DRIVERS: Jenson Button (Williams) Pedro Paulo Diniz (Sauber) Nick Heidfeld (Prost) Johnny Herbert (Jaguar) TEAM PERSONNEL: Peter Sauber (Sauber) Q. Johnny, last race: what are your feelings? Johnny Herbert: In some way I am looking forward...
Jenson Button (Williams)
Pedro Paulo Diniz (Sauber)
Nick Heidfeld (Prost)
Johnny Herbert (Jaguar)
Peter Sauber (Sauber)
Q. Johnny, last race: what are your feelings?
Johnny Herbert: In some way I am looking forward to it. I had made up my mind quite early what I would be doing next year. That's what I am looking at and planning for, rather than looking at this race as my last and starting to cry. (JH pretends to shed tears). But I am not going to do that. It will probably hit me harder next year when I watch the race from Melbourne [on TV] next year, in an armchair with my feet up, my slippers on my feet and the dog by my side. The good thing then is that I will be able to say, 'look at that! I would have done it better!' It will hit me then ...
Q. This race seems to be looking good for you at the moment ...
JH: At the moment we seem to be looking OK. I am pleasantly surprised that it went as well as it did this morning. Let's hope it carries on that way, so that I can have a good last race. I am hoping to get my first points of the year. I am racing well at the moment, so I want to reassure Peter [Sauber] that we will get some points. With a bit of luck we'll be in a position to get those points, and [judging from today's performance] there is no reason why we should not be able to do that.
Q. Of course, you scored three points here last year ...
JH: Very true. But that was a year ago. I like the track. The weather may be a factor, but the car has performed well today and now we must just hope that we can keep that momentum going in order to get the right qualifying position for the race on Sunday.
Q. What is behind the recent story that you have been offered a test driving job with Williams?
JH: Frank [Williams] had a little chat with me about it. But realistically I am looking further afield. I want to race: that is what I really want to do. [To take a testing role] would be a very last resort [solution] anyway. Even if I don't race in CART, I think I would do some racing somewhere else, because I still enjoy it and that's what I want to do. Obviously things change, often quite quickly, but [the negotiations] in the States [are] still going very well. It is looking very positive.
Q. Do you have any advice, from the old to the new, for Jenson Button alongside you here?
JH: Keep it up! That's what he's got to do. He has impressed a lot of people - well, everybody - which in one respect is very good for British motorsport. It is also good for F1 in general to have these young guys coming along and trying to show us old buggers what to do. But he's still got a bit to learn. He has shown how determined he can be. But the best thing about Jenson is that he is very obviously enjoying it. We haven't seen anything like that for a long time. Watching him on the track, especially at Suzuka - and this is only my perspective - he may not be the smoothest driver in the world, but [his enthusiasm] helps him to get the fast times in. That' what people want to see. He races very strongly, too. He has also been rattling Ralf's cage a little bit. That's good to see, because Ralf is still a young boy, too. As long as everything goes well for him at Benetton next year, which I really hope it will do, then he looks set to be a world champion. That's really good for British motor sport.
Q. Johnny, there's a party being given for you by Jaguar this evening ...
JH: Yes, everybody is invited to come as long as they bring their presents for me, that would be appreciated. Walking sticks. Maybe a motorised wheelchair ...
Q. Jenson, now that we have had the Herbert appraisal of your first season in F1, what is your own assessment?
Jenson Button: It's gone very well, a lot better than I expected. When I first stepped into an F1 car I thought, 'hey, this is easy, it's not a big problem at all' ... until I got to the first race and realised I would have to push a lot harder than I had in testing. That was a bit of a shock. But I have learned so much, a little bit more - both driving-wise and technically - at every race. I really, really enjoy each race I go to. I hope the results will just keep getting better. Obviously you have to be with the correct team, and have the correct engine. This year both Williams and BMW have done a great job, which has also helped to increase my confidence. All round it has been a very good year.
Q. On the face of it, your move to Benetton doesn't seem to be a very good step ... not that you had much choice.
JB: Yes, exactly! It's very difficult to know what to expect. I won't drive the car until the end of the year. Obviously I won't be driving the [Benetton] car until the end of the year. But from what I have seen, the team can do a very good job, especially now that Flavio [Briatore] is back in charge. Also, with the new Renault [input], I can't see why we won't have a good car. I am with Benetton for two years, so let's hope we get some good results.
JH: It's a good thing for a driver like Jenson to have this experience as such a young age. It is important to have the perspective of a different team. Good or bad, though, it's best to have that experience when you're still young, because you learn from them.
JB: Do you mean experiences on or off the circuit, Johnny?
JH: A bit of both ...
Q. Are you talking from your own experience of Benetton, then?
JH: Not necessarily Benetton. We know how Flavio can be, but in respect of Jenson it don't think it will be a bad thing. It won't do him any hard at all, in fact I think it will make him stronger.
Q. Nick might not agree with that. You have had a pretty rough season so far, haven't you?
Nick Heidfeld: Yes, for me it went a lot worse than I had expected. I once experienced a year with a lot of trouble - it was back in my karting days - and at that time I thought it would be enough. I never expected to have another equally bad year, especially not in F1.
Q. Can you give us an appraisal of this year?
NH: Well, at least I have learned a lot. People say it is good to have a difficult year, but from my perspective I would have liked it a lot more if it had been a strong year.
Q. Did you ever feel that you were coming back? There was the example of the Nurburgring, where you qualified 13th and then had the misfortune to have your time disqualified because of a weight infringement ...
NH: That was definitely a very difficult moment for me. It happened in my home Grand Prix, on a circuit that I know very well, and 13th place was a good qualifying position for us. But a driver has to go through things like that. After the first third of the season, I think I managed to improve a lot, driving-wise, and I also learned how to set up the car much better. It is not as though the year was for nothing.
Q. Since Peter Sauber is here sitting beside you, and there are plenty of witnesses, you might like to use this conference as an opportunity to tell him exactly what you are expecting from your new team in 2001 ...
NH: As always it is very difficult to predict anything. I am sure I won;t have as many problems next year as I did in 2000, because there is no way that could happen. I am sure we will get some points next year, but I have no idea how many.
Q. Peter, you have had a very busy week here in Malaysia. Tell me what you have been doing.
Peter Sauber: We had a very busy week, starting with a Formula One demo for our sponsor Petronas, in Penang. This involved running an F1 car through the streets of the city, in front of 10,000 people ... and Pedro managed to avoid killing anyone. There was something happening almost every day and every evening. We think it was a good idea - and it was the first time I didn't see the drivers moaning during a promotion.
Q. You've already signed Nick Heidfeld. What is happening in terms of selecting another driver for 2001?
PS: We had two tests with Kimi Raikkonen in Mugello, which were very good. He impressed us a lot and we are thinking of working together.
Q. How long is the contract with Petronas?
PS: These things are not openly discussed in F1 and I cannot disclose the exact length of the contract. But in Magny-Cours already this year the President of Petronas told us that we would continue to work together under a long-term contract.
Q. Pedro, from what we just heard you don't appear to figure in Mr Sauber's plans. What is your future in F1?
Pedro Paulo Diniz: I only just heard [Mr Sauber's plans]! I don't know yet: I have had a very close contact with Prost, to join him next season. As Nick said, the team wasn't very good this year, but for 2001 they will have the Ferrari engine and they should improve a lot. I hope that goes ahead and we can do the deal.
Q. When do you expect to be making the deal?
PPD: There are so many things still going around that we cannot conclude a deal yet.
Q. One rumour suggested that you father might be investing in the Prost team. What can you tell us about that?
PPD: I don't know anything about it. Like you, I learned from the papers that my father was buying the team.
Q. Has the last week here, with so many promotions, been fun for you?
PPD: As Peter said, we have been doing a lot of things. The demonstration in Penang was good fun because [the road] was so slippery that I had the car sideways, rally-style, in front of all those people. That was fun. Then we have had a very busy week doing a lot of promotions for Petronas. It was very busy, so I am glad the weekend has started and there are no more promotions.