Grand Prix of Belgium Spa-Francorchamps Friday 28 August 1998 Excerpts from the "Friday Five" press conference: Drivers: Jean Alesi (Sauber) Jos Verstappen (Stewart) Team principals: Bernard ...
Grand Prix of Belgium Spa-Francorchamps
Friday 28 August 1998
Excerpts from the "Friday Five" press conference: Drivers: Jean Alesi (Sauber) Jos Verstappen (Stewart) Team principals: Bernard Dudot (Prost) Pat Symonds (Benetton) Industry: Martin Whitaker (Ford)
Q. Jean, we saw a very violent high-speed accident this afternoon when Jacques Villeneuve crashed off the road at the Radillon. What was your reaction?
JA: My reaction was to think immediately of the similar accident which Zanardi had there four or five years ago. This time it looked as though the tyres did a really good job of slowing Jacques's car, even though he hit them very hard. With the side protection [on the car] for the head that was obviously a good help. When you see a crash like that it is reassuring to know that good safety measures are in place.
Q. Jos, what did you think?
JV: It was difficult to see what happened, but anyway that is a place where you definitely would not choose to go off. I also think the tyres did a very good job of stopping the car.
Q. Pat, what was your feeling as an engineer?
PS: This will be an interesting incident for [FIA Technical Adviser] Peter Wright to examine when he gets the Accident Data Recorder. In my opinion, both the car and the secondary safety systems stood up really well to the impact. It was a very big accident with a lot of damage to the car, yet the driver remained virtually unhurt. The worrying thing was the speed at which the car skipped over the gravel trap, and the fact that it had lost so little speed before hitting the tyre barrier. But the barrier itself did a good job, the car stood up well and -- as Jean says -- the head rest offers extra safety. It would have been more desirable, though, if the car had lost speed before the impact.
Q. Jean, for which team do you expect to be driving next year?
JA: Sauber, of course! That has been fixed since last year, because when I signed it was for three years.
Q. Are you disappointed that there is to be no Petronas racing engine? Or are you satisfied with the Ferrari customer V10?
JA: Honestly, to design and build your own engine is extremely difficult, especially these days. The Ferrari unit we will be using next year is a wonderful engine and I am extremely happy with the decision, especially because this V10 will be very similar [to the factory V10]. This season it was a little bit different because [the factory cars] had an all-new engine while we have been using an older version from last year, modified to fit in the Sauber.
Q. What changes in the car would you like to see for next year?
JA: There are new things coming anyway, because a new car should always be an improvement. This year I had to learn the car when I arrived at Sauber, and the team also had to learn about my driving style. Altogether things should be much better next season because they will be able to look after the points that I have discussed with them.
Q. With Goodyear pulling out, do you expect teams like yours to be at a disadvantage on Bridgestones next year?
JA: I cannot say whether it will be a disadvantage, because when you know how the car reacts you work to improve it. For the moment, though, there is no decision about this and it looks as though we can stay in a very good relationship with Goodyear because nothing has yet been done.
Q. Bernard, what is the situation at Prost. Are you and the other engineers still working on this year's car?
BD: Yes. As you know, the situation [inside the team]is not very easy. We have had a very difficult project this year, but I believe there is still a chance somewhere for Prost Grand Prix to improve. This year's situation has obliged us to search out the faults on the car. You may know that the origin of the problems of the car is more than just one factor. For example, we are struggling with excess weight and the difficulties of poor balance that we suffer because we cannot use ballast to cure it. That is the reason why it has not been easy to improve the car's handling, but we are continuing anyway to push in the hope of finding some more small improvements.
Q. Has it been a shock for you after so many years of being an engine man to have switched to the chassis side?
BD: My story in F1 goes back a long way and you may remember that I had some difficulties several years ago at the beginning of the turbo era with Renault. That was a fantastic challenge at that time, and now I am in exactly the same situation. It is very exciting and probably even more difficult than I could ever have imagined at the start of the season.
Q. Have you been happy with the progress that Peugeot has made with the engine this year?
BD: Yes. The Peugeot approach to racing and to engines is different from Renault's, but we have worked hard together in the relationship between Prost and Peugeot and they are making good progress.
Q. Are you working as closely with Prost as -- say -- Williams did with Renault?
D: We are trying to do it in the same way, because the relationship which Renault had with its teams in the past -- especially the one with Williams -- was very close, so close in fact that it was probably responsible for much of the success that we had.