Grand Prix of Australia Melbourne March 4, 1999 "Thursday Four" press conference -- Drivers: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren), Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Alessandro Zanardi (Williams). Team chief: Ron Dennis (McLaren) Q. Mika, how do you...
Grand Prix of Australia
March 4, 1999
Q. Mika, how do you feel as the first race approaches?
MH: Personally I am motivated and ready to defend my title. I am prepared to work hard for it, too. I have learned a lot and developed since last year, and this year I know where I will be using my energies to win races. By Sunday I will know a lot more about our performance, but I can certainly say that the effort that has gone into designing the new car and engine over the winter has been tremendous.
Q. Michael, what are your feelings?
MS: Obviously we feel good. We have put in some good preparation and used the time very efficiently. Now we are just waiting for practice to start and looking forward to the race. I feel I can't wait.
Q. How many miles have you done in the new car?
MS: We have certainly done fewer miles than we had done at this stage last year, but as I said they were done very efficiently. We feel we have done our homework. But then we felt very well prepared when we got here last year, and we discovered that we weren't. We just have to wait and see what happens over the weekend. We should be OK.
Q. There has been a suggestion that Ferrari may attempt a full race distance without refuelling. Is that a possibility?
MS: As far I know, I think not. Even though the tyres are harder this year, I doubt whether it would be possible to do it and still have any rubber left at the end.
Q. What difference will this year's changes to the tyres make?
MS: Because of the extra fourth groove, obviously the tyres have had to be made much harder. That means less grip and more sliding. But I have to say that Bridgestone has done a good job: the tyres don't feel too bad and certainly not as bad as we expected them to feel. They have done quite a job on developing the four-groove tyres since I drove the first experimental versions at Suzuka back in November.
Q. Alessandro, are you pleased to be back in F1?
AZ: I wouldn't be here if I hadn't wanted to come back. I am pleased about it and I am anxious to start. Formula 1 has changed a lot since I left it in 1995 and it would be quicker to say what has remained the same since then than to list all the changes. I would say the Champ cars I have driven for the last three years were closer to the F1 that I used to drive than to the Williams I will be racing here, so it's a big switch. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable car to drive, with more power than any kind of road car you can imagine. It's nice to be racing in such a competitive series and I hope we can put something good together. I have a lot of confidence in the whole Winfield-Williams operation and I believe that this team, technically speaking, is one of the greatest ever seen in GP history. That's why I am here.
Q. In America you gained a reputation for aggressive driving. Will you bring that aggression to F1?
AZ: It depends what you mean by 'aggressive.' A lot of people say I am aggressive because I kept banging against other drivers. But you don't finish a lot of races by driving like that. I don't think I am that aggressive. In 1998 I not only won more points than anyone in CART history but I also completed more miles in the races than anyone had done before in one season. I just try to take advantage of what the opportunity is. It's something that Michael and Mika also do very well. When you see an opportunity and you believe you can outbrake somebody to gain a position, you take it. You know that you're not being paid to sit there and wait until the following lap. If the move then works, I wouldn't call that being aggressive. It's just doing your job.
Q. What comparisons can you draw between this circuit and Surfers' Paradise?
AZ: Considering that this is a non-permanent circuit, this is most impressive. I have never seen run-off areas as big as the ones they have here -- certainly not in the last three years -- and in Europe I have seen permanent circuits that are not as good as this one. It seems to be really smooth ... let me tell you tomorrow whether it's good to race on.
Q. Ron, what is the mood in the factory?
RD: Right now, everyone's very tired. We have had a tough month. We pushed hard to try to create an advantage over last year's car. We spent some time making last year's chassis comply with the 1998 rules. That was done as an insurance, and in the end it was difficult to make a decision on which car to use here. We think we have brought the faster car, but inevitably -- because it is new -- it is not as reliable as last year's, although it's pretty good.
Q. When did you pass the crash test?
RD: You don't pass each test on just one day. Instead, you work through it -- and I believe that most teams have struggled a little bit with some aspects of this year's tougher tests. The last item we sent for test was the rear impact structure. Because it is a bolt-on component you can afford to feel a little more relaxed if it doesn't pass the test first time, and it took us a couple of attempts to pass. But this is quite normal, because you don't only want to conform with the rules but also be as competitive as possible. And since the rear crash structure has an aerodynamic influence, you can find yourself in difficulties as part of the process of making it comply.