"Friday Five" press conference Drivers: Rubens Barrichello, Damon Hill and Alexander Wurz. Team chiefs: Patrick Head and Tom Walkinshaw Q. Patrick, the performance of the Williams team seems to have stabilised after the difficulties at the...
"Friday Five" press conference Drivers: Rubens Barrichello, Damon Hill and Alexander Wurz. Team chiefs: Patrick Head and Tom Walkinshaw
Q. Patrick, the performance of the Williams team seems to have stabilised after the difficulties at the beginning of the season. Is Alessandro Zanardi also feeling more comfortable with his return to F1 racing?
Patrick Head: Alex had a bit of a problem to begin with, and there has been a gap between his performances and Ralf Schumacher's, but they are very close now. The problem in improving the team's performance does not rest on the drivers, it depends on us being able to make the car better. The engine we use is not the strongest in the pit lane -- by quite a long way -- although it is well-engineered. I would say that the gap between us and, say, the McLarens, is divided equally between the chassis and the engine.
Q. Tom, although your team recently went through a financial restructuring, the perception in the press room is that not much of the money has yet found its way into this year's programme. Is this because you are reserving your efforts for next year?
Ton Walkinshaw: No matter what investment we were able to attract this year, it was already too late to be applied to this year's car and engine, so that has been carried over. Meanwhile, we have what we have -- and it is too late to redesign a new car or engine for 1999. So all the effort is going where it should go, which is into next year's car and engine.
Q. We have also seen your efforts to ensure that English Rugby Union has a future. Does that interfere with the effort that you personally can put into F1?
TW: As far as Rugby Union is concerned, I am chairman of the League this year -- and I certainly chose an exciting year to hold that position! But the work only involves one board meeting per month, so it doesn't take much time -- unless we have an occasional crisis. Normally it is good fun, although that's not how I would describe last week ...
Q. Patrick, you said at the beginning of the year that teams occasionally had to make big steps forward, technically, and that 1999 had been one of those years for Williams. Would you say that you are in a more competitive situation now than you were one year ago, when you were virtually having to redesign the car in mid-season?
PH: I had expectations that this year's car would be a bigger step forward than it has proved to be so far. I still think the 1999 car is a considerable step forward from last year's. But it has a couple of specific problems, and once we are able to resolve those problems I believe it will enable us to make some pretty good steps forward, during the year. I can't say what you may expect from us, though. In this business you run as fast as you can, but there are blinds separating you from your competitor running in the lane alongside which prevent you from seeing how fast the opposition is running, at least you can't see until you get to the next race. All you can do is keep your head down and develop the car as quickly as possible. I have no firm expectations for the races later in the year. All I can say is that we are not happy with the level of performance we have at the moment. And the only way to make that better is to identify the problems in the car and put them right.
Q. There have been reports that the FIA plans to invite the team owners to a relaxed overnight meeting at which new rules for F1 racing could be submitted and discussed. What would the team owners here like to see emerge from that meeting?
PH: First of all, Grand Prix racing must be an entertainment, but without any suspicion that it has been 'fixed' or allowed to develop into a farce. You only have to look to NASCAR racing in America to see the potential that it has. The problem facing anybody who has to provide an entertainment like F1 is that most viewers now have the choice of as many as 50 channels. And if those viewers are not purists, they will cruise on to the next channel as soon as the motor racing ceases to be entertaining.
Q. Patrick, why has Alessandro Zanardi struggled with F1 so far this year?
PH: You will have seen from his CART racing that Alex is a pushy driver who likes to chisel away at his lap times throughout a race. But he has found our current F1 car to be so 'on edge' the whole time -- entering a corner and driving through it -- that he has had to change his driving style quite a lot. He is very frustrated that he cannot be more aggressive with the car. This is explained by the dominance of aerodynamics over the grip from the tyre, and by the cars having been made narrower. These are not 'natural' racing cars. It is in the medium- and high-speed corners where proportionately more of the cars' speed comes from the aerodynamics. I believe one solution would be to trim back the aerodynamics, but this might be difficult to achieve because a decision would have to be made on how much of the downforce could be eliminated.
Q. What solution to this problem would you put forward?
PH: It is possible to classify each circuit into one of three or four categories, defined by the technical people, in each of which there would be limitations on the size and shape of the rear wing. The limitation could be to require the wing to fit into a differently sized box, depending on the category of circuit. It could certainly be done if there were to be the tenacity required to make the definition and enforce it.
Q. There have been reports of a race in Hawaii for a first prize of $5 million. If invited, would the drivers care to take part? Would their team owners give permission?
Damon Hill: If he had a chance of winning, any driver would want to take part -- provided that the field consisted of entirely equal cars, like, say, Formula 3000s. But if the prize money was enough, and we had the time to do it, with everyone having the same opportunity to test and nobody being given an advantage, then it would be fun. It would be one helluva race!
Rubens Barrichello: I would do it for much less than $5 million!
Alexander Wurz: I like to race the fastest cars, but I also race for fun. We all want the same type of car -- something with wider tyres and less aerodynamic grip [than a current F1] -- and I would go for that. But I am not here in F1 to race because of the money, I race because I like it and because it is my passion. If I also get a lot of money for racing, then that is the best situation to be in.