Malaysia: FIA Thursday press conference
Drivers: Sébastien Bourdais (Toro Rosso), Jenson Button (Brawn GP), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes), Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari), Nico Rosberg (Williams), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
Q: Sébastien, can I start with you first. Your feelings about Melbourne and perhaps also a late start for you to the season. What were your feelings there?
Sébastien Bourdais: Well, obviously like everybody knows we showed up in Melbourne with very little running of the car and it was kind of a test session for the first few days. Qualifying didn't go well obviously for me but then in the race as usual it was a pretty eventful one and we fuelled to the finish when the safety car happened and tried a gamble and you can't say it worked perfect but we still made up quite a bit of ground. It was good to kick off the season and to get things rolling and get both cars to the end of the race. I don't know if we will eventually keep that point we inherited but it doesn't matter. It is going to be a long season and both cars at the end will have a lot more development to come and hopefully we can improve our performance level.
Q: Given the late decision that you were going to stay with the team do you feel that you were both physically and mentally prepared for the start of the season?
SB: Yes, absolutely, especially as I had the opportunity to do 12 hours before that first race. It was good, just obviously the biggest problem was the knowledge of the car. We were still receiving parts and it was very difficult to know what was going to do, what to fix problems. That was the biggest challenge but obviously it will improve as time goes by.
Q: Lewis, if I can ask you your feelings about this race. You have qualified fourth here both years though of course you had a penalty and raced to second in 2007.
Lewis Hamilton: My experiences here haven't been so bad. For sure we have not had the best result here the last year. I would have been third but we had a bit of a problem with the pit stop. But generally it has not been one of my strongest circuits but one that I am working very hard on and one that I really enjoy. The weather is always great, though it is not at the moment. I think it is the toughest race of the year due to the climate, so it is a challenge for all of us. This weekend is going to be very tough again and we don't have as quick a car as any of these guys particularly here but we are doing the best job we can with it.
Q: Tell us about your experiences with KERS in Melbourne. When did you use it and did you feel it was a benefit?
LH: We used it every lap. It is the same for everyone else who has KERS. You use it as much as you can. There are some opportunities when you are behind sometimes to use it all in one lump which does definitely give you a little bit extra end of straight speed to get a toe and have a better chance of overtaking. But it still ends up with you having to overtake at the end of the straight with a late maneuver. But who knows? Maybe here it will be even better with longer straights.
Q: And you expect to use it here?
LH: As far as I know. We haven't been told differently but we are fortunate that it is reliable enough at the moment but we definitely need to work harder to make it better.
Q: Nico, fastest in three practices in Australia. How did you feel about the race though?
Nico Rosberg: Well, unfortunately result-wise we didn't quite get the best out of it during the race. For various reasons I think as a team we just did not do the best possible job. But it was better than we expected coming to Melbourne, finishing sixth and getting three points. We have to go away and be happy with that as a starting base for hopefully a good season.
Q: You started third here in 2006 but you have had two engine failures here. Do you think that is a basic problem with the design concept in the past?
NR: Reliability here in the past, this hasn't been our strongest track. I have always been in good positions when we did stop but I still have high hopes for us here. We still have to be a bit cautious obviously because Melbourne is quite a different track than Malaysia. But definitely we have been a lot stronger this year than last year in Melbourne and we also did some set-up mistakes here last year which really hurt our performance which we have got on top of, so I am really looking forward to the race here.
Q: You are quite optimistic?
NR: I am very optimistic, yes.
Q: Sebastian Vettel, tell us about the incident with Robert Kubica. What are your thoughts on it?
Sebastian Vettel: I can only repeat what I said in Australia. Obviously I had a bad run out of turn one, Robert had more speed. I was on the soft tires and they were pretty worn at that stage and he was on the hard compound. Then braking for turn three I was trying to defend my position. I was on the inside and was very cautious to start braking because I didn't know how dirty it was there. He was braking a little bit later. Under braking I was catching up and I was more or less side-by-side. Then at some stage I noticed that he was pulling to the apex and doesn't give me a lot of room. I tried to avoid contact but at that point there was no chance to get out of there, so I was already far to the right, running over the curb and then we made contact. I lost my front wing and after that point I had no control over the car, so it was a bit of a shame that it meant the end the race for both of us. That's basically it, not much more to tell you.
Q: And racing with a penalty here?
SV: Of course I am not happy with the penalty. For me it was a racing incident. Obviously there is no logic behind taking him out of the race because I took him out of the race as well. It is not just a shame for him but also for us. We had a strong weekend and a strong race and just a couple of laps to finish and we didn't make it, so of course it is a shame. But we have to try to make the best possible job. I think we have a good car. I think we brought a good car to Australia and hopefully to here as well. The circuit is slightly different and the weather as Lewis said is not good at the moment. Let's see on Sunday and we will push very hard to get the best possible result on Sunday.
Q: Kimi, can I ask you about your experiences with KERS last weekend? Was it of use to you and how much did you use it?
Kimi Räikkönen: I used it all the time if nothing is wrong with it. For us it has been better in testing, it was good there, so I don't see any reason why we shouldn't use it.
Q: And a two time winner here. This is obviously a good circuit for you?
KR: I like the circuit. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky. It is a nice place, quite a bit different from others. It is very humid here. When it rains, it rains heavily, so we will see how it is this weekend.
Q: Would you say you are more optimistic than you were in Australia?
KR: I mean the end result could have been pretty okay without my accident. Probably the speed is not where we want to be right now but this is a completely different place. It is more like a normal circuit compared to Australia, so we will see how we can do here but I still think that our car is not too bad, so we should be able to get good results once we get everything going well.
Q: Jenson, have you come down since Melbourne?
Jenson Button: Yeah, definitely. It is only a week between races, so you are straight back into it. It has obviously been a great feeling after the weekend in Melbourne. I think it was a very special weekend, for myself and for the whole team but we very quickly had to look forward to the next chapter and look forward to the race this weekend.
Q: This circuit has been quite good for you. You have had a front row start and a couple of third places here. How good is the car going to be and how optimistic are you about the car as you have tested it on a couple of circuits and it's been very competitive there. It was very competitive in Australia. Is it going to be a car that is good everywhere?
JB: You have got to hope so. In winter testing we were strong on two different circuits, strong in Melbourne, and you would expect us to be competitive here. Nobody knows yet how competitive compared to the rest of the field. But I enjoy this circuit. I really do. It is a very fast flowing circuit and I think it will suit our car pretty well. There are some very low speed corners which I think will suit us. Also, mechanically our car is strong. I am looking forward to getting out on the circuit tomorrow. Weather-wise it is going to be a lot trickier this weekend than in Melbourne. We had a few safety cars thrown into the mix to make it exciting but here with the weather it is going to be difficult to know what is going to happen over the race weekend.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q (Frédéric Ferret – L'Equipe): Jenson, how do you feel to have the best car?
JB: It is a new feeling and it feels great. I think a few of us have sat here and been in competitive cars in the past. It is obviously a good feeling. The strange thing is after the winter we had and the last couple of years you do the first race and you win it and it is obviously exciting and quite emotional but you get over that pretty quick and you are on to the next race. You get used to being at the front very quickly, I suppose it is because it's what we have all done in the categories leading up to Formula One.
Q (Will Buxton – Australasian Motor Sport News): A question to everyone on the subject of KERS. Do you see it more as an offensive or defensive button at the moment? Are you using it more to overtake people than stop people overtaking you? To the guys that don't have KERS, are you finding it is being used to overtake you or stop you overtaking somebody?
NR: I had an eventful race racing against a lot of people who had KERS and I found it quite challenging for myself actually because especially to overtake was difficult but then to defend was very difficult against people that did have KERS just because they come at you very quickly. That made it quite challenging but I guess that is what the sport needs, so from that point of view it was quite good.
LH: I think it was perhaps better for defending. If you have a bad exit of some sort and there is a quick car behind you, for example, the Toyota couldn't get close enough to out-brake me into some of the corners. Obviously at the end of the slipstream it is right at the end, into the corner, that you are overtaking someone and you know you can get close enough to do that. It was an advantage in terms of defending.
KR: We use it for lap time. Of course it can help you overtake or defending your position at some places but it really depends what happens during the race where you are going to use it.
SV: I think mainly the people use it to get an advantage on the lap time and then of course it can help you in the races maybe sometimes to pass or defend. Mainly we are using it to gain performance otherwise it would not make sense to run it.
Q (Sarah Holt – BBC Sport): Jenson, you've been distracted by the weather. You go into this race favorite to win back-to-back victories. Are you worried that the forecast wet weather and diminishing light with the late staging of the race could undermine your performance this weekend? We know that Rubens is super-strong in the wet. Can you explain a little bit about your approach to driving in the wet?
JB: Well, I've actually done OK driving in the wet myself, so I'm not too worried about that. The last two years we've come to circuits hoping for rain because it throws a bit of excitement into the race for us because we would normally be hanging around at the back but here, when you've got a quick car you obviously want it to be dry and you don't want any safety cars, you don't even want a breath of wind. So for sure, I would rather it was just dry this weekend but looking at the weather forecast it's going to be storms in the afternoons and obviously it's a five o' clock race. It makes it more difficult and a bit more challenging for sure but we'll take it in our stride hopefully and hopefully have a good car in the wet. We haven't tested in the wet yet with our car but it's a good car and we've just got to hope it works in the wet. The only thing we've got to work out is the front wing angles and what-have-you because previous cars we've had we've had to adjust massively for the wet conditions, so hopefully we're going to have some wet running before the race.
Q (Paulo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport): Lewis, we are waiting for the stewards' decision but can you tell us what has changed from Sunday to today that they had to reconsider everything and listen to both you and Jarno?
LH: Well, all I can really say is that they are obviously trying to resolve the situation and looking into more detail whether the penalty for Jarno was fair and that's all I can really say.
Q (Paulo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport): Has it to do with some interviews and quotes after the race or some comments between you and your team engineer on the radio?
LH: It's just to do with information that they have. I shouldn't really talk too much about it. It's being resolved at the moment, so we have to wait and see what happens.
Q (Juha Päätalo – Financial Times Germany): This one is for Kimi and Lewis: theoretically, the KERS should be an advantage at restarts but in Melbourne it didn't seem to help at all. Do you think that was because of cool tires and are you expecting a different picture at other races?
KR: As I said, it depends on many different things, it's not just that you get 80 horsepower and you are going to get around somebody or you can pass easily. It's always if your car is good or it's not good and if you get a good run on him, or he gets the jump on you at the restart. It's just not pretty straightforward thinking. At the start, it definitely helps but at a restart it's not so easy.
LH: The tires are just the issue, I think, getting heat back into the tires is what stops everyone from overtaking.
Q (James Allen – Financial Times): Can I ask Lewis and Kimi how many seconds after you launch the car do you feel the boost from KERS? I realize you have to get to 100km/h before you can actually use it but how many seconds is it then before you feel the kick up your back?
LH: I haven't been using it at the starts and I didn't use it at my start in Melbourne. You can press it whenever you want, as far as I know. You feel a little bit of a boost of power which is cool. When you press it, it seems to work.
Q (Will Buxton – Australasian Motor Sport News): One for everybody on tires: how much is the wider gap affecting you guys in the race, how much is it going to change strategy over the coming races?
JB: I think they've done it to make it more exciting between the tires choices and a few more different strategies. Obviously it made a big difference with the safety cars in Melbourne because the softer tire was graining for most people, so it threw it up in the air a little bit which was good. Here we have a soft tire and a hard tire. The hard tire we haven't run yet in testing, so that's going to be interesting to see if we can get it to work here. I think it's going to take a couple of laps to get heat into it. It's going to be difficult to work out which is the better tire and which is the tire for the race but that's obviously what we'll be doing tomorrow.
KR: For sure it makes the race much more exciting when somebody has the harder and somebody the softer tires, so it makes the lap time difference much bigger between the cars, so you can see some overtaking. It's also a little bit tricky to get them working in the way you want sometimes. For us the soft tire didn't last very long, so we just came in and changed the tires, it was a good move. Everybody needs to suffer on the worse tire at some point in the race. For us, we decided to start with them.
SV: I think it has an effect on your strategy. You could see everyone was struggling the whole weekend to make the soft tire last and therefore the majority of the people pitted very late for the last stop and had a very, very short last stint. It's always tricky, in a way. We asked for a wider separation between soft and hard. In Australia there was quite an extreme wide separation as the hard ones were difficult to warm up and the soft ones were difficult to keep alive. We will see how the tires work here. I'm looking forward to the hard compound, because I think it's a totally new compound and no one has had any experience on it yet, so we will see how it works here.
SB: Obviously it's a bit of a tricky situation when you have to pick your strategy and you don't know when the safety car is going to happen. That's really what makes your strategy work or not. If it's a straightforward race and you know what's going to happen then you make your choice, knowing what's going to happen. You can be wrong, but there are less chances if it's the other way round and safety cars start messing up everything, then it's a big problem. Personally, I understand the reasons and obviously it makes racing very exciting. Personally I'm not a big fan of it because I just think it takes a lot of things away from the driver because you can't control everything and it's a bit artificial, but definitely for the show it's a good thing.
LH: There's not really much more to say, they've all said it. There's quite a big difference between both compounds but it makes racing more exciting.
NR: I think it's a very good thing for the sport, it makes it very challenging for the teams to get it right. It's a big challenge to sort out strategy, what you're going to do, how you're going to do it, because there's such a variable in it with these tires. And for the racing it's great, as we saw in Melbourne. I was a special victim of that, for example, just went backwards. I was just so slow on the softs because they just went away completely, but I'm happy with it, I think it's good.
Q (Paulo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport): Jenson, do you think here we are going to see the same situation as in Melbourne with Brawn with a huge advantage over the others? Do you think it's going to be tighter or do you expect even more [of a gap]?
JB: I don't know, we have to wait and see. I've already answered this question really, but we don't really know how much advantage we had in Melbourne either. It's difficult to say with the safety cars and what-have-you but it wasn't a perfect weekend in Melbourne. If we get a perfect weekend here, obviously we'll be looking strong but this is a very different circuit and I think that some of the other teams could be strong here. And I think that the cars with KERS, as far as we know, will have a bigger advantage than they had in Melbourne, so they are obviously to watch out for, especially Ferrari, so we wait and see. We hope we've got an advantage but we won't know until qualifying on Saturday.
Q (Frédéric Ferret – L'Equipe): Jenson, who do you think will cope with you as you seem unbeatable at the moment?
JB: Difficult to say after one race, really, that we're unbeatable. I don't know. Red Bull were obviously quick, quicker than what we expected in Melbourne. I didn't think that they would be the team that would be up at the front. I also think that Ferrari will catch up, they always do. Those two teams are the teams for me that are going to be competitive going forward and also BMW. It's a very strange mix with teams this year. It seems to be very close, we seem to have a slight advantage and then everyone else is very close and in the mix. It makes it exciting and I think different people will stand out at this race.
Q (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport): Lewis, can you give us your version, your point-of-view of what happened last Sunday at the end of the race?
LH: I just said... I'm sorry, I'm usually happy to answer these questions but the situation is being resolved at the moment, so I think it's probably improper for me to talk about it or discuss it now but for sure, afterwards we can talk about it.
Q (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport): And I would just like to know from all of you if only the weather can change the first two steps on the podium for Sunday?
JB: I hope not. Apart from that, what can I say?
SB: I think if it rains like this we will need to organize a boat race.
KR: It can change anything or everything if it rains like it was raining just now. We will see what happens.
JB: If it's raining like that it's about keeping on the circuit, and I've struggled with that in the past couple of years in the wet.
SV: I think it can, yes, you've already seen in the past – obviously I'm not that old, so I haven't got that much experience – but I think there have been a lot of races where, in the wet conditions it mixes up the field and also sometimes it happens that the podium looks different.
Q (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport): Sorry, my question was can only the weather make the change, the difference? Is there somebody else who can fight for victory in this Grand Prix?
LH: When it's wet for sure it makes it more of a lottery for everyone. It becomes more of a challenge for everyone. It's not necessarily the fastest cars that can win. It's who can keep the car on the track and who is in the right place at the right time, so for sure anyone from the back can have the same opportunity as the one at the front.
SB: Who knows? We don't even know what this car is like in the rain, so I don't think we can really give an answer to this.
NR: To answer the question, if it doesn't rain then Brawn Grand Prix should win and if it does rain then things might look a little bit different but the rain is the only chance that we all have, I think, to change that in some way.
Q (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo): To all drivers: if the FIA confirms that the cars from Brawn, Toyota and Williams are all legal, as is very possible, do you think that we will have a new start to the season at the Spanish Grand Prix with all teams changing their cars and new teams will come to the top and others going down?
JB: Barcelona is the first race where I think you will see packages on cars. Everyone's going to be making a step forward this year and obviously there is a mass of rule changes, so people could make big, big steps forward, I think, coming into the European races. And for sure, all of the cars at the front will have to watch out for that. The season is not over, we've only had one race and I think that with the rule changes, people can make big steps forward. It's about us being able to keep up with them more than anything, with the steps in performance.