DRIVERS: Jean Alesi (Prost) Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan) Jos Verstappen (Arrows) TEAM PERSONNEL: Ron Dennis (McLaren) Jean Todt (Ferrari) Corrado Provera (Peugeot) Q. Jos, how do you see your future and that of the Arrows team? Jos ...
Jean Alesi (Prost)
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan)
Jos Verstappen (Arrows)
Q. Jos, how do you see your future and that of the Arrows team?
Jos Verstappen: At the moment I don't know. I am talking with the team where I am now, and also with another team. For next year I think I will be in Formula 1. Arrows must work hard. The car we had at the beginning of the season was good, but we lost something against other teams in terms of development. I hope we can make it good again over the winter.
Q. Heinz-Harald, in the last few races it has been getting very tight between you and your team mate. There is quite a challenge between the two of you ...
Heinz-Harald Frentzen: Yes, that's how it should be. It would be boring the other way around. Jarno is certainly a very talented driver and he can smell a chance of winning races or at least of getting on to a podium. He's fighting for it. It's a great support for us both that the team can support him with a well prepared car. He is also supporting me by making me get the best out of myself every time.
Q. Jean, this has been a disastrous season for you. How do you manage to maintain your sense of humour through so many difficulties?
Jean Alesi: It probably helps that this is not my first season [in F1], because that helps me to understand how a team can go from bad to good between races. I try to do my job as I have done it in the past. I try to help my team mate as much as I can, too, and for the moment he's going OK. I would prefer to have a better car, but the situation remains the way it is. And I try to deal with it.
Q. Is your personal future allied to Prost?
JA: I have a contract with Alain for next year. I will be staying with the team if Alain stays.
Q. Jean, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher have lost the lead of the championship just as we enter the final stages of the season. What are your feelings at this moment?
Jean Todt: I am even more determined to get us back into the lead of the championship. It has been a very difficult championship. Every year we have had a very strong team competing against us and this year we are almost equal. The final five races will be very important. We talk a lot inside the team, of course, but Ferrari is now 600 people. The team is motivated and we are all working together with the same aim.
Q. There have been reports that Ferrari has offered a huge amount of money to Adrian Newey to join your organisation. Do you wish to comment?
JT: I like the question! But the last time Ferrari had discussions with Newey was in 1995, and since then there have never been any contacts with him. I am very proud of the team we have. The best thing for Ferrari would be to keep this team together and try to win races. We do not have any other intentions, and this is all speculation. It helps to try to destabilise the team, and it might help with other contracts, but there is no truth in [this story].
Q. Corrado. We hear that AMT has already started development on the engine project which it has taken over from you. What progress can you report on the new collaboration?
Corrado Provera: Immediately after the announcement was made, a technical meeting was held between Enrique Scalabroni and his engineers on one side and Jean-Pierre Boudy and his team on the Peugeot side. Things are going very well: they have started working on the evolution of the engine for next year, which will be a consolidation of the current Peugeot 2000 engine. Plans are already in place to have a completely new engine for 2002. Technically speaking, a very good relationship has been established between AMT, the current Peugeot Sport people and Tom Walkinshaw's people. It is the intention to have a Peugeot engine running in an Arrows car in October. The AMT people expect to hold a press conference in Malaysia at which they will be able to offer you all the details of the structure they are creating and the means they will be devoting to it, which as far as we know are very [substantial]. It is expected that all the former Peugeot Sport employees will stay working in Velizy, which is a fantastic deal. The AMT people have committed themselves to [installing] two new engine [test bays], in addition to the ones we have there already. This shows how keen they are to reach an even higher level quickly.
As far as our decision to withdraw is concerned, [engine development] budgets have exploded and strategically we have decided to withdraw. But this is not due to the fact that we felt we were not good enough at making F1 engines. Basically our team is good, [Now, with AMT,] they will have more money in order to invest [in improvements] and they will have long-term visibility as far as staying in F1 is concerned. The target of AMT is to stay involved in F1 for many years. [The Peugeot engineers] will then be better able to show people how competitive they can be in a different framework.
Q. Another rumour has suggested that Gauloises will leave Prost Grand Prix next year in favour of going into the World Rally Championship as Peugeot's sponsor ...
CP: No. First of all, this is a Gauloises decision and can only come from them. As far as I know, for reasons connected with current legislation, the best place for a tobacco manufacturer is still F1. TV visibility remains the highest attainable target. But I am nothing to do with this and the question should be directed at our sponsor. It is true that our rally cars are now painted in the colours of Peugeot and Esso. But the car is already going fast enough without the support of a major external sponsor.
Q. Ron, do your drivers normally make decisions on strategic matters between themselves before the races?
Ron Dennis: Each race is discussed at various stages, including between races, before the commencement of practice and after the decision in respect of the strategy under which we intend to run the race. Within that time period there are plenty of occasions for the drivers to discuss what they believe will be the correct behavior to adopt when running on the circuit. There is nothing better than to have two drivers [working together] as a team and being appreciative of each other's aspirations. It doesn't always go right, because on the odd occasions our drivers have squeezed each other and even touched each other's cars. But that's a price we're prepared to pay.
Q. What were your thoughts when you read the reports of an offer to Adrian Newey from Ferrari?
RD: Well, I think Jean's answer to the question was accurate. Ferrari has a very good team and I cannot imagine the circumstances under which they might wish to change it. I didn't read the report, although I was told about it, and it was the source of great amusement between Adrian and me last night. The banter that passed between us was quite amusing, too. I don't believe there's any truth to the story, by the way. This job takes so much time out of you and if you are committed [to F1] you're thinking about it all the time. Working with people whose company you enjoy, and who have a similar mindset to your own, is not easy to achieve.
On many occasions Adrian has expressed how much he enjoys being part of McLaren. And he is truly a part of it. Though he is an employee - and before anyone asks the question let me say that he is not a shareholder - he is fully involved in every aspect of the Grand Prix team's operations, even when it's not a technical matter. We share all decisions together - Adrian, our Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh and I - and when appropriate Norbert [Haug] and Mr Hubbert of DaimlerChrysler are involved too. It is a good ambience in which Adrian works, and of course we pay him very well. But not even in his wildest dreams would Adrian expect to be paid as well as that newspaper article [suggested he could expect to receive from Ferrari].
Q. A question for Mr Dennis and Mr Todt. After Ferrari sent a letter to the FIA after the race at Zeltweg, have the two of your had any further discussions? Do disputes between the two of you arise purely because of your rivalry in the championship or is there anther reason for them?
JT: Number 1, I can state again that both I and Ferrari as a team very much respect McLaren-Mercedes. It is the best possible challenge to be faced with such a strong combination. Having said that, we have to fight, and if you decide to make a comment it is important to feel free to do so. We simply asked for some clarification through a letter that was sent to the FIA and copied to the team involved. There was nothing private or secretive about it: it was something that was handled officially. We did not involve the press, of course, but in this world even if the press isn't brought in directly, it is not very long before it comes in.
RD: I am disappointed that this issue should have been raised again. I would have much preferred it if this question had not been asked, because I thought this was an issue that was behind us. But I have to correct a couple of the things which Jean has said. First, the letter WAS addressed to the Stewards of the Meeting [in Austria]. It may well have been transmitted to the FIA, but it was addressed to the Stewards.
If you so wish I will produce a copy of the letter to demonstrate that it WAS addressed to the Stewards of the Meeting. And unless a team appeals the decision of the Stewards, there is no provision for letters to be addressed to the Stewards. That is a fact. And as the Stewards themselves ruled in the first 30 seconds of their meeting, the letter WAS inadmissible and was disregarded. Except, of course, for the fact that they had already read it.
This is a statement of fact. I am more than happy now to put it behind us. It is not productive to Grand Prix racing, or to our relationship with Ferrari. The relationship is a difficult one - and we would like it to be better - but we are fighting. We will fight on or off the circuit in any way that is required. But the fact remains that the letter WAS addressed to the Stewards of the Meeting - and I don't see any point in protracting this debate.
JT: I confirm what Ron has said. But in saying that the letter was sent to the Stewards, I sent it to the FIA for the attention of the Stewards. Secondly, we feel that he had the right and the duty to send our letter. I agree with Ron that we should put this behind us. It is part of the sport, though, that something similar will happen again. If it happens again, we would do exactly the same. We don't feel bad about having done this, just as our competitors don't feel bad about doing what they feel they have to do.