Malaysian GP Friday press conference

Drivers: Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan) Olivier Panis (BAR) Fernando Alonso (Minardi) Team personnel: Peter Sauber (Sauber) Craig Pollock (BAR) Patrick Head (Williams) Q. Heinz-Harald, first of all you were very complimentary about the car ...

Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan)
Olivier Panis (BAR)
Fernando Alonso (Minardi)

Team personnel:
Peter Sauber (Sauber)
Craig Pollock (BAR)
Patrick Head (Williams)

Q. Heinz-Harald, first of all you were very complimentary about the car in Australia, and obviously a good result as well, and Jarno quickest today. Tell us about the car.

Heinz-Harald FRENTZEN. Well, I think it's generally a better car than last year, just in performance and handling, and it is more reliable - that's the most important thing that we have discovered. In winter testing we had done two race distances, which is more than we did last year even in Melbourne, so I think there is an improvement in the car and also in handling.

Q. Handling can obviously be disguised by the fact that the tyres are grippier, but obviously it feels better. Does it feel better again, apart from just the tyres?

HF. I can say that this is a good balanced car, I can work with this. It is a little bit easier to go on the limit with this car than it was last year and we have made some aerodynamic improvements as well, so I think basically we have the results as well. In Melbourne the car was good for qualifying in the top four, and it was also necessary. The competition around us is also very strong, and the development is done every year, even aerodynamics changes, and there's been quite a lot from the FIA, we managed to get around this challenge pretty well

Q. Now you were one of the few drivers that actually went back to Europe between the two races. Are you feeling the heat here?

HF. Certainly - it's very similar to a sauna! It's very hot here, and you weat a lot more than you usually want to. It's going to be a very tough race. Even with two-three degrees more compared to what we had last October it's noticeable.

Q. You've made some quite controversial comments about following Nick Heidfeld's Sauber in Australia. Can you tell us some more about that? What were your reasons? Can you clarify the situation?

HF. Yes, it depends what you want to know: from the beginning, or just this case. I had somebody to write about Formula One on my home page, and I explained a lot of things, if somebody's calling my home page. The item of traction control in Formula One is not a new item, it has not been issued after Melbourne, it's always a discussion. But I have to say a general discussion. After Melbourne there was some misunderstanding about my quotes, that I was saying that the Ferrari engines, no matter which driver, are running illegal traction control. This issue, you can never find it in my words, in my home page or any interview, and I only said, when I was asked about that, I said, well, they have something that helps them to come better out of the corner, but it is a legal traction control. And when people asked me, do you think it's illegal, I said I can't answer that question because the FIA has all the data about traction control, and whether it's illegal or not. But also we have the answer of Max Mosley, saying that there are teams running a system in Formula One which reduces wheelspin. It's a system which is not working together with wheelspin sensors. It's a normal, legal system: they predict that wheelspin can happen, and you can program this in the software, but it's not illegal, and I was talking about this system, just to clarify it, that this is the system I was talking about, not illegal traction control. But there are some people who just simply ignored this item, and said,Heinz-Harald said Ferrari was using illegal traction control. So I clarified it again on my home page and obviously there's a lot of people a bit upset about it. But just listen to my quotes, make a one-to-one interview, or write properly about my home page. That's all I can say.

Q. Fernando, what are your first impressions of Formula One?

Fernando ALONSO. Formula One is the top level in formula racing. So I am very happy to be here in the maximum category. It's pretty much as I expected. Formula One is not a normal category, with a very high level of drivers, and the cars are very interesting to drive, the teams are very well organized, and I'm very happy to be here.

Q. Obviously it's not a top team that you're with, it's a team that's having to fight for survival. So what are your aims this year with the team?

FA. We know that our team is not one of the top teams, but we have a good chassis, the new Minardi chassis is very good. It has good potential for development, the car is completely new, so we can do some good development in the wind tunnel when we come back to Europe. So I think the car will be good this year and I am very happy to be with European Minardi.

Q. Obviously it's very important for you, at your age - you are still 19, I think? - to stay in Formula One. You have time on your side. How can you do that?

FA. I don't know; Formula One is the objective. As long as a driver can demonstrate that he has the necessary level of skill I don't see why he shouldn't be able to drive in Formula One. I am 19 years old so I have time to learn and to win one day, maybe.

Q. I think, as well as Minardi, you are contracted to another team or another team owner. Can you tell us, are you contracted to Benetton or Renault or Flavio (Briatore)?

FA. Yes, I have a long-term contract with Renault and this year I race with Minardi.

Q. Olivier, welcome back. What's it like to be back in Formula One? Has it changed much?

Olivier PANIS. Not really, to be honest. But I am very happy to come back to a race weekend, because I am very pleased about fighting for the first corner and everything, and I am quite happy to come back in the BAR-Honda team.

Q. It was missing in testing, was it?

OP. Well, it's a different philosophy. Last year I learned a lot and I worked a lot, but the race weekend is completely different. But I accept that last year was quite good for me.

Q. Is it a career path that you would suggest? An awful lot of people who were in Formula \one last year have become test drivers to rejuvenate their careers. Would you say it's a good idea?

OP. It's very difficult to recommend this, because it's quite a big risk. But with McLaren it's quite easy to make a good car, and we had a very big test programme, and McLaren gave me the opportunity to prove my speed and at the same time with the best drivers in the world, to compare with Mika and David. But also I madea lot of tests with Bridgestone to prepare this season. We did a lot of running, about 20,000 kilometres.

Q. So you're better prepared for this season than anyone?

OP. Well, I 'm fit and I'm ready for the fight, and I'm very pleased to join BAR-Honda, because for me it's a very good team. We started the season quite well; now we need to continue to work, but it's a very good baseline.

Q. What happened in Australia when you overtook Heifeld?

OP. To be honest I'm very experienced but I didn't see the yellow flag. Jos Verstappen was following me, he didn't see it either. I am very sorry for the team, because for the first race we did a very strong job, I would have been very happy to score three points. But anyway it's an FIA decision, I accept this, but yes, I am very sorry to the team because I didn't see the yellow flag. We have a good baseline, we have to work very hard for this weekend, and we need to score some points here.

Q. Craig, he's giving your regular driver quite a hard time, isn't he? What happens when drivers tend to go faster than Jacques?

Craig POLLOCK. I think Olivier is giving Jacques a hard time, and that's the reason that we hired Olivier. We want two drivers finishing one behind the other, and it's fantastic to see. But what Jacques will do, and he's done it in the past, is he'll have to step up. Don't forget, Jacques on a Friday is not the same as he is on a Saturday, so we don't just drop our arms down and expect him to be beaten. He will be fighting with Olivier.

Q. It's something you quite like to see, isn't it?

CP. I think it's fantastic. You take the two drivers, and they're both developing the car, they're helping each other. I've never seen Jacques getting along as easily with somebody (I shouldn't say that in front of Heinz-Harald), they're both of the same language, they understand each other, and it looks like there's quite a good friendship building up.

Q. What about the relationship with Honda? They came into the factory, there were quite a lot of project teams in the factory last year. Are there going to be a lot again this year?

CP. We have even more this year with us from Honda. They're helping us with what they call chassis development, and we hope they're going to help us a lot more.

Q. There have been a lot of comments about two weeks ago, about the accident, about blame here, there and whatever. You have had time now to analyse the lift-off distances going into that corner. Can you tell us about Jacques' lift-off distances on the previous lap and on the lap of the accident?

CP. Well, from what we can see, and I'm sure Patrick will know a lot more than I will because he understands the technical side, I don't think either driver was lifting off any earlier or any later than before. Certainly it was earlier than he'd be lifting off in qualifying, but I think it was just a basic racing accident, and that's how I would like to leave it.

Q. Is that the way you see it, Patrick?

Patrick HEAD. Certainly, looking at the data, Ralf's braking-point was the same or slightly later than on the previous lap. I think it was fairly well known that the Michelin tyres had a bit of a dip in them in their early laps, so I think Ralf was probably struggling with a bit of understeer at that time, and I'm sure Jacques had in his mind that he was going to overtake him. But whatever it was, somehow there was a misjudgment and the cars hit each other. I think one thing that has to be looked at closely is, fundamentally, the car came to a halt with Jacques quite safely, but there are eight wheel ties on the car and each one of those eight parted, and I think that's the biggest thing that we have to have a good look at, to understand why, and to make sure that we improve the performance of the wheel ties to make sure that they do what they're intended to do.

Q. But presumably there's no easy answer?

PH. Obviously when you get cars hitting each other, particularly when one hits another one from behind, so that the one behind, naturally the rear of the tyre is moving upwards, so if you get a car go into that hard it tends to flick the car behind up in the air. A lot of the safety features of the track are designed using calculations based on cars on the ground with their behaviour on the ground. Very difficult to deal with all aspects of cars when they're actually lifted up off the ground. But in simple terms you have to say that the car itself survived quite well. The problem was the wheel ties didn't do their job, and I'm sure some good, balanced, technical attention to that and adjustments, even if they're made in the short term rather than the long term, will be a good thing. It needs to be looked at when all eight of the ties failed on the car.

Q. On a closer note to the team, new BMW engine, which, as we were told at the launch, the design was started even before the start of last season: how do you think it's going so far in race conditions?

PH. Just to say about the engine, I don't know what was said at the launch, but the engine design really took off in January 2000 when they took on their new chief designer Heinz Paschen, working with Dr Lawrence, and there were new people, so that was quite a rapid programme; but certainly the engine is very strong from a power point of view, and has all the right sort of characteristics in terms of its weight and size, and I think gives us the opportunity to have a good season if we can get all the other aspects right.

Q. Now a day like today tends to be particularly character-building for a driver who's coming into Formula One...

PH. It certainly was for Juan Pablo!

Q. How did he react to it?

PH. I think he was so exasperated that it was beyond cursing and swearing, really. I think he just gave himself a mental beta-blocker, so to speak, and just stood alongside the car and waited for the guys working on it. We had a mechanical fuel pump problem in the morning, and by not being able to do any running lap we had what looks like an alternator failure in the afternoon. It may be that one is connected to the other; it looks possibly as if some of the fuel from the mechanical fuel pump got drawn into the alternator housing and caught fire inside there. Anyway, it'll have to be investigated, but it certainly comes under the heading, as you say, of character-building. Not really ideal for him, when you consider this is a new circuit for him, but I'm sure he'll do a good job tomorrow.

Q. Has his attitude been pretty much as expected in testing and racing?

PH. Yes: I mean, he's very keen to get in and show what he can do. He's joined Formula \one without any baggage of what he's achieved before. I think he has a very straightforward attitude to it, he knows it's a big challenge, and he strikes me as having all the right sort of attitude to be successful. There were a few people that said, when they watched him on the track in Australia, they thought at least in practice he was what gets described as over-driving a bit, or maybe being out of line a bit more often than he should have been, but that sort of thing he'll tidy up, I'm sure.

Q. Peter, first of all, a fantastic performance in the last race in Australia: Michael Schumacher says he expects to see one of your drivers on the podium. Do you think that's possible?

Peter SAUBER. No, that's too much. The results today help to get us back to reality.

Q. So you don't think a podium is possible?

PS. No, it's not possible.

Q. The important thing, having started off at such a level, surely is to keep up development. How are you going to maintain that?

PS. There are two things. One side, for sure, is the car: the car is much lighter than the last one, and we improved on the aerodynamic side. The other big step is the drivers.

Q. So what is special about Nick and Kimi?

PS. Maybe it's too early to speak about that after only one race. But we know the past of Nick, Nick has a lot of experience: Formula 3, Formula 3000, three years together with McLaren, a lot of mileage, one year with Alain (Prost) in Formula One - he has a lot of experience. And of course Kimi is a risk, a kind of risk. We were very, very happy that his first race was really good, without any mistakes over the whole weekend.

Q. Coming back to the car again, it was designed by one person and taken over by another designer. How easy is it for Steven Taylor to work on that car of Sergio Rinland's?

PS. It was not built by one person. I think today all the companies are so big in Formula One, it's not possible that one person makes a car, I think. The basis of the latest car came from Leo (Ress), and Sergio Rinland helped us a lot during the winter to build the car. In the end the responsibility was with Willy Rampf.

Q. It seems a lot of people involved in one car?

PS. Yes, but I think that's normal.


Q. Peter, are you aware that yesterday Michael Schumacher made some glowing remarks about your drivers and the team? He said that he expects your drivers to have podium places, even wins, this season. What is your comment on that?

PS. I think it's not possible to make podium places this season. Maybe if we are very, very lucky in a race, a very special race, with rain conditions or something, but not on our own.

Q. Patrick, many people in the paddock are against traction control. At the same time, many people say that's the best solution for now. In the long term, though, is there a solution to have no traction control?

PH. That's a very difficult question. The thing is, it's a bit like the apple in the Garden of Eden, really - once you've bitten it, it's very difficult to take it away. The concern has been - and again, Heinz-Harald was talking about it earlier - the problem is with all these talks of traction control and misfiring engines, in a way, Formula One, like many other competitive activities, is a ripe environment for assuming that everybody else must be doing something wrong. But the problem is, even if you go to a common ECU, there are many, many ways of either absorbing or diverting or doing all sorts of things to the power of an engine so that it doesn't arrive at the wheels, and even going to a common ECU is not going to in itself solve that problem. I really can't give you an answer. Certainly, in the short term, if one wants to get rid of these innuendoes and doubts then what's happening from Barcelona on is probably the only way to deal with it. But I agree with you in the longer term. I think it was maybe Jarno rather than Heinz-Harald, but I hope maybe it was Heinz-Harald, I saw a Jordan out there today with a nice bit of power oversteer and beautifully corrected by the driver and balanced - it must have been you, Heinz-Harald! Anyway, I shall be very sad, I've always appreciated being able to watch drivers power-slide cars, which is one of the reasons why I hate these tyres we're running at the moment, because basically they don't respond well to that type of driving. I think it will be a big sadness if traction control, and very refined traction control, is part of motor racing from here on, and I think it's something we've got to look at very closely, to work out how to go away from there. But we don't want a season of concern that every time somebody wins, everybody says, well, they would do, wouldn't they? I don't think that's healthy either.

Q. Patrick, in Australia lap times were faster than last year's pole position. It's not the case today. Did you expect that, and how do you explain that?

PH. Well, I wouldn't say I've got a full explanation, but certainly, when we raced here last year, in by that time the relatively limited amount we were being told by Bridgestone about the tyres, we were certainly being told that they were 2001-spec tyres that were used in Japan and Malaysia. Well, I have no doubt that they've made progress since then, but a considerable amount of the development that's been made in the tyre was encapsulated in the Japan-Malaysia tyres at the end of last year, whereas of course Melbourne was right at the beginning of last year. I'm sure we're going to see last year's pole position beaten by quite a margin, but I'd have to say that I doubt it'll be by four seconds.

Q. Question for Craig and Patrick: we're all familiar with the long-drawn out and very unnecessary legal things that went on after the events in '94. I know that the Australian authorities have spoken, or they've taken your car away, I understand, Craig, and it might not come back for a while. Could I ask if the authorities in Australia have asked you to supply the data from your cars, which would presumably allow them to complete their own investigations very quickly and neatly?

CP. They've certainly asked for the data from our car, and I believe they've asked for the data from the Williams as well, and obviously we are helping them out with anything they want to know. There's no reason to hold anything back. Is that right, Patrick?

PH. Yes, we provided them the data from our car. I must say, when I was talking about the wheel ties, I'm sure, I don't doubt that the wheel ties that are being run by the BAR probably come from, for all I know, the same supplier that's providing our wheel ties, and to exactly the same specification. I think the problem, the wheel ties are properly and correctly complying with the requirements of the regulation, but the problem comes when the suspension fails and the wheel comes off the car, and the upright and wheel twist round, and the pull, instead of being done classically, as required by the regulations, which is a straight pull between round, smooth ends, becomes pulled around a sharp corner or something at the bottom of the upright. Then when we see the wheel ties failing they're nearly always failing near the ends, and that's something we've got to look at from a technical point of view to improve that and make them tougher around the ends of the wheel ties.

Q. (For Patrick, but Craig answers) Why did the team practise pit stops late yesterday?

CP. I think just about every team practise pit stops during the race weekend, and we felt that we needed a little bit of practice. We will be practising each and every day up until the race, and the morning of the race as well, but I think just about every team does that.

Q. Fernando, first, do you feel intimidated in this field of experienced drivers, you being 19 and a new face, and second, you did a good job in Australia - how did you cope with being in a team like Minardi who only ran their cars one week before Melbourne?

FA. It's true, the first time we tried the new car was in Melbourne, so we were very happy with the Melbourne result because we finished the race. I said before, Formula One is an abnormal category, with drivers of a high level. Everybody knows the drivers of Formula One, but inside, for yourself, it's another category.

Q. Pressure?

FA. No, I don't feel pressure.

Q. Heinz, yesterday Michael accused you of bringing the sport into disrepute with your comments about teams possibly running suspect engine maps. How do you feel about that?

HF. Well, I have to say I fully understand if Michael is saying that. How many of you people did write that I was claiming Ferrari was using illegal traction control? Nobody? I am very surprised he's said that, then. It was actually written in some newspapers that I said it's illegal traction control they are running. If he gets to know this then of course he is pissed off, I can imagine. I don't know how he would realise it now that all the explanation has been made. I also haven't said that the FIA is not able to analyse if somebody is cheating. I haven't said that.

Q. He was aware that you had clarified it, and he was saying that if you thought there was something dubious on the car that you should then go to the FIA rather than make public statements about it.

HF. Maybe he didn't understand that too. This talk about traction control is a never-ending story anyway. For what reason we are using traction control eight years after it is banned, again traction control in the future... Every interview I did before the season, at the launch or even after last year's season, there was always a question, what do you think about traction control coming into Formula One? And I always made the same comments. I said I personally feel sad about it. I like to race with, and I am sure most of the drivers are in the same spirit... I think the best way in the future is having a normal system, nothing special, allowing the driver to control the wheelspin by himself. I think this is the spirit of the sport and should be the spirit of the sport in future. But I understand as well that in these days there are so many possibilities, electronics is so advanced that you can work and have a system which works similar to traction control like I explained before, which is 100% legal. I think this is the point really, to say, where is the point to be legal or not to be illegal, and this is the job of the FIA, and I don't say that they do a wrong job, otherwise they wouldn't release it. But I personally believe that one day we'll get rid of all this shit and drive normally again. That would be my wish in Formula One, and I hope one day that the team owners and the FIA agree that.

Q. So would you then say that all the results up until Barcelona would be suspect?

HF. No, I haven't said that. I think you are the kind of person that likes to write that I'm saying that everything is illegal.

Q. I'm just curious. If you're saying that there's a possibility that teams are running dubious engine maps, and they have an electronic solution to wheel control...

HF. I never said they're running dubious engine maps.

Q. But that's where the thought leads.

HF. I haven't said that. I said on my home page, and that's where all the news is coming from, how this system, a legal traction control system, works. And it's a legal traction control system. For everybody who doesn't understand this, it's a system that prevents the wheels spinning, not taking the wheelspin sensor. That's a legal system used for several years in some teams. This is the system I was talking about, I never mentioned illegal traction control, so I want you to make it understandable

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Heinz-Harald Frentzen , Olivier Panis , Fernando Alonso , Patrick Head , Peter Sauber , Steven Taylor
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Minardi , Jordan