French GP: Thursday press conference

Present: Felipe Massa (Sauber) Olivier Panis (BAR) Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar) Mika Salo (Toyota) Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) Jacques Villeneuve (BAR) Q: Mika, an excellent start to the season, but has the team lost a little bit of its impetus...

Present:
Felipe Massa (Sauber)
Olivier Panis (BAR)
Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar)
Mika Salo (Toyota)
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
Jacques Villeneuve (BAR)

Q: Mika, an excellent start to the season, but has the team lost a little bit of its impetus from the start of the season?

Mika Salo: We lost some reliability in the last few races but the car is still quick, we can still qualify in the top ten every race, so it's not bad. We just lost some reliability and it happens. You can't ever test enough and we just keep testing and putting new parts on the car and sometimes those new parts fail. That's what has happened. We have never actually had the same failure in a race so far, so we're finding new ones.

Q: It's always said that the second year is usually the most difficult; can you see that happening with Toyota?

MSa: Well, to be honest, I can't see it being much worse than this year. The car's a lot quicker than we are showing at the moment and we are just not getting everything out of it.

Jacques Villeneuve: It can get worse, trust me.

MSa: I think for the first year it's a good level to start and it can only get better next year so I'm pretty confident about it.

Q: We're just coming into a silly season where there's nothing to write about; can all the drivers tell us their contractual situation with their current teams?

MSa: I'm staying where I am. I have a contract for next year. I had a three year contract from the beginning and next year is the last one.

JV: I'm staying next year.

Pedro de la Rosa: Same.

Felipe Massa: I'm hoping to stay. I have a one year contract and they have an option for two more years. I don't know yet but I hope to stay where I am.

Q: I think we probably know Michael, until 2004.

MSa: He's hoping to stay.

Oliver Panis: We are discussing it. There's an option.

Q: Jacques, what difference has the Silverstone result made within the team and to yourself?

JV: It just made everybody happier, so it's easier to work. It's like waking up and putting some cold water on your face. It was needed, it's been a very hard season since the beginning and it looked like we weren't going to score any points until the end of the season. That was bad, it was very hard for everybody to carry so now everybody is standing a little bit straighter and it's easier to work.

Q: Do you feel they're still making progress?

JV: Yes, the progress that we've made was very useful in Silverstone, it wasn't huge but it was enough to jump a few positions in qualifying, because we're in the part of the grid where it's very close with the lap times, and it was the first time this season we managed to be in front of both Saubers, which have generally been a reference for us so that means we've made progress, and the car was competitive throughout the whole race, wet and dry. So all the work we've done worked. We had the new suspensions in the last race and they worked well and we spent a lot of time working on the electronics as well.

Q: Are there further modifications for these two races?

JV: No, not at this point, now. Actually there's something on the engine that we haven't tested yet but it looks promising so we will find out this weekend.

Q: Pedro, is the feeling happier with the new aero package since the second test?

PdR: Yes, I think the last test in Monza was very positive for the team. We've learned some things, how to make the new aero package work better. Still we are not sure how much better that means but it's definitely better. We will see, compared to other people in proper circumstances, how much we have improved during the past week, but the feeling is that we have made another step forward.

Q: What about the engine, what progress has been made there?

PdR: Well, we are running the new LK engine which is a good step again. We have been running it in qualifying and the race since Silverstone. We introduced it for the first time in Canada in qualifying, and it seems to have worked well. It's reliable, we're finishing races which is important.

Q: Felipe, I believe you were guest at the Automobile Club de France earlier this week; what did you think of that?

FM: It was really nice. It was a lunch with a lot of people from the Automobile Club from Paris and also Credit Suisse and it was quite fun. Actually, I had a chat with Patrick Tambay who is a really good person and it was quite fun.

Q: Now the least race at Silverstone, you had quite a few incidents. What happened?

FM: It was an exciting race for me. I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. Actually, at the start I tried to overtake Jacques but after I put two wheels on the grass and it was wet and afterwards I had a headache after the spins. After in the rain, it was quite good and our car was really quick in the rain and also at the end of the race and I had three steps and most of the people had two so it was not a bad race, but in the beginning I made a lot of mistakes but that's part of learning. I hope we're not going to see that again.

Q: Michael, this could be a historic weekend. How do you approach it, how do you feel about it?

Michael Schumacher: First of all, we know under which circumstances if and what can maybe happen, but it's not really too much of a focus honestly, because I don't expect anything like that to happen. I will race as normal and obviously try to win the race, that's the target and then we will see what will be the result in the end. Whether it happens here or another time, I don't think that is really important to me. What matters for me is that it does happen in the end.

Q: Who do you think is going to stop you, is it going to be Michelin or the teams?

MSc: Good question, we will find out, I don't know. So far, I think we have certainly had the better car than the rest and it has been in the tyres, whether we had the right tyres or not, whether we were beaten or not and I hope we have the right tyres. We did a very good test with Bridgestone who brought along some more new tyres for that race which should make the situation a little bit more comfortable.

Q: Now before the Hockenheim race, I think you're involved in RTL's charity football match, I hear you're looking forward to it partially due to the standard of players.

MSc: I have always enjoyed that one, specifically, yes, because there are professional players around and to play with professionals is great fun because it's more serious, it's good fun, but the level of playing is much higher and you get the ball in such a nice way, my standard comes up too so I quite like these sort of games.

Q: Another charity thing which has been suggested comes from Colin McRae who recently broke the record for the number of wins in the World Rally Championship and someone asked him if he would challenge you in some form of driving contest. Would you be up for that?

MSc: I think for him it's easier for him to check out with Ford and Jaguar because they are all in one family and he would maybe get a touch what Formula One means. I have been interested in running a rally car in the past. I have to say that I'm less interested now because I'm not so much into it any more, but maybe one day when I have time enough I would like to do it in a safe place because I'm not interested in going through the forest and risking my life.

Q: Olivier, what were your feelings after the Silverstone result, after a fairly awful start to the season for you?

OP: To be honest, I am quite happy for the team, for me and Jacques because we worked so hard during the season and I know when we started the season the car was not good and we had a lot of problems with reliability but we need to respect the job of Honda, everybody worked hard in the team and Silverstone was a good result because to stay the last team in the championship is not BAR's position.

Q: Your home race here. How does it feel?

OP: For me it doesn't make a big difference really because I am a Formula One driver, I like my job. Magny-Cours is a home Grand Prix and I am really happy to drive in front of the French spectators, but for me it is the same job compared to every other one. I need to make the best and to continue to work with the team to improve the car and to continue to get points.

Q: Michael, your name has been associated with Valentino Rossi, is it an association that you enjoy in a way?

MSc: Personally, I don't feel pretty happy with that because when I started I was associated to other persons and I always said I don't feel like that because I feel independent as a human being, so there is no point to compare people in this sort of way.

Q: Michael, you praise the Bridgestone tyres and how they work well with Ferrari. Is it an advantage that they have only one top team or would you like to have another top team?

MSc: As usual, life is never perfect and it is the same situation here. Being one top team means there is a lot of workload only on us, which sometimes means you miss out on certain things because you can't do all of it, whereas when you have two top teams you have a better chance, because sometimes you don't spot things. In the past we did have an advantage of having two top teams, on the other side we can do other things more specific to our car, which maybe equalises the situation.

Q: The fact is it is more exclusive for Ferrari, where as with the other manufacturer they have to share the information with two top teams...

MSc: Sharing the information can help because you get a lot of experience and therefore you can continue to improve faster. It is not only a disadvantage, but it does currently look like that. But I think the reason is that currently Bridgestone as a company is so good, producing such good products even with the other teams, they use their tyre very well and therefore perform very well. It is not really coming from the reason that we specifically work with Bridgestone and therefore have the product that well.

Q: For Jacques, you said you have a contract for next year. At this moment can you say that it is 100 percent sure you will be back with BAR next year?

JV: I don't see any reason for me not being back with BAR next year. It would take something really, really extreme, so I feel at the moment I am definitely with the team next year.

Q: Mika, the contact here at Magny-Cours is running out in the next couple of years and Paul Ricard is Toyota's home from home. Is it fit for a Grand Prix?

MSa: They are still modifying it at the moment. The kerbs were bad, so we are changing them all around so for the next test they should be done, and the circuit lay-out is okay. It is perfect for testing at the moment because you can make so many different circuits out of it. For racing, I hadn't thought of that but I think it would be okay. Of course, they would have to build grandstands. There's none at the moment, so it wouldn't fit many spectators there at the moment. Why not? It's a nice place, normally it's nice weather there also and when the work stops around the circuit it will be clean as well, it's a little bit dirty at the moment, every time we go there. There is a lot of sand. But I would be happy to go and race there.

Q: For the two world champions, there is a lot more to Formula One than just the championship. What would you say to fans who lose interest once the championship is settled?

MSc: It's pretty easy. First of all, the racing doesn't stop whether the championship is decided or not. We have seen this every so often, it did happen that races continued and still showed good fun. A championship is not only for the first position, there are other positions to be settled as well and the races still continue, fights still continue and good action is going on.

JV: Well, the one thing is the championship, but it has been clear for a few races what team and what driver would be winning so I don't think people were coming to see that, it has been quite clear, so that's just people enjoying watching a good race, even when a championship is not at stake.

Q: Michael, the time you set at Fiorano in the test was impressive. Is there an element of the last few races qualifying hasn't been as good for you as it was earlier in the season so you have been working on qualifying performance?

MSc: No, not necessarily because in Fiorano we always run the same fuel load, we are not trying to just work for qualifying. We do as well, but the test in Fiorano wasn't done specifically for it, actually it was long running that we did.

Q: Are you conscious yourself that qualifying has not been quite as good for you in the recent races?

MSc: I keep telling you, every so often you ask me, that we have seen last year the situation the other way around, we worked on our weak side, we didn't really give away anything for qualifying, so it is probably the others who have raised their game in qualifying but are suddenly suffering in racing and probably we both went in the other direction and that is the final result.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Pedro de la Rosa , Michael Schumacher , Olivier Panis , Jacques Villeneuve , Mika Salo , Valentino Rossi , Felipe Massa , Colin McRae , Patrick Tambay
Teams Ferrari , Sauber