Drivers: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) Teams personnel: Norbert Haug (Mercedes) Hirotoshi Honda (Mugen-Honda) Takefumi Hosaka (Honda) Q. Mr Hosaka, can you tell us more about next year's programme, please?...
Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes)
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
Norbert Haug (Mercedes)
Hirotoshi Honda (Mugen-Honda)
Takefumi Hosaka (Honda)
Q. Mr Hosaka, can you tell us more about next year's programme, please? Who is going to look after which engines? How is all that going to work?
Takefumi Hosaka: Honestly, we are still making our plans for next year. As you know, Honda has announced that we will be supplying two engines to two teams [starting in 2001]. One [of those teams] is BAR, where of course our chassis collaboration will be continued. We will supply the same engines to Jordan for next year. If I say we intend to use the same engines which we used this year, performance-wise we had some problems. This was due to the newly designed small, lightweight engine [we had introduced], although we have cleared some of the problems. Using this engine as a basis, we are going to [add] some new power devices. Performance-wise we would like to push ahead of the other [leading] teams. Chassis-wise we will be continuing the collaboration with BAR. This year, unfortunately, we were not able to put our ideas forward, next year we hope to be putting in as many of our own new ideas, structures, materials, etc, in [to the programme] as we can.
Q. How easy will it be for Honda to be fair to both the BAR and Jordan teams?
TH: This is a simple question to answer. We already have some experience, [dating back] to Honda's 'second generation' entry in F1 [from 1983 to 1992], because our predecessors [at Honda] were then supplying two and sometimes even three teams. This year, we are also supplying several teams in CART racing, and taking care of them all on an individual basis. Based on that sort of knowledge, we do not expect any problems in supplying both teams.
Q. What about this race? This one, surely, must be very important for Honda ...
TH: Yes, this is a special place for us, because it is Japan and because there are strong connections here for Honda. At Honda, we love racing. We would therefore like to share this frame of mind with the spectators and F1 fans. That is why it is so important for us.
Q. Have you prepared anything special on the engines you will be using at this race?
TH: We developed an engine for Suzuka, and we have been able to achieve the top level of performance [that we have seen] of this year. If can [keep a similar level] with the chassis, then I think we have a good chance. But it will be very difficult.
Q. Will this new engine be available to the BAR drivers just for qualifying, or for the whole weekend?
TH: We don't like to see special engines being used just for qualifying. Our policy, therefore, is to use the same engine - as much as we can - for both qualifying and the race.
Q. Norbert, inevitably we must look back to Indianapolis. Can you tell us what happened when Mika's engine?
Norbert Haug: It was a problem in the pneumatic valve system. As we mentioned at Indianapolis, it started with a little problem which developed into a big one, and the end result was a complete engine failure. Sorry about that, Mika ...
Q: Are you confident that the [pneumatic valve] problem has since been solved?
NH: I think so, yes. You can never guarantee [reliability] 100 per cent, nobody can. As background [to this failure], you may not know that every engine manufacturer has to build so many parts that it can be a big task to maintain [the quality] at the same constantly high level. Sometimes you fail. We have been quite reliable since quite early in the season. As everybody knows, we certainly did not have a good start, but after that we were OK. [Since Indianapolis] we were OK in testing at Mugello. We did lots of laps - two race distances a day - and we also did it at Magny-Cours. So we are quite pleased with what we did in testing, and I just hope we can repeat that on the race track [here]. If so, we should be in quite a strong position.
Q. Was it a bad batch of engine parts which was responsible for Mika's Indianapolis failure?
NH: That is absolutely right. It is not easy to find out [when there is something wrong with] these parts. It not through lack of trying and it is not anyone's [fault]. It is the same for everybody, though, and if you fail [it means] you didn't do the job in the right way. So we must criticise ourselves on this point. There is no question about it.
Q. What is Mercedes' attitude as the championship battle comes down to the last two races?
NH: Let's hope we can keep it open to Malaysia, and then we will see. Our friend Michael is certainly in a very strong position, and from what I can see, looking at his lap times at Mugello, he should certainly be strong. It is not going to be easy for Mika to beat Michael. But on the other hand I am quite sure it is not going to be easy for Michael to beat Mika either. Let's wait and see. I am sure everyone wants to see it stay open until the final round ... apart, maybe, from one guy in this room ...
Q. What are Mercedes' plans for next year's engine?
NH: It's still too early [to say anything definite]. Everybody will be trying to continue getting more horsepower, and to build even lighter engines: those are the main targets. With so many new manufacturers coming in, I am sure there is going to be an even bigger battle in future. Honda will be very strong, no doubt [about that]; Renault will be pushing and Ferrari, too. By 2002 we will have seven or eight manufacturers in F1 and nine works-supported teams. It will be a very tough time for everybody, and certainly not easy for us.
Q. Mr Honda, is this a sad weekend? This is Mugen's last Japanese GP ...
Hirotoshi Honda: I understand already from the reports by the press in various magazines and newspapers that we will finish our F1 activity at the end of this year. But the point is - and this is very important for us - that we have never commented [about it] in public yet because we were in negotiations with Honda and Jordan. We are awaiting for a reply from Honda, and we will make an announcement at the next race. You will see then.
Q. This suggests that the Mugen company may still be working with Honda some way ...
HH: I am not saying anything today because there will be a more detailed announcement in Malaysia.
Q. Mika, how serious was your retirement from the US Grand Prix?
MH: A retirement in a Grand Prix is always very traumatic, whatever stage of the season it happens. But heading towards the end of the season, when all points really count, be it one point or 10 points, they are very important. So for something to happen to me like what happened in Indianapolis is very disappointing. But you just have to get over it.
Q. Are you looking at the championship as two races or are you just looking at this one race?
MH: Definitely looking at two races. We come to this Grand Prix prepared and with a confident mind. The mission is to try and get the best out of the car and find the best possible set-up, and to try to win it because [for us] that is the only way to continue the fight.
Q. Have you been under this much pressure before?
MH: Definitely! The last couple of years. But certainly this situation we have at the moment, in terms of pressure, is not traumatic. You may wonder why I am saying that, but in Grand Prix racing anything can happen. The difference is eight points, which in one sense is quite a lot, but on the other hand it is not that much because you saw what happened to me in the last Grand Prix and what happened to Michael. It could be vice versa [here], so I am still confident for the situation.
Q. Are you changing anything in the way you approach this race?
MH: No. Simply no.
Q. You are just treating it as race 16 of 17?
MH: Well, the only thing I will change is that in every corner I will try to brake three metres later.
Q. Michael, are you approaching this event as one race, or as two races?
MS: Pretty much as one race because naturally we'd [prefer to] finish the situation here rather than later. To do this you have to fight as a normal race because a victory is needed to win the championship, and that is what we are going for.
Q. So you are not thinking you have a nice cushion with eight points?
MS: Not really, no. There is no point [in doing that] because you never know what will happen in the last race. You really have to try and do your best here, and that's what we are going to do. If he brakes three metres later, I will brake five metres later.
MH: See you in the gravel ...
MS: We'll meet together.
Q. Have you allowed yourself any optimism since Indianapolis?
MS: As Mika said, it's racing, and anything can happen. I'm not stupid enough to believe now in the title unless it is really done. And it's not done. We have eight points, and it's a nice cushion, but it's not enough, and therefore we have to fight until the end.