero problems after that with that accident, just lots to talk about like now.
Q. (Steve Cooper - Autosport) Ralf, there have been some reports in the German press recently that your drive could be at risk after these two North American races. The response from John Howett didn't seem to deny that. Could you give us some clarification on the situation and whether you will still be there at the end of the season?
RS: I don't know about that response or not. You should know that not everything you read is quite true, that's the way it is. At the moment we are simply concentrating on getting some results. Neither myself nor the team has been brilliant so far and that is what we are concentrating on, nothing else has been discussed anyway.
Q. (Karoly Mehes – Dunantuli Naplo) Could I have your opinion on the prospect of night races? Might it be dangerous?
RS: I think there have been some ideas in the press and some examples in America. Nothing has been forwarded officially to the FIA. I personally, and as well as the GPDA, we trust fully that the FIA will come up with the standards that if we race it will be safe. If that's the case I personally will be happy to race, I don't know about the other drivers. It is early days so there is no real need to talk about it yet.
GF: Personally I think if the safety is good in terms of the lights, I am happy. It will be nice and it will be interesting for Formula One.
JB: As Ralf said, nothing has really been seriously discussed. I haven't really thought about the idea, there has been too much going on to be thinking about that. There is always the possibility in the future and I'm sure the safety standards will be as they are at every other Grand Prix in the day time, which is obviously all we ask for.
AW: Ralf is our GPDA director and he made a perfect statement just then I think.
Q. (Steve Cooper - Autosport) A quick question for Giancarlo. You've said the car has a better balance now but at the beginning of the season people were saying it was quite unpredictable. Is the car more predictable now?
GF: Definitely, yes. Especially with the new front suspension, the new front wing we had in Monaco. It's much more consistent now. At the beginning of the season we were struggling with the consistency of the car and braking point in high speed corners. Now it looks much better. A step forward? Yes.
Q. (Bob McKenzie – The Daily Express) Jenson you were saying maybe improvements by Magny-Cours, but as the season has gone on how aware are the people in Tokyo about this? Are they aware? Do you get any sense of what they are feeling? Disappointment?
JB: For sure, everyone is involved and everyone knows the reasons for our poor performances in the first part of the season. Because of those results it doesn't mean there is a bad atmosphere within the team, I think there is a very good atmosphere. Everyone is willing to do what they can to move forward and to make the things that aren't working right.
So no, I'm very positive with the atmosphere within the team, be it in Japan, be it in the UK. Everyone is very positive and working very closely together to make things right, which is nice to see. I've been very involved with talks within the team and the ideas that we have and the things that we have coming throughout the season are very positive. So I'm not negative in any way.
Q. (Bob McKenzie – The Daily Express) Have you been in contact with Tokyo?
JB: I'm in contact with Japan of course. Both personally and through the team.
Q. (Ed Gorman – The Times) Jenson could you just enlarge a little bit on your own role in the restructuring of the team for next year and what contact you may have had in Japan?
JB: I'm not going to talk too much about stuff within the team but I think for a driver it's the same with any driver for any team. Their feedback is very important to the feeling of the car. Also making sure that the correct people are in the correct places within the team and we all have the same goal.
It's important for every driver to be focussed and show that they are determined to do the best job they can for the team and with the team. If the driver isn't dedicated or focussed then the team is not going to be. But I can say that the whole team are very behind the drivers and the drivers the same with the team and we are all working together for a better future, only time will tell.
Q. (Daniel Bastien – FM 103.3) A theoretical question for all of you. Twenty GPs – are you for or against?
JB: Twenty GPs? I like the idea. Twenty GPs and slightly less testing is the way forward for me. We are racing drivers and we love racing so 20 GPs for me is no problem
AW: When you put your finance head on you want 20 GPs because it means more races to make points and more points' money
JB: (interrupts) Unless you pay for your travel.
AW: (to JB) Do you?
AW: In the end of the day it is a logistics problem for the team not for the drivers. If I'm asked to race I will race 20, 25, 30, it's no problem to me.
RS: Thirty might be a touch too much, but 20? Yeah, why not?
GF: I agree, less testing but more races is fine.