USGP: Friday press Conference
Participating: Stefano Domenicali (Ferrari), Norbert Haug (McLaren Mercedes), Aguri Suzuki (Super Aguri) and Frank Williams (Williams)
Q: A question to all of you: your thoughts on safety in Formula One following last weekend's accident in the Canadian Grand Prix.
Stefano Domenicali: Well, I think that what we have seen during the last Canadian Grand Prix showed how safety has improved in the last years. This is thanks to the FIA together with all the teams. You have to think that an accident like that a couple of years ago, well, maybe we would be in a different situation.
On one side, for sure, that's one conclusion. That shows one thing: that we shouldn't forget that this sport is always very dangerous, so we don't have to drop the attention on safety. One of the main things, for sure, is that we have to keep up that pressure, together with the FIA, to give as much maximum effort in that respect because it's so crucial, and this is for sure what we have seen in the last Grand Prix.
Aguri Suzuki: I think the same. It was very shocking, it was a very very bad accident, but finding that the driver has nothing is really incredible. Also, now the cars are very safe. Imagine, I drove in Formula One 15 years ago, maybe it would have been a big problem but now the FIA has done a good job, and the teams and everything is very good. I'm very happy to be in Formula One now.
Frank Williams: I must say I feared the worst when I saw the initial impact, the very first one, the first concrete wall. I repeat, I feared the worst but it's certainly a remarkable testimony to the co-operation between the teams, engineers and designers and the FIA, because the numbers get higher and higher every year. And consequently, I think the cars get safer and safer every year. It speaks very highly of Formula One in terms of safety.
Norbert Haug: I absolutely share these views. The best outcome of the weekend was certainly that Robert didn't get hurt. It really looked shocking at the beginning. I think there has been a lot of positive work done by the FIA and teams and as Frank pointed out, the tests have got more and more severe and I think it's important to continue and we will continue, but it is sometimes really painful to pass all these tests.
But I think it is very very important to continue in that direction. It's a statement for Formula One. Having said that, I think again we saw once more what speed is and this was really probably a surprise if you saw that on television. Some unfortunate circumstances came together but in the end it really went well and I think that is the most important thing and it has a solid background.
It did not happen by accident but we still need to continue and improve and push in that direction, and I'm sure the FIA will and I'm sure the teams will be open (to their suggestions).
Q: Stefano, Kimi has had a difficult start to the season in many ways. Do you feel that he's now becoming more confident?
Domenicali: Well, I'm pretty sure that the answer is yes. The more he has the chance and the time to drive, the more he learns how to enter the new situation, the new car, the new tires and the relationship with the team. So I'm pretty positive that for sure this is a very important event for him and also for the team, and I'm pretty sure we will see the real Kimi very, very soon.
Q: Now, last weekend wasn't a fantastic weekend for the team, but you were looking for increased performance here. This is very much a Ferrari circuit. Have you found that today?
Domenicali: For sure the last Grand Prix was not the best one. It was really bad, but we don't have to panic on that. We have had a season where after the sixth Grand Prix we worked through races for pole position. We didn't have, in a lot of circumstances, a great race in Canada and also Monte Carlo.
Here for sure, looking at the situation over the last years, it was a good track for us. We know that our main competitor is McLaren Mercedes who have done a great job but I think today the situation has improved. We have done a good job in terms of learning, in terms of understanding the situation of the setup and the tires here. So that will be positive for sure.
Q: Aguri, obviously two great races for you this year, two points-scoring races. What sort of effect has that had on the team?
Suzuki: I think I am very happy and also I want to say thank you to the drivers and sponsors and everything. But it is very impressive because our team is very small. This year our target is to just get points, one point I think is already good. Now we already have four points. I am very, very happy.
Anyway, with our car potential it is normally very difficult to get points, but if something happens in the race, for example in Spain and Canada are very unusual races, so it is very important, the ability in the car, just to finish the races is our target. Maybe afterwards we get some points or something.
Q: I realize the team is really quite small and obviously very new. What sort of developments do have coming. When we're looking around you here, the teams here, they would have developments coming all the time.
Suzuki: Yeah, but it's very important. Our staff is about 140 or 145, something like that. But it is like a family, it is just one piece. And everybody looks in the same direction. And also I can control everything. If it's - I don't know - 500, 600, 700, it's very difficult to control everything. But anyway, it is still small but it is a very good team, I think.
Q: And have you got developments coming every race or every few races?
Suzuki: Yeah, in Formula One it is very important in every race to have developments and to improve. But it depends on the budget, you know. Our team is still small, we are always looking for sponsors or talking to sponsors or something else. If we get more money, OK, I try harder. But anyway, we continue to develop our car.
Q: Frank, you vowed to turn your team around after the performance from last year, and you have done that, I think. How have you done it? Give us some indication of what it's taken.
Williams: The fact is it has had very little to do with me. It has taken a few extra people, appropriate people. And we reviewed in the last couple years what we did and what we did wrong. Plenty to talk about on that one. I just tried again and so far it's gradually coming back. But I'd remind you of the distance between us and the three premier teams, at least a second a lap, which is unacceptable to any team.
Q: What about the two drivers? Because obviously you've got one driver who hasn't done a lot of racing for the last five, six years but a lot of experience, and a young chap who is in his second year and is proving to be very, very competitive.
Williams: Well, Nico is young, very intelligent. I'm sure he's got a very strong future ahead of him. Alex is experienced, and is an outstanding... quite a remarkable team member. Nothing is a bother for him. He will do anything you ask of him. I repeat he has a lot of car knowledge and car understanding.
Q: Of the two of them, do they complement one another well, do they work together well?
Williams: They work extremely well together, yeah.
Q: Are you happy with the performances so far?
Williams: Well, reliability has always been our biggest enemy over the last couple years, that's never put to bed, no one can ever claim that. But the two drivers get on fine, and we're making modest progress. It's never enough, of course.
Q: You've had a couple of very frustrating races where I'm sure you feel you should have collected more points than you have?
Williams: Well, it's easy to think that, but that's how it happens for everybody not just any one team. If you make points everybody else has to suffer. Except this (pointing at Norbert Haug) lot presently.
Q: Norbert, you have got the two fastest drivers, leading the championship at the moment, potentially taking points off each other. Do you see that as a problem or a luxury?
Haug: We have had bigger problems in the past. I think the team worked so hard over the winter and I think the engine and chassis are really fully integrated and I really need to say 'thanks' for all the effort they have put in.
We did have some reliability issues, especially on the engine, in the past couple of years and we probably threw a couple of World Championships away due to engine problems and that shouldn't have happened. But so far it has been excellent and of course you have an ideal situation if the drivers are pushing each other in a positive way and I think that is what we are experiencing.
I cannot see where they are taking points off each other, so far it has gone really well after the first third of the season. But we are not the guys to think 'now we have done it', we are the guys to say: "We have a good starting base right now, but now it begins."
We would never underestimate Ferrari especially, they have been, in my view, very strong today and they will be very strong in the future. I think lots of other teams are pushing. We have a World Championship winning team - Renault. They are pushing and they are coming back I'm 100% convinced. BMW are pushing very hard and I have to say my respect of the achievements of Williams.
They have done a couple of good races from good starting positions. I think we have a very good season. But having said that we have achieved a good basis so far and of course I would have nothing against it if the next two thirds work out like the first one.
But there will be a lot of hard work in front of us and I think the team is working extremely well together, the drivers are working together and that is what it is about. I think we have all these ingredients.
Q: A lot has been written about the two drivers, especially in this last week, about Alonso allegedly saying one thing etc. etc. Can you just clarify the situation between the two of them?
Haug: In the past we were very often criticized that we tried to steer the drivers, to tell them what to tell the outside world and I think now we have the situation where they both speak their minds. But I have to tell you it is not a problem at all inside the team, I think it is very, very balanced and I cannot see any of these frictions.
Of course you have positive competition between the drivers and between the teams on the right and the left-hand side of the garage. You share the data, after practice is over obviously, and I think that is a good approach. In a way it is like climbing a ladder, you go step by step and I think the atmosphere is good. Of course there is sometimes the feeling that you need to improve and you need to push but this brings you forward at the end of the day.
I think it is a positive surrounding and I think Ron [Dennis] the team principle is strong enough to influence the whole situation. And of course Martin [Whitmarsh] and I have a positive influence on the guys. But it is not like it is described on the outside.
I understand people are looking for controversial stories, that's what it is about. But inside the team it's different and if you look at our track record in the last couple of races I honestly do not think that with bad feelings inside the team you could achieve that. So I think we must have very positive and good feelings and I think that is what we have achieved.
Questions from the Floor
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Stefano, could you tell us a little bit about what Michael Schumacher is contributing and doing within the team right now?
Domenicali: Michael is part of our team. You have seen sometimes that he is at the races but that is not the main role and the main activity that he has. He's working with us and mainly with us and with our engineers in order to give his advice, his contribution to the way that he knows how to work around the car. This is something connected to F1 but he has also an important role on the other side of the factory on the road cars. His experience is very important in tuning up the cars for our customers.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Aguri, one reason you have done well this year is that you have a car based on a race-winning car from last year. Are you worried in 2008 that you might have to run a 2007 Honda that's uncompetitive?
Suzuki: I don't think so. This car is our car, it is not a problem. It is not decided what brand of engine we will have next year because the regulations are not decided. So anyway, we try to make next year also our car. OK?
Q: (Simon Lewis - The Press Association) For Sir Frank. You described Lewis Hamilton as a phenomenon and unlike any driver you had seen before. Could you elaborate on that and put that in the context of other new comers to the sport that you've seen throughout your career?
Williams: I'm happy to repeat what I said in my private opinion. I've never seen anyone arrive and be so successful, so quickly. That is to say from his first race. It is quite remarkable. I am looking hard to find fault with him and he is very nice, which is quite unusual, too.
Q: (Simon Lewis - The Press Association) But in terms of other drivers that you've seen, who does he remind you of?
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Frank, you have made quite a few personnel changes at the senior staff engineering level and within the department, bringing in new people. Do you think now that that is pretty much all set how you want it?
Williams: Do you mean should I offer you a job as well?
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) No, I'm worthless at that stuff.
Williams: All right. I wouldn't tell you what we're going to do or not going to do but we have a very good line-up right now, thank you.
Q: (Dan Knutson - National Speed Sport News) Are you worried that post 2008 you might have factory teams with a B team and that might not fit into your business plan?
Williams: Well, I've clearly been uncomfortable about customer teams but essentially if the money isn't affected, we'll mind our own business and everybody will mind their own business, so life will go on quite sensibly.