French GP qualifying press conference

Grand Prix of France Magny-Cours Saturday 27 June 1998 Qualifying:1. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:14.929s; 2. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), 1:15.159s; 3. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:15.333s Q. Congratulations, Mika. You...

Grand Prix of France Magny-Cours

Saturday 27 June 1998

Qualifying:1. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:14.929s; 2. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), 1:15.159s; 3. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:15.333s

Q. Congratulations, Mika. You seem to be even happier with this pole position than the four you already scored this year!

MH: Yes, I guess it's because I didn't get pole at the last race. But I am indeed happy, and that's because this track can be difficult. It doesn't give the driver much feel about what his car is doing, whether it is understeering or oversteering, etc. So to get the car right for this circuit is extremely difficult, and it makes me happy to have achieved what I have done with the help of my engineers.

Q. Was it the greatest challenge you have had in qualifying all year?

MH: It's difficult to say, but in one sense it is comparable to Monaco, where I had a very good fight with David in qualifying. One lap it was David, then the next lap it was me, and today it was a bit like that, but this time with Michael. Now I can say that it was even more enjoyable because I am on pole position. It was very exciting.

Q. On two of your quickest laps you actually had your car sideways in the final section, kicking up the dust. Was that deliberate?

MH: No, the problem is that the circuit is not wide enough there, at the exit! On my second run I was two tenths faster than I had been on the first run, but coming out of that corner I lost the back end and slid over the grass and lost the two tenths. On my third run I took it a little easier through there, but it was still close and I went on the grass again, a little bit. I don't think it is a particularly nice corner, because it is so difficult to get the car handling well through the exit, where the circuit drops away with negative camber.

Q. Michael has set some very close times this weekend. How strong do you expect the Ferrari challenge to be tomorrow?

MH: We have improved the car in many areas, and that's my priority. I am not concentrating on what other people do. You never know what will happen in the race, but I am in the fortunate position of being on pole position, so my job will be to keep these guys behind. I know from past experiences here that overtaking is very difficult and risky, so I feel confident about the race. If you have been following the screens you will already have seen that we are very fast in the straights. That makes me happy ...

Q. Michael, after being up there with the quickest time for so much of that session, are you disappointed to have lost it at the end?

MS: Well, look where the times are. [The McLarens] are only a little further back, so why should I be disappointed? We are in a position to make a challenge, we are pretty well prepared for the race and I am on the front row. That's as good as it can be. This is probably the closest we have ever been [to the McLarens], so we can be very satisfied with that, especially with what it means for the race.

Q. Last time you split the McLarens in qualifying was in Argentina, where you went on to win the race. Are you feeling more confident here than you did there?

MS: I believe this is the first time we have been in a position to challenge [the McLarens] in a straight fight under race conditions. Now everything depends on strategy: who makes his moves at the right moment. And the better man will win. As you can see from the qualifying times, everything is very close, and we should be just as evenly matched in the race.

Q. David, after your pole position in Canada, I am sure you were hoping to do the same here.....

DC: Sure, I was hoping to be challenging for the pole. But at no point during that final session was I quickest. I had a bit of difficulty getting stability at the rear through a couple of corners which were key to the lap. But even from third place on the grid it is still possible to get a good result.

Q. As far as your race setup is concerned, are you sharing data and settings with Mika?

DC: We had a long test here last week when we tested lots of different things, most of them for the race, and this weekend we have concentrated mainly on qualifying. So, given the track conditions and wing direction, we already know the car and the various [available] setups.

Q. Do you expect it to be this close for the rest of the year?

DC: There is only one fast corner on this circuit. When you look at section times we had a couple of tenths over Ferrari in that area. In the rest of the track, although you have fast chicanes, they are not really demanding a lot from the aerodynamics. It is more positioning of the car. This track does make it a lot closer and we were aware of that from testing last week. Once we get onto circuits with longer fast corners, maybe Silverstone, then we will open the gap slightly. We do have things to try next week at Silverstone, which are specific for that circuit. Anytime we have had some thing come on so far it has been an improvement, so we have every reason to believe that we will be better there. We keep working with Bridgestone because the tyres are the only thing keeping you in contact with the road, so they are worth a lot.

Q. Michael, you say that you have wiped out the gap and David says it is down to the style of the track.

MS: I said what I believe and he says what he believes. So we will see who is right. We still have things to come and I believe we are going to see consistent development from everyone. We had a bigger step to catch up which we did finally. Once we are very close it depends on what the driver can do together with strategy from his team.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren