Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber interview Part 1 of 3 INTRODUCTION (by Australian Grand Prix Corporation media manager, Geoffrey Harris) Greetings everyone, and especially Mark Webber in England. Thanks for joining us, Mark, at...
Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber interview
Part 1 of 3
INTRODUCTION (by Australian Grand Prix Corporation media manager, Geoffrey Harris) Greetings everyone, and especially Mark Webber in England. Thanks for joining us, Mark, at what must be a very busy time. Just thought it was a great opportunity, and perhaps the last opportunity before you come home for the 2002 Foster's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, from February until March 3, just two weeks now, for our media friends to get an update from Australia's new Formula One driver, especially as he has now had two weeks of testing the new Minardi car. As usual, in these conferences, everyone will be invited in turn to ask a question and perhaps we may be able to take a few more, depending on time, and particularly as we have quite a large roll-call today.
Q. - Mark, can you give us a rundown on testing? Have heard that you've only had a limited amount of laps, but that things are getting better. Can you give us a rundown on what's been going on and how things are shaping up?
A. - Yeah, the new car ran about 10 days ago on a Saturday, I think it was February 1 or 2, or something like that, at Imola. Alex (Yoong, Webber's Malaysian teammate) drove for 20 laps there and basically just shook it down. Then at Valencia (in Spain), we went with one new car and one old car, which was last week, to obviously start to rack up the miles on the new car as soon as possible. It's got the new Minardi Asiatech engine. We did roughly about 40 laps each day, if you averaged it out, I suppose, maybe a bit less, at Valencia with the new car, and I did some running in the old car, just to check some traction control stuff in relation to the other car, and then we went to Barcelona this week, where we had the second chassis join us, which was running on - I shook that car down on Monday afternoon, just did three laps in that car. Then we planned to do more running than we expected, it has to be said, with both cars, but we did a race distance yesterday (Wednesday, February 13, European time) with my race car, which will be chassis 1 at Melbourne, and chassis 2, Alex had a few problems with that yesterday. So we did a 25-lap run in one hit, which we were quite encouraged with. There were absolutely no problems with the car at all. It's been a pretty good start. The pace at the front is phenomenal. The times those boys are doing at the front is very high and, you know, we're digging away. We hoped to have found a little bit more time with the front wing than we did, but it was a good little gain. It's bubbling along not too badly. We definitely could be in much, much worse a situation, I suppose, than we are. So it's turned out not too bad.
Q. - Mark, what's your first goal for Melbourne? Obviously reliability seems to be running okay. Would finishing the race be your first goal at the moment?
A. - Yeah, there's no question about that. There's TAG electronics on the engine and Magneti Marelli on the Minardi side, so there's still a few curve balls and a can of worms which can frequently open themselves up in our faces, which sometimes we don't expect, or we never expect. But we saw with Alex's car, I think yesterday, that things can happen, electronics can literally stop cars from running, we've seen with any of the teams, Coulthard last year. So no question about us, we just want to try and get to the flag, obviously not six laps behind, because that wouldn't please anyone. We want to do the race as quickly as possible, and that's what we're aiming to do. We're going to get for the first time in Melbourne the same Michelin tyres that all the other Michelin teams have been running on, which basically, not could afford, but we couldn't really have those tyres in testing. So hopefully we'll win a little bit there and we'll just see - basically a finish would be nice, yeah.
Q. - Mark, are you surprised at how quick the pace is at the front, and has that caused to you readjust your objectives for the year?
A. - No, I'm not surprised at the pace at the front. I mean, the way that the teams are running these days, the resources - the Renault boys have guys working flat out during the day and then they have a separate team come in and work at night from 8pm until 3am. So this is the type of intensity that the teams are putting into that. And when I've got four or five mechanics on my car, slogging their guts out for 20 hours every day, it makes it difficult for us compete against them, but that's why the pace up front is phenomenal. The technology, everything, the regulations are such now that the cars are awesome, absolutely awesome things. And if you've got slightly more money and resources to justify these and make the most out of these changes, then you're going to reap the rewards. So the pace doesn't surprise me and, no, in terms of readjusting our goals, we feel we're still sticking with that, finishing as many races as possible, we'd still like to get some points during the season, if possible. It's not going to be on pace, it's going to be on, for sure, some attrition and some luck, but we would like to get a point this year.
Q. - With the (Foster's Australian) Grand Prix just a few weeks away now, with your debut performance here, are you starting to get a bit nervous about performing in front of your home crowd?
A. - The other night I was lying in my bed in Barcelona thinking, yeah, a few times it sort of sinks right in. Yeah, it's going to be pretty special, you know, racing there on the grid. I suppose when I was out on the track with all the other guys and I was thinking, `This is obviously the hard work that goes in that no one sees', but once you rock up in Melbourne, you compete in a race down there in front of everyone else, it's going to be very special for me. I just want everyone hopefully to share in it, and it's going to be a great week, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure there's going to be a little added pressure, I suppose, in terms of, if there's anywhere I don't want things to go wrong with the car or with anything, I'd love it to go well in Australia. A lot of it will be out of my hands, but we'll do our best.
Q. - Just wondering about the goals you set yourself for this particular race. Is there any danger that there will be any more adrenaline going through your veins because it's the home race?
A. - There's no question that there's going to be a lot of adrenaline from the old hometown syndrome. I think it's any driver's dream, I suppose, to compete in front of their home nation, and to do it in your first Grand Prix is a special twist of the story, I suppose. For me, it's going to be probably difficult to sleep at night, in some cases when it gets close to races. I think I'm going to be pretty calm, but, you know, it's going to be a big day and I will do the best I can and make sure that all the off-track activities in relation to what we are actually achieving on the track, I'll try and calm it down a bit and get on with the job that's at hand there.
Q. - Mark, it's European Minardi, but does it feel more Asia Minardi or Australian Minardi? Between you, Paul Stoddart and the unique assets of Sarah Jane (Melbourne model who will be Minardi's "cheer leader" in Melbourne), there's a bit of an Australian flavour in there.
A. - Yeah. I think there's two Aussies on the team, me and Paul, or Paul and me, yes. The rest are Italian. Yeah, there's a few Englishmen in there, but the feel for the team is definitely Italian. For me, there's no question about that. All the boys, the chefs, it's all Italian, all the way through. The chairman is an Aussie, so that's what counts, and one of the drivers is an Aussie as well. They have fairly important roles, and we're happy to have them.
Q. - The Albert Park track, how does it compare with the tracks that you have been testing on over in Spain and the likes just recently?
A. - Well, I'm a big fan of street circuits anyway, so I love - the courses which we test on over here in Barcelona and Valencia are designed to run all year round and you do get a little bit, not bored, but we do do a lot of miles on these sorts of circuits. So when you come to a track which no one can test at, the track set-up basically, we know the phenomenal amount of work that goes into setting up an event like that. It is a track which I enjoyed driving on when I was there in, I think, '96 or '97 it was, and it has a mixture of everything. It's very, very, very quick around the back and has some nice tight twisty sections to finish the lap, and it's a very difficult track to actually get everything hooked up and find the perfect rhythm round there. It's not the easiest of circuits, so I just cannot wait to drive a Formula One car round there. Like a lot of other circuits around the world this year, I've driven them in slower cars and I'm looking forward to driving in the quickest thing possible.
Q. - You started off karting at the age of 15 or so. Did you ever dream that, come being 26 this year, you'd be scooting around Melbourne in a Formula One car?
A. - Not when I was a teenager, no. I didn't think it was ever going to end up being that far down the line. But I've always loved Formula One, always watched it when I was a youngster, and it just sort of snowballed from Queanbeyan there (near Canberra) and racing Formula Ford in Australia, then over here to Europe. I took every year as it came to me and gave it everything I had, and here we are. Sometimes I think, `What was all the fuss about, it wasn't too hard after all', but it is quite a tough gig and I'm happy to be here. So it's worked out well.
Q. - This week in Barcelona you were mixing it with the Jordans and Arrows in terms of the times there. How deceptive was that and how close do you think Minardi is from getting off the back of the grid?
A. - The times in Barcelona, we can't read too much into those because Giancarlo (Fisichella), especially with the Jordan, I know Fizzy was doing a long run and they weren't even interested really in lap times, obviously getting reliability on the car. So the lap times at Barcelona, we get a guide from them, of course, of course we get a guide and a feel for where we are, but we really will find out in Melbourne, when everything shakes out, how we are looking. In terms of us getting off the back of the grid, there is not one bad team in Formula One, there's just smaller teams. And I know if Minardi had the budgets that some of the other teams have got, then they would definitely embarrass a few of the bigger teams. If the Melbourne Grand Prix was in the middle of the year, I would be probably more confident in saying that we might be off the back of the grid. But at the moment, the season for a smaller team comes around very, very quickly and the resources, it's very tough for to us respond to problems and things that come up because they always do. So it's going to be hard for us initially, but as the season goes on, hopefully we can progress.