Drivers: Jenson Button (Renault), Nick Heidfeld (Sauber), Allan McNish (Toyota). Team Personnel: Patrick Head (Williams Technical Director), Paul Stoddart (Minardi Team Principal). Q: Jenson. For the last couple of weeks I have read all sorts...
Drivers: Jenson Button (Renault), Nick Heidfeld (Sauber), Allan McNish (Toyota).
Team Personnel: Patrick Head (Williams Technical Director), Paul Stoddart (Minardi Team Principal).
Q: Jenson. For the last couple of weeks I have read all sorts of things about you going back to Williams, being on the Ferrari shopping list, and so on. What is your reaction to it all?
Jenson Button: It is interesting to read. It makes my days off more interesting now, but it is so early in the season that it is crazy to be talking about things like that now. Nothing is going to be decided until later on in the season as it always is, so we just have to wait and see.
Q: What is your own feeling within the team now? Are you comfortable to stay at Renault?
JB: Yeah, I am very happy at the moment. Things are going very well, everyone is working very well together and I think it is very positive. The car is working a lot better than it was last season, and it keeps improving. It is a very good team to be with. Starting with them when they were at the back of the grid and being with them, now when we are in the top ten, it is a great feeling and all very positive for the future.
Q: Can the team challenge Ferrari this year?
JB: No! I don't think so. I think that is going to be very difficult for anyone, especially us. But we will see what happens. Lots can change throughout the season but they are so far in front at the moment it is a big step forward.
Q: What about your own performance in comparison to last year. Is it as good as ever or better?
JB: It is as good as ever. Performances look a lot better because the car is a lot quicker obviously but I am doing the best job I can at the moment and I am very happy with it. I am very confident for the coming races.
Q: Nick. Sauber have been in the points for the last three years, and your own performance may be helped by the fact it is your birthday. What are your feelings for this race?
Nick Heidfeld: I am really looking forward to this weekend. We were quite strong here last year. I was sixth in qualifying which was my best result together with the States. Unfortunately I had a problem with the launch control at the start but Kimi finished fourth so I think it is going to be okay.
Q: What is it like racing here in comparison to the last couple of circuits we have been to?
NH: Here there is quite a good possibility to see some overtaking manoeuvres because there are not many corners, quite long straights and quite a lot of really slow corners, especially into the second and the third corners should be interesting.
Q: When you are on quick straights and then come to tight right-handers, we are probably going to see quite a few cars going off. Perhaps you could explain why that should happen.
NH: I cannot see why it should be worse than on other circuits because of a long straight and then a corner, but maybe it is because this circuit is usually very slippery and that makes it more difficult. That is why I think lots of people go off here, especially in the beginning. Later on it is better with more grip.
Q: Is it true you have a new spec engine?
NH: Yeah, we have a new spec engine this weekend, the 02 Petronas. It should be a bit stronger and that will help us, especially on this circuit here.
Q: How does that compare to what Ferrari have been using so far this year. Is it one of this year's engines?
NH: No, it is something that was used last year. We will use last year's Ferrari engine all year and we will not get the new spec.
Q: Allan. You have been here before and the team did a complete dress rehearsal here. Tell me about it...
Allan McNish: Basically as a new team we needed experience of not just testing but also of all the timings and realities of a grand prix weekend. Obviously we had to do that in private ourselves so we ran everything as per the regulations for a Grand Prix weekend, including going out onto the grid 30 minutes before, the 5,4,3,2,1, and then the actual start of the race. It was like a race but with only Mika and myself and a few spectators.
Q: And literally you went all the way from Thursday to Sunday night?
AMcN: Yep. Even sat in here and simulated a press conference but there was no-one here! It was stupid for us to do anything different because you have restrictive times when it comes to a race weekend, you have also got restricted space even in the garages, so if we were to turn up to Australia without any understanding of what that was going to be like, not necessarily us as drivers but the whole team from front to back then it would have been a bit naive. From a structural working point of view of the team it was a very beneficial thing to do because we came having learned a lot but also with a few questions and things we needed to change.
Q: So will that make a difference for this weekend in particular?
AMcN: No. I don't think so because it was more of an overall thing. From the point of view of actually having tested here then that will help us a little bit because we have some data from the circuit, we have got a bit of an idea and we saw that when we went to circuits we knew already; we were just a bit more on the ball earlier.
Q: How do you feel about yours and the team's performance this year?
AMcN: I think overall we have outshone expectations and also to some extent our own expectations. I don't think we considered we would be able to be so strong, especially in race trim. Obviously the fight gets tougher throughout the season because everybody improves and I expect that to continue. It is going to get tighter and tighter through qualifying, especially on a circuit like this.
From a personal point of view, I was obviously disappointed how the first laps went in three of the Grands Prix, but the two that were okay, then I was happy with my race performance. And in the last two Grands Prix I have got the car a bit more to my liking so I can actually lean on it in qualifying trim a lot better and the results have proved that. Overall, I am personally happy with it, but it is a moving target and we have got to get better.
Q: Patrick, everyone's expecting Williams to be a lot closer to Ferrari this weekend. Will that be the case?
Patrick Head: I think we should be but really and truthfully we haven't had much excuse on any of the tracks but this one should certainly suit us a bit better than Barcelona particularly.
Q: What sort of a challenge is this circuit from an engineering point of view?
PH: It's obviously very different to how it used to be when the Austrian Grand Prix was here 15 years ago or so. It's now an incredibly short lap; for a Grand Prix circuit to be around 70 seconds for a lap - in qualifying it will certainly be well under 70 seconds - is really quite short. But three sides of it: the main straight, tight corner, heavy braking, an uphill straight, heavy braking, tight corner and then the top straight, really the only complex part of is from the Bosch Curve on and down and that's got some quite interesting corners in it with different cambers and things, quite complex and quite tricky.
Q: The fact that the circuits starts off quite smooth; what's the tyre wear like here?
PH: Well, one seems to be able to run quite a soft compound here but historically it seems to have been a circuit that's favoured one stop so the tyre wear isn't too bad.
Q: Does Juan Pablo Montoya have a hard enough edge, to really push the team?
PH: I think he pushes pretty hard, but I think we push ourselves hard as well. Obviously we're disappointed since the race in Malaysia where we able to be very strong, although Michael had problems. Just in terms of pure performance we were very strong in the race there and we've certainly been disappointed with ourselves since then in terms of performance we've been able to achieve. We're pushing ourselves pretty hard as well.
Q: There's been a story about a new gearbox development; when are you expecting that?
PH: Well, it's the first I've ever heard of it, apart from quotes in newspapers. I think it's remarkable how one magazine feeds off another and doesn't seem to have any interest in whether there's any element of truth in it. I was shown something in an Italian magazine, the only thing I know of is that there was a name of a German company who has made a small number of gears for us but that's about it. Otherwise there was absolutely no truth in the story at all.
Q: Paul, a tricky weekend last time out. Can you tell us what's happened since?
Paul Stoddart: It was a tough weekend but basically I think we had to take the decision we took and I think it was a responsible decision. Had we had more time to evaluate what actually happened to the rear wing then we would have been racing on the Sunday, but happening in the warm-up, such a short period of time, it was the only decision I could take.
Since then, we've had the benefit of extensive testing and I have to say that we haven't really found anything we would identify as a problem that would have prevented us from racing. We put it down to a one-off component and as a precaution we've taken a lot of stress out of the point where it actually did break, albeit it will always break at the point where it did break, the weakest point and we've been able to increase the actual strength of the part itself without compromising its performance, but like I say, it's the only decision we could take.
Q: How easy was that from a commercial point of view? Did the sponsors easily accept it?
PS: It wasn't easy from a commercial point of view and no, they didn't to be honest. To be strictly fair, some of them did and one or two didn't understand that there are times when you have to make tough decisions.
Q: In terms of cost cutting, what are your own personal recommendations?
PS: I think a lot's been said about it, but whether anything's going to be done about it remains to be seen. I think it's fair to say that some of the bigger teams have been very supportive towards cost cutting and some of them don't seem to be terribly concerned at all and of course we need unanimous agreement to actually achieve anything. So sadly, if ever we get to the day when there are only six teams running, it will be like closing the gate after the horse has bolted. I think there are ways we could cut costs in Formula One but if we don't address them as one voice, one group then it simply won't happen.
Q: It's suggested that your engine supplier, Asiatech, could actually supply you with a chassis as well. Would that help?
PS: Anything that saves money would be a help but a bit like Patrick, I haven't heard that one. I think it's the old story, the first rule of journalism: never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Q: Patrick what are your own recommendations in terms of cost cutting?
PH: Spending money for no good reason is certainly not worthwhile but I think we as a company have usually been pretty careful in terms of trying to make the best use of the money we have available and certainly, in terms of the budget we have available, it's very very much less than Ferrari have, for instance. So we have to be more effective, or try to be more effective and use our money more efficiently.
But ultimately the teams nearer the front are obviously very wary about diminishing their power to make the best of their equipment and things like testing, although it is a law of diminishing returns, every day you go out testing you learn things the whole time and to some extent that's a large part of helping you to be reliable as well. Good engineering and good manufacturing standards are part of it but also the feedback you get in testing.
Meanwhile there are certain elements in Formula One in terms of fairly expensive materials, there's a number of areas that could be discussed about saving costs in hardware, things like what materials one uses for suspension members or what type of brakes and different things one could use.
But the thing is that they need to be discussed in a reasonably rational meeting and I haven't seen anything yet formed which I would call a rational meeting. In general, the team principals all sit on such different mountains that I don't think they are capable of having a productive, useful meeting on the subject in terms of talking about saving money on the engineering hardware. They certainly can probably look into the testing side and see where they can save money there.
Q: Might it therefore be up to the technical working group to make suggestions as to where they could save money?
PH: Yes, but they would have to be requested by the team principals to do so. That's not why they formed; the technical working group are there for other things but if they are charged with finding effective ways of reducing costs in a way that wouldn't do damage to the sport then yes, they would obviously follow that instruction. They are there to do that, to turn that type of instruction into practical form.
Q: And that wouldn't be too difficult?
PH: I think the things that you could save money on in terms of the engineering hardware would save certainly amounts of money but in truth, a relatively small amount of money and one of the problems is, and one can say, well, it's a bit like banning making land mines. They say, well if they don't sell them, somebody else will sell them.
But the problem is, if you're able to raise a certain amount of money, if you're restricted from spending some of it on composite suspension or carbon brakes or some other area on the car, then you'll spend it either on a more expensive driver or more exotic in-factory rigs for testing things. It won't stop you spending the money. What you spend is the greater proportion of what you can get in. So you wouldn't be limited in terms of what you can spend in that way. The question is, would you gain as much advantage out of the expenditure you would make in other areas. I think, in truth, it wouldn't alter a great deal in terms of the position of the teams on the grid.
Q: Nick, there are rumours about you going to Toyota; what do you think about it and also Allan?
NH: I suggest that it's rumours, no more. At the moment I am really happy with Sauber and maybe Allan knows more about it?
AMcN: I know less than you.
Q: Allan, a third of the way through your first season in Formula One; what do you like most, what do you hate most in Formula One?
AMcN: I'm trying to think what I hate most. I think one thing is that you have got very very little time to yourself and that's not necessarily at the circuit, that is not much different from any other form of motor racing. But certainly, away from the circuit, you've got extremely little time to yourself. However that's part and parcel of the job and I accept that without any problem.
What I like most? I actually like the wheel-to-wheel racing. Really that's one of the reasons why I was a bit grumpy after Australia and after Imola, because I wasn't able to fight wheel-to-wheel and that's a thing which I really enjoy and so Barcelona and Malaysia and the start of Brazil for me was fun.