Japanese GP: Thursday Press Conference
DRIVERS: Rubens BARRICHELLO (HONDA), Takuma SATO (SUPER AGURI), Ralf SCHUMACHER (TOYOTA), Sakon YAMAMOTO (SPYKER)
Q: A question for you all, first of all. Have you raced here at Fuji before? What have been your initial feelings seeing the circuit? And what preparations have you made before coming to this new circuit?
Ralf SCHUMACHER: I’ve kind of been here before. I actually lived not so far away from here. What they have done with the pits is great. The place has changed a bit. The track itself… OK, the last few chicanes have really changed and a few bits on the outside, but yeah, they’ve done a good job.
Q: What sort of preparations have you personally made for this circuit? Have you looked at it on Playstation or anything?
RS: No, no. I was here last year for the 50th anniversary of Toyota, so I had the chance to see the track then and even before as well, at the beginning of the year. We did some filming, so I knew the circuit.
Q: So your feelings about it, particularly that last sector?
RS: The last sector is very tiny but it’s quite good to be able to follow cars, so I guess we will see a lot of overtaking down the main straight.
Q: Rubens, your feelings. You have raced here before, haven’t you?
Rubens BARRICHELLO: Yeah, a long time ago, though: ’91 and it was the other layout. I haven’t prepared much. I have walked the circuit now, it’s an easy circuit to learn and now we have to see what the car can do.
Q: Any specific preparations?
RB: No, I’ve checked some GT laps on YouTube, that’s all.
Q: But it doesn’t take long to learn, does it?
RB: No, I think it’s going to be straightforward. There are a couple of corners that are quite interesting. I think turn four is quite a long one, to get a proper line and so on. I think a lot of people will be trying different lines but I guess it’s the same for everyone.
Q: Sakon, your feelings; obviously you’ve raced here before.
Sakon YAMAMOTO: Yes, I’m very happy to come back for the Japanese Grand Prix again, as last year. Here it’s the first time for the other drivers, but for me, I have driven here in GT, so I know it quite well, so I get to have some advantage.
Q: So no preparations needed; what’s the fastest car you’ve driven around here?
SY: Formula Nippon.
Takuma SATO: Actually, I’ve only raced here once but I was on a bike, a push-bike, so there’s a little bit of a speed difference and nothing on motor racing but Fuji is obviously very close to where I live, it’s virtually an hour away from Tokyo here, so I feel very close and very relaxed. I never raced here in a car, but this morning I just walked around the circuit and I’m quite impressed with the elevation changes, which I really didn’t see on my preparations before coming here. I only had the circuit drawing and a little bit of footage from Formula Nippon racing when Sakon was racing, I think. So it was good to see it and there seemed to be good opportunities to overtake, very exciting racing, so I’m quite looking forward to driving tomorrow.
Q: Rubens, Honda used to make a Suzuka special for the Japanese Grand Prix, have they made a Fuji special?
RB: Well, it’s the second race for the engine, so of course there’s nothing on that side. We are trying some different aero configurations for here. Some of them worked in Jerez, some of them were no use, so we have something to try here. I don’t think we’re going to solve the problems with anything special. This year, whenever the car adapted well to the track we seemed to go better; if not, we were at the back of the pack, so hopefully this track will bring us some smiles.
Q: Do you feel there’s extra impetus behind the team for here?
RB: It’s the home race, we definitely want to do very well but apart from that, we know that the car isn’t very good and the year hasn’t gone very well, so we just have to put the best effort to try and compensate for that, but if it is anything, it’s a single point more than anything else, unless the weather can play a different part and then you have safety cars and you never know.
Q: Are you expecting that?
RB: Coming here we talked to someone who said he’d never seen a race here when it wasn’t wet for one part of the weekend with fog and so on. Back in ’91, it was very foggy and one of the days was wet as well. I think it’s something that we can expect, yes.
Q: Nürburgring weather, is that what we’re expecting, Ralf?
RS: Nürburgring weather? I hope not, it’s cold there now. There is some rain expected tomorrow but at this time of year it can be nice and sweet, so let’s hope that’s going to be the case.
Q: There seem to be quite a few modifications to the Toyotas here?
RS: Well, like any other team we had some tests at Jerez with new bits and pieces on the car because this is a very specific track with a very long straight obviously. I don’t know (if we have) any more than other teams brought to this race.
Q: Is there an announcement close about 2008?
RS: No, still nice and sweet but I can’t tell you at the moment.
Q: Sakon, with Adrian doing a lot of racing here, you’re probably the most experienced pair of drivers at this circuit; does that count for anything?
SY: I think that means for our engineers that we can give them data for the characteristics of this circuit and certain corners but, as a driver, I think the drivers who come here for Formula One, all of them are very good at getting to know new circuits, so I don’t think I have a really big advantage when it comes to that part of things. As I mentioned, for the engineers, it is an advantage if I can give them any information before we run here.
Q: A good performance in Belgium with the B-spec car; what was the general feeling in the team after that race?
SY: Obviously the B-spec car worked really well at Spa, so our motivation is very good now. Also we have more development parts for Fuji, so we are really looking forward to driving tomorrow.
Q: Takuma, your feelings about a potential wet race?
TS: It will be. You could say… you could argue how it’s going to be but I think, knowing Fuji and around here, already this morning we had quite strong summer-like sunshine with the humidity and this afternoon it was as though it was going to rain at any minute, so I think it will be tricky, but I think everything is welcome. I think more changeable weather conditions or anything gives a great chance even though one’s in a risky position as well. As our team is always challenging, attacking all the time, it is very suitable for us.
Q: So you would like rain.
TS: Very much so because looking at the test I think our performance wasn’t as strong as we wanted it to be, and coming back to Japan, we wanted to be very competitive but somehow it’s obviously very difficult because it’s such a small team. The development speed wasn’t as good as other teams, so we have to do something, tweaks, whatever we can do and an example was the Canadian Grand Prix. Before we went to Montreal, really nobody – not even us – were expecting to have such an exciting race and why not here? I think everything is open but looking realistically, it’s going to be a very very tough race for us, so we need something, a little change – that always gets us into an exciting situation.
Q. You always seem to have risen to the occasion of a Japanese Grand Prix – do you think you’re going to restrict yourself a little this time?
TS: No, I always try 100%, as everybody does. In my opinion every single Formula One Grand Prix should be very special. But for me to come back to my home Grand Prix, we have a lot of support from the fans, is great. There are some unpredictable situations in Japanese Grands Prix and I always come back (home) very strong, not just for me but the team as well. The atmosphere in the team is such a strong feeling which is going to give us a little more extra power.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Heinz Prüller – ORF TV) To the Japanese drivers, have you ever been up to the summit of the Fuji-yama?
SY: I’ve never been, no.
TS: I have, but not as many times as Ukyo (Katayama) did.
Q. (Heinz Prüller – ORF TV) For Rubens, it’s your 250th Grand Prix, which means six more and you equal the world record of Riccardo Patrese. How proud will it make you to become the Grand Prix driver with the most races?
RB: Not as proud as being a World Champion, but it’s going to mean something, of course. The only thing is that everyone has different numbers. If you follow the FIA records it’ll only be in Barcelona next year that I’ll get to 257 (starts). People calculate the one that I missed in Spa (1998), the one that I didn’t race at Imola (1994), so there are different numbers which is not very good as I want to know which one is 257. But anyway, next year sometime, hopefully, I go past.
Q. (MC) A quick one for Takuma to follow up that previous question: how long did it take you to get up to Mt Fuji?
TS: I think that, depending on where you start it, you can almost climb half by car. If you start the climb from the bottom, it takes six hours or something. I think that Ukyo Katayama, my favourite Japanese driver, he’s almost jogging up to the top of the mountain before having breakfast – he goes up and down in three hours. I’m not quite as quick as Ukyo-san, but I did normal climbing, and I think I was average. I was quite small too – I was just a little boy.
Q. (Yuki Ishihara – Sankei Sports) Ralf, you are one of the few drivers who knows the old and the new Fuji Speedway; how do you like the new one in terms of driving?
RS: For us it’s obviously something special because it’s a home track for Toyota. The track itself has a very long straight, so that’s very exciting; you could end up overtaking twice on the straight, which is very interesting. I think the corners we have except for Turn 4 as mentioned by Rubens are not so special, but it’s a nice layout.
Q. (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) A question for all four of you – we have about 17-18 races now. With more races coming, there’s a chance that we might have 20 races, maybe even more. What is the ideal number of races an F1 season should have from three points of view: the drivers’ point of view, how much extra work it makes for the crews, and also for more exposure for F1 worldwide?
RS: I think the number we have next year – one more – isn’t too bad considering the workload the team has and the mechanics have and all of the travelling. I think we are more limited by that unless we extend the season and shorten the tests. But I feel quite happy with the races we do.
RB: I agree. I think that two years ago, we were doing far too many miles in testing, and right now I feel that it’s a good combination. If we have a couple more races, I don’t think that it’s such a problem for the drivers – it’s actually better because we’re going to be doing what we like more, which is racing. So 18, 20 (races) – it doesn’t really change much for us, depending on where the races are. It’s more challenging for the packaging and the mechanics to do more races, but less testing is fine.
TS: From a pure drivers’ point of view I think many races are great. More races are very good. But in terms of logistics – mechanics, engineers, all of the families back at home – it’s probably a bit more difficult with more races, but as long as we keep the spring to autumn season, extra races are more than welcome.
SY: I agree with them but I have never raced 17 races in a year, so hopefully I’d like to be racing at the beginning of the season.
Q. (Nobuaki Tadaki – Sankei Express) A question for Ralf. I remember when you lived at Yamanakoko when you lived in Japan, and you used to try to make a record from Yamanakoko to Fuji Speedway. Do you remember what your record time was, and do you have any chance to beat it? (laughter)
RS: I always stick to the rules on the street, so I don’t know what the record was, honestly. I usually had to go via Gotemba but it’s more than 10 years ago, so I can’t remember the time, and there’s no reason to try to beat whatever I’ve done 11 years ago, thank you.
Q: (Niki Takeda – Formula PA) A question for Rubens. This year, what has exactly gone wrong – basically the wrong fundamental concept with the car, or mis-management, or is another team draining your resources away from your team?
RB: It’s very difficult to know what the real reason is. The car is not worse (than last year’s car) – basically everyone else improved, and we didn’t. The car last year was fine, and they took a different route for this year to improve something that was OK already and they didn’t pay attention to the aerodynamics and fine-tuning of the car. To go right to the bottom and understand why that happened, I didn’t bother because right now I’m focused on trying to help the new guys understand and make it better. I never thought that the 2006 car was a great, great car – it was doing OK on the Michelin tyres and we had a good package at some of the races, but it wasn’t there to win every race. I had problems to adapt to it, especially to the traction control. This year everything is much better on that side – the car is miles away – so it’s about putting everything together with the new guys there to make it work. It seems already that next year’s car is coming along better.