Thursday 4 June, 1998 -- "Thursday Four" press conference Drivers: Eddie Irvine (Ferrari), Mika Salo (Arrows), Ralf Schumacher (Jordan) and Alexander Wurz (Benetton) Q. Eddie, you have been on the ...
Thursday 4 June, 1998 -- "Thursday Four" press conference
Drivers: Eddie Irvine (Ferrari), Mika Salo (Arrows), Ralf Schumacher (Jordan) and Alexander Wurz (Benetton) Q. Eddie, you have been on the podium at half of this year's races. Is that a satisfactory situation as far as you are concerned? EI: I am obviously pleased. I am also fourth in the world championship, which is as good a position as I could have expected to be in at the moment. I will be reasonably satisfied if I can hold that place, too. We'll have to see what happens to the McLarens this weekend, although they seem virtually untouchable at present. But I can't complain about having been on the podium in three races out of six and four times in the points. That's not a bad record.
Q. You have been quoted as saying this is a vital race for Ferrari. Is that a fair assessment? EI: Yes, I think it is. We still have to see how the new Goodyears compare with the Bridgestones, and maybe we will be able to give them a tough time. We tested them at Magny-Cours, and they seemed to go very well there: Goodyear has worked very hard and we look forward to seeing how things go this weekend. It could be a good step forward.
Q. What is the minimum result you need to stay in touch with McLaren? EI: The result will not be as important as being able to see the potential. If Michael is leading the race, then the battle for the championship could still be on, even if he happens to break down. But if the two McLarens are 30 seconds ahead on the road and Michael and I are still struggling to stay with them, then you would have to agree that it is not looking good. All we can do is to keep working hard. This year it has been amazing how hard we have worked, it has been harder than ever. We have done testing and development on the car, and the days of testing that we have done on the tyres reminds me of the testing programme that I was involved with when I was racing Formula 3000 in Japan. We have made progress, too, it has just not been made fast enough.
Q. Ralph, comparing the start of this year and the start of last year, what are the differences from your point of view? RS: The main difference is that I haven't finished most of the races! This year we have all been disappointed with the performance of our car, too. At the beginning of the season we already realised that there was quite a lot of work still to do, and we had expected the work to have been done. But it hasn't been easy to get it done, and as you saw at Monaco we are still a long way behind. It makes things really difficult when you start a season like that, and that is the main reason for our results.
Q. Your team's senior engineer talks of 'unlocking the speed' of the car. What in your opinion is wrong with it?
RS: If I knew what was wrong, then we would have changed it! The fault seems to lie in the whole package, but it is in the aerodynamics that we have the most to gain. That is why Gary Anderson isn't here and won't be going to Magny-Cours: he is staying at home to find out what's wrong.
Q. What are your feelings inside the car about its behaviour? RS: The balance itself is not too bad. But we are struggling for grip, which makes it very difficult to drive. Damon and I agree on that.
Q. Mika, your team owner Tom Walkinshaw has suggested that the Arrows engine is 60 or 70 horsepower down on a top line unit like the Mercedes. Is that true? MS: I think it's more! We certainly need a lot more power to be as competitive all the time as we were at Monaco. Even with the short straights at Monaco we were still 11 km/h slower than almost anyone else, and we still managed to be up there. But here, with the long straights, we have a big problem.
Q. But Tom has promised you won't be complaining about lack of power at the British GP. Can that be true, too? MS: I can't wait. The guys are working hard on the engine, and it makes it easier now they're doing it in-house. We have something new on the engine at every race now, and it should be a big step for the British GP. There's a lot of catching-up to do, but I just have to wait.
Q. Alexander, this is a special month for you, I think. Tell us about the things that happen to you in June ... AW: Two years ago I won the Le Mans 24 hour race on my first visit there, and last year of course was my GP debut here in Canada. It is exactly one year since I found myself sitting in the Concorde on my way here. Everything happened so late and it was like being thrown into cold water, but it ended very well. So this is my F1 birthday. Until my driveshaft broke I was having a good race here last year, in fifth place behind Frentzen, who still had one more stop to go. That was the only technical failure in a race that Benetton had all year ...
Q. You had a very nasty accident at Monaco. Has your confidence been affected? AW: Not at all, nothing. It was just an extra crash test! Actually, the car's nose was in much better shape after the accident that it was in the regular crash test, even though the Monaco accident happened at much higher speed. The safety systems on the car worked very well, in fact on Monday I had no [physical] problems at all. I had expected to be feeling something because the accident happened so fast and the head rest had been quite badly damaged. I was lucky not to be injured.
Q. Have your engineers discovered what happened in the accident? AW: At the moment it looks as though nothing actually broke on the car. But in the collision with Michael's Ferrari there was some small damage to the suspension which caused it to ride a little lower, maybe only one millimetre. It didn't affect the car when the fuel was low, but as soon as I went in for my refuelling stop the car dropped down and touched the ground [over a bump], which affected the steering and caused me to crash into the wall inside the tunnel, where you couldn't see anything on the television.