Drivers: Pedro Diniz (Sauber) and Giancarlo Fisichella (Benetton) Team principals: Flavio Briatore (Benetton and Supertec), Norbert Haug (McLaren-Mercedes), Craig Pollock (BAR) and Dr Mario Theissen (BMW) Q. Was your 3rd place in Australia a...
Drivers: Pedro Diniz (Sauber) and Giancarlo Fisichella (Benetton)
Team principals: Flavio Briatore (Benetton and Supertec), Norbert Haug (McLaren-Mercedes), Craig Pollock (BAR) and Dr Mario Theissen (BMW)
Q. Was your 3rd place in Australia a surprise to BMW?
Dr Mario Theissen: Yes, it really was a surprise to us. This season we were prepared, and set our target, on getting established in F1 in a midfield position. We achieved this, and we were lucky that some of the competitors in front of us failed, which gave us a podium place. But that is something that we cannot do on our own, at the moment.
Q. You have had reliability problems both in testing and in Australia. Have they now been resolved?
Dr MT: Some have been solved, while other new problems have appeared. We are certainly not as viable as we will have to be. That is what we will concentrate on over the next few weeks. But we are already making significant progress and I am confident for this weekend. We are continuously developing the engine and there will be no major redesign during the season. But we expect to improve from race to race and there will one or more small improvements at each race. It is refinement rather than major redesign.
Q. Flavio, welcome back to F1 team ownership. What is the situation inside Benetton Formula now that it has been purchased by Renault?
Flavio Briatore: Benetton Formula now has a new board, consisting of Mr Patrick Faure, myself and Mr Christian Contzen, the Managing Director of Renault Sport. Rocco Benetton has now resigned [as chief executive] and the Benetton family has sold 100 per cent of its shares [to Renault].
Q. Is it true that you said you had the impression that the team had been on holiday [since you first left Benetton in 1998]?
FB: Benetton is a team that I know very well. At least 60 per cent of the staff are the same people that I had there in 1996 and 1997. It is going to take time [to move forward], but it will not be until 2002 that Renault comes in with its new official engine. What we are doing now is to prepare the team for 2002, and we have given ourselves what we hope will be enough time in which to improve the team and its organisation. Supertec will keep going and I am quite happy to have customer teams. Mr Ecclestone has made a proposal that all the major car manufacturers [involved in supplying engines for F1 should] also supply a customer team. I think that will be fine and I believe I also speak for Renault on this. In the next couple of weeks we will be sitting down with Patrick Faure to decide on the future of Supertec.
Q. How suddenly did this takeover happen?
FB: It didn't happen so quickly. We have been negotiating with the family for at least eight months, but for once it has happened in secret. As you know, it is very difficult to keep anything secret in F1, so we did a good job because in the negotiating phase nobody found out anything.
Q. Norbert, do you see a trend developing for carmakers to become involved in the ownership of F1 teams?
Norbert Haug: It is quite obvious that it is already happening. Within the next couple of years there will be seven manufacturers in F1. It is going to be the toughest experience the carmakers have been involved in since the 1950s. When you look at the commitment being made by the various manufacturers, it means we are about to see a great -- and tough -- period in the history of the sport.
Q. Your Mercedes engines suffered several well-publicised failures in Australia. What can you tell us about what went wrong?
NH: The problem we had in Melbourne was that we scored zero points. The reason for that on both cars was a broken filter in the [pneumatic valve system] compressor. We have fixed that and the testing in Silverstone last week went quite well. We also did a lot of dyno runs, so that problem should now be under control. But I also said that before Melbourne ... This is one of those problems that you can get in motor racing and you can never get rid of them on a 100 per cent basis. It was a real shame for us and I have to apologise to the whole team and to the guys who worked so hard. After so much testing it is something that should not have happened, and in the last 30 races it is something that has happened too often to us. But our commitment was to push, to go for race speed. We didn't expect it to happen to us again this year. But there is a long season ahead of us and I must say I feel quite confident.
Q. Pedro, you must be delighted to have so much support here at home. But would you prefer to be in Rubens Barrichello's shoes this weekend?
Pedro Diniz: Of course I would prefer to have his car instead of one that cannot be expected to win races. Putting up with the pressure is part of the job and it is my dream to be in a winning car. Of course I would prefer to be in his position.
Q. What are the prospects here for Sauber?
PD: We did a lot of testing before the start of the championship and I have been a bit disappointed because of the two failures in Australia. In qualifying it was the gearbox, and then the gearbox again in the race. But with 6th fastest time the car showed that it can be quick under race conditions, and we have a good chance to qualify in the top ten and to score points. That is Sauber's aim for this year.
Q. What can you tell us about the effect of the circuit resurfacing?
PD: When I went around the circuit in a road car before practice I thought they had done a very good job. But when I tried it today in the F1 car I changed my mind! I still think they did a good job, but although the track overall is better, it is still very bumpy on the pit straight.
Q. Giancarlo, what are you expecting from Renault's takeover at Benetton?
Giancarlo Fisichella: To be honest, at the moment there isn't a big change. The car is exactly the same as the one we used in Australia, but I am very pleased about this big news. As you know, Flavio has lots of experience and he has already won two championships with the same team. For the future I feel very confident.
Q. Craig, like Benetton, your team has shown reliability without outstanding speed, and you picked up that longed-for first point in Melbourne. How does it feel now?
Craig Pollock: That point was the most important thing for the team. At last we had achieved something that eluded us throughout the whole of last year. The mandate given to the engineers and designers for this year was to give us a car that would not break down. We have gone through a year of that and we didn't intend to do the same again. There is no question that in performance we are still a little bit behind the leaders, but we are not too far behind the rest of the pack. What we are working on now is an improvement in performance. Last year we couldn't do any work on performance simply because the car kept breaking down.
Q. Is there a change in the atmosphere at BAR?
CP: We have always had a fairly good atmosphere inside the team, but this year it's more up-beat. It's very difficult to be up-beat if your wings are constantly flying off, so we have good reason for the better atmosphere.
Q. The designated roles of certain members of BAR's management team have been through a few changes. Can you please explain who now does what?
CP: I am the Managing Director of the team, which is the same role in which I started. Adrian Reynard is our technical 'guru,' while Malcolm Oastler is Technical Director. Rick Gorne is the Director of Business Development. Adrian is not here this weekend because he is at the CART race at Homestead in Florida. He has no obligation to attend every F1 race.
Q. Jacques Villeneuve says there are some modifications coming through to improve the car's performance. What effect do you anticipate those modifications will have?
CP: I expect them to help us to be 'top of the rest.' For this year, I think it is dreaming to expect us to be on the same level as McLaren and Ferrari. But if we can bring in the chassis modifications fast enough, and if Honda can help us out with the engine, our intention is to be as far forward as possible, albeit still behind McLaren and Ferrari. I am certain that Honda is being very conservative with the engine at the moment - which is the Japanese way - and we already have things ready to bolt on the car for Imola and Silverstone. We will see then what effect they can have.