Austrian GP: Thursday press conference

Present: Cristiano da Matta (Toyota) Nick Heidfeld (Sauber) Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) Ralf Schumacher (Williams) Mark Webber (Jaguar) Q: Mark, you've recently signed for Jaguar for an extra couple of years. Given your recent performances, did...

Present:
Cristiano da Matta (Toyota)
Nick Heidfeld (Sauber)
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
Ralf Schumacher (Williams)
Mark Webber (Jaguar)

Q: Mark, you've recently signed for Jaguar for an extra couple of years. Given your recent performances, did you not think of hanging on for an offer from one of the top teams?

Mark Webber: As I've said already, I'm very excited about staying with them. The sense of loyalty is something that's very important to me. It's been a very short period of time with Jaguar but they got me out of Minardi and they gave me a chance and I'm really enjoying being there. The work that I put in there will hopefully be fruitful next year and then in 2005 will be when we are at our strongest. You never know what's going to happen with the big teams. At the moment I'm in a situation I can enjoy and hopefully have some control over as well and enjoy with the people I'm with.

Q: You have mentioned a bit of an atmosphere over the last couple of races with the Pizzonia thing. Can you tell us more about that?

MW: Well it was probably, as usual, blown out of proportion a little bit. It's very, very clear there was a lot of media attention around that certain situation for the last few races and I think it would be totally unrealistic to say that the team didn't feel some of that. We performed, at the last few races. Antonio was unlucky at the start and, like I said, we are totally through all of that and ready to go for the rest of the year.

Q: You scored your first points in Spain; how has that changed things?

MW: We said on the grid in Barcelona that it was crucial to get that little monkey off our back in terms of non-finishes. We have shown some potential, but on some days we have a lot of issues which have been very special for us, so we were very happy to see the chequered flag in Barcelona even though it was our least competitive weekend in terms of performance. It was nice for us to get the car home and it was very rewarding because when the boys took off all the bodywork they said the car looked as if it was brand new and everything was looking good for us.

Q: So is there a different atmosphere now?

MW: Yes. We've got our points. OK, we've missed a few opportunities but it's nice. We had a good test at Ricard in terms of reliability as well, so we know what we need to work on. The goalposts are ever moving in this game and the competition -- whether it's Toyota or BAR or whoever we are with -- they're always looking for performance as well. It's very, very tough but the performance that we've gained over the last six or seven months has just been phenomenal. We have to keep chipping away. The guys have done a super job, there's no question about it.

Q: Cristiano, I believe that after you gained points in the Spanish race you said 'the season starts here' so you obviously feel there's a difference having scored your first points...

Cristiano da Matta: Well for me it was a big relief in a certain way because of course I was starting to feel more and more pressure so it was good to go out there and finally be able to score some points. I believe that we've had some other opportunities that we've missed earlier in the season when we could maybe have scored a couple of points so it's important when you go to a track that you know that your car has a performance like we had in Barcelona. We had tested there and we knew that the car was good so it is good to capitalise on that good performance and score two points which is something that we weren't able to do before.

Q: Olivier has said that he felt that the team could be the surprise of the season - do you agree?

CDM: Well, I think we have a lot of work to do to get into this stage. We are definitely looking to be more and more competitive every day and we're just concentrating on our work. If we stay the way we are right now I don't think we are going to be the surprise of the season. We still have a lot of work to do to get there.

Q: What about here? I believe you've been in Austria for all of a day. What have you thought of it so far?

CDM: Well, I just arrived last night. It's my first time in the country. I have never been here before. I haven't been able to go round the track yet so I'm looking forward to doing so right after the press conference here. But for me, it looks great - a beautiful place, mountains. So far I like it. I'm looking forward to going out on the track and giving it a try.

Q: Just going back to the team's performance so far, what's it going to need to get both cars to the finish?

CDM: Well, we've had a good test in Paul Ricard regarding reliability last week. I've been a little bit more fortunate than Olivier in this matter. He's had a couple more issues happening on his car than I did. I finished four out of five races so, if you look at my car, even though in Malaysia I had a finish with all types of problems and everything, we finished four out of the five races. That's not so bad. But for Olivier, he finished only one out of the five so we definitely have some work to do. We know what's going on with his car but we don't know why it's only happening in his car so far. But we just think it's a matter of coincidence and the things that have happened in his car so far have happened in my car in testing too so it's nothing new to us. So we're working on those pieces. I believe last week was very, very encouraging for us and hopefully this week is the first time that we see both cars crossing the start/finish line at the end.

Q: Nick, you've qualified well here but it hasn't been so good in the races, you've had a couple of incidents. What are your feelings about this circuit?

Nick Heidfeld: I'm quite looking forward to this race because in the last two years our car performed really well here. Last year I was fifth in qualifying, the year before sixth, but not so good in the race, as you said. Last year I had the big crash with Takuma, which for me was the biggest one I've ever had, but luckily nothing happened. And the year before my car stalled on the start but I got into the points anyway. And after the last two races, which were very difficult for us, especially Barcelona, I hope that this circuit will suit our car a lot better.

Q: How has it been this year with Heinz-Harald? Obviously you speak the same language, come from the same town even. Is it a great advantage having his experience?

NH: That he's German and we come from the same city doesn't really make a difference. It's simply nice having somebody that experienced in the team, especially compared to my previous team-mates, Felipe and Kimi, who are definitely very quick but obviously didn't know a lot about the set-up of the car and didn't know what was possible in Formula One. With Heinz, he's really into it. It's interesting to watch and see his ideas. Sometimes he sees things from a different perspective than I do, so I think I can learn something there.

Q: But in some ways the team has been overtaken, by Renault for example. What's been going wrong? What is needed to get you back into fourth place?

NH: I think at the moment it's unrealistic to aim for fourth place if you see how strong Renault has become. I think it's simply very difficult for us, not having a big manufacturer behind us, not having the amount of money that the other teams have, so our aim at the moment is to be fifth, and even that is going to be very difficult.

Q: Michael, you won in Barcelona and said you were in love with the new car. Do you think it is going to be suited to this circuit?

Michael Schumacher: Barcelona is a circuit which shows the true potential of the car, specific in aerodynamic purpose so if it goes well there it is supposed to go well everywhere.

Q: But some of the rival teams felt you were going to be quicker than you were. What are your feelings about that?

MS: Well, we were quick enough.

Q: You certainly were, but were you not surprised to be further ahead?

MS: Honestly, looking at the weekend and studying the data and the times of the other competitors, no I was not. I was expecting a tough fight, particularly with Fernando and I don't know how much we have seen about the others. Obviously McLaren were out, Ralf in the first stint was able to follow at a distance and then after they sort of disappeared with their strategy. I think a lot was tyres there and tyres sort of overruled the potential of the situation. I believe that we couldn't show the true potential of the car and we will have better opportunities. If you see in relation where Bridgestone runners had been over that weekend compared to the Michelins I think our car showed what it is able to do. And if you remember we started in a similar way the new car (last year) in Brazil a very tough fight with Ralf and from then on it just went better and as you can imagine, you learn a new car, you improve it as well because new bits and pieces will come -- on the old car it was not the case; it has remained what it was last year and we just kept on using it while we waited for the new car so I believe we have a very good car that should only go better, not worse.

Q: This circuit has not been the best for you, so do you still feel you can do well here?

MS: We will keep trying.

Q: Ralf, the last race, although the two cars were reliable it wasn't really a success for the team. What was going wrong there?

Ralf Schumacher: Well, it's fair to say that we decided to go to the wrong strategy. We overestimated the potential of our tyres a bit, or I did. It was my decision to do so, so it was basically my mistake. All in all, after what we saw on Friday and Saturday in qualifying it went a bit better than we expected and we were reasonably strong and able to follow, as Michael said, from a small distance, but able to follow the leading cars so that wasn't bad. I have said it many times and I will say it again: the 25 has the potential to be a winning car. We have not yet managed to put it all together for various reasons. One is from a mechanical point of view. The 25 is a totally new car to us and we underestimated all the possibilities it has and we were too much mechanically fixed in the directions we had in the previous years, so there is a lot to come, there is a big push going through the whole factory, more than I have personally experienced in my years with Williams which have been very long now and that is why I am very much looking forward to this season. It will take us another couple of months and I am pretty sure there is the winning potential there.

Q: So what are the hopes here?

RS: It is difficult to have any predictions. For Barcelona I expected to be very strong. As you saw we weren't particularly strong so here I am just waiting. I think here we are going to have a good tyre, we have a strong engine, so it should be okay.

Q: You seem to have overcome the problems you had with qualifying earlier in the year. How have you managed to do that?

RS: Well, let's wait and see how this weekend goes, but there were various reasons in the first two races. I made mistakes, I just couldn't find the right set-up of the car and that was it, and since you only have one chance it sticks out. But luckily me and my engineer together have found quite a good balance in the last few races and that's why.

Q: To the four of you who have race here before, what are your thoughts on this being the last Austrian Grand Prix? Ralf first, particularly as you feel it is your home Grand Prix...

RS: Yeah, definitely. It is a shame. It is a very nice area to come to, it is very nice anyway in Austria -- good food, great hotels around -- so it is good to be here, so it is just a shame but I am sure there are various reasons for that decision.

MS: I agree.

NH: I would also say I have always liked to come here, especially as I mentioned before the car was quite quick here in the last couple of years. But on the other hand I am also looking forward to going to a new country and a new circuit.

MW: Yeah, very similar. It is a nice part of the world to come to, the track is not the most challenging in the world but it is one of the circuits we have to come to and compete and I am sorry to see it go, actually.

Q: If I could ask the inevitable question about team orders to all the drivers, they are banned now, but is that the right decision and is the ban actually enforceable.

MS: Well, I think it is down to you that the team orders have changed, I guess, because you sort of didn't like it. Whether it is enforceable or not, I don't know. Certainly the obvious team orders will obviously be enforceable and we have made a clear statement from our point of view on how we are going to do things and there is nothing else to add from my side.

RS: I think once we had a little problem but I think it is impossible to get rid of team orders and it should be down to the team to decide whatever they think is necessary to do in this moment, so I don't have a problem with what happened here last year, I thought it was the right thing to do, and that's it.

NH: Usually we do not have team orders in our team but I agree, I think it is not really possible to ban them or control it. The only thing is that perhaps it changes things so it is not so obvious for the spectators any more which you could argue about if it is better or not.

CDM: I think when you are on the track you are competing against the other people you just decide who is best on the track and I think the team has their interests on the sponsors and everything but for me the sport should be on top of everything first.

MW: We don't have any team orders or any favours going any particular way but there could be scenarios in a race where you are on a different strategy and it is quite a powerful tool for you to move out of the way for your team-mate to make your strategy work or a better situation for the whole team and that could swing around to the next race because he is doing something different, so again if it is subtle differences I think it can happen. It's still a team sport at the end of the day but with the obvious ones it's open to debate.

Q: There has been something in the papers about Juan Pablo Montoya finding a rather unsympathetic traffic cop. I wonder if each of you could tell us experiences that you might have had with policemen and whether they ended more happily than they did for Juan Pablo.

RS: I have never had an experience with that, sorry. (Laughter)

MW: For sure, if they pull one of us over they are very honoured to book us. There's no risk of that, and I think we have all been booked at some stage by going far too quick. It's easy to do 130mph in a nice BMW I suppose. That was Juan's problem at the time and they are not going to mess around.

CDM: I come from Brazil. I never got caught -- there are not many police on the roads there anyway.

NH: The most tickets I get are for wrong parking but I tell you if any racing driver tells you he is never caught speeding he is lying.

MS: Maybe in the pit lane...

RS: Actually, the pit lane is more expensive, isn't it?

Q: To Michael and Ralf. It is the 100th Grand Prix you are racing together. Are there some special feelings?

MS: We had some great fighting here in 1997, so we look forward to some more of that.

RS: In 100 races maybe we met each other about 10 times on the circuit I think, that is about it. Usually it was always quite tight and quite exciting.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi