Europe: FIA Thursday press conference
Drivers: Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso-Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Renault), Luca Badoer (Ferrari), Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes).
Q: Firstly, a question to you all. What have you been doing during the break?
Jaime Alguersuari: I was racing World Series by Renault, my other championship. I did a race in Portimão and it was really good. I won and after this I was back in Barcelona. I spent a couple of days in Ibiza with my family, that's all.
Q: Luca, I suspect you have got quite a story to tell?
Luca Badoer: I did not have a holiday. I just worked very hard in a physical way because after Felipe's accident and Michael tried to drive the car it was very clear for us that, if Michael was not able, then it was my turn. I kept really concentrating and thinking about everything I could do to be in the best position for the race. I did really a lot of training.
Q: So training every day in the gym. Any driving?
LB: I drove a go-kart because I think it is very good for general training. Obviously I did the special training for the neck with my special machine to improve all the muscle and the resistance of the heart, so I was pushing really hard.
Q: Lewis, what have you been up to since the last race?
Lewis Hamilton: Not too much really. Nothing particularly fancy. I spent some time with my family and then I spent the rest of my time in Los Angeles with my girlfriend, so just chilling at home.
Q: On the beach in LA?
LH: I did go to the beach on two days in LA but the water is freezing, so I didn't go in the water. And otherwise I did a bit of training and just good food.
Q: But you haven't put on any weight?
LH: No, no way.
Jenson Button: I spent a couple of weeks in the South of France with my girlfriend and friends. I did a triathlon as well in the UK which was quite fun, the London Triathlon. I did the painful bit then I had some fun.
Q: And Fernando?
Fernando Alonso: Nothing really.
Q: You don't look as though you have been in the sun?
FA: No, not much.
Q: Just at home?
Q: Jaime, your feeling after doing your first grand prix. How do you feel you got on?
JA: I got quite used to the car and at the end we managed to finish the race with no mistakes which was a little bit our aim, our main objective for that weekend. Now we are back to Valencia. For sure it has to be a little bit better step-by-step and hopefully we can get a little bit more in qualifying and also try to finish the race. That is the main objective again for the weekend.
Q: Were there any surprises in Formula One as far as you were concerned in Hungary?
JA: Well, I mean I expected to be very bad. I expected to be physically really bad in the race but at the end we managed to finish it. I think it was not as bad as I expected, so I am looking forward to the next races.
Q: And what are your feelings about racing in Spain, in your home country?
JA: I think it is always good to race here. I raced here last year with F3 and I have a good feeling for this track and hopefully we can do a good job this weekend. It is always good to be in Spain racing.
Q: Luca, do you remember your last race? When was it?
LB: I read in a newspaper that it was Japan 1999.
Q: So how prepared do you feel for this race?
LB: I mean my last race was 10 years ago more or less but I did in these 10 years close to 150,000kms with Formula One. I am used to doing two races in one day because of the tests, sometimes we did two races in a day, so it is not that really I am worried for this aspect of the situation. I am used to the race as before I did a lot of races. If you think for somebody who had never raced maybe it is a problem but I know what it was in the past, so I have an idea. I am in a better position than somebody who didn't have a race, so at the moment I am very calm, very quiet.
Q: Not excited?
LB: Yeah, in a way I am very excited as this is my dream. To drive for Ferrari in Formula One was for all my life being simply a dream. Now I can have it and I am the happiest driver in the world.
Q: Do you think you have probably earned it after all the testing you have done?
Q: Lewis, after winning in Hungary how was that feeling for you?
LH: It was a great feeling. It was fantastic going back to the factory and seeing all my team in the red tops and being greeted by everyone and just to see the smiles on all their faces after clearly a very tough season so far. It was a great way to start everyone's holiday as well. It was quite a good period for everyone to see everyone able to relax and go back and spend some time with their families. I think it was a perfect weekend to begin that.
Q: Give us some idea what it has taken for the team and yourself to get to that stage, to get back on top again?
LH: Well, I think before the beginning of the season, before the first race we were a good two-and-a-half, almost three seconds off the pace. For the first race we brought a huge amount of updates to the car. The team were pushing way beyond our means and way beyond the actual power that we had as individuals. Everyone was working way overtime and whilst we were making those changes to catch up, everyone was making a step forward, so perhaps you did not see the impact it had but in the car we felt it bit by bit get better. Clearly at the last two races we had made a much, much bigger step to be able to keep up with the other guys. That is really just due to the team never giving up and never thinking for a second I am going to leave that aside, I am going to leave it for another day. No-one lost the determination. Everyone just kept pushing and even I have been back to the factory and seen everyone's determination and enthusiasm and it had an impact on me. It is just a family environment with us all pushing together and working to achieve our goals.
Q: And the chances of you staying on top now?
LH: I hope so. We are going to do the best job we can. Again we just have to take it race by race. We know we have got a lot of very competitive teams around us who will continue to improve during the season but it is just a great feeling for us to know that we have that competitiveness back in the car.
Q: Jenson, what has been going wrong? Do you genuinely feel that you can be back on top again?
JB: Well, you know we have got to hope. I think we understand the car much better than we did one or two races ago. It looks positive and we have got to hope when we get onto the circuit tomorrow that it feels positive and it is not just what we see in the data. We have made some steps forward since the last race and I think we have also looked at a few of the areas that we thought we had improved in over the last couple of races. We have looked at the possibility of going back on those changes. There has been a lot of work going on in the time that we have been able to over the break and we come here with a positive attitude. We have had a great season this year. If someone had said to me 'you could win six of the 10 races' I would have bitten their arm off. It is just they all happened at the start of the season. But we can be strong again. This car is not bad. I think that we have just maybe gone slightly in the wrong direction. But we will pick up our pace for sure. I really enjoy this circuit. I think it is a real buzz to get a good lap around here, so I am looking forward to getting out there tomorrow and seeing where we are.
Q: Is it operational or engineering changes that you have made in the past?
JB: The changes with the car that we have made, some of them are definitely positive. Some of them maybe aren't so. It does make it very difficult in season if you do take slightly the long direction because you can't test and you can't do comparisons and it is very, very difficult going to a circuit that is dusty on a Friday. It is very difficult to do a back-to-back with a big change as it can take a long time to make that change to the car and you lose a lot of circuit time. But I think going through the date we understand the car which is the most important thing and as I said we have made some improvements which should help us a little bit. I know everyone is making improvements but we have got to try and stay on top of it as we need to get some good results. We can't finish off of the podium. We need to be on the podium as often as possible but it is very, very competitive now. You haven't just got the Red Bulls who are strong. You have got the McLarens, the Ferraris, the Renaults and even the Williams has been competitive. Nico [Rosberg] has finished in front of me the last three races, so we need to get back on top of it. I have got an 18.5 point lead but that could disappear very quickly. We are not going to get to worried, we are just going to stay positive and work out our issues as we do have an advantage. 18.5 points is quite a bit but we need to make sure that we go into this race and we have a positive attitude and hope that we can get back to the front again.
Q: Fernando, how confident were you that you were going to be here at all at this race?
FA: 99 per cent.
Q: So you didn't think that the penalty was going to stay?
FA: I was hoping not as I think the penalty was too hard on us. I was confident that at the end everything was clear for us and we were ready to race in Valencia. I think the team was quite optimistic on that and they sent the trucks and everything one week before the appeal, so I think in our heads it was 100 per cent racing in Valencia.
Q: Your race here last year was pretty rotten. How are you feeling about being competitive this year?
FA: We will see. Obviously it is going to be a tough weekend. I may say now that I think the times are very close and it is so competitive now. From second to 12th it is only two or three tenths, so we will try to be in the front part of that pack. At the Nürburgring we were the fastest lap in the race or in Hungary with the pole we try to do some good races and try for a good performance here in front of the home crowd. We know it is going to be difficult. Last year it was a bit difficult as we only did one corner before Nakajima hit me, so hopefully this year I can finish the race as I said in front of your own people the worst thing that can happen is if you have to retire.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q (Rodrigo Franca – VIP Magazine): Fernando, you said about the home crowd. In Barcelona in 2001 you were just like Jaime. You had no pressure in the Minardi and Pedro de la Rosa was the centre of Spain's expectations. Do you miss something about that time or do you prefer being a champion?
FA: No, not much. I prefer to be in this position. If you are the centre of attention it is because you have some possibilities and you have some performance in your car that maybe you are able to do some good things. To have no pressure is okay for one race, two races but we are all competitive people and we want to win.
Q (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport): Luca, in a recent interview, Nicola Larini said one of the worst things for Luca is that he's not used to racing any more. It's a long time since he raced, that the start is a very critical moment, then overtaking, fighting with other drivers. What do you think about this?
LB: I will be very careful but all I can say is that we will see.
Q (MC): Is it something that a racing driver loses, the ability to understand the whereabouts of other cars?
LB: In a way, yes, but as I said before, I've done a lot of races in my life. I did F3000, F3, go-karts, so this was just a pause. I've raced in the past, I can race again in the future, so honestly, for me Valencia will be a race in which I have to learn everything. I have to get used to being back in the car because it's a long time since I drove – it's not so long but it's enough. So I have to drive a lot on Friday. I have to get used to this kind of qualifying and I have to get used to being at a race again, so if I had only Valencia, only one chance, I would be very worried, and I would try to do everything, and maybe with a lot of pressure and maybe with a lot of mistakes but that's not the case because until Felipe comes back, the car is mine, so I have some time in which to improve, to develop the situation.
Q (Ed Gorman – The Times): Jenson, Ross [Brawn] talked after the last race about having to work back through the data to see what changes had been made, to perhaps try and pinpoint where they might have taken a wrong turning. Have you got any sense from them that they might have indentified the point at which the car went slightly off the rails?
JB: Yeah, for sure. All the way through the season, at every race you arrive at you bring something new and you try something new, be it aerodynamics or mechanical set-up. There are lots of different things that you can try throughout the season and you have to do it at the races. And we know – we think we know where we went wrong. You never know a hundred percent, for sure, unless you go down to the circuit and you do a back-to-back which we will be doing here but we think we understand the car and the issues that we have and hopefully they will be solved at this race. As I said, in the data we think we know a hundred percent where we've gone wrong but until you get on to the circuit and test it you never know. A driver's point of view is very important.
Q (Ed Gorman – The Times): In a very general sense, you can give us any indication of actually what that area is, just so that we can get a sense of what you're talking about?
JB: I think it's better for us to leave it as it is at the moment and just get on with the weekend. After the weekend we might tell you.
Q (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo): Fernando, what didn't you have from your ex-team-mate that you can expect from your new one?
FA: I think that I always had a good relationship with Nelson. I consider him to be a very good driver and a very nice person. I'm sure he will have more opportunities in Formula One because I really think he has the talent. Obviously something went wrong with him, with the team or whatever. Technically speaking, I think we always had the same car; this has to be clear because there was a lot of information this summer. But maybe on the other side, on the human side with the team he was maybe never very happy with the team or whatever, so it was difficult. I also remember my time in 2003/4 with the team, it was not so easy when you arrive in Formula One and being a hundred percent confident and happy with the team, so I think this was one of the problems with Nelsinho unfortunately. We will see with Romain [Grosjean]. I think it's a good opportunity for him to come into Formula One now, to arrive in Formula One without too much pressure and for the future, for next year, all the races that he does this year can be a big opportunity to consolidate his Formula One career. I hope the best for Nelsinho as I said and I also hope the best for Romain to do well in these races and help us to score more points in the Constructors' Championship because we're now a little bit behind.
Q (Joris Fioriti – AFP): Luca, you were not Ferrari's first choice in the first place. Were you frustrated by that? And then a question which is linked: everyone was expecting Michael Schumacher to be on track this weekend; does that put more pressure on you?
LB: Honestly, I'm a big fan of him as well. It was also fine and good for me to see him again on the track. I have spent a lot of time with him over the last 20 days. We trained together, we drove go-karts together. As I said before, I have a great relationship with him. We are very good friends. So we live this time together. It was funny because we knew immediately that it was him or me and honestly, I don't feel that to replace Michael Schumacher is like a second choice or a bad choice because I'm replacing the best champion in the world at the moment.
Q (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport): Luca, could you describe to us what you felt this morning when you arrived here in the paddock? You are the first Italian for 15 years to race a Ferrari.
LB: I just tried to understand the circuit. It's the first time I've been to Valencia, so everything is new to me: the car parking, the entry, the pits, so I was looking around for all these things and then I went out onto the track. I did two or three laps of the track, to better understand physically the corners, the kind of asphalt, the walls at the side of the track, everything, with my engineer. The feeling at the moment surprises me but I'm very calm. It's like being in a test situation because a lot of the time, at the test, I was with all the team and we are pushing very hard in every way, also at a test, so until I'm not in qualifying or on the starting grid, I don't think I will feel a big difference. Tomorrow will be like a normal test day, all the team together, at the track.
Q: Carole Capitaine [L'Equipe] A question for all the drivers except Luca: a question about Michael Schumacher. Do you believe it's a shame Michael can't race in Valencia, and are you curious, like many people, what he could have done in the race after two years off?
JB: I'm sure everyone was very excited about Michael Schumacher racing again. He's achieved more in the sport than anyone and having someone who's achieved as much as he has back in the sport is for sure very good for the sport, and also another World Champion. For him, I'm sure he's really, really disappointed that he couldn't be here as well but he can't race, so we move on and I think we have a very competitive field anyway without Michael. But I think the most disappointed man, forgetting all of us, has got to be Michael himself. He's had his neck injury and he's not able to be on the grid but as I said, life goes on and we've got a couple of World Champions on the grid at the moment – well, three World Champions on the grid at the moment – and it's a pretty competitive field.
Q (MC): Jaime, would you like to have raced against Michael Schumacher?
JA: Yeah, I think that it was unbelievable for me, a great opportunity especially because I have just upgraded to Formula One and I think Michael has always been a reference for young drivers and especially for me. I think it was really good, but now, as Jenson said, the situation is like this and we accept it and we race and we have fun all the same.
LH: These guys have commented quite well, I think. He's a racing legend and it would have been a real privilege and an honor for all of us to have competed against him. Obviously you guys have, I haven't, but to see him back, I think, would have been great for the sport and I think all we can do is wish him well, wish him a strong recovery and look forward to us racing together.
LB: If I can say something as well, because I spent a lot of time with him, I can let you understand that he was really pushing very hard. He was training a lot, he spent a lot of time [doing that] because he wanted to come back. He did everything, he tried everything, he lost three kilos in seven days, he was really pushing one hundred percent because it was sort of his dream to come back and drive in Formula One again. You have to keep in mind that he was missing something; he really tried everything but it was not possible because of the neck problem.
Q (Rodrigo Franca – VIP Magazine): Question for all, starting with Fernando, so he can't say 'same'! Where will you guys be in 2010? I know it's difficult to say anything about that at the moment but what can you tell us?
FA: The same, they will say! I don't know, in Formula One for sure.
JB: You hope! The same for me, yeah, basically.
LH: I have to say the same.
JB: You've got to stay, haven't you?
Q (MC): Haven't you got a contract?
Q (MC): Jenson, have you got a contract?
Q (MC): Fernando, contract with Renault?
JB: Same us.
JA: Yeah, I hope it's the same.
LB: I was talking with Ferrari before Hungary to renew my contract for next year but after Hungary everything is... I don't know, I honestly don't know what will happen next year. We will see.
Q (Naoise Holohan – Manipe F1): Luca, what's going to be your aim for this weekend, is it for points or are you just aiming to finish the race?
LB: No, I have no objective for this weekend. As I told you before, it's a sort of test for me, so it would be nice to finish the race.
Q (Carlos Miquel – Diario AS): Fernando, do you think it's possible to fight for the podium or is it a poor track for your car?
FA: I really don't know. Looking at the last two races, as I said, we have to be optimistic because the car has improved a lot and we look more competitive now but I think the competition is also quite difficult at the moment. As Jenson said before, it's not only the Red Bulls, it's the McLarens, the Brawns, the Williams, Ferrari, so there are a lot of cars in a very close gap, so if we have a perfect weekend, why not? We can fight in the top five maybe, and hopefully, possibly the podium but if we make any little mistake, we can easily be twelfth, eleventh position. So that's the good thing about the championship at the moment; everything is so close, so competitive. You have to be really perfect all weekend and we will try to be so. I think it will be more difficult than in Budapest which was maybe a circuit that was a little bit better for our car. I think here in Valencia we might have a few more problems with all the braking and things like that but we will try our best anyway.