"Friday Five" press conference Drivers: David Coulthard (McLaren) Mika Salo (Ferrari) Ralf Schumacher (Williams) Team chief: Peter Sauber Engine supplier: Martin Whitaker (Ford) Q. Ralf, what has been the reaction to you...
"Friday Five" press conference
Q. Ralf, what has been the reaction to you from the fans so far this weekend?
Ralf Schumacher: I have the feeling [because of my brother's absence] there are far fewer fans out there than there were one year ago. In one way I understand that, but in other ways it is a bit of a shame, because it is not really fair to all the other drivers. All of us do our best to offer a good show to the crowd here, regardless of our nationalities. But there will still be two Ferraris here and they'll get a cheer, whether it's Mika or Eddie driving. That's quite fair, I would say.
Q. Even though you have now been on the podium twice this year, your introduction to Williams has not all been easy. How do you feel right now to be a Williams driver?
RS: I feel great in this team. I have read comments about the cool atmosphere that is supposed to exist at Williams, but I get along great with Patrick Head, with Frank himself and with all the rest of the team. I feel perfectly happy there. When you have a car which you know is not capable of great things, it is always a strong motivation then to achieve them. But if the development gets stuck, like it is with us at the moment, it isn't a particularly enjoyable circumstance -- especially when you've come to a Grand Prix, like Germany for me, in which you want to perform well. But that's the way it is, and I hope it has improved next year.
Q. David, looking back one week to Austria we recall the McLarens dominating free practice and qualifying, while here you are 4th and 10th. What is the significance to be drawn from that?
David Coulthard: If you look back one year ago, you'll find that we probably had a bigger 'package' advantage over our opponents than we do this year. Villeneuve's Williams was half a tenth behind me and only a little less behind Mika, then it was extremely fast in the race itself. This is a circuit which has produced some unusual results, for various reasons. Some cars which haven't worked well with a high downforce setup at previous races are suddenly more competitive here. High power and lots of straight-line speed only count for a part of each lap. Tomorrow we will find out exactly what Trulli did today to set fastest time, but I would presume it was new tyres and next to no fuel which helped him.
Q. Since last weekend, has the atmosphere changed at all inside the McLaren team?
DC: I don't think so. Both Mika's mind and mine will have been sharpened at the start of the race if we are close to each other on the grid. But [what happened in Austria] is finished.
Q. Mika, are you settling in well at Ferrari? What is it like?
Mika Salo: It's a lot easier this weekend. Last weekend was a disaster. I did everything I should not have done: I went off the road on Friday and then hit somebody on the first lap of the race on Sunday. Those are the things you shouldn't be doing, but things are getting better. When something happens now, I know which people I should be talking to in the team and I can go to ask. Compared with what I have been used to on other teams, this team is on another planet. It is that different.
Q. Mika, it must be interesting to see the reaction of the fans. After all, you're in a red Ferrari with Michael's number on it and you even have the same initials that he does ...
MS: It's a pity Michael can't be here this weekend, of course, but I hope the fans will support me instead. I have been sitting in the car for most of the time, so I haven't seen any demonstrations of support yet. I think the flags and banners are more the result of the Ferrari effect than the Salo effect.
Q. Peter, first we heard reports that Jean Alesi might leave your team, then that he would be staying. What is the truth?
Peter Sauber: It is somewhere between. I am sorry that my English is not good enough to explain more. Both sides are willing to go together in the future, but some points are still open.
Q. Can you tell us about your engine deal for next year?
PS: We have a two-year deal, which goes to the end of 1999, and we will give you the details in a press release within one or two weeks.
Q. Martin, what has changed since Ford bought the Stewart team, and what additional changes can we expect?
Martin Whitaker: Not much has changed since we made the announcement that Ford had bought Stewart in Montreal last month. In the coming months, and in the early part of next season, you can expect to see a lot of changes which will add strength in depth to the engineering and technical resources of the team. Those are changes which you would expect to see anyway in any evolving F1 organisation.
Q. Although Stewart-Ford has made great strides forward this year, there have also been a number of technical setbacks and failures. Should we expect to see these things continue?
MW: It is important for people to remember that this is still a young team, one which has only been in competition for two and a half years. That is a short life for anyone entering a new motorsporting environment, especially one as demanding as Formula 1. Just to see Rubens in 5th place is encouraging, even though it's still only Friday. He hasn't qualified lower than 7th in a single race so far this year, and that is impressive. More importantly, we are looking at 1999 to provide us with a platform for the future. If we have failures or breakages, they are not things that should concern us too much at this stage. If we were to continue having them next year and the year after, then I would of course be worried. I prefer to get rid of the gremlins now and start to consolidate ourselves on that platform to the future that I already mentioned, in order to turn this year's podium positions into wins next year.
Q. We have heard suggestions that Eddie Irvine could be joining your team next year. Is that still a possibility?
MW: There has been considerable speculation about driver changes for next year, but it is still too early to tell. This year the so-called 'silly season' came much earlier than usual, but since then Michael Schumacher's accident at Silverstone has had its effect. I think it has put a lot of teams' plans on hold. For that reason it is too early to speculate, not just about our plans but also those of many other teams.