Belgian GP Thursday press conference

Drivers: David Coulthard (McLaren) Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) Team personnel: Alain Prost (Prost) Egbhal Hamidy (Arrows) Q. Eghbal, you're the designer of the Arrows, which seems to be a very good car this year. Tell...

Drivers:
David Coulthard (McLaren)
Mika Hakkinen (McLaren)
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)

Team personnel:
Alain Prost (Prost)
Egbhal Hamidy (Arrows)

Q. Eghbal, you're the designer of the Arrows, which seems to be a very good car this year. Tell us how you feel about it.

EH: We're very pleased, but not as pleased as I would have liked. The A21 has turned out to be much better than last year's Arrows. Admittedly we started very late on the design of this car, and as a result we paid a penalty in terms of reliability, particularly at the beginning of the season. We are still not on top of the reliability altogether but we are making big improvements. The pace of the car is reasonable given the amount of time and resources that we have had. But I think we can do better and obviously we are working on that.

Q. Next year you will have the ex-Peugeot AMT engine. Will that be a little bit of a challenge?

EH: On paper the AMT is a very good engine. We can work with that and there are plans to improve it. It is much more compact, which allows better packaging, and we feel that with the progress that is being outlined by the middle of next season we should be looking good.

Q. There is talk about the lightness of the engine, which should give you scope for lowering the centre of gravity ...

EH: That's right. The centre of gravity of next year's Arrows should be a lot lower than this year's.

Q. If I may ask about your own background, I understand that you come from a country that's not noted for motor racing talent ...

EH: (laughs) No, I am Iranian by birth but I moved to England more than 20 years ago. Admittedly I was interested in aircraft aerodynamics but somehow I found myself involved in motor racing.

Q. Who has had the greatest influence on your racing career?

EH: I have been fortunate to have worked with some very great engineers: Patrick [Head], Adrian [Newey], Enrique Scalabroni, Alan Jenkins and now Mike [Coughlan]. I regard myself as very lucky. The one who has had the greatest influence on me is Patrick.

Q. Alain, everyone here wants to know about the future of your team. In a press release that I have here it is stated that, contrary to reports, no engine contract has been signed for 2000. There is also the question of whether or not you are selling [your interest in Prost Grand Prix], and we hear speculation about your own future. Can you enlighten us?

Alain Prost: Not really: that is why we issued the press release. We have nothing signed, nothing fixed, so there is nothing to announce this weekend. I hope [to have something to say] next week. I am very pleased to see all you [journalists] out there, but there are three guys fighting for the world championship and there are far more interesting things to be told here about that. The only thing I would say is that I am quite optimistic. But I don't want to say more than that.

Q. The season as a whole has not been good for you and there is no obvious quick cure. For next year, for example, can you envisage a quick cure?

AP: You say it's 'not been good,' but in fact the season has been very bad. We started badly, with a huge delay, and we could not test. The car wasn't very good at the beginning and although we have improved the car, that is still not enough. The only thing I have to say is that these days it is very difficult to compete with the big teams backed by big car companies. When you are one second behind, or 1.5 seconds, it is very difficult to catch up. The last five tenths cost a lot of money. We know where we are. There have been people who wanted to think that a Prost with a Peugeot engine could beat McLaren and Ferrari. No way! It is absolutely not possible. If you start with a reasonable objective, then you don't have this type of problem. But obviously the car and engine haven't been good enough.

Q. A former Prost driver, Olivier Panis, has spent this year as McLaren's test driver and will be going back to full time racing with BAR next year. Have you been surprised that he has been signed to race by another team?

AP: No. Ask him what I said to him at about this stage of the season last year. I did not know he was going to be a test driver with McLaren but I thought that it was better, both for him and the team, to have a change of air. Becoming the test driver at McLaren gave him a good chance to find another team because people knew that with more experience he would be mature, which is true. Sometimes a one year rest from racing is not bad for a driver. I think he will come back even stronger than before.

Q. Michael, you left Hungary fairly unhappily. Are you feeling happier now?

Michael Schumacher: I wasn't [seriously] unhappy. I have had worse days. I was obviously not too excited either.

Q. Talking at Juventus yesterday, Mr Agnelli said there was a problem with the Ferrari getting off the line, that the McLarens were quicker. Would you agree with that?

MS: It looks like this, yes. So ...

Q. Is that something that has afflicted you the whole year?

MS: Did it? I did some quite good starts already this year. You can't do them always. People tend to go for a general direction, a trend, rather than doing a proper analysis. I think there has been only one exception, which was Hungary with Mika. Myself, Rubens and Ralf came on very good as well. Only Mika was a little better. That's nothing unusual, honestly. But sometimes you get a very good start if you do things right. I remember doing starts like that in the past myself. But they don't come every day.

Q. Are you expecting a new evolution engine here?

MS: Yes, both for qualifying and the race. We have a new qualifying engine, and a race version.

Q. I understand that you have laid the foundation stone of a Schumacher museum. Is that correct?

MS: Not for a museum, it's for an exhibition. It's to show off our careers -- Ralf and I -- and we are putting up a building to [exhibit] all the items that we have collected over the years. We want to make them public. It will open next year, at the indoor [karting] circuit in Kerpen.

Q. Mika, you're now leading the championship. How does that affect you as we go into the final five races?

Mika Hakkinen: To keep that lead is going to be hard work. How it will affect me ... well, the pressure gets higher and higher for everybody towards the end of the season. It's going to be tough. Life won't be easy for anyone in the position I am in at the moment. So you can imagine what I feel.

Q. But you've been in the same position before ...

MH: Exactly. It's a terrible feeling.

Q. But there's good and bad about it, surely?

MH: Indeed. It is a very complicated situation and you can look at it from several different angles. You will find a positive and a negative: certainly leading a championship is fantastic, and it's very positive. The negative is to keep it until the end.

Q. What about testing last week with Olivier?

MH: It was a good two-day test, in ideal conditions. We did some good set-up work. We are happy with the engine and chassis programmes. We came [away from] the test being very fast. That's a brilliant thing.

Q. David, are you hoping that your holiday does for you what Mika's did for him, just before Austria?

David Coulthard: I don't believe the key to going fast in a racing car is not to drive and going on holiday. But I hope to be quick this weekend, and if I win then I don't care if you put the reason down to my having been on holiday. That's fine. As long as it comes, I don't mind.

Q. Olivier Panis will be leaving McLaren for BAR at the end of this year. How do you feel about his contribution this year?

DC: He's definitely helped a great deal. This is the first time we've had a test driver with [such extensive] experience and the first time we've been able to look at his results and listen to his feedback knowing that we can be confident that that's what happening. Younger guys may have the pace, and they're developing their experience, but sometimes you have the feeling that you should test [whatever's new] yourself, in order to be entirely sure. There is no doubt that we are going to miss Olivier: now we have to make sure we can replace him with someone with equal experience.

Q. Mika, you have fought back from points deficit of more than 20 points after the Canadian GP to leading the world championship after Hungary. What has been the key factor in that fight?

MH: It's a really long story and a complicated situation. I prefer not to start explaining at the moment what happened this reason or [listing] the reasons why the performance has been there. It is not the right moment to explain. I will tell you some other day.

Q. There has been a suggestion that next year we will go back to Friday qualifying, with the best times from Friday and Saturday amalgamated to decide grid positions. Can Alain tell us whether this has been discussed with Mr Ecclestone? What do the drivers think about the idea?

AP: We have not discussed it yet this year. We should have a meeting in London next Wednesday to discuss important things in the future of Formula 1. My opinion on Fridays without qualifying has never been very [favourable], especially from the media point of view. The interest and coverage are not as good [without qualifying] as they used to be. It is also possible for a team to take out the fuel and put on a fresh set of tyres, just to get good publicity before Saturday. But in terms of spirit that's not very good. My suggestion last year was to have qualifying on both Friday and Saturday, but to combine the two sessions. It could be quite interesting because then we would have to qualify even if the track was wet. There may be some fresh ideas put forward [at our meeting] on this next week. But I don't think we should keep the situation as it is.

DC: I think we should turn up at the circuit on Friday instead of Thursday, just practise on Saturday [morning] and then go straight into qualifying and go home on Sunday. It would make the weekend shorter.

MH: From the driver's point of view there is already enough pressure on Saturday and Sunday. I don't find it exciting to do the qualifying on Friday either.

MS: I think David's suggestion is quite nice. Let's just arrive on Friday and make it a weekend event. It would give you press guys more freedom and less work, too.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Olivier Panis , Alain Prost
Teams Ferrari , McLaren