Australian GP Friday press conference

DRIVERS: Luciano Burti (Jaguar) Jenson Button (Benetton) Kimi Raikkonen (Sauber) TEAM PERSONNEL: Ron Dennis (Mclaren) Paul Stoddart (Minardi) Jean Todt (Ferrrari) Q. Kimi Raikkonen, dare I ask you to start off. Just your feelings of ...

DRIVERS:
Luciano Burti (Jaguar)
Jenson Button (Benetton)
Kimi Raikkonen (Sauber)

TEAM PERSONNEL:
Ron Dennis (Mclaren)
Paul Stoddart (Minardi)
Jean Todt (Ferrrari)

Q. Kimi Raikkonen, dare I ask you to start off. Just your feelings of how things went today?

Kimi Raikkonen: Things were pretty good. On the first session we had some brake problems, but then on the second session we sorted those out and I had just a bit of a set-up problem, and that's why we lost quite a bit of time.

Q. What do you think of the circuit? First time here?

KR: It seems to be a very nice circuit, it's not to difficult to learn, and some nice corners in there.

Q. So is this your sort of circuit, or do you like twistier circuits or faster?

KR: It doesn't matter really for me which kind of circuit. It's always nice to come to different circuits.

Q. Your feelings about Formula One. What have been the big surprises for you?

KR: I don't know. I think the whole thing is so much bigger than I am used to, and all the media and also the driving in Formula One - it's the whole package, really.

Q. So where will you be happy to qualify tomorrow?

KR: If I look at today's result, I hope in top 10 tomorrow, but we will see.

Q. That's a possibility?

KR: Yes.

Q. Thanks, Kimi. Jenson, moving on to you. A year ago, you were in a similar position, I think. Do you remember that.

Jenson Button: Yes.

Q. Does it seem a long year?

JB: It doesn't; it seems to have flown by pretty quickly. It's just a pity we're in the same position as I was last year.

Q. The feelings this year - I know at the launch everyone was saying, "We're not expecting too much, we can't expect too much". Is that still the case, do you feel?

JB: Yes, definitely. Obviously we didn't know where we were going to stand before we came here. Looking at Giancarlo's effort, it's what we expected really, to be in that sort of position again. Friday testing, you don't really know much. But if we're in that position for qualifying, I think that's what we pretty much expected.

Q. What happened? You had a puncture today; any idea how that was caused?

JB: Haven't got a clue. As you said, it was a puncture, and obviously Michelin are looking into it. I don't really know how it happened.

Q. What about the basic handling of the car today, the basic feelings of the car today?

JB: Obviously it hasn't gone to plan, really. We expected to be little bit further up than we are, but again we haven't had the best day. We had an engine change after the first session, so I wasn't able to get out until half-way through the second session, and then I had the puncture, and it's just been a pretty awful day. It can only get better, I think. So I'm just looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully forget about today, because we didn't really learn much at all - except going round on three wheels isn't very quick.

Q. The side walls held up pretty well, though.

JB: Pretty good, weren't they?

Q. I don't suppose they gave you much grip, though?

JB: Yes.

Q. Obviously you've had some reliability problems as well. When are you expecting those to improve?

JB: The problem we had this morning wasn't a major problem, it's just something small, but we thought it was best to change the engine. Obviously we won't really know in the long run until the race, but I think it's looking okay.

Q. Has the team done a race distance ?

JB: We have done some race distances, yes, throughout testing.

Q. Luciano, it must be nice to have a third day for your Grand Prix, after your debut, but it didn't all go according to plan today. What happened?

Luciano Burti: Well, it was okay until I put it into the wall. No, the first session was pretty good. It was just a case to learn the track, try to improve the car. It's quite difficult in the beginning because the track gets quicker and quicker, so really you have to live with the car a little bit and just don't chase the conditions too much. So the first session was okay. Then the second, I had a problem with the engine, so I lost probably 20 minutes of the session, and I had to go straightaway on new tyres. I pushed maybe a little bit too hard, just got my rear left wheel on the grass, which spun me around, and unfortunately here there is no room for mistakes. I spun pretty slowly, to be honest, but that was enough to put it into the wall, and that was it really.

Q. What are your feelings about the season as a whole, because a lot of people are being quite negative about Jaguar?

LB: Of course, the team had a difficult season last year, they made a lot of changes. You know, I think it's a step forward compared to last year, but of course the team is still quite new, there's a lot more to come, a lot of changes that they are going to have. The results will come in few months' time, they don't happen from night to day. So I'm positive about it. I know it's going to be tough. It's not easy when you're competing against McLaren, Ferrari, Williams. So we are trying our best, I'm trying my best, so let's see what happens.

Q. First time here. What do you think of the circuit?

LB: It's okay for, let's say, a street course. I was surprised how smooth it is. Of course, is very row grip. If you go off line a little bit, you are in trouble. But I would say it's pretty good.

Q. Ron Dennis, first of all, are you quite surprised today, the times have been so quick? We have actually approached the all-time lap record of the circuit today, we got very close in the first session.

Ron Dennis: Not particularly. I think everyone anticipated a performance comparable to what we had, mainly coming from the tyres, of course, because the aerodynamic regulations have slowed the cars down, but not enough to accommodate the performance coming from this year's tyres.

Q. So it has all come from the tyres, basically?

RD: Mainly.

Q. Did the session today run pretty much according to plan? I mean, your guys had a couple of off-track excursions, I think.

RD: Only in the grass. I don't think either of them went in the gravel. Nothing at all, really; we had a trouble-free day.

Q. Would you say you are where you thought you were going to be in comparison to your rivals?

RD:I would say wait and see until tomorrow. We're pretty focused, as always, on just getting the car optimised for the race over the course of today. It is clear where our main competition is, and we won't know until tomorrow, maybe even the race, because I think how a car works on these tyres is going to be quite critical to, the outcome of the Grand Prix. I think inevitably as you pick up lap time, you lose some of the tyre durability, last year we were in a monopoly situation, running relatively hard tyres, not particularly sophisticated constructions. And as you go towards an optimum race tyre, within the regulations we have, you are going to arrive at a situation where the car balance is going to be critical to the consistency of the lap times. I am sure all Grand Prix teams are focused on that objective, but actually being focused in achieving a good constant balance on what are, in broad terms, softer tyres, is really where it's going to be at to win the races.

Q. Is it going to be a concern to remain within the FIA's limits of tyre wear?

RD: I don't think here is going to be an issue. I think F1 is very cautious about that aspect. Of course both tyre companies, and certainly Bridgestone, are very concerned that we stay within what we believe the interpretation of the FIA will be. I think it's more likely to be circuits like Monte Carlo that give birth to these problems, and perhaps not even there. It's the circuits that respond to the softer compounds which will be on the limit, but of course, as we all know, Malaysia is notorious for being a circuit that does take a lot out of the tyres, and it could be as early as Malaysia, but we just have to wait and see.

Q. So what other features are the main points you have to concentrate on for this race?

RD: I think being the first race, obviously reliability. Anybody who wants to win has to push to the very limits of a whole range of performance parameters and inevitably, as you put yourself in that sort of slightly rarefied atmosphere, then you do come across more reliability issues. I think again our main competition has similar problems and it's a question of how well we both accommodate between the last tests and Sunday, how well do we our respective jobs. First Grand Prix are about reliability as well as performance.

Q. Have you done race distances?

RD:Yes, we have achieved a few - not as trouble-free as we would like, but at the same time you have to concentrate on getting performance, and that's what we have been trying to do: balance, performance and reliability. I think that we have more to come, and we have had to take, say, a slightly more conservative approach than we would like, but it seems that we are still able to be competitive.

Q. Paul, nice to see you here. What were your feelings when the session began this morning?

Paul Stoddart: Very nervous before it began, and very proud after it had finished.

Q. Was it a sort of warm glow of satisfaction?

PS: It really was. I think most of you know that, prior to arriving here today, we had done 50 kilometres on one chassis - and I hope you're not going to ask me if we've done race distance, because quite obviously we haven't. But basically just totally proud. Everyone knows we moved mountains to get it here, and I think on our performance today, I'M probably the happiest person in the pit lane.

Q. You have sort of two centres, Ledbury and Faenza. How much has Ledbury been able to contribute and how big is that facility?

PS: The facility, in terms of square feet, is quite big; it's bigger than some of the other Formula One teams, but obviously in facilities, it still has a long way to go. The two workforces really have sort of married themselves together quite nicely, and most of this car - indeed all of it - was built in Faenza. There's about 50 or 60 Ledbury people that have just become temporary Italian residents over the last six weeks, and they will now get a chance to go back to England.

Q. Is there a fairly regular European Aviation service from somewhere near Ledbury to Faenza?

PS: I just said to somebody else today, we can actually get door-to-door almost quicker than some of the guys in UK can get from a busy Heathrow Airport and a lousy motorway system to their own bases, so it's not too bad.

Q. What about the combination of being an Australian and an Italian team - you couldn't be starting the season anywhere better, could you, than here?

PS: No, it's a dream come true, it really is, in the way that Melbourne, Australia, has really warmed to us, and the support that we have had is simply overwhelming, it really is; it's quite touching.

Q. I'm sure what you would like to see is support in terms of names on side pods and things like that?

PS: Well, we've managed to pick up an Australian sponsor this weekend. It won't be a first, but it's certainly pleasing.

Q. So are there likely to be more, do you feel?

PS: I hope so, and I hope they get behind the Australian drivers as well because there's a lot of talent down here and they deserve a break.

Q. What happened with Tarso today? What was that problem?

PS: It was engine, and we know that we have to wait until Barcelona before we cure the problem. We know what the problem is, so it's not going to be an issue, but it just takes time to manufacture new components and cure the problems. So hopefully by Brazil, we will have a small improvement; but by Barcelona, that problem should be gone altogether.

Q. You could get through a fair number of engines between now and Barcelona, couldn't you?

PS: I think we've surprised quite a few people on how many engines we've got here today. Engines are not an issue for us. I can't stop them blowing up, but we've got more to put in if they do.

Q. We'll watch that space then, Paul. Thanks very much. Jean, today obviously Ferrari are performing well. You obviously are happy with that situation, but it's interesting that Rubens is so much quicker than Michael?

Jean Todt: Not so much; I think it was 3/10ths. It's not a very big gap, but we will have the real answer tomorrow.

Q. Does that suggest he might have been on the softer tyres?

JT: You know, Michael would have been quicker at the end of the practice session. Unfortunately, he went off so he could not get the best out of his new set of tyres. I mean that was mainly the reason.

Q. Tell us about Michael's accident. What exactly happened, what is your interpretation of it?

JT: My interpretation is what he said. He simply did not see the yellow flag and when, at the last minute he realised it, he thought it was corner number 5, and it happened to be at number 6, and when he saw it, it was just hard braking, and he spun.

Q. Are you worried about the fact that the car was then flipped over?

JT: It's a question of the gravel condition. We know that if it is not flat, that's a danger with gravel. So the car is just flying in the air and it then turns over. And fortunately. I mean, it was no more damage.

Q. It suggests that something could have been done to make it flatter. Is that what you're looking for?

JT: I think there should be some improvement, yes.

Q. So will you be making representations to the clerk of the course for that?

JT: I mentioned that yesterday, so hopefully we will get a more positive answer now. Q. Is it just in one corner, or is it in several corners?

JT: It was a few corners. But most of them, they were modified; this one was not modified.

Q. How much damage is there to the car? You said it is not too badly damaged.

JT: I think the chassis is okay. At the moment they are assembling the car, but it should be okay.

Q. You've got the spares, because at this time of the year, it's last thing you want, isn't it?

JT: Let's hope we have enough.

Q. In terms of the atmosphere within the team, do you notice a difference, say, from this year to last?

JT: Not really. You know, we are back into the business. This season has started already. I wish we could have waited a little more, but that was not the case. I mean, of course everybody is motivated, everybody is happy about what happened last year, but last year is last year. Now we have to concentrate on 2001, new season, everything is back to zero, and we just have to achieve the job.

FROM THE FLOOR

Q. What is actually the score on the gravel traps, because I think some time ago Eddy Irvine suggested it would be better if they were actually graded, you know, sloped? What does Jean Todt think about that, and then the drivers?

JT: I don't like making statements when things are done. Definitely there has been a lot of improvement on safety on the cars, on the circuits, because when you see now accidents like that, with nothing at the end, it is just an outstanding result. Saying that, I mean we never reach the limit on that and we must pay a lot of attention and try to anticipate what will happen, and definitely probably this kind of accident could have been avoided. But at the end of the day, I mean, it went all right. So let's hope that we can take some consideration about what has happened today.

Q. Is it flat or sloping?

JT: I think the problem is that the gravel is a bit bumpy, so it should be flat.

Q. Luciano, you've spent two or three months now working with Bobby Rahal and Steve Nichols. Could you give us some impressions on how these two guys are to work for?

LB: It has been very good. I think Bobby, of course, he's very experienced - not in Formula One - but as a racing driver, as a team manager. So I think he is the right man for the job. He has been doing great things for the team, so I am quite happy with Bobby. Steve, of course, he's bringing a lot of experience from McLaren. He didn't do anything for the new car, but I think during the season he can help us to develop the car, and of course he's helping already with the organisation. So he is also very good for the team.

Q. A question for both Ron and Jean: correct me if I'm wrong, and I'm sure you will, it just seemed for an opening practice session today, which, at other places, are pretty snoozy, it seemed incredibly intense. Do you agree with that, and does this suggest that the competition between you two has just ratcheted up another notch again?

JT: I don't think it is different from whatever happened in the past. You know, it is only Friday. I think, as I said before, we will have a clear picture tomorrow. But definitely we start to have an idea, it is not a big surprise, who is going to be very difficult to compete with.

RD: Jean is right, it is a little bit early to know where we are. I think there is a little more intensity because of the rule changes and you don't really know how well you've built the cars to accommodate those changes. Either by design or just by chance, we haven't tested on circuits together - that is, Ferrari and ourselves - therefore it is very difficult to know where you stand. I think, as the practice unfolded, I am sure the first relief that both teams had was that they've appeared to be able to have kept the gap to the other competitors. You then look to each other and, as Jean says, it is a little early to say exactly where we are. We're pretty confident that the current differentials in time aren't too indicative, and it is obviously going to be close tomorrow. I think unless we are reading it wrong, I would anticipate there's going to be a gap to the third-placed team. At the end of the day, you know, we're here to try and win, whoever the competition is. Was it more intense? I think a little more tense, as opposed to, "intense," but the outcome, I think, is reasonably satisfying.

Q. For Jean and Ron: how many sets of tyres did you use today, please?

JT: With Rubens, we did use two sets and with Michael, two sets as well. But the second one, he did not do any lap time.

RD: I can't tell you accurately. You know, new tyre regulations are introduced here, so there is a quantity of tyres that have to be given back, and we work just within the regulations. I didn't monitor it very closely. There's a pretty clear direction in which you have to go on tyres, as a Bridgestone runner, and I think both teams just responded to what is the right way to approach optimising the car's performance, based on the tyres that are available to us here. It is not a number issue, is what I am trying to say.

Q. Can you give us a number?

RD: I would have to guess. It is two or three, but I think it's two. Jean will probably tell you; he watches very carefully.

Q. Jean Todt: can you clarify the position on the late arrival of the cars in Australia ? There have been suggestions in pit row from other people that there may have been a crash test problem with the car.

JT: No major problem. We always try to arrive as late as possible, just to allow us to work as much as we can in the factory. That was simply that.

Q. There was no second crash test?

JT: No problem. I mean, Michael did a supplementary one today. It was not planned.

Q. Jenson, last year you were the new kid on the block. Now everywhere you look, there are newer kids on the block. Do you feel like a bit of an old fogey now?

JB: Not quite. I think I 'm still the second-youngest. But I am one of the more experienced drivers now, which is a bit scary, after just one year. I think there's six new drivers, isn't there? Shocking. No, it's good, it really is. They seem to be doing a good job, from watching them on the circuit and watching them on the TV screens. They should be here.

Q. Just back on the tyres, Ron and, say, Jenson: do you guys think that if the tyres were as grippy last year as they are now, which clearly the supplier then had the capability of doing, that maybe there would have been fewer complaints about how unsatisfying the cars were to drive and maybe the spectacle could have been a little better?

JB:: There is obviously a difference in the tyres this year; we can see by the lap times. But there's the same feeling as last year's tyres, there is no major difference. It just feels like there is more grip around. It gives pretty much the same balance, from what I have found anyway.

Q. You don't think they make the car feel more satisfying?

JB: No, definitely not.

RD: I don't think it makes their car feel more satisfying. I have to say the feedback from our drivers is that generally it feels a bit more like a racing car and is a bit more responsive, and I think they prefer having a tyre that has been optimised than racing on a relatively safe, conservative, compound construction approach. As I said, I think the real influence of the tyres will come in the race, because they're going to be less supportive of an out-of-balance car, and that could see a bit more exciting racing, it could see cars that have started the race, running quite competitively perhaps, dropping back a little bit as they try to cope with an out-of-balance development, and that is the logical thing you can expect out of the optimisation of tyres. It requires an optimised car.

Q. Paul, what are you hoping to get on the plane on Sunday night having achieved?

PS: I'm actually not on the plane on Sunday night, but I think if I can achieve what we have today tomorrow, then I certainly would be more than happy, and at the moment things are looking good.

Q. Also for Paul: you mentioned this engine problem. Is it a predictable thing? Is it a mileage thing? Can you expect the engine to blow after a certain time, or does it just depend on completely coincidental, inconsequential factors?

PS: It is a known problem that we inherited, and we just have not had the time, there just hasn't been the manufacturing time. The cure is already there, but we just haven't had time to do it. And yes, it is mileage-related. Obviously we were putting our worst ones in today, and it is not something that totally took us by surprise. Q. Are you going to finish the race?

PS: Let's hope we're in it, first. As for finishing it, yes. Our Saturday and Sunday engines are fresh engines and, to be totally honest, as I said, if we've got tomorrow what we have had today, I'll be more than happy.

Q. Paul, Alonso's performance today, how did you rate that?

PS:Fantastic. He was a little bit nervous as well before the first session, and he's now cool, calm and collected. As Jenson said, I think all the new drivers today did incredibly well. I feel a little bit, obviously, for Tarso, I don't think he got a fair go today, but we will hopefully fix that tomorrow. Yes, I think it's going to be a very interesting year for all teams.

Q. A question for the two team managers, or the top team managers. Hakkinen and Schumacher didn't do a race simulation during the winter tests. Are you worried about the performance, about the reliability of the car?

JT: Definitely, I wish we would have done some more long runs, but I think it's the same for everybody. There is some question-mark about what we will be able to achieve for the first race. We did some long-distance work on the test bench, on the track, but, as I said, never as much as we wish we would have done. Saying that, I mean I'm quite optimistic that we can have a good race weekend.

RD: I think the easiest thing to be in Formula One is reliably slow, and when you are working through a new car/engine combination, you inevitably have to decide exactly what level of performance you are comfortable to live with in comparison to the unreliability that always goes, both on the chassis and engine side, with pushing to the limit, and the work that we do through the winter is in many ways connected to that process. So even though we have experienced a whole range of problems through our testing and some of our long-distance runs, et cetera, the whole objective is to determine your race specification. As I said earlier, you come to the first race probably with a car/engine combination that you know is not as optimised as you would like, but nevertheless is optimised to a level where you feel it is reliable as well as quick, and it is a question of just getting that balance right. So far, we have had a very strong and reliable day, I hope it continues right through the weekend, and perhaps if we emerge with no problems, but not with a race win, we would be looking back saying maybe we took a too conservative approach to the Australian Grand Prix. But that's where the experience and depth of an organisation comes in, it is choosing that right balance between performance and reliability, and that is a problem that you have right through the season. The harder you push, the more you are likely to find yourself with problems.

-FIA-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Luciano Burti , Kimi Raikkonen , Bobby Rahal , Paul Stoddart , Jean Todt
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Minardi