Interview with Mark Webber

Following is a transcript of a telephone hook-up arranged by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation on January 31, 2003, between Formula One driver Mark Webber and Australian media. Q: Mark, you are with a different team and in a new car this...

Following is a transcript of a telephone hook-up arranged by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation on January 31, 2003, between Formula One driver Mark Webber and Australian media.

Q: Mark, you are with a different team and in a new car this year. You went well last year in Melbourne, so are you confident with Jaguar and the R4 car that you will do just as well, if not better, at the 2003 Foster's Australian Grand Prix (March 6-9)?

Mark Webber: Well, we had a tremendous amount of luck in our debut last year, obviously, to get the results, so it would be nice to have a little bit of the same. Things are progressing quite well. It's early days in terms of the new car and everyone else's new package as well, so we need to see how it all pans out when we roll up there on Friday morning (March 7) in Melbourne. I'm really excited. It's going along quite nicely, and I hope to at least better it - but if we don't then I'm sure there will be good reasons for it.

Q: How have you found the new car in testing?

MW: It's very different to the R3. They've tried to chip away at the areas where the R3 did have some weak points, and they've definitely improved some key areas. Again, we're not sure of where we are in terms of our opposition, but that's something we have got to find out in the next few weeks. I'm quite happy with how it's going. I've still got a lot of work to do, but very confident in the boys and it's going well at the moment.

Q: How much more competitive do you feel being with Jaguar this year compared to Minardi last year?

MW: I feel I will be a lot more competitive. We have much bigger resources, we have much more pressure as well, which is part of the game now. No disrespect to Minardi, but we're going racing with a works team and there is more purpose for us being out there in a way, so we have to have the delivery in certain respects. So I'm sure we can do that in the next couple of years and make Jaguar proud of what they are doing, which has been difficult for them in the past few years. So hopefully we can change that.

Q: There have been rule changes recently. Do you support them and will it make for a more competitive season?

MW: Definitely got to make for a more competitive season. We've seen a huge amount of changes happen in the last two or three months. They're taken into everyone's considerations. I think some of them are a little bit on the edge in terms of how far they have gone, but this is a change and we have all got to react to it. And the guys who make the most of fresh changes can potentially can get some good results out of it, so I'm up for all the new changes and hopefully it will be good for the fans.

Q: Do you find that the one go at qualifying might suit you and give you a chance to get up close to Michael Schumacher?

MW: At this level, all the guys are fairly decent, so it's going to be a case of controlled aggression and see how you attack that lap. You need to be working very well with the engineers as well. The car is very sensitive and to have the thing operating perfectly for that 85-90 seconds on Saturday afternoon is going to be crucial. Michael is not too dusty at doing those one laps as well, so we will have to see how we go.

Q: We have seen overnight that you are worried that the bans on the electronic aids could lead to a return of accusations of cheating. Could you elaborate on that for us?

MW: I agree with what you are saying. We need to make sure we can police it. That's why it was introduced, in terms of making sure that traction control and launch control . all these software issues were legalised because it was very difficult to police them. And, now, if we get all of the people in place to go against all the boffins that we've got in the pit lane that would be useful because there's some very, very smart people out there. And there's so many different ways we can go about what the driver does in terms of throttle application to what actually goes to the rear wheels. It's a very technical process. I hope they can police it, and that's the only thing that I'm a little bit concerned about.

Q: Just how concerned are you that people might get up to these tricks then?

MW: It's a big game and big business and people were doing it in the past, because there's a benefit in it. And I see no reason that . They have got to ban these codes and all this software. (I hope) they go about it in a fashion that is going to be extremely difficult to dodge the system.

Q: How would you rate the pressure going into this year compared to last year?

MW: It's nice to know what I did last year, I suppose. You can think of the positives and say that's what got me the guernsey here, I've got to look to that, but that's the history. And now this is the present and we have got to work hard as a team and I have got to step up to the plate every week and do the business. That's what it's all about. There's plenty of guys who would love to be where I am, so I understand that and respect it. But it's good. I like to have the pressure. And that's why I tried so hard to get into Formula One, because if I didn't want the pressure I'd probably play lawn bowls. But I'm looking forward to it and it's going to be a good challenge.

Q: What are you saying, there's no pressure in lawn bowls?

MW: Not as much as probably Formula One. I'm not saying there is too much pressure, but . you know what I mean.

Q: Are you expecting any backlash from the local fans that you've defected from the Aussie team (Minardi, owned by expatriate Australian Paul Stoddart)?

MW: That's a very Australian thing, of course. They think you have committed a sin if you move on. I had an hour with Paul (Stoddart) yesterday at the track. And I speak to him every fortnight or once a month. We still get on like a house on fire. He understands that we have to move on and you never know what will happen in the future. You never say "never", but I think the people in Australia, or hopefully, they understand that it's going to be hopefully for the benefit of everyone and got to move on.

Q: You talk about being more competitive with Jaguar this year, but how highly do you rate your achievements with Minardi last year - in the end winning the best newcomer award?

MW: It was a really good season. We enjoyed it. It was in trying circumstances. Obviously, financially, Paul was in huge trouble going against a lot of the stuff - obviously with the TV money at the start of the year and some of the problems potentially with (Malaysian driver) Alex Yoong. It was a very tough season for him, but we got through it in a good way, I think. We were respected in the pit lane. We did have some weekends where we did ruffle a few feathers - and that's all we could really do. I learnt as much as I could as a driver, so looking back on that I'll never forget it. It was a super year for us. Sometimes a bit frustrating. We couldn't do as much as we would have liked to, of course, but a super year for us and I really enjoyed it.

Q: Did you exceed your own expectations, or did you fall short of the mark?

MW: As I said at the start of the year, I would like to finish as many races as possible and try to finish as many of those around the top 10. It was down to a lot of luck, of course. You don't drive a Minardi into the top 10 on pace. You need a little bit of luck and attrition in the race itself. If you forget the race in Melbourne, which was very exceptional circumstances how that came about, but the rest of the year was, I would say, average. It wasn't absolutely sensational, but it wasn't poor. We had some strong weekends. It was quite good.

Q: What are the goals are for this season? You must be setting them higher?

MW: Yes. I would love to be scoring points a lot more often, of course. But we have to see where our car is, see how the tyre war shapes up between Michelin and Bridgestone - which is looking very interesting at the moment, I would have to say. Work out the car balance itself, if I can set some personal goals for myself now and say this is what I want, but they could be very unrealistic in the middle of the year. If I give you guys some numbers and some figures, I can see where it will go, so I've got to be careful obviously.

Q: Do you feel like you can win in Melbourne and is it different racing in front of a home crowd?

MW: Definitely difficult to win in Melbourne, I have to say. There is a clear difference still between - you've got the big three teams - Ferrari, Williams and McLaren - who have taken several years to get to that stage, so for me to win the race would be very, very difficult. But, again, you never say 'never' and it is nice to compete in front of your home crowd. It's a highlight for any driver to race at his home Grand Prix. I'm a lucky driver that I do have a home Grand Prix. Kimi (Raikkonen, McLaren's young Finnish driver) doesn't even have one, so there are certain benefits for that. And I enjoy going back there (Australia) as well, so it's a great weekend.

Q: You alluded earlier to last year's result in Melbourne being a fairly unexpected highlight of the season. It's interesting that it came right at the start of the season. It's 12 months since that highlight, so do you still feel you are a driver with something to prove? To prove that that wasn't a fluke? And, despite your success and what you were able to achieve at Minardi, you are actually up to doing this job?

MW: Yes, it was a bit of a fluke, I suppose, but I've been under contract with Renault (F1 test driver) and Mercedes (sports car driver) and now Jaguar, so I'm fairly confident that I can do a good job. But, like you say, you've always got to prove yourself. Michael (Schumacher) is five times world champion, but I tell you he doesn't want Rubens to overshadow him this year. So it's a sport where you're head is always on the block. I would love to, for sure, have a very strong season this year. I would love to. But, then, if that happens you have got to go into 2004 and improve on that again, so no rest for the wicked. Always proving yourself, for sure.

Q: When you talk about being a sport with your head on the block, you must have gone into the Jaguar team with your eyes wide open, given that they sacked Niki Lauda a couple of months ago. If you can axe Niki, it mustn't make the rest of you feel too safe about things?

MW: Yeah, but that's, again, the name of the sport, the name of the game, and you've got to perform at all times. If you think you are safe, then you are kidding yourself. You've got to work very hard and make sure that you are justifying your position.

Q: We have read about the rule changes, but if you can bring it from a driver's perspective in the cockpit, take us through what the difference is. It's going to be this year when you are driving without these technical aids - and the other rule changes. How is it going to be different for you from go to whoa in the race?

MW: To explain it properly to you, mate, it would take me quite a while, all the different changes.

Q: What about the biggest one, maybe?

MW: The one-lap qualifying is obviously a big change. Normally we had four cracks at doing our best lap time, so we've got one shot at that. So, like I said before, you need to gear your whole mental approach really around that lap, in terms of what you are going to do with the car in terms of set-up. That also has a knock-on effect because that car then is now potentially held in parc ferme and it's got to go pretty much for the race set-up into qualifying. So there is so many cans of worms which have been opened with these new rules, and we have just got to do our best and get on top of them and hopefully there can be a few surprises. I have driven the car without traction control in the last few tests and it's very, very exciting. It's going to be awesome for the fans at the (mid-season) British Grand Prix when we do disable the traction control system, because it's a huge challenge for the driver and these cars have a huge amount of horsepower - and to control that is not easy. Those two are probably the biggest in the short-term, if you like, of the first six months.

Q: You have had one year in Formula One. Would you describe it as much harder or easier than you might have imagined beforehand?

MW: Certain parts of the job are very, very difficult. The travelling . I'm spending only the weekends at home here, and travelling to the test every week. I will just go back a little bit. Last year was reasonably easy on that front, in terms of just rocking up for the races. It was a little bit less pressure. But also it's your first year in and you want to justify that you can do it, so different pressures there. Now you've got the nod to do a job with a bigger team, then it's nice to have a pat on the back, but also it's more pressure. It is tough. Testing is 15 hours a day, 16 hours a day. You are at the track very early and very late at night - and that's four or five days in a row. Planes, hotels, rentacars. It's pretty relentless. There are tough parts of the job, but it's very enjoyable. When the helmet is on I enjoy it, and we do work hard, the drivers. It's a tough job and there's a lot of pressure.

Q: You said that you do a fair bit of travelling around and there is not a lot of time. Will you have any time at all to spend in Melbourne beforehand, just perhaps even to relax and be at home?

MW: At the moment I'm planning to try to get to Melbourne on the Tuesday (March 4), I think. We are still cruising through the itinerary at the moment, but I would like to get home and see the family, for sure.

Q: The Jaguar team struggled in 2002. That's probably not revealing any secrets.

MW: Absolutely not.

Q: Are you having any role, directly or indirectly, with developing or at least rounding out the feel of the new car?

MW: I'm playing a huge role in that, obviously, in that I'm doing quite a lot of mileage in the new car. I spent two days in Valencia (testing) this week. We are still addressing a few issues on that and learning how we can make the car go faster over one lap and over a race distance and be consistent at all the circuits we go to, so I'm trying as hard as I can to do my job properly - and that's get the guys the most information as possible and drive flat out.

Q: The first guy you've really got to beat, so the story goes, is your teammate. We understand you get on quite well with Antonio Pizzonia, but he comes to Formula One with a pretty good record and we know the Williams team was very impressed with him, they think he's a potential world champion. So what's your reaction to having a guy alongside you who really has the capacity to push you?

MW: When they announced him I was very happy, to be honest. If they stayed with Pedro (de la Rosa, Spanish driver) . Pedro is good, but didn't really have the respect, potentially, that Antonio's got. So that was good that they named him to be in the other garage next to me. You are right, we are getting on well and I'm seeing how he goes about his job, having worked with Williams and with Ralf (Schumacher) and Juan (Pablo Montoya). And Williams don't suffer any fools, so it was interesting to see, and still is, how he goes about his job. You know when you've gone over the track and you've been on the right side of the action in terms of lap times that you've done a good job, so hopefully I can keep the scoring in my favour as often as possible, but there's going to be times where he wants to "bash me around the head". That's the name of the game, and it will be interesting.

Q: It looks like 2003 is shaping up as having a huge battle in the midfield. Are you looking forward to that? While you can probably figure that Ferrari is going to be hard to beat upfront, the likes of Jaguar, Jordan, BAR, Sauber and so on are going to really turn it on. Is that your impression?

MW: Yeah, I think you're right. I think it's going to be quite tight after the first few, but McLaren and Williams will give Ferrari a hard time and, like you say, there is going to be a group of us just behind that, hopefully. Consistently, I don't know who will be there, but hopefully we will be amongst that mid-pack, battling harder and doing a good job in there. It's going to revolve heavily around the tyre war more, as I said, and we will see how that pans out. Also reliability is a huge issue for all the team at this stage, so interesting as the season goes on.

Q: What do you see in Jaguar this year that inspires you with more confidence that they are going to perform better than they have in the past?

MW: Well, they're going about it in a slightly more regimented fashion and more of a racing team fashion, to be honest. There is more homework into how they are going about it and I'm very impressed with the boys now, that they're covering all their corners. And before we even ran the new car we understood the car a lot better than they understood the R3 before it ran, so it is more of a scientific approach, some very sound engineering going down there at Jaguar, and it's great to be a part of that. It's changed a great deal and it's still going to change in the next six to eight months in terms of things rolling on. There is still a bit of scurrying on the floor, so to speak, but it's looking much, much better and the feel in the place is very strong.

Q: How did they react to the rule changes, were they quick on their feet to react to those?

MW: You can just sit there and read them, like you guys do at the moment. We can't do too much at the moment, until we actually put it into practice - for example, on a race weekend. Some of the systems are banned that we use now. We can test some of the systems, i.e. some of the auto down shifts and gearbox stuff, where we have our traction and launch control and things like that, which I think we will get more into when we come back from the first three flyaway races (Australia, Malaysia and Brazil).

Q: Last year there were, rightly or wrongly, growing suggestions that the control of F1, the cars themselves, was moving away from the driver and back to the pits. Do you think the new rules will put the driver back in the driving seat, so to speak?

MW: Good question. It definitely has swung a little bit towards the technical side. Formula One has got so strong and so advanced that it has taken a little bit away from the driver. But (with) what they are going to do in the next few months, in the middle part of the year onwards, there will be a lot more on the driver's side. I've done a few runs with some of the systems where you've got a bit of a bead (of sweat) on your brow now. You will have to work harder - and it's a good thing. I'm really happy about it. I think you should get punished for your mistakes, if you do make a mistake with some of these systems in the future. It will be great. I'm feeling really good and looking forward to it.

Q: Going back to the earlier question about the midfield battle. Is there a particular rule or change to the rules that you see benefiting these midfield teams maybe more than the frontrunners?

MW: Yeah, there is. I mean, you have to qualify with the race-spec car . in terms of a lot of the big three . some of the smaller teams, for example Minardi, we had nothing in terms of qualifying. We just used to take the fuel out of the thing and send it really, where the other teams will have different brake ducts, different bodywork, different engines, all sorts of stuff that just had to work for very short periods of time. That's gone now and the smaller teams, or even the midfield teams, will win from that rule change because of that. Over a qualifying session they might win half a second consistently at every race because of the little tweaks that some of the bigger boys had for that one lap, so there are a few things which will hopefully bring it a bit closer.

Q: Is the reliability of the R4, and especially the new Cosworth engine, a concern going into the start of the season, especially when you are really turning the wick up on the car and pushing the limits?

MW: It's always a concern when you have a new car. I've seen it at Renault, I'm seeing it now at Jaguar. I've seen Jenson (Button) do 10 laps at Valencia with his new (British American Racing) car. When you are looking for performance you have got to sometimes destroy your reliability because you can have a car which does Le Mans (24-hour sports car race distance) but you have got to be four laps behind, so there's a very fine line. Cosworth have done a super little engine for us this year and we are still working on making things a bit stronger at the moment. But there is absolutely no question about it, we will get there with the reliability. We have already had a few engines do a few race-distance tests, so you've got to do as much mileage as you can because there is always a new problem around the corner for you. And you think you get on top of it all and you get another one. You see BMWs last year blowing up at Monaco, always pushing the barriers, and that's when you have reliability problems. We will hopefully have the car as reliable as possible before we get to Melbourne.

Q: In the bigger picture, is Jaguar really a stepping stone for you to those big three teams or do you really believe that by the end of 2004 they will be at that level?

MW: Very difficult I think to be at that level consistently in two years' time, but the people we have got now, and how it's all gelling, what I've seen in the last few months since I've been here, I see no reason why my future is not here for a long time. I've got to keep performing, but I'm really enjoying it.

Q: Everyone has been talking about the pressure on you but is there a lot of pressure on Jaguar at the moment? There seems to be a lot of pressure from Ford. Do you guys feel that inside the team?

MW: As you know, they haven't come off a rosy past few seasons and, if there is ever a time to deliver, it's now. But the same could be said for Williams or McLaren-Mercedes. We've all got different goals and hopefully we can achieve the goals that have been set internally for us and relieve some of the pressure that is always there in Formula One. I believe that the recipe is there to do that, so I hope we can.

Q: Ferrari and McLaren are both talking about bringing last year's cars to Melbourne. Are you guys definitely bringing the R4, or is there still a possibility that the R3 may be coming?

MW: No way will there be an R3. It will be the R4 and what we also should keep in mind is, when they say they are bringing the "old cars", they are obviously the old chassis, but it's important for people to understand, that they've been well looked after, the number plates are well polished, so they don't have to worry about bringing the "old cars" out.

Q: Just going back over some of the issues that have been raised here - massive instability at Jaguar over the past few years, huge personnel changes, etc. Is there now a feeling in the camp that all that is behind you and that you are going to be settled? And how have you been welcomed into the team alongside your new teammate?

MW: Well, I have been employed by Ford and Jaguar for about four months, so I'm very fresh and very neutral. But you have got your eyes wide open. Hopefully this is the start of the stability, like you say, but it's something that Mark Webber can't control - if there is more instability. But at the moment I see no reason that that should happen. And I'm fitting in really well. We are getting on well, Antonio and I are chipping away with the car and constantly keeping each other on our toes, so I couldn't be happier at the moment, to be honest.

Q: You're a second-season driver, your teammate's a first-season driver. It's an unusual position for someone with little experience to be almost a de facto team leader. Is that how you will be treated by the squad, or is it that you are very much even?

MW: We are both even. When it comes to testing and the programs we are getting up to, it's all spread very, very evenly. And there's a few days where I will do something very basic and frustrating in terms of me, in terms of pushing the thing to the limit. A week later Antonio is doing the same. He hasn't had a season of racing, but he's had 15,000, 16,000 kilometres of Williams (testing) and the team (Jaguar) are very keen to get as much out of him as they can while it's fresh in his mind.

Q: You've had a lot of testing in your time as a Renault test driver, and with Mercedes you did a lot of sports car testing. Is that a particular strength of this duo, that you and Pizzonia have got so much backroom experience, you are exactly what Jaguar needed because development is the key issue for them?

MW: I think the key issue for them was the freshness of it all. That was probably the biggest thing for them - have a bit of fresh blood in there, and just a fresh start really. They weren't going to hire people who didn't have the experience and the knowledge, like you say, so they have looked at us and they have thought that we are ready for it. So hopefully we can give them some nice little presents during the year.

Q: How difficult is it to drive the R4 compared to last year's Minardi and the experience you have had with the R3?

MW: You mean physically demanding?

Q: Just even going into a corner.

MW: It constantly blows me away how the Formula One cars (are). Like, you drive the Renault, it has its weaknesses and strong points. And you jump in the Minardi. I said last year there were certain parts of the Minardi which were stronger than the R3. But the R4 is probably the best Formula One car I've driven. So it should be, because it's like buying a laptop off the shelf. Every 12 months things move very, very quickly, so there would be something wrong if it wasn't. And the tyres now are getting much better. So it's always evolving. So there's always more grip to offer. Always the car is getting quicker and quicker lap times. The lap times I was doing in Valencia this week were by far the quickest I've ever gone around there, so learning more about my myself going into uncharted waters in terms of lap times as well, so learning more about myself as well.

Q: What are the external pressures like for you now? You must be getting recognised virtually everywhere you walk?

MW: It's changing a little bit in Europe, to be honest, yes. Formula One has been through a tough time, but it's still a pretty popular sport and Jaguar is a very famous marque and now obviously, to be driving for them, especially in Britain, a lot of people are excited to have two new drivers, and I'm one of them. There might be people looking over your shoulder every now and again just to see where you're up to, so you've got to be careful now.

Q: The proposed rule changes, car-to-pit communication, the idea of getting all your information off a little board while you're travelling at 350kmh must be a bit strange?

MW: Yeah, but the boys are pretty clever. We could have some plasma screens on the pit board. You never know what they will do. It never ends, let me tell you.

Q: How do you feel about the rule changes, just in terms of the responsibility that it gives to the driver? And especially going on towards next year with the standard rear wing? As a follow-up to that, what else would you like to see to improve the racing in F1?

MW: I'm happy with most of them, to be honest. The one-lap qualifying is going to be interesting, especially now you have to prepare your race car before qualifying. So they are saying race (gear) ratios and brakes, and the whole system, will be totally different on Saturday. So some of the lap times - it will be basically only tyre development and probably cars which will make the qualifying times quicker than what we saw in the past, so I'm happy with that. That's fine. I don't know if the rear wing thing will happen in 2004. To be honest, I really don't know. A lot of it is still sinking into the teams. I believe it's still sinking in; it's happened pretty quickly. I think they are controlling the costs and they are trying to make it a little bit more realistic for people to go racing, but (in) the racing (it) is still going to be difficult to overtake because aerodynamically the cars haven't changed, unless they go with the rear wheel or something which is designed to make overtaking a little bit easier. So we are still going to see some races where it is hard to overtake this year, that's clear, but you might see Michael from seventh or eighth on the grid, which is not a bad thing to see. Or someone who shouldn't be really up there up a bit further because of a rain-interrupted session in qualifying. So lots of nice little changes. And I'm personally pretty happy and looking forward to what they are going to throw up.

Q: Is there anything you would like to see introduced that might improve things?

MW: Having driven the other day without traction control, that is definitely a good thing. You are going to see some mistakes, you are going to see looking after your tyres, and things like that. That is a good step forward. But on top of that, the old manual gearbox was a good thing. Missing gears was always something which could create an overtaking opportunity, (through) mistakes and pressure. I don't think we will ever see that. I think the system on the gearbox will always be behind the steering wheel, but overtaking would be nice. Aerodynamically the cars are superb. That's the reason why a lot of us go and watch and drive these cars, is because of how quick they are. But it's very difficult to overtake. If they could chip away at that, that would be nice. But I don't want them to make them too slow.

Q: We all talk about the pressure on you going into Melbourne. Will that pale into insignificance going into the British Grand Prix, given that Jaguar is a British marque?

MW: You're probably right. I will be probably just as busy for that race in the lead-up as I will be for my home race, but for slightly different reasons. Being the home boy down there (Melbourne), over here being the home team. The British people are so excited about trying to go forward, ever the optimist they are, so we will try to give them a good season. But there will be certainly some pressure at the British Grand Prix, for sure.

Q: We talk about one of the problems is policing some of the rule changes - electronic aids, etcetera. How severe should it be if anyone tries to tamper with the rules or circumvent them?

MW: It's up to the FIA to decide how they are going to penalise these guys, if they are going to start playing some funny buggers in terms of how they are going to resort to seeing a bit of a loophole in the regulations. And I think it should be looked on very severely and dealt with very severely, but it's up to them how they want to deal with that. And I don't think they will muck around at all.

Q: Niki Lauda said recently that if he had remained at Jaguar he would have signed the team up for the new Friday testing. In that context, are you disappointed that you won't be able to be on the track for those two hours on the Friday morning in Melbourne?

MW: I'm very happy we are not, to be honest, because we need to develop the car during the season. [Minardi, Jordan and Renault, which have opted for the two hours of testing on the Fridays of GPs will be limited to 10 other days of testing during the season, while other teams will be free to continue full testing]. And, for example, nearly 80 or 90 per cent of the circuits, the first hour and a half the track is pretty "dirty" anyway, even though it's perfectly clean. But the Formula One cars are the most expensive vacuum cleaners in the world and they will get every inch of dirt out of the surface, and the track only starts to get good on Saturday really. We start to get the correct levels of grip, so Friday is normally a bit of a write-off in terms of development for us. But you will see so much track activity on Friday this year at all the tracks because the guys that don't opt to go for the Friday,-, i.e. the big boys,-, they have to make sure that our (practice) session before qualifying, because we've got the qualifying on Friday now, so Friday is going to be very, very busy. But I'm happy we are not in the two-hour session.

Q: What about the idea that slick tyres be reintroduced to help with overtaking and put a bit more of a spectacle into Formula One. It was interesting to see the Minardi running around at Valencia this week on slick tyres - they were Formula 3000 tyres - but do you think that can be looked at again?

MW: Absolutely. I think Bernie (Ecclestone) has made no secret of the fact that he would like to see some slicks back on the cars and the grip levels that we are getting out of the groved tyres now is amazing. But how a tyre company would go about constructing a new slick, it would be interesting to see how it would slot into the system after being so long being under-developed, if you like, but I think it would help the racing - maybe because in the slower-speed corners you might be able to stay a little bit closer, because mechanically the car has more grip.

Q: Obviously you retain a soft spot for Minardi, having given you your break in Formula One. What is your perception of where Minardi is at now, in terms of obviously having come close to falling over last year? Do you see any real signs of Minardi getting on to a firm footing and becoming genuinely a possibility to survive for the long- term?

MW: It's still a tough environment and we can't kid ourselves to say that it's not. They have two super drivers this year (Jos Verstappen and Justin Wilson), they have a fantastic engine. Once they get their tyre deal sorted out I think that will be useful for them, and they could have their best season ever. It would be great for Paul to get some more support obviously. That's something which we'd all love to see him get. It is tough, but I think they're in the best position they have ever been in terms of, like you say, getting a little bit of foundations under them and hopefully getting stronger and going forward. But it is tough because ... Eddie Jordan's feeling the pressure at the moment . a few teams. It's just the way the world is at the moment. It's not easy.

Q: How much time did you get to drive in last year's Jaguar car, the R3, and how much of an improvement already is the R4?

MW: I did about six or seven days work in the R3. It was actually called the R3B, and then there was the R3C - that was the interim car which I did quite a bit of work in; working on the engine. That was really a test mule, if you like. Really just testing the rear end before they put obviously the whole jigsaw together with the R4 coming out a few weeks ago. It's difficult to put a lap time in it to say the car is half a second, one second, three seconds quicker, because we haven't had the R4 at the track the same time as the R3. But we are certainly posting stronger times than the R3 ever did, so that's encouraging. Like I said before, so is everyone else, so we have to be very realistic and see where the R4 is going to pitch in. At the moment it has some nice strong points, but we need to work on some other issues as well. But I'm sure everyone has got those.

Q: Have you already done as many miles in Jaguars before this season starts as what you would have done in all of last year with Minardi? Bearing in mind that you've done quite a few days testing for Jaguar and Minardi obviously didn't have much opportunity to test last year, so there were only the race distances basically?

MW: You're probably right. By the time we get to Melbourne, I probably would very nearly have done as much as I ever did with Minardi in the Jaguar already. We have done a bit of work.

Q: On most test days you would do, perhaps not straight off, but you would do pretty much race distances.

MW: In terms of mileage, yes, we try to do at least 70 laps in a day. Once the thing starts to get reliable you can push that up to . I did 97 laps in the R3B one day before Christmas and 97 laps another day. So you sleep well.

Q: So in a dozen test days you basically do what you would have done in a season racing for Minardi?

MW: Yes.

Q: Getting away from the seriousness, what do you do to relax before a race?

MW: I try to have a bowl of pasta and chill out about 12 o'clock. After that just go and have a bit of a...not a siesta, but a lie-down and sort of relax and shut the outside world out, if you like. The boys are feverishly preparing the car, obviously, and you have got to come out and do it. The couple of hours before the race you are really trying to get relaxed. You might get a massage as well to just relax, because it is two hours of fairly intense work. The body is under quite a lot of load and also making some big decisions in those two hours, so there is a lot of pressure. So just relax as much as possible. Even during the weekend really as well, trying to manage a time so you are not going too mad.

Q: Apart from the people who have ridden in two-seater F1 cars, do you think the average person has any idea what it's like to be driving one of these Formula One cars for a couple of hours?

MW: I think it's very hard to try to explain, unless you have been in the back of a two-seater. And that's fantastic because the people who get out of that, they're reasonably fit people, ladies and guys, they're getting up to three and four laps, five times and pretty pale as well, not just because of the ride as such and the G forces, the adrenalin and the heart rate is up and they're sitting in the car, so it is hard work. The G forces, the pressure on your pelvis and your rib cage, your back, your neck, there's a lot of load in a Formula One car, so you need to be pretty well conditioned to be able to put up with that. I just try to remain calm and make the correct decisions at the right times inside the car. For example, in Malaysia you will be seeing temperatures up to 65 degrees, so it's not a very nice place to be with three layers, overalls, and that sort of stuff, but it has to be done.

Q: Obviously you've replaced Eddie Irvine at Jaguar. He was a very different personality to you. Is there anyone now that you would want to be, or who has been, a role model for you? Is there anyone that you might have based yourself on? Just listening today, you seem to be a bit in that no-nonsense, Jack Brabham- type mould. Has anyone of that ilk been a role model for you?

MW: On the track, you like to look at the legends, of course, and that's something which you can always try to aspire to. The way Michael goes about his job is amazing and that's why he is where he is. The Tiger Woods' and the Michael Jordans and the Michael Schumachers of this world, they're absolutely phenomenally talented, but they still work very hard at their job. So you have to respect that, and I try to take that into consideration when I go about my work as well. You understand that the champions don't just rock up and do it, they apply themselves very well. But, away from the track, the way you handle yourself or go about your job away from the car is a personal thing and you have to carry yourself how you would, consistently. You've got to be yourself, and if you try to be someone else then it won't be too pleasant. I am who I am, I suppose.

Q: We know that you had quite a good chat with Michael Schumacher last year after your fifth place in Melbourne. He invited you to the Ferrari garage and you and Paul Stoddart went there and had quite a chat to him. During the rest of the year or since last season, have you had any chance again to spend a bit of time with him?

MW: Yeah, we've had a lot of good little chats in Brazil and most races. If we bump into each other we're talking about Thredbo and Mt Buller, he is doing some training up there in different places, (to) see Australia before he gets to Melbourne and different things that he loves in Australia. So, yeah, he is a totally normal guy, phenomenal sportsman and a good bloke with it. He's a good guy to learn off.

Q: The Telstra sponsorship has gone from your helmet now. Do you still have the same level of support from them?

MW: At the moment we're still looking at some arrangements with Telstra. We have AT&T, obviously, sponsoring the Jaguar racing team. Telstra have been behind me, with Yellow Pages as well, for six, seven, eight years, so it has been an amazing relationship. We are looking at avenues to stay involved with each other.

Q: If we took out the fifth place in Melbourne, your record last year would have been lots of 10ths, 11ths and 12ths. Certainly lots of finishes, but not in the points again. In the cold heart light of day, on the CV that wouldn't have looked anywhere near as impressive, so how important was that fifth place in Melbourne in you moving to a better team, in the perception of you as a Formula One driver?

MW: I think it was a great way to start the year, of course. Especially with Mika (Salo) closing in on me, that was important too. It happens in all parts of your career, you've got to step up to the plate and deliver, and when the opportunity is there you have got to grab it. And that was an opportunity where I could have made some mistakes maybe, but I was lucky to get the opportunity to be in the position and you've got to bring the bacon home. And that did work out well for me. But I think Monte Carlo, there were a few other races which, I suppose, put the nail in the coffin for me to get the big boys interested.

HOST CONCLUDES: Mark, you can see by the number of people who have been on line today how much interest there is here in Australia in your career. We certainly look forward to seeing you coming home in about a month, to welcome you back as Australia's very fully-fledged Formula One driver now. We're very proud of what you're doing and you know that there is going to be a lot of support for you here when you get home, so we wish you all the best for the Foster's Australian Grand Prix - and obviously for the rest of the season.

MW: Thanks to everyone there. You can go and have your scrambled eggs now!

-agpc-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Jos Verstappen , Antonio Pizzonia , Michael Schumacher , Mark Webber , Justin Wilson , Eddie Jordan , Alex Yoong , Niki Lauda , Paul Stoddart , Jack Brabham
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , British American Racing , Minardi , Jordan