French GP: Thursday Press Conference
Fernando Alonso (McLaren)
Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault)
Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber)
Franck Montagny (Toyota)
Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
Q: Giancarlo, do you feel encouraged after the test at Silverstone last week?
Giancarlo Fisichella: First of all, I wasn't there. But it was a good test for us. I think we made another step forward. We've got a new floor and new rear suspension. You know, it's a small step which is quite encouraging for this weekend.
Q: You've only had two sixth places here which suggests it is not one of your favourite or best circuits.
Giancarlo Fisichella: Yeah, unfortunately over the last couple of years I was a little bit unlucky, especially two years ago when I stalled the engine in the pit stop. There was a possibility to get on the podium there. But yes, in the past it hasn't been good for me, but usually in the qualifying session I was close to my team-mate or in the first few rows. It's going to be alright.
Q: You're quite encouraged then; obviously with Renault in France it's quite important.
Giancarlo Fisichella: Yes, it's very important for us. It's like our home Grand Prix and there are a lot of fans, a lot of people coming from the factory, so it's going to be a really important weekend.
Q: Franck, you raced here last year of course: 20th on the grid, 16th at the end; just a one-off, I think.
Franck Montagny: It was good to race here in France, and Super Aguri gave me the opportunity to do it, so I was grateful and I had a good time with them. Now it's a different year and a different team.
Q: Quite difficult for you this year, you did some Friday testing last year but that's disappeared and not a lot of other testing either.
Franck Montagny: No, not a lot of testing. At the beginning of the year it was quite OK. I had a lot of work to do with the team and we developed the car quite well, but since the beginning of the year one of the two drivers is struggling a little bit with the car, so he's asking to do more testing. We only have one car, so all my days which were on the planning have been taken off (by him) unfortunately for me. That's the deal; when you sign the contract you know it can be like this. You hope it's not going to be, but there is the possibility.
Q: And yet you had a busy week last week; tell us about it?
Franck Montagny: Every time the car is on track, I am there because I want to be close to the team and I want to be involved one hundred per cent, so if I'm testing or not, I want to be there. So last week I spent all the week at Silverstone and afterwards I went to Goodwood, so I spent all week with the team.
Q: Kimi, at the end of the Silverstone test the team was 0.4s quicker than anyone else. Were you encouraged by that?
Kimi Raikkonen: I think we had quite a good test. The car felt good straight away. The race is always different to testing, but I think we had a good test.
Q: It's nearly half season now; is this where you would expect to be or are you a little bit disappointed, frustrated?
Kimi Raikkonen: For sure we don't expect to be in this position but that's racing and I think we just try to improve, try to get things how we like and try to start winning races and that's our main goal.
Q: Does it make a difference now that we are away from Monaco, the two overseas races, back in Europe?
Kimi Raikkonen: I hope so, I hope it makes a difference to the results but as I said, testing is always one thing but the racing is completely different. We will see tomorrow how the car is to know whether we can. But hopefully we can challenge the McLarens.
Q: Similar question to you, Fernando. What are your feelings after the Silverstone test? It was a very big one for McLaren, according to Martin Whitmarsh.
Fernando Alonso: Yeah, it was a good week for us also. I think as a team we improved our car and our performance. We had some new bits on the car improving the aerodynamics, the suspension as well, brakes, so many new things on the car. You choose the good ones for here, for racing and take the bad ones back to the factory and try to find the problem. We developed the car, we improved the car and it should again be competitive here in France.
Q: How worried were you by those times from Ferrari?
Fernando Alonso: Oh nothing, nothing at all, nothing.
Q: We're just coming up to the half season. I'm sure it hasn't quite worked out the way that you expected it to.
Fernando Alonso: Well, I think that in a way it has been a surprise, a good surprise how quick the car was. I moved teams, I left Renault last year and I was not so sure about what the McLarens would be like at the beginning of the season. I found a very good car straight away and I was able to win two races in the first seven races of the championship and I'm second in the Drivers' championship and leading the Constructors', so it has been a very very positive first half of the season but for sure, I would like to be first, leading both championships and for that, I need to be a little bit quicker than in the first seven races.
Q: You've had two pole positions here, one win and twice second in the race; what are your feelings about this circuit?
Fernando Alonso: I like the circuit a lot. I always enjoy driving here at Magny Cours, also because I have been driving for Renault here, which is a very important race for the Renault team and we are in France and I had a lot of fans, a lot of support here. This year will maybe be a little bit different because the grandstand will not be with McLaren so much as they were with Renault but as I said, I love the circuit and it should be a good weekend.
Q: Nick, you left Silverstone with a pain in your back. Is it OK now, what was the problem?
Nick Heidfeld: Yes, it's gone now. I felt that the circuit was quite bumpy and I think some other drivers actually had back problems as well. I just played it safe because I knew that in two weeks' time we would have a race, so one and a half weeks' time and now it's all fine again.
Q: Were you a bit worried by reliability during that test and particularly your last race at Indianapolis?
Nick Heidfeld: No, at the test it was fine. Actually we tried some new things to rectify the problems that we had at Indy, that I had at Indy. It all worked OK, and actually the parts that failed we had on for a very long time before, also during races. Sometimes you can do so much testing and you still don't know if something will fail just after however many kilometres. We tried to change it and I'm quite sure it's going to be OK now.
Q: Again, an interesting record here at the French Grand Prix, because you've finished all your races and yet your best qualifying is ninth and the best race finish is sixth in 2001.
Nick Heidfeld: Yeah, not a good record, is it?
Q: But the reliability is good?
Nick Heidfeld: It's OK. I like the circuit as well. People say it's not the most interesting one to visit because it's in the middle of nowhere but for me, as a driver, it's good fun. The second corner is very nice, the long right hander and I especially enjoy the two quick chicanes which are probably outstanding in Formula One. I've been going well here in Formula Three and Formula 3000. It's a long time ago but I've won here and I will try to do the same in Formula One over the next couple of years.
Q: Kimi, Luca di Montezemolo said in Gazzetta dello Sport last week that we hadn't seen the real you yet this season, a driver that puts fear into other drivers. Do you feel we've not seen the real you and if so why not?
Kimi Raikkonen: Like I've said before, I think I expect better results but there are certain things that haven't been right and we try to improve those and then hopefully at some point we will get it right and we can get the results that we want and I can drive how I want. This seems to take a bit of a longer time.
Q: Kimi, we know that testing is one thing and racing is another, but do you thing that the hard times for Ferrari are over and that here you will be able to fight closer for victory?
Kimi Raikkonen: As I said, we don't know because you can always see the results from testing but you don't know what the other teams are doing. I think we have improved the car, for sure. The car felt very good at Silverstone but this a different circuit, a different place. We need to wait until the race, until the qualifying to see how it goes, but we have a positive feeling about it.
Q: Fernando, during the last races there were a lot of rumours about your future: if you are going to leave McLaren before the end of your contract or not. How is the situation now in your team?
Fernando Alonso: The situation is good. As you said, only rumours have been in the press and I think this is impossible to stop. I'm second, behind my team-mate, so all rumours are about myself now and it would be the opposite if I was first and my team-mate was second. Maybe people would start talking about him. But the situation is good and I have no problems and no intention to leave the team before I finish.
Q: There were also some rumours about you, Kimi, about Michael Schumacher coming back, in your place or you swapping places with Fernando. What do you say about those things? Do they disturb you or you just don't care?
Kimi Raikkonen: I haven't read any magazines for a long time, so I don't know anything about it, but I don't care really what they talk about. I think I'm in a pretty safe place.
Q: Fernando, you just talked about surprises. What's been the biggest surprise this year, that you're second now, you're trailing your team-mate, the car? What's the biggest surprise?
Fernando Alonso: For me, it has been the tyres, how different they are to drive on. I think the engines are obviously the same - the new V8s we introduced last year -- the cars are more or less the same, with the same aerodynamic rules, but the cars are so different to drive this year for everybody, and that's because the tyres change the way the car performs and the way you need to drive the car as well so that has been the biggest surprise for me. I think for Formula One it's probably my team-mate, Hamilton. He has performed really well in the first half of the season and this is maybe not a surprise because we've been testing all winter and in the team, especially when he was quick. You know, he's doing very well.
Q: Fernando, some of us were a bit surprised at your early second pit stop in Indianapolis. Was that scheduled or was there a change and if so, why?
Fernando Alonso: No it was according to plan. I had one more lap of fuel, but Lewis was stopping on that lap, so I had to stop one lap earlier because I was second.
Q: Giancarlo, what is the target now for Renault at this Grand Prix? And can you make a comeback before the end of the season to win some races?
Giancarlo Fisichella: Obviously for this weekend it is again to get to the end of the race and to score points. We would like to fight for the podium because it is a very important Grand Prix for us, but I think McLaren and Ferrari are maybe a step forward, maybe two steps forward...
Nick Heidfeld: And BMW...
Giancarlo Fisichella: Yes, and BMW, especially Heidfeld! But I think we are quicker than BMW. Or I hope. And for the rest of the season it is just to make progress as we have so far. I think for Budapest we will have a new front wing which is a good step forward. So, we just make progress in each race and get closer to McLaren, Ferrari and BMW.
Q: Fernando, how is the situation with the strategy? Who decides the strategy -- the team or can a driver just decide which to use during a Grand Prix?
Fernando Alonso: As always, and I think that's all the teams, the team decides everything.
Q: For all of you: it seems this will be the last time here in Magny-Cours. Do you think it will be a loss for Formula One?
Franck Montagny: From a drivers' point of view, we say yes because the circuit I think is very good. Uphill, downhill, very quick chicane...From a queues' point of view, I think it is better to be lost because everybody is complaining about this track, but with a little effort for the outside of the track, I think it can be a very good place to come.
Giancarlo Fisichella: It is a nice circuit, one of the smoother circuits so for our backs it is good and it is in the middle of nowhere, but with the other Grands Prix, when we go to the other Grands Prix, we go to the hotel, in the morning we come to the circuit and then we go back to the hotel. So it is nothing very different. It is even not good for Renault and it is a Renault home Grand Prix.
Nick Heidfeld: For me, it depends on where we go. In fact, if we go to Paul Ricard, I would rather stay here.
Fernando Alonso: I don't think Formula One will miss any circuit, but I think we have to think about it and say that Magny-Cours is ok for everybody, but we all know it is in the middle of France and in the middle of nowhere, as we have all said, but I think we will go to Singapore and we will take a flight of 14 hours so I don't know which one is more convenient.
Kimi Raikkonen: Like they said, the circuit is nice to drive, but I think that more for the people it is a bit difficult here. There is nothing really around the circuit, so I think it depends where we go -- if it is nice or not, the new place. But I don't think it is going to be missed too much.
Q: To Alonso, this week we had the opportunity on the Internet to watch some images about the USA Grand Prix. In the lap following (the one) when you tried to overtake Lewis Hamilton, you brought the car near the pit-wall and it seemed you were complaining about something. Is that correct or not?
Fernando Alonso: No, it's not like that. As I said in Indianapolis, I moved from the slipstream 15 times in the race, but unfortunately I was only on TV on that lap when I was behind Lewis after the overtaking that I tried the lap before. Also, someone in the team said that there was frustration from me and that was very difficult to understand -- why they said that. But as I said it was just to come off the slipstream and to cool the car because everything was hot -- the brakes were hot, the engine was hot. Everything in my car was hot after driving 73 laps behind Hamilton's car.
Q: Kimi, one thing that you still seem to be struggling with are the starts. Do you feel that you still have problems or is it one of those things that happens by chance?
Kimi Raikkonen: No, I think it just happens by accident. The last two races I know the start has been bad, but it is not something that I can really change. There is no grip off the line and it is the system that really makes the start after you let go off the clutch, but that was just a bad thing. We had different tyres to the rest last race, but I think we will improve the starts as we have a new part for the clutch so we should be better.
Q: Fernando, it is usual that the guy who stopped second to his team-mate at his first stop makes his second stop first. Why?
Fernando Alonso: Well, I think in the first one we stopped with one lap difference, so it was just a very small difference and with the second one, as I said, we were going more or less to the same lap and we cannot stop both cars together for the second stop, so one needs to stop one lap earlier than expected and it was me because I was second. I think it was just a coincidence also, but we had fuel for the same laps.
Q: Maybe you have not seen the on-board camera shot showing you raising your hand. What did you mean?
Fernando Alonso: I raise my hand every time I catch a car that I lap and every time that I am fighting with someone and if you want to enjoy a race you must watch my on-board camera because I am always quite emotional.
Q: Kimi, at the last three circuits we did not have any medium or high-speed curves, which is not the case at this race or at Silverstone. Can this mean it will help Ferrari?
Kimi Raikkonen: I think so, we have different speed corners in every race, but maybe the circuit itself was not ideal for us. I hope it is different here, but like I said, in testing we did a good time, but testing is different to racing. We expect to be stronger, but I don't know how much so we'll have to wait to the race to see.
Q: For Kimi and Felipe, the weather is not good, it is quite cold. What do you think this means for the tyres?
Kimi Raikkonen: Who is first -- me or Felipe? (laughter). I don't know how the weather is going to be. Today, it looks like it is not so nice, but I just arrived here and I don't know what they expect for the weekend, but in the end it is the same for everybody. Everybody has the same tyres. Hope it is good weather because that is nicer, but if it is mixed it makes the race more interesting.
Fernando Alonso: Same thing, I don't think anybody knows. Its only Thursday and maybe tomorrow night we will have some better information about the tyres depending how they perform tomorrow -- the hard and soft compounds. In this temperature, we can see some graining or something like that. We will see tomorrow and as Kimi said it will be the same for everybody, more or less.
Q: Fernando, we read, from Ron Dennis, that you and Lewis are no longer allowed to talk about one another unless you are in the same room. How do you feel about that?
Fernando Alonso: It is not true. It is not true.
Q: Why did Ron say it?
Fernando Alonso: I don't know...
Q: Question for Franck -- the French media are of course waiting for a French driver in Formula One and we expect Sebastien Bourdais next year. Are there any discussions with the team actually now for the 2007 line-up or in your opinion is there a possibility?
Franck Montagny: I always feel there is a possibility. We are only in July or August and it is the same for all the drivers. We are all speaking with all the teams and they are speaking with us, so we are working on that and we will see what happens next. So you will have to be patient for the answers. FIA