Monaco GP Thursday press conference

Monaco GP Thursday press conference
May 8, 1999, 12:19 PM

GRAND PRIX OF MONACO Thursday 13 May 1999 "Thursday Five" press conference Drivers: Jean Alesi (Sauber) Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) Mika Salo (BAR) Team chief: Alain Prost Q. Jean, so far this year you have one world ...

GRAND PRIX OF MONACO Thursday 13 May 1999

"Thursday Five" press conference Drivers: Jean Alesi (Sauber) Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) Mika Salo (BAR) Team chief: Alain Prost

Q. Jean, so far this year you have one world championship point and you were only 15th fastest today. What is the explanation?

Jean Alesi: It is true that I have been disappointed. Maybe Pedro [Diniz] and I were expecting to have a better car this year, but we haver to work a lot on many things. The basic problem is that the rear wheels are jumping quite a lot under braking. I have quite a lot of understeer, too, and that means the car is rather slow. It was like that at Imola, and since then we have not done any testing. There are developments on the way, but we don't have them yet.

Q. Mika Hakkinen, you were quite a long way back in the first session, then you made what seems to have been a significant recovery this afternoon. Can you explain?

Mika Hakkinen: Well, it turned out well after all. In this morning's very first practice we had some serious problems with the car's balance. I was certainly worried because I could not get the car in the directions I wanted it to go. We made modifications for the second practice -- the engineers made some brilliant changes to the suspension -- and I was able to get the grip back at the front and the rear, which made it possible for me to push really hard. The lap times came down and down all the time, so it was an instant cure. We thought that maybe it was something to do with the circuit being dirty, but after the last 15 minutes we realised it was nothing to do with the circuit. It's just a shame that we lost so much time in the first hour.

Q. After your victory here last year, would you describe Monaco as one of your favourite circuits?

MH: It has been a good feeling to drive here again today. It brings back a lot of good memories for me. And obviously last year's victory has given me more confidence this year to push harder and to find the limits earlier. The car was going brilliantly through the simpler areas and the Rascasse corner.

Q. Alain, is there any significance in the fact that the three fastest times today were set by the three drivers in the first who have won here previously?

Alain Prost: I don't think so. For sure, a driver who has won at Monaco must be good, and you always find the best drivers at the front of the grid here, even with average cars. But it is best to be careful when looking at the results here on Thursday because by Saturday there are likely to be some big changes. The track conditions will be very difficult. And although we are pleased with today's performance, it will be quite difficult to hold our position on Saturday.

Q. Your team has only one point from three GPs. After last year's setbacks, how is the 1999 season going for you?

AP: For me, it is completely different [from 1998]. We have worked hard since last year. But there are two ways of looking at it. From the point of view of results, one point is not enough. But the potential both of the car and the team is looking quite good, especially for next year. We are still improving all the time, which is very important for us. Even on a track where we were not expecting to go well, things are looking quite good.

Q. What specific preparations have you made for this race?

AP: I cannot tell you too much about what we have done on the chassis. But Peugeot has been doing a good job on the engine to give us a more progressive delivery of power, which shows good results very quickly on a track like Monaco. We are seeing small changes to the engine from Peugeot at almost every race, and next year there will be a big development with the new engine. It will go on the dyno next month, which is early. But the Peugeot engineers are also still working on improving the power and progressivity of the current engine.

Q. Is there any significance in the fact that Peugeot has not embarked on a big programme in the World Rally Championship?

AP: I was worried, and I told Peugeot about my worries at the beginning. But you must look on the positive side, and whether it is good for Peugeot. Formula 1 is mostly about technology and the image of the company, while rallying is more [a reflection] on the quality of the company's products. If Peugeot starts winning in the WRC it will be good for the company, which will be good for me also and for the F1 programme. We have to be positive about that.

Q. Mika Salo, what is your aim for this race?

Mika Salo: I want to do as well as possible. I had a couple of days testing after Imola so I'm much more familiar with it. I know how we can change the balance, and it will be a very good race this time. I just have to keep it between the walls and not hit anything.

Q. Just as the season was about to start we were expecting you to be an Arrows driver for a second season. What happened there?

MS: We have agreed not to talk about it. But it was my decision to leave.

Q. Now you are back in F1 on 'temporary' assignment. Does that make you more relaxed and give you an extra edge?

MS: Not really. It is different because I'm not here fighting for the championship. I'm just here helping the team and I hope I have helped them a lot. It doesn't make me more relaxed. I know it might be my last race so I don't have anything to lose. So I can do a huge mistake and I won't get the job anyway in the next race.

Q. So were you pleased to be eighth today?

MS: We still had a little problem. I started with huge oversteer and I changed the car a lot to make it understeer, and then we came back again back to where we started. It will be quicker on Saturday.

Q. What are your chances of a Honda test drive?

MS: I still hope I can do that. I wasn't planning to race this year at all, but now after Imola and here I can remember how fun it was. I just told Alain [Prost] if he ever needs me, he should just give me a call, because I'm free all season! And [the same message] goes to everybody else in F1.

Q. Alain, the controversy over what happened at Imola won't go away quickly. In the interests of fair play, will you defend the interests of your driver Olivier Panis? Do you think he behaved correctly as regards David Coulthard when he was trying to lap Olivier?

AP: In this case I am not going to defend my driver. I want to take an objective position, and I talked to Olivier exactly the same way I would do when any of my drivers is one lap behind. I wanted to be very correct, and I told him very quickly. For sure he was fighting with Fisichella, and the problem was ... normally there is a big difference between a McLaren or a Ferrari, and maybe the gap was a little bit bigger than he thought. That's what he told me. I [instructed] him many times [by radio] to let David go through. In my opinion it was not good enough, but for him, you know, you can't tell. I could not have done more than I did. I was telling him all the time, 'let him go, let him go,' because I was also aware of the [blue] flag and afraid of a [possible] penalty. I don't know what more I can say. After the race I told Ron, 'excuse me, I did the best I could.' Olivier was correct, although maybe on the limit. But I don't think David lost the race because of that.

Q. Alain, what would be the difference of having a young and experienced driver and suddenly replacing the young driver with a more experienced one?

AP: It always brings the team up if you have two experienced drivers. But if the young driver has a big talent then he can also push the experienced driver to work harder. It depends on the team, the performance of the cars, the potential of the team, and the character of both drivers because it can be a big help, but it can also be a shock. You never know. That's part of the decision of the team manager to choose the type of drivers.

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