Japanese GP Saturday press conference

1. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), 1:35.825 2. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:35.834 3. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:36.236 Q. Michael, how important psychologically was it for you to be on pole position today? Michael Schumacher:...

1. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), 1:35.825 2. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:35.834 3. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:36.236

Q. Michael, how important psychologically was it for you to be on pole position today?

Michael Schumacher: Pole position is the best start position for the race, as we all know, and you simply want to achieve that. You want to have the best opportunity to really win the race. That was our target for the whole weekend, to try to win this race and to really finish this championship. This is the first step [towards] it. It's not finished yet. But obviously we have the best starting position and a competitive car [in which] to finish the job.

Q. You seem to have deliberately limited yourself to three 3-lap runs, when you could have chosen to do four. Why was that?

MS: Usually when other cars go out early, they somehow make the track competitive. That wasn't the case today, so ... there was no need to go out early. Afterwards there was no time [in which] to do more [running] than we did.

Q. This circuit has an infamous downhill start which caught you out a couple of years ago. Are you happy with the starting procedures here?

MS: We'll see tomorrow!

Q. Mika, you're a close second behind Michael after a great battle today. But you have been 2nd here in qualifying in the last two years and then gone on to win both times. Are you therefore disappointed to be 2nd again?

Mika Hakkinen: Basically, yes. We made some adjustments which helped me to go quicker and my last run was pretty good. But at the last corner - the chicane - I wasn't able to accelerate out of the corner as fast as I wanted to do. So obviously I am a bit disappointed to be in second place.

Q. Looking at the sector times it looks as though the adjustments you did helped to make the car slower through the first sector in favour of the two following sectors. Is that correct? Why did you do that?

MH: In a situation like we were [today] it was just a question of getting the lines through the corners right and getting the braking points correct. I was gradually improving in every sector. We didn't do anything spectacular during the session - and I was quite happy with the car.

Q. David, how easy is it for you to give 100 per cent during qualifying when you know you are no longer personally involved as a contender for the championship?

David Coulthard: Actually, that has nothing to do with it when it comes down to qualifying. For me, it's just like it is at the first race of the season: I wanted to do my best. I have struggled this weekend to find the balance [of the car] and to be able to really attack the circuit. I didn't really feel I had a competitive chance to go for the front row. Nonetheless, I am happy to have made some improvements and [to have] got a bit closer. I suppose I now have the best seat in the house to watch what happens for the championship.

Q. How do you see your role tomorrow? Do you think you will be watching from third place, or do you expect the team to do something clever which could ensure that you have a more important involvement?

DC: You know, there has been so much talk about this, but I think everyone is overplaying what teams can actually do. I cannot be miraculously placed in front of Michael, or anything like that: we have to go racing and see what happens. At the moment I am not as quick as Michael or Mika, so clearly I have to make a good start. If I get in front of one of them ... Who knows what can happen? First of all, let's see what happens at the start.

Q. Michael, you seem much quieter and more reflective on getting the job done here this weekend than you usually are. How much pressure are you under?

MS: Naturally this is not a race like any other. We can finish the championship here. I guess I am used to this. But there is no point in celebrating this pole position big time. It's nice, but it isn't the end result. We will have to fight for that very hard tomorrow, in my view. But we are ready to do that.

Q. It couldn't really have started better, could it?

MS: No. What can I say?

Q. But absolutely very close. Fighting for thousandths of a second.

MS: Yes, a very high quality pole position fight.

Q. You only did nine laps, again. Was that not a gamble?

MS: I could have done 12. yes. But as I mentioned before, in my view at least this circuit wasn't in good condition in the early stage. There was no point on going out early and just wasting a set of tyres. So we concentrated on the end, which is usually faster, and Ross [ Brawn] did a good job with the timing to get me out [with the minimum of traffic].

Q. Were you watching Mika's last run a little nervously?

MS: I saw the first two sectors, then I was a little more quiet. I knew it would have been a tight qualifying situation, and if he had got the lap together either of us could have been on pole position today. It's only a difference of 12 hundredths. That's nothing.

Q. How vital is pole position here?

MS: I believe honestly it's not as important as many other races, because here the asphalt on the main [straight] is not as abrasive [as it used to be]. On the inside it's more abrasive, but it's also dirtier. I think one [balances out] the other, so you probably only have the advantage that comes from being a couple of meters in front. There is no point in purposely trying to be somewhere and being too smart. You naturally want to be on pole so you just go for it.

Q. And basically the vital factors at the start ...

MS: Get a good start. That traditionally seems to be difficult for us here. But I believe we have adapted a little bit, and learned since the past. Then [let's] drive it home. That will be difficult again. But if we lead into the first corner we will have a very good opportunity. Even if we don't lead there, the race won't be over [there] either.

Q. Mika, do you think you could have been on pole?

MH: Of course. So why not? Let's say this was a very enjoyable qualifying session for me, and for a lot of other people too. Particularly on the last run, with my last set of tyres, things were going really well. But just coming out of the last chicane I wasn't able to get on the power as well [as I had been doing before], and I lost two tenths there. Otherwise it would have been fantastic.

Q. But otherwise you are happy with front row?

MH: Ye-ah. It's good to be on the front row. And as you have seen the last couple of years the starts haven't been too bad for me over here. So I am confident to be in 2nd at the moment.

Q. It has been suggested that McLaren has suffered because there has only been one tyre compound available instead of the usual two. Would you say that was the case?

MH: I don't see it as a problem for us at the moment. Personally I am happy with the tyres, the way they are handling and the situation we have. If you were to have tyres that were a little softer than the ones we are running now, it could be a problem. To have a harder tyre could also be a problem. In my view Bridgestone has done some very good work [in developing] the tyres we are all using here.

Q. There is the possibility of a wet race tomorrow. How do you feel about that?

MH: Well, it [would] certainly make the race more difficult. This is not a very easy track when it rains because we tend to run over the kerbs quite a lot in certain place. If you run over the kerbs too much in the rain it could be fatal. Rain here is never very pleasant.

Q. David, you have said you're now in the best seat in the house. But I don't suppose you really wanted to be 3rd, did you?

DC: No, but the reality is that I am probably the only one here who didn't believe he could be on pole. I have not been that quick this weekend, so I am reasonably happy to be only four tenths behind. It shows that I have made improvements all weekend. The race is a different story altogether, obviously, so I think I can be quite competitive.

Q. What has the car been doing that you haven't liked?

DC: Well, a little bit of everything. In terms of overall balance it's probably been as good a [chassis] as I have ever had round here. But in terms of [maintaining] the grip, I have found it more difficult to place the car than I would have liked. That has meant I lost a bit of confidence, and therefore I wasn't attacking the entries to the corners and [getting on the] power as quick as I might otherwise do. On a track as long as this one, that has been enough to create the time difference that you have seen.

Q. Were you still changing the set-up during qualifying?

DC: A little bit, but not too much. To be honest I had started with the car a little bit different from Mika's, in the belief that it might be a good way for this track, and I brought it a little bit closer [to his settings]. But I didn't want to go too far away from the overall set-up and put it into an area that was unknown to the team. So the changes we made were not big ones. My last runs were within one tenth of each other but I still needed to find that last little bit.

Q. Michael, how concerned are you about tyre wear here?

MS: Not at all. These new tyres are very good in all respects. I have no concerns.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren