Japanese GP Winners' press conference

1. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), 1:29.53 2. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes), +1.837 3. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), +69.914 Q. Michael, you're world champion for the third time, and you've won it with Ferrari. How does it feel? Michael...

1. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), 1:29.53
2. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes), +1.837
3. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), +69.914

Q. Michael, you're world champion for the third time, and you've won it with Ferrari. How does it feel?

Michael Schumacher: Similar to Monza - but don't expect me to burst into tears this time. Again, it's ... it's difficult to find the proper words for such a feeling. There was such an outbreak of emotion initially, when I crossed the line. The conditions today were so difficult: rain, then no rain, then a little bit and a little bit more. The upgoing and the downgoing through the season ... and then finally to achieve it with a victory ... the way we did it. I mean, the fight went to the last corner, thanks to Mika. He could have made it a bit easier for me! It was simply ... outstanding, and there are no words to explain it better than that.

Q. It's been five years since your second title in 1995, with Benetton. Have there been moments during that period when you thought it wasn't going to happen again?

MS: No. I didn't think it would never happen again. But obviously every year it didn't happen, it got longer and longer. You somehow get more upset that it doesn't work finally, even though we always felt we had an opportunity. But we couldn't use it, for many reasons. Finally [to have done] it is great. It's simply great. Imagine what's going on right now in Italy. That must be simply amazing ...

Q. We heard an extract of your radio conversation with Ross Brawn. What was the discussion between you two around the time of your second stop?

MS: When we saw Mika going in for his pit stop, we knew we had a couple more laps to go. We also knew they would be the two crucial laps. The problem was the traffic. I wouldn't say it was too easy to pass [those cars], because it cost me a little bit of time, and then when I entered the pits there was a Benetton spinning in front of me, moving backwards, and I didn't know where he was going to go. So I thought, 'it isn't enough.' Simply. It was spitting with rain and I [thought I] wasn't going as fast as I should have been. Then when I came in, Ross was giving me an update, saying, 'it's looking good, looking good down the pitlane, it's an 80 km/h speed limit.' But I was just waiting for the words, 'it's not looking good enough,' because [from the pits] you cannot see where your competitor is. But then he said, 'it's looking bloody good.' That was obviously an amazing moment. And from then on you hope that nothing breaks on the car. But the rain was still going on and off again, which isn't helpful, because the man in front doesn't want to make a mistake, while the man behind has nothing to lose, he has to keep pushing. That wasn't the ideal circumstance. But at the end of the day it doesn't matter whether it is ideal or not: it was enough.

Q. Mika, you have been a worthy world champion for two years. Your reign is over now, however: how do you feel?

Mika Hakkinen: So sad ... Anyway, congratulations to Michael. It has been a great season, very tough. It has definitely been very interesting, too, with lots of ups and downs for us. On the other hand I understand that [eventually] it is another driver's turn to win. And to be a good winner, sometimes you also have to be a good loser. That doesn't mean you have to be very happy about coming second or losing, but [it's good] to allow some enjoyment and pleasure for the driver who has won. That is for Michael at the moment. He has done the best possible job this year, while we weren't able to do it. Naturally I feel a bit disappointed. But at the same time I [have the memory] of having won two years in a row, in 1998 and 1999. Life, and racing, continue. We have to keep fighting and I am sure we will see exciting racing in the future, too.

Q. It was the period around the second pit stop which saw you lose your early advantage to Michael. How did you see that from a McLaren point of view?

MH: The time [the crew got me out] in my second pit stop looked pretty good. The mechanics and the team did some fantastic work there, but when I got back to the track I realised that Michael still hadn't stopped. I automatically realised that he would have an advantage and would be able to [cut into] the advantage of my gap. Our gap before I pitted had been only one second, so I knew it would be very tough. When I went back [into the race], first of all I had traffic. Then at the same time it started raining again, a little bit more, so I was sliding all over the place and I wasn't able to get the grip from the [new] tyres. That gave Michael an opportunity to get in front of me at the second stop. After that it was a matter of trying to go flat out and to keep up. On his final lap Michael probably slowed down, while I went over the limit, just trying to catch him on the last lap. I got quite close, but it wasn't enough ...

Q. David, you will understand that we have concentrated on the top two battle. How was your race?

David Coulthard: I had a very quiet race, all the way from the start. I didn't have too much of a battle and for me it was just a question of trying to keep the car on the track in what were very difficult conditions.

Q. Michael, as you mentioned, Italy is already celebrating Ferrari's first driving champion since 1979. How will you be celebrating tonight?

MS: We haven't planned anything, in fact I asked everyone not to plan anything. We intend to improvise. I am sure we will do something ...

Q. In the short time available for this interview, the one question I have for you concerns the start. Talk us through it ...

MS: Obviously we know that Suzuka has a tradition of difficulties for the start. Initially when I took off I went into wheel spin, and naturally I was trying to move over to keep [Mika] behind me. But he was so quick off the line that there was nothing I could do. That's simply it ...

Q. After striving to win this third championship for so long, can you see things changing for you now? Will there be a chance to relax? Do you feel a great weight has fallen from your shoulders?

MS: It's a bit optimistic to have all these feelings. At this moment I am still struggling to believe what has happened, [I haven't started] yet to think what might happen in the future. Everything has to settle down. Then you have to see what kind of mood and feelings you can go through.

Q. Mika, how much time do you think you lost due to Wurz's spinning Benetton at the chicane?

MH: I don't think it was much, to be honest, not in that situation. I don't think it was [the time I lost there] which cost me victory today.

Q. So it was the Ferrari strategy to keep Michael out longer which decided it, then ...

MH: Certainly that was one element which influenced my situation and my losing the lead today. Michael went a couple of laps longer. Not only that, but [it was] also [because] when I went out [from the pits] for some reason it started to rain more heavily. And when you are on new tyres they are very, very difficult to handle because they are very shiny and they give no grip at all. Also, I had a backmarker immediately in front me of. Something was against me today.

Q. David, it was raining for almost half the race today. Can you give us some ideas of what it was like to be driving in those conditions?

DC: I can only imagine what it must have been like to be fighting for a championship in those conditions, because I was all alone and having a lot of difficulty. These are some of the most difficult conditions to drive in because from lap to lap you cannot judge how damp it is. I thought it was incredibly difficult.

Q. Michael did your car and Zonta's touch when you were lapping him?

MS: No. Why? Was it close? Actually, it is possible, yeah. But I thought I was well in front of him, and anyway you expect [a slower driver] to be reasonable and to back off. I moved back on to my line ... and yes, it is possible I touched him.

Q. Michael, early in the race your pace seemed to be slower than it was when you took the second set of tyres. Was that just because you had been carrying more fuel for the first stint?

MS: We made a little adjustment after the first pit stop. And that was helpful. As you saw, we were only fractions apart. I was out there a bit longer, which cost an extra ... whatever. That is probably the reason.

Q. First, Michael, congratulations. Can you please compare this title with your first two?

MS: (pause) The conditions, the circumstances ... this one and 1994 are very different. But 1995 and 2000 are very similar because they both happened in Japan, they happened after a very close battle. Also, in the second last race at Aida, I think I also only got up front after the second pit stop, and I made the championship through a victory. But here [at Ferrari] we have been working for five years, getting very close three times and not making it three times. That obviously adds certain emotions. Therefore it is not comparable to any of them. It is simply outstanding. Despite the fact that it has been 21 years for Ferrari itself. Sorry to say this, but also the history of Benetton is not as great as the history of Ferrari. Therefore it has much more meaning to me.

Q. When Mika was having his second pit stop, and you stayed out, you ran into a bit of traffic. Were you concerned that it wouldn't pay off for you?

MS: Yes. Certainly. I was thinking it wouldn't be enough, because I had to pass two cars. It wasn't too easy: I lost quite a bit of time. Then it was slippery conditions, and I actually thought that I was worse off on the old tyres, because they were pretty worn and I was sliding a lot. I was afraid that the new tyres would actually give Mika an advantage - which luckily wasn't the case - and now I can understand it, because when you still have the shine on the tyres then you're in trouble. But I didn't know [about this] at that moment. Then, also, I had the Benetton rolling in front of me, and that cost me a bit of time coming into the pits. So everything seemed to be against me. But what can you do? You try ... and as you will have heard, Ross was on the radio to me all the way down the pit lane, telling me that it was looking good. I was awaiting and closing my eyes, and telling myself, 'now he's going to say it's not looking good enough, or something like that, because I was concerned.' But then he said, 'it looks VERY good.' That was one of the greatest moments in my racing career.

Q. Mika, may we have your opinion about the start? Then may we ask about your strategy: was the second stop too early?

MH: Well ... I was a bit concerned at the start, actually, because when I looked in the mirror I could see smoke coming out of my car. You guys could see more of that than I can. But when I saw the smoke coming out of the bodywork, I thought, 'that's it, it's on fire!' Then somebody came over the radio, just as the lights came on, and I thought it was because it was definitely on fire. Of course, I just concentrated on the start, and made, well, it wasn't a brilliant start, but it was a bit better than Michael's. And Michael moved a little bit over to my side. When he realised he didn't have a chance [of holding me behind], he backed off. When we went into the first corner it was me leading, while he was 2nd. At the moment it is difficult for me to say anything about the tactics for the race. I have to go back and talk to the engineers to examine the race and to understand exactly what happened. But after my second stop I definitely had a lot of traffic in front of me when I went out, and my new tyres weren't working very well in the first two or three laps. I was struggling there and I lost a lot of time. That obviously gave Michael the opportunity to get in front of me. So ... if I had led the race in that situation, a one-stop [strategy] would have been fantastic ...

Q. You mentioned the smoke. Was the team as anxious about it as you were?

MH: They didn't mention it to me any more in the race, so I thought it was fine. I am sure they would have called me if anything [serious] had been going on, but the smoke disappeared. I will go back now to talk to the team about it, but there must have been something weird going on. It's not a normal experience to have smoke coming from the bodywork ...

Q. Michael, was there ever a moment during the season when you thought things were over for you and Ferrari?

MS: I knew it was getting more difficult. But no ... you know my theory, mathematically, which is that as long as you are in a position to do it, you keep trying. You don't think the game is over [until it is mathematically impossible]. Except that it was more difficult than I hoped it would be ...

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Ross Brawn
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Benetton