Japan: Bridgestone press conference Takuma Sato and boss Aguri Suzuki – Super Aguri F1 Team, Hirohide Hamashima – Director of Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development, Felipe Massa – Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and Lewis Hamilton – Vodafone McLaren Mercedes took part in a press conference for tyre supplier Bridgestone at their home grand prix. The following is a transcript from the session….
Aguri, your performance has been extraordinary this season. It’s your second year and you’ve earned four points. How do you think you were able to achieve this?
Aguri SUZUKI: Last year I was also invited to this press meeting. We were very busy and we came back to Japan in a very fussy situation, but we now have had one year of experience. Maybe it was like the winter test for other teams – it was the real races, but it was like a test. So we were able to make full preparations for this season. We were able to test and enter this season just like other teams, in the same way, as well prepared as the other teams. We were able to become a fully grown F1 team this year. Our staff, Takuma and everybody involved are looking in the same direction. It’s a small team but we were able to gather our efforts in a concerted way for one goal. So when we were able to earn points in Canada and Spain, Takuma did excellently. The car’s reliability has been enhanced, and there were no mistakes made by the team’s staff. Everything went well leading up to us taking those results in Spain and Canada.
Takuma, do you have anything to add?
Takuma SATO: Last year, before the season opened, there were less than 100 days of preparation for the cars before they were raced. But the same staff that were there then are with us today, so the bond within the team has been enhanced and strengthened since then. We had a car, whose base was four and a half years old, and now we have a very modern state-of-the-art car, and from the very opening race, it was a very strong package that we had. In Barcelona and in Canada, as Aguri mentioned, there were various good conditions that emerged to give us results. Of course, the performance of the Bridgestone tyres has also maximised our performance. For me as a driver, I was given this environment to exert my full capabilities at the races. This is the second season for our team, but I think this is the best that we could ever have done.
This year, in accordance with the tyre regulations, there were two different specifications that needed to be used. As a driver, was this something that was difficult for you?
Takuma SATO: Well, until last year in the tyre tests we had to try different compounds and constructions of tyres so Bridgestone were fully prepared. Once we started the race, the tyre was already very well suited to that track. This year, we had to use four specifications throughout the season. So there was a wider range of tyres, in terms of specification. We had to adapt to these tyres. There was more work involved with tyres. Also, the same tyres have to be used on different tracks, so we had to adapt as drivers as well. That was a challenge. During the races two different specifications had to be used, so in terms of strategy, there was a lot of impact. Throughout the weekend the performance of the tyres improved as we drove on the tracks. We had to anticipate these results in the practices on Friday – that was another challenge. I think that the capability of the team also had to be exhibited more. I think that we were able to have very good races and we had very good performances, in spite of this challenge.
What do you think of the support structure of Bridgestone this season, now that they are an exclusive supplier?
Aguri SUZUKI: Mr Hamashima supported us very well and gave us some good advice. The quality of the tyres is very good. As Takuma mentioned, the situation last year was quite different because the tyres were adapted to the team or the circuit. But now all the teams have to use the same tyres, and have to use two specifications of tyre. The conditions of the circuits change every time, so we really had to anticipate what would happen with the grip, for example, during the Grand Prix. So there were some challenges.
So it was more difficult for you then?
Aguri SUZUKI: Yes, for tyres it was very difficult. But the tyre itself is very stable and reliable, so we’re very grateful.
Mr Hamashima, from an engineer’s perspective, you have four types of tyre. What were the considerations that you had to give to the teams? Hirohide HAMASHIMA: In terms of supply there are four types of tyre, and we had to choose two. The layout of the circuit and the road surface were considered when choosing the two specifications. And there were simulations that had to be done. So we were quite responsible, as suppliers of tyres. Also, because all the teams are using our tyres, we have to provide a stable supply of tyres. We use maritime transport and because we have to transport under the equator we use low temperature containers for our tyres, like those used for wine, so the quality will be stable. So we had to give due consideration for these different aspects.
You used to transport the tyres by air freight?
Hirohide HAMASHIMA: Until last year after testing we made the tyres and we air freighted them, but this year they were shipped via surface [sea freight].
This year the Japanese GP will be at Fuji. How do you feel about coming back to Japan every year?
Takuma SATO: It’s a renewed Fuji Speedway, so nobody has ever been there. The cars have just gone through simulations. So there are many opportunities. As for me, it is a Grand Prix in my home country. Regardless of which circuit, it is taking place in Japan, so I’m very excited. I’d like to really show what we can do in Japan.
Aguri SUZUKI: When I was a driver, coming back to Japan was something special. I was very happy to be able to be back in Japan. Of course, there was tremendous pressure, because I was coming to my home country, but the pressure means there are many people who are supporting me, so I’m very happy to be coming back. I also have to mute the expectations, but I feel very much welcome at home.
And what about the car?
Aguri SUZUKI: We’re a small team, but we’re trying to do our best in developing our car. Takuma has to keep on pushing us forward.
Takuma, what are your expectations for Fuji?
Takuma SATO: I am told that it’s very similar to Indianapolis – the lap time is very similar, you need high and low downforce. I think that we will have to try and distinguish that, and get up at the front. Mr Hamashima will give us advice, and I will listen to him so that we can use our tyres.
Felipe, what was your best race this season?
Felipe MASSA: Well, I have had many good races this season. I have had three victories, which was very good. I had many other good results, many podiums and some bad luck as well, sometimes. I’m quite happy with the way the whole season was going, for sure. I’m not very happy with the problems we had this year which I think cost us a lot of points missed in the championship. I think maybe the best race was… All of the victories were very good races, so it’s difficult to say which one was the best! Bahrain was a very good race, starting from pole and winning, Barcelona as well, and also Turkey. I also had the opportunity to win in Nurburgring, where I was leading the whole race and then I suddenly had a problem at the end of the race. It’s been a very good season I think, in terms of fighting, in terms of competition. I’m quite happy, but for sure not very happy with the points I lost.
You didn’t seem to have any trouble adapting to the new tyres. What do you have to say to that?
Felipe MASSA: It’s true. I was quite comfortable straight away with the new regulations on the tyres. For sure I had to change the way of driving with these tyres. But for me it was not so difficult to change from one kind of construction and compound of tyres to another one we introduced this year. It was not so difficult. Also, we could manage to improve the car a lot during the season. The way of driving now is not so different compared to the way of driving last year, for example. I also adapted quite quickly and quite well to the Bridgestone tyres.
This is the second year for you as a regular driver in the Ferrari team. Do you feel differently from last year as a driver?
Felipe MASSA: I feel very comfortable inside the team. For two years I was an official test driver for Ferrari, and also I was test driver before. Last year was my first year in Ferrari, and I think I learnt a lot. This year I had much more experience, much more maturity. For sure it was much better for me this year compared to last year in terms of experience. I had a very good learning year last year, especially with Michael, and I managed to put everything I learned and all my experience into this year and doing even better.
Have you contacted Michael recently, and what have you talked about with him?
Felipe MASSA: We talk sometimes: for sure about the team, and normal life as well. I have a good relationship with him, and sometimes we just speak on the phone, sometimes we see each other on the track. It’s normal.
What are your expectations for the race at Fuji?
Felipe MASSA: Well, it’s a new track for most of the drivers in F1, so we don’t know exactly how it’s going to be. I feel for sure motivated for the new challenge, for the new track. Hopefully we can have a very good, competitive car, which I think we can have, and hopefully we will fight for the victory. It will be very good. I think we have three very important races to go. The championship is not so easy, but we need to try to put both Ferraris at the front. So let’s try.
Lewis, which race this year made you confident?
Lewis HAMILTON: I had a great opportunity to compete in the best team. I went to the first race and I wanted to do a good job, and I was third - my first podium. From there, I was continuing to try to do a good job and to learn and hopefully get some more podiums. Then we had a win in Montreal and Indianapolis, so then it started to become reality, that maybe we could win the championship this year. But I think for every race it’s important for me to focus and just remember that it is my first year. I have to remain relaxed and calm. Anything can happen.
Last year in Monaco I saw you watching from the balcony. Now you are the driver. Is there a difference between what you had expected and what you feel in reality?
Lewis HAMILTON: I think it was quite a strange experience. I’m 22, but all these years I’ve dreamed of being an F1 driver. I was in GP2, which was a great category for me, I was there, and I was watching F1. I was wondering `OK, I’m good enough to win in GP2, but will I be good enough to win in F1’? And that’s the big question that every driver has. So eventually I got to F1, and it was everything and more than I anticipated. As a youngster you dream about it, and you only think about driving the car. But there’s so much around F1, and really it’s been quite a phenomenal experience for me this year. I’m always smiling because I’m always having good fun.
You were using Bridgestone tyres even during your kart days. Do you think that’s an advantage?
Lewis HAMILTON: I’m not sure whether it’s an advantage, but it’s helped. I think my first year with Bridgestone was in 2000 when I came to Japan to race at Motegi in the 2000 World Cup Championship, which I won. So that was my first experience of being here in Japan. I think through that year I built a new bridge and new relationship with Bridgestone. And so, to come to GP2 last year, I had a fantastic season, and got a lot of experience on the tyres, again building a relationship with the people around Bridgestone. And to come to F1, it’s not an easy tyre to drive, it’s not an easy car to drive. But to arrive at your first Grand Prix and have 100% confidence in the tyre, 100% confidence that you know how to manage it through the race, I think because I’ve had experience before, it does really help - especially with GP2.
It’s the first time for everybody to race at the Fuji Speedway. Did you use a computer game to familiarise yourself with the track, or did you collect any information?
Lewis HAMILTON: My brother’s been using the Playstation 2, I think! But I didn’t have the time to try it. I don’t know really what it looks like. I know we have a very long straight, but I have no idea what to expect. But I heard it’s a very good circuit. To be honest, it is my first season in F1, but up until F1 I’ve always dreamed of racing at Suzuka, and then I arrived in F1 and then they said we don’t do Suzuka any more! So I was a bit disappointed. But it’s still a great experience coming to a new circuit where everyone is new to it. It should be a good weekend.