Singapore GP: Thursday Press Conference
Participating: David COULTHARD (Red Bull), Heikki KOVALAINEN (McLaren Mercedes), Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren Mercedes), Mark WEBBER (Red Bull).
Q. To all of you. Give us your first impressions of Singapore and the circuit.
Mark WEBBER: It looks awesome, actually. I think they have done a really god job with it. Obviously I was here last year having a quick look but that was very early days. I was a little bit concerned about how bumpy it would be in places as there is some reclaimed land if you like. Trying to get that consistent could have been a challenge for them but hopefully it will drive as well as it looks in terms of its surface. I think the grip level will be reasonable from the start and it looks like they have done a really good job.
David COULTHARD: The same as Mark really. The track looks well groomed. I look forward to seeing how much it actually flows, certain parts look sort of Melbourne-esque in that it is a street track but there is some reasonable run off. Was it Phoenix or Detroit, the American tracks, where you had a 90 degree right, a 90 degree left, the end of the lap looks very much like that. It is going to be an interesting combination of the two types of track. It doesn't look like a big traction circuit. It looks more like it is a front end type track, so it will be interesting to see how the tires get on and whether there will be any graining or not. I am just looking forward to getting out there.
Q. Is this an overtaking circuit, Lewis?
Lewis HAMILTON: My guess is as good as yours. It is very wide, so I am sure there is a bit more room to do so but whether or not you can close enough to people, we will find out.
Q. And your feelings about the circuit? Have you had a look?
LH: Not really, no. I drove to the track this morning and got off the motorway or wherever we were and I saw some of the circuit. But I haven't yet gone round the circuit. I'll do so later tonight.
Heikki KOVALAINEN: I think it looks great. I ran it on Tuesday night, as soon as I arrived here, and I think it should be an exciting race. It looks like there is room to overtake but as we saw in Valencia it is still not very easy, so it is difficult to comment whether we will see a good race here or not but it should be a spectacular evening and at least it is something different to what we are normally used to.
Q. From a personal point of view, how have you all prepared for the difference in time zone and the fact that it is a night race? Even the weather forecast and the sponsorship duties you might have. What preparations have you made?
MW: I think the sleep pattern is the most important thing, everything else is very similar. We can't control the weather, so no point worrying about that, whatever will happen, will happen. Dealing with the night race. I think the visibility is going to be very good by the looks of it, so I don't expect anything dissimilar there as I know how much effort has gone into it. You don't go to all this trouble and not have it correct. It is just moving your sleep round a little bit which hasn't been too much of a challenge as Red Bull do loads of parties every night, so it has been easy.
DC: The same sort of thing. In terms of getting used to the timing of the schedule, I have an appearance tonight at midnight which you would never have in your schedule if you were back in Europe. But of course it is all in line with the schedule we are running. I expected the city to be a bit more adapted to our time as when I was trying to get dinner last night at 3 o'clock in the morning I could only find one place open other than room service and you don't want to do a week of room service. That surprised me but apparently this area of Singapore is in lock down, so there isn't too much happening and you have to go a bit further afield to pick up some action.
LH: It is the same for me. I am living off room service and fortunately the people in the Conrad Hotel are really helping us out, so Heikki and I are able to eat at whatever time we want, so maybe you should come and stay in our hotel, David.
Q. Heikki, any concerns about the night race?
HK: First of all for myself I have really stayed in the European time and all the things have been scheduled according to a normal Grand Prix weekend. I haven't been keeping an eye on the time over here. I have just been looking at my own watch and going to sleep at the normal time and I wake up at the normal time. All the appearances are at the normal time, so nothing really had changed. About the weather, I didn't see as I was sleeping but the one morning, yesterday morning, it was raining very heavily. Of course it is a bit of an unknown. It can rain here, but we have seen many times this year there have been unstable conditions in many of the races. We will just have to try and adapt to them as much as possible, so for us as team it is no particular concern. We just need to be flexible when it rains.
Q. Mark, what do you think of Red Bull Racing's chances in the following races given after the Italian Grand Prix you know the car is a winner?
MW: We are off the back of a bit of a lean patch, if you like, especially from Valencia. We picked up the odd point here and there in Spa and Monza. We are coming here with confidence. We have got a few little upgrades on the car which I am sure other teams have as well. It is a new venue and there is every chance for us to do okay, so we are just focused on this one. That's a bit of a cliché obviously. Clearly we have got to try and finish the season as best we can. Toro Rosso are having a good run, so they are our direct competition in the Constructors' at the moment which is not ideal but the scoreboard never lies. Renault and Toyota are a little bit further away. We will focus on each session and each qualifying session and race as they come. That's how it has got to be. We know the job at hand and we are going to try and do our best.
Q. David, your feelings about the final four races and are you any closer to deciding what you are going to do for the rest of your life?
DC: Well, I don't have to decide the rest of my life, hopefully it will be a long one. I would like to contribute more points to the board than I have managed to do so this year. Mark has propped up the team in that respect. I have only had one points scoring finish, so that obviously has been a disappointment to me as the season has played out so far. There are four more opportunities and I will just take each of those races as they come. We don't feel any particular countdown or any regret or any of those sorts of things. I am enjoying being here as I will enjoy being in Melbourne, or wherever the first Grand Prix happens to be next year, but in a different capacity. It is the natural journey of life. For those of you who have been around as long as I have in Formula One there has been evolution in your life, I hope you have, and there are a lot of you who have been in Formula One a lot longer than I have.
Q. Lewis, a disappointment in Paris. How do you move on?
LH: I don't think I am coming from a disappointment. I come away from quite an exciting race in Monza. I had a great flight out here and I feel great for the weekend. We have got some good upgrades for the car. It is going to be an interesting one for all of us. I am sure we are all very excited to get out on the circuit for the first time and just experience what it is like. I am sure we have all participated in a night karting event or something like that in the past but this is going to be a lot different driving at high speeds. We will just have to wait and see how it goes. I am just excited.
Q. Heikki, to what extent are you now supporting Lewis in his championship effort or are you still able to race your own race?
HK: I think if I have a chance at some point somehow to help the team of course I will do so. The team has not given me any instructions to do something particular, so I will see how the situation is. Obviously the objective for myself is to try and score more points and do the maximum result every time I go out. That's how I am approaching the weekend. If I have the chance to win the race I will try to do that. I think the best thing I can do for the team is to try and take as many points away from the other people as possible. The good thing is I can decide myself how the situation looks and there are no instructions from the team. We are both trying to do the race with maximum effort whether it is earlier or the end of the season, like we always do.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q. (Juha Päätalo - Financial Times Germany) Can you all describe your night time activity here. What are you doing, keeping the room service cooks busy or watching movies?
DC: I think I should get mine out of the way first as it is predictable. Karen is here with me, so I am just using the extra time.
MW: I am not as fortunate as David on this trip as Anne is not here. We have just moved the whole schedule. We are not looking out of the window, we are just looking at the time. It is nothing dissimilar to what we normally do. We are doing exactly what we normally do, it is just six or seven hours later than we normally do. It is quite boring but that's how it is, mate.
HK: Yeah, the same for me. I am more fortunate than Mark as I have got Catherine here with me to keep some company. Otherwise I wake up in the morning at the normal time and I have got some stuff to do in the morning with the team and then I will do some exercise or run around the track. Yesterday I went to do some tennis lessons. Now we are just preparing for the Grand Prix. Nothing really has changed. It is just looking at my watch rather than looking outside to see if it is dark or clear. I am just looking at my watch and do things accordingly.
LH: It is the same for me. I am in the same position as Mark as Nicole is not here. I am just trying to keep myself busy, watching films, playing tennis.
Q. (Karishma Khanna – India Se) What is the most exciting or challenging part of the race that you are really looking forward to?
MW: That it's at night. I'm looking forward to a unique event, the lights, I think it will look spectacular, it's going to have a different ambience, different atmosphere; everything obviously looks different under lights, so that's the most exciting thing for me.
LH: I would agree. It's difficult to point out something that we just don't know; we just don't know what's going to be the most exciting thing when we get out on the track. It's just that it's at night. We're driving at 200mph at night time with lights flashing in our eyes and we just have to see how we deal with that. That's going to be most exciting thing.
HK: Same, exactly. See how things go in the night, I think that's the one thing to look forward to. Of course the race is probably the best part but to see how it works in the night will be interesting.
DC: Mark and I have raced at Le Mans – I don't know about the two guys in front – so we have experienced partly lit... you know at Le Mans the front straight is lit and then you disappear into the darkness and you just get on with that, you drive as quickly as you can. I don't actually think it will make a big difference whether we're under light or under sunlight. As long as you can see where you're going, that's all you really need. I guess dealing with shadows, because the actual light on the track goes from left to right in some places and right to left in others, but we came off the back of Monza, where when you go out of the Lesmos and under the trees, it gets a lot darker than when you come out of Ascari and down to Parabolica, so we're used to dealing with that as well. I actually think the night aspect is more a marketing thing than it will be an influence on the racing. I don't think anyone will say after the race 'I could have won if I could have seen a wee bit better.'
Q. (Julien Febreau – Radio Monte Carlo) What could be dangerous, what could go wrong in a night race?
LH: The lights switch off.
HK: I think someone already said a little while ago that it's not quite like a football game: if the lights go off you just stop and see how it's going, so that obviously could be very dangerous, but I think it's been very well taken care of. Hopefully.
MW: Yeah, it's obvious: if the lights go off, we're in trouble, but I think we're in good shape that that doesn't happen hopefully, touch wood.
DC: I think the biggest thing really is if we have a downpour and knowing what it's going to be like in the spray with the light refracting through the water. We don't know how much it's going to hang in the air, so that would be the most difficult thing I think.
Q. (Tomas Richtr – TV Nova) To the McLaren drivers: could you please quantify the advantage from the headlights that your team at Woking installed on your car last week?
HK: Yeah, I had a chat about that with my engineer but I still prefer the aerodynamic advantage, so I will keep the lights off.
LH: For me, I thought I needed a bit more downforce, so I've opted to use them.
Q. (Cédric Voisard – Le Figaro) There is always an extra motivation when competing in your home race or Monaco. Is there any extra motivation to be the first winner here?
DC: I guess I don't get to answer that one.
LH: For sure, being the first time in Singapore, the city we're in here is beautiful. And so to come here for the first time and see the city and to win the first night race ever for sure would be spectacular and a great experience. It's not the same as winning your home Grand Prix obviously but I think it could be special for any one of us drivers.
HK: We don't have a Grand Prix in Finland, so every Grand Prix for me is as good as it gets, to be honest, so I look forward to winning here, I look forward to winning anywhere else. It doesn't make a big difference to me.
MW: I haven't won a race, so I will take one where and if I can get it.
Q. (Mark Fogarty – Auto Action) Lewis, are the rules that have been introduced about overtaking out of touch with reality, are they being made by people who don't race and therefore don't know what goes on?
LH: I don't know, to be honest. I think some of the issues that we've had are being rectified and we just move on from it.
Q. You don't have an opinion on a pretty fundamental issue like that?
LH: Not really, no. I'm here to race. I just focus on that and let everyone else deal with the other stuff.
Q. (Mark Fogarty – Auto Action) Mark and David, how much head-scratching has been going on at Red Bull Racing about the performance of your car relative to the Toro Rosso which is very similar and is being run by a team which is apparently greatly under-resourced compared with yours?
DC: I think it might be a misperception on the resources…
MW: Exactly, yes.
DC: … I don't know the exact budget of Red Bull Racing, any more than I know the exact budget of Toro Rosso, but one of the biggest expenses for a team is the actual design and the research and development that goes into actually creating the design of a racing car. All of that is done by Red Bull Technology which is obviously funded by Red Bull, and then Red Bull Racing is funded by Red Bull and Toro Rosso is funded by Red Bull. Toro Rosso is gearing up from a small racing team to being a manufacturer in the future.
I think you're all likening Toro Rosso to the Minardi days where they were always at the back, never had the funding and never really had the car to get results. I think you just have to forget that and look at the fact that they have the same car that we have – they obviously have different drivers and a different engine – but they have enough people to build that car, they have the facilities to build it and take it to the Grands Prix.
If you look at a GP2-type scenario you have teams with the same equipment who manage to get slightly more out of it on a given weekend than another. If you actually look at it from that point of view you can say that they have been able to get a bit more out of the package over the last few races than we have. But the thought that they are a minnow team with not enough money to put tires on the car is just not the reality. You suggested they were under-funded.
Q. Q. (Mark Fogarty – Auto Action) But they don't have the same resources as Red Bull.
MW: They don't need ‘em, mate.
DC: They don't have to design their own racing car; we do that for them.
Q. (Mark Fogarty – Auto Action) Isn't that even more concerning for you then?
DC: Obviously we would like to be the Red Bull part of the team that's doing the winning, that's obviously the focus as a team. They've managed to get there before us but I don't think there's any embarrassment on our part. Four years ago they started a journey to take Jaguar – as it was in those days – and take them forward into being a winning constructor and ultimately to challenge for championships in the future, and I think four years in, you can say the first part of that dream is being realized, just with a different part of the Red Bull organization than our team.
We just have to take that on the chin and realize that there are areas that we've got to improve. We're able to see differences between our package and their package in a way that McLaren cannot have that access to the difference between their car and Ferrari. The difference between McLaren and Ferrari on a given weekend is no more or less than the difference between Toro Rosso and ourselves on a given weekend. If McLaren get beaten, they are not embarrassed, they focus on trying to improve their job and likewise for Ferrari. I just don't see the picture in the way that you see it or it appears that you see it. We just need to get on and make better use of the tools that we have.
Q. (Leonard Lim – The Straits Times) Given this is the first night race and the first race in Singapore, how important does it make practice tomorrow?
MW: Practice, on a new circuit, is always crucial, so whether it was Valencia or Turkey a few years ago or any new venue that we go to, we might do a few more laps, obviously we've still got a limitation on the amount of tires that we have, given to us on a Friday, so if it's dry all day, we only have four sets of tires to use. You always look at the balancing act between information that you're gaining if you're beginning to run out of a little bit of rubber or going out there and getting some knowledge on a new venue.
There is more of a compromise compared to a place like Barcelona where we obviously know the place very, very well and we would treat track time a little bit differently. I think you will see teams pretty keen to get a bit more mileage in than on a standard circuit and also it's potentially quite a difficult circuit in places, so that's another reason to do a little bit more. There's also one hour between the two sessions on Friday which is a little bit unusual, so we have less time to adapt the cars or change the gear ratios and things like that than we would at a conventional Grand Prix, so there are a few more things that are a little bit different but we're well prepared for these problems or challenges.
HK: I think the track time is going to be important and the circuit is going to be improving throughout the weekend, so to try and build it up towards qualifying will be crucial. As Mark said, there is always a balance between the information that we gain and the tires that you have available etc. but I think, compared to a more normal circuit, it is important to do a few laps as well.
LH: Practice will be as important as ever, to get in as much mileage as possible tomorrow.
DC: Yeah, if it doesn't rain, the best lap or the best condition the track will be in will be the last lap of the Grand Prix because that's obviously when more rubber has gone down than at any other point, so tomorrow will give us a look see where the track goes but I expect the track to evolve quite a bit Friday to Saturday, Saturday to Sunday.