"Thursday Four" press conference Drivers: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) Olivier Panis (Prost) Engine partner: Corrado Provera (Peugeot) Team chief: Jean Todt (Ferrari) Q. Let's start with Damon Hill and his ...
"Thursday Four" press conference
Q. Let's start with Damon Hill and his announcement last week. What are your various reactions to the news that he is going to retire? Mika?
Mika Hakkinen: Damon actually started racing [in F1] after I did, so it is quite a surprise to me that he is retiring now. But he is quite a lot older than I am and he has four kids, so I suppose he feels he has done his time in F1 and he wants to concentrate on something else in his life. This is a sport which certainly takes a lot out of your life: you are constantly travelling around the world and testing all the time. It is tough. Now that Damon has made his decision, I want to wish him all the best for the future.
Olivier Panis: For me, the decision of Damon is very good for him. He has done a very strong job, because he won the world championship. Maybe it has been a difficult job for him, which is why he wants to concentrate on his family in future.
Jean Todt: It is very difficult to comment on someone's decision. I just have to respect Damon's decision. He has been world champion, which is what every driver would like to achieve. For him to have followed his father as world champion is unique in sporting history. It must be nice to be able to retire before you are 40, and to enjoy life. I am sure there are a lot of other things for him to do.
Q. Mika, how did testing go for you here at Magny-Cours last week?
MH: It went really well. We were able to have three good days, with the car running reliably all the way through the test. We were able to develop the car, which means we can come here for the race feeling comfortable and with a clear mind. In development work there are always pluses and minuses, but we were happy about it.
Q. Olivier, in some recent races you have received some blame over your response to blue flags. What is your reaction to that? Can we hear your side of the story?
OP: OK. I had a problem at Imola with David Coulthard, who said that the reason he did not win was maybe my fault. For me, it was not my fault. I saw David behind me, but I was fighting with Giancarlo Fisichella and it was very important for me to get the best possible result for my team. I was pushing 100 per cent, like I always do. Then Alain called me on the radio and asked me to let David Coulthard pass. OK, I changed the line to let him through -- and after three corners he went off into the gravel. I am very sorry, but that was not my fault! Then David came up behind me again and passed me again. After that I followed him but I touched Giancarlo Fisichella's car and had to stop. In Canada, again I was fighting another driver to get a good result. I passed Luca Badoer at the last corner, but he also braked very late and he also went on the grass. I lifted the throttle to avoid touching Luca, but Fisichella and Frentzen were right behind me. It was a little mistake and I am sorry about the two points, but it was a difficult situation.
Q. Jarno, we hear stories of a big step forward for Prost at the French GP. What can you tell us?
Jarno Trulli: Well, I hope so. At the moment we are working really well, we are developing the car and looking forward to getting better results than we have had until now. At the moment we have two points, which is twice as many as we had all last year, but there is still a lot to do in terms of aerodynamics and the engine. But I think we are working the right way.
Q. Some reports suggest that you will move to Arrows and take Loic Bigois with you to design a new car. Have you heard that?
OP (laughs): For me it is just a rumour. I am concentrating on my job and my team, Prost-Peugeot, because this is a very important season for all of us. I would like to continue this way for the moment, because it is too early to comment on rumours. The first plan is the French Grand Prix this weekend, to develop the car and get a good result. We had a very good test last week. I am very happy with the balance of the car, and we have a very good engine for qualifying, but this year's car is quite difficult to drive when there is a strong wind, which makes it quite easy to make a mistake. Maybe the tyres also contribute. Another point is that this track is very hard on tyre wear, so it is important to concentrate on this point.
Q. Jean Todt, would you agree that the relationship between your two drivers has changed this year? Eddie Irvine seems much stronger now that he has won a Grand Prix and held the lead in the world championship ...
JT: I would not say that the relationship has changed. It has been good for four seasons now, and it is still excellent. We can only be happy about that, and of course Michael is pleased to see Eddie being competitive, because it means their teamwork is good. Eddie's job is the same as it always was: he is given the same car as Michael and he must try to get the best out of it. This year's car is an improvement. It is easier to drive and easier for Eddie to manage. So far, the results aren't bad. Maybe we are now quite competitive enough, but still ...
Q. M. Provera, can you give us details of the negotiations between Peugeot Sport and Prost Grand Prix regarding their future together? Can you say if there are any points of disagreement, and if so what are they?
Corrado Provera: The current situation is that we have a contract with Alain Prost which ends on December 31 in the year 2000. Under this contract there is no need for us to have any discussions, at any date, regarding the evolution of the situation after the end of the contract. This is clear. But given the importance of our F1 activities it will be obvious that Alain Prost and M Saint-Geours, who is President of PSA and Managing Director of Peugeot, would eventually have to start discussions. Those discussions began last Thursday: they met together for more than a couple of hours, and they started analysing all the possible solutions. So things have started. They have not yet reached a conclusion. They know they have plenty of time, so what they have have done is to decide not to make a decision. There is plenty of time to take a deeper look into all the available possibilities. They are looking, on both sides, at the [consequences of] participation or non-participation. The current situation is Business As Usual. As far as I have been told, the atmosphere has been really positive. The discussions have taken place in very pleasant circumstances. And they will have to meet again for further discussions. So that is where we stand. It is not a matter of having decided or not decided, or of having points of agreement or disagreement. Further discussions will take place, but the conclusion reached on both sides is that there is no need to hurry.