1. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:50.329 2. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:50.484 3. Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan-Mugen/Honda), 1:51.332 Congratulations, Mika, on your fifth consecutive pole ...
1. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:50.329 2. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:50.484 3. Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan-Mugen/Honda), 1:51.332
Congratulations, Mika, on your fifth consecutive pole position. After the two big accidents involving the BAR drivers today, was it difficult to find the motivation to go for pole ?
Mika HAKKINEN : No, it wasn't difficult to find motivation, but it was difficult to understand the circuit conditions. Normally a circuit gets quicker and quicker at the end of the session, but when there is an accident it normally means safety vehicles and ambulances coming out and there is a lot of debris on the circuit. The conditions then make the track slower, so it becomes difficult to know how hard you can push through different areas of the track. But the motivation is still there.
QUESTION : You and David have a full second's advantage today over your nearest rival. Did you expect that?
Mika HAKKINEN : (consults with Coulthard) Yes ! Sometimes when the advantage is one or two tenths, you are very happy about it. One second can therefore be difficult to understand. But that just shows we have a very good car and brilliant drivers -- we can be very pleased.
QUESTION : Where do you consistently find that little bit of extra speed over everyone, including David ?
Mika HAKKINEN : I cannot tell you that now, because the F3000s are just going out to race. But it is just something that comes from practice and having had a long career in racing; from confidence, concentration and knowing the right moment to go flat out. It is just a lot of little things that build up before you can do it.
QUESTION : Today, David was faster than you through two of the three different timed sectors, while you were quicker through the middle sector. Did you deliberately set up your car to be quicker there ?
Mika HAKKINEN : No, I was just not good enough through the first and last sectors during the first part of the session. Then for the last run I realised that my first sector was very quick, while the last sector was only one tenth down on David's best -- and in the middle sector I had lost some time. You just have to find the right balance when you're pushing at this circuit: if you go flat out all the way round this circuit you probably won't be able to get the best lap time. So you have to make a compromise in some areas.
QUESTION : I understand that this circuit can be very abrasive on tyres. How do you plan to handle that problem ?
Mika HAKKINEN : We have chosen the harder compound this weekend, so that should be OK. Did I say I was on the harder tyre ? No, I wouldn't say that ! But as you know, when an F1 car is carrying light downforce, then the wheels tend to slide a lot and you get a lot of wheelspin. That takes a lot out of the tyre, grip levels get less and it can be a problem. That's why it comes down to the drivers and engineers to find the best possible balance in the car, to keep the tyres in good condition all the way through the race.
QUESTION : Do you feel more relaxed to see Eddie Irvine back in 6th place?
Mika HAKKINEN : Oh, definitely ! It's fantastic, isn't it ? I am really happy about that !
QUESTION : Having see those two huge accidents involving Villeneuve and Zonta this afternoon, do you have anything to say about the Eau Rouge/Raidillon section where they occurred ?
Mika HAKKINEN : We may be laughing and smiling now, but when those things happened earlier they looked very serious. That is why I was quite surprised to see some team members laughing on TV down at BAR. I thought, 'what's going on?' There had been two serious shunts, two drivers might easily have been badly injured, and they were laughing ! I was really, really disappointed with the attitude of some of those BAR team members. Luckily, that is not my problem ...
But yes, Eau Rouge is a difficult corner. If you have a good car -- strong and reliable -- it is very enjoyable, fantastic. If you don't have that, it's a nightmare. It is difficult to comment. Every year I think there have been one or two shunts there, and it is the same again this year.
QUESTION : David, you were pushing Mika during most of the session today. Did you expect to be so far ahead of everyone else ?
David COULTHARD : Well, I was surprised when I looked and saw the gap at the end of the session, but during it I wasn't paying much attention to what was happening behind me. I just wanted to improve my time, and it seemed again that whatever time I could do, Mika could go that little bit quicker. So I decided to change the car for the final run. I actually think it was a little bit better, but unfortunately I made a couple of mistakes, and that was that. I am still reasonably happy with the way qualifying went, because it is very close between the two of us. And the race will be another thing.
QUESTION : The start is particularly important here ...
David COULTHARD : It is very important : the first corner is very tight and there is usually an incident of some kind there. But ultimately it will come down to what strategy we run and how well the pit stops go. Here you can't overtake on the track, so a different strategy can work in your favour
QUESTION : What do you feel about Eau Rouge?
David COULTHARD : It's a great corner when you have a good car, as Mika mentioned. But it's not really a corner where your setup makes a significant contribution. It is only enjoyable provided the underside of the car] is not hitting the ground, which you can see from other cars with lots of smoke coming from the back. I would imagine that any car doing that down the straight would be very uncomfortable to drive through Eau Rouge. But other than that, it is just a question of being able to hold on. Everyone asks if we are flat through there, but there isn't much for a driver to do there, other than to point at holes. If the car doesn't do anything unusual, then you'll come out safely on the other side. But it's not a corner like Copse or Beckett's at Silverstone, places where you have to play with the car in the middle of the corner.
QUESTION : Heinz-Harald, you said earlier that you only had two clear runs in qualifying because of the accidents. With more opportunities, do you think you could have been closer to the McLarens ?
Heinz-Harald FRENTZEN : Well, yes. What happened was that we made some modifications to the qualifying [setup] and in the initial run the car was a little bit nervous at the rear end. So we tried to do some more modifications -- only little ones -- and on my second run Jacques went off. Luckily he wasn't hurt, but the red flag caused me trouble because we had to throw the tyre in the bin. On my next run the same thing happened, this time with Zonta, so I had no chance of doing and fine-tuning and finding the perfect setup for this session of qualifying.