INDIANAPOLIS, September 25, 2003 - With the World Championship coming down to two races between three drivers -- and with the Constructors' title separated by a mere four points -- the fourth annual United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor...
INDIANAPOLIS, September 25, 2003 - With the World Championship coming down to two races between three drivers -- and with the Constructors' title separated by a mere four points -- the fourth annual United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has drama on its side.
In the traditional Thursday morning press conference, the three protagonists were presented for grilling by a snarling media. Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen were joined by rookie Cristiano da Matta, making his first USGP start (and first at the Brickyard), Jacques Villeneuve, the 1995 Indy 500 and CART champion who could be making his final start at the USGP, and Spaniard Fernando Alonso.
Discussing his difficult day at Monza two weeks ago, Alonso said his Renault was "very damaged after the first crash and the other start. Then I missed the second chicane and lost a few pieces more." Asked if he met the weight minimum as he rumbled to an eighth-place finish, the Spanish youngster replied: "I didn't lose too much weight because I lost carbon pieces, you know, some grams only."
Always trying for podium, Alonso said, "Always when we approach the weekend, we try to get another podium. The team's expectations are past already because we did better than we expected. Here or in Suzuka, we will enjoy the race, do the maximum again and why not think another podium?"
Reliability has been a problem for BAR since its inception but at Monza Jacques Villeneuve was able to score points for only the second time this season, taking sixth place at the end. "It was fun to finally have a race where we could show what we could do. The car lasted until the end and we had no problems."
Every week it seems there are new rumors about Villeneuve and his future in Formula One. "Rumors are powerful," he acknowledged, "and sometimes they're rumors because people get bored and they hear something that a friend of them told them and so on. Sometimes they're created on purpose to push people in some direction or other. I don't really see much what is going on, but I'm being told most of the time what happens. But it's a lot of entertainment," he smiled.
In his first Formula One season, Cristiano da Matta noted "the good feeling being back in America and seeing so many people I haven't seen for a year now. It's going to be a new experience racing here, but it's exciting for me to be here, just a chance to see a lot of good friends."
Testing more frequently in Formula One is one of the bigger adjustments da Matta has had to make. "I had a lot less races than last year and especially at this time of the year, the schedule here in North America is quite busy. I'm probably working a little bit harder (in F1), particularly on the PR side."
In his first Formula One championship, the man CART fans knew as "Shorty" has found the biggest change from one series to the other is braking. "In Formula One, you can brake deeper and also brake turning in at the same time a lot more than you can in CART. That's the biggest difficulty," he noted.
"There's not much of a mid-corner part of the turn, there's only like the entry and the exit, while in most of the other cars I've ever driven, you always have the mid-corner part. This should change your mind just to do that naturally. I think it takes a little while."
Like da Matta, Juan Pablo Montoya has been in the US since last week. While his attitude might sound blas? to many, the focus is all there. "It's go out there and do what we can. It's a three-point difference and we can narrow the gap, so it could be ideal. We've got to try to stay in contention with Michael and make sure Kimi doesn't get ahead of us either."
"Anything can happen by Sunday. I could be completely in or completely out of the title chase," Montoya noted. "This track is well suited to our car because it's a power track like Monza."
Asked if he preferred having tester Marc Gene as teammate again this weekend, Montoya demurred. "I think Marc did a great job in replacing Ralf in the last race and it was good to keep us in the constructor's championship, but I don't think it will change anything, really. Ralf has more experience than Marc [here]. I think that would make a big difference for the points championship."
Schumacher is, of course, leading the Championship with three points aggregate over Montoya and seven over Raikkonen. "I don't think what happens in the past relates very much to what will happen this year," he said, regarding his fight for a record sixth title.
"It's a new start, and we have to see what we can do." Schumacher believes "we have a good car, we have a good package and we have worked very intense on every option last week" in testing. "We feel we are very well prepared, but at this stage, less talking, more showing is better."
Schumacher thinks the point battle "is exciting, it's good. We are strong; we won the last race so obviously we believe in ourselves and the rest is, you take it as it comes, and you do your best."
Iceman Raikkonen doesn't feel any more pressure in attempting to take his first title with a single win thus far to his credit. "I think we just need to do our own things and try to be quicker than those two guys. We had the testing and mainly concentrate on the tires, but I think our car should be more prepared here against Williams and Ferrari than in the last race - or at least I hope."
While he was "running with the nine cylinder at the end of the race" last year, Raikkonen thinks "it should be quite good" come Sunday. While he has had "a few problems before, actually my car has only had, I think, one real problem and at one of the races. Otherwise, it has been reliable and we just try to get quicker."
With Schumacher vying for a sixth championship -- a feat never performed in Formula One -- the German is not looking beyond that point. "I'm still thinking about the sixth one and that's the main focus. I think it will be a difficult thing to achieve. For me, since 2000 when I won the championship for Ferrari, that was the main target and everything since then is sort of pleasure. As long as I have fun," he reiterated, "I feel I have that for many more years, then whatever comes is great."
Arriving in the US right after his testing duties last week, Schumacher "went to Vegas for a couple of days and then a little tour around and came here yesterday. Basically, I was invited for a show opening and we went there because we wanted to go somewhere. I did a little gambling [at the slots]. I'm a small gambler."
Amazingly, Schumacher was able to move freely around the Las Vegas area and wasn't recognized. "I'm not getting recognized by Americans, not even coming here and checking into the hotel, which I thought was good."
Should he win the US Grand Prix on Sunday, of course, Schumacher won't have any problem being recognized. Even in the United States.