"Thursday Five" press conference Drivers: Jean Alesi (Sauber) Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) Eddie Irvine (Ferrari) Ralf Schumacher (Williams) Team chief: Alain Prost Q. The frustrations you have been ...
"Thursday Five" press conference
Q. The frustrations you have been experiencing with your present team boiled over in the statements you made after the Hungarian GP two weeks ago. Can you tell us more about what those frustrations are?
Jean Alesi: It isn't difficult to explain when you are constantly stopping [in races] due to very small details. It had started to be a bit hard for me [to accept in Hungary], and when I had the chance to join Alain, that is what I did.
Q. We remember the good relationship you had with Alain Prost in 1991 when you were racing as team mates at Ferrari. Is it going to be more difficult when you join Prost Grand Prix next year and the relationship is one of boss/driver rather than driver/driver?
JA: There is no boss/friend relationship. Alain is the boss, and that's it. We will be working together. I won't need to throw a party when I want to explain anything. But I see this as a chance. As I have explained already in France, I respect very much what Alain achieved as a driver in the past, and especially now that he has accepted the challenge of setting up a French team in F1. It is very nice to be working alongside him.
Q. Alain, how do you see the partnership with Jean?
Alain Prost: What Jean says is true: friendship is on one side, while work is on the other. Over the past few years I have regularly talked with Jean about the possibility of his becoming a member of my team. When you talk about a team and work, friendship has to be put on one side. When the discussions are over, you can be friends again. But it was still very difficult for me to make a decision [about taking Jean as my driver]: when you are friends, you don't know what is likely to happen, but you don't want to break the friendship either, because to have friendships is a very important part of our lives. You don't want to lose it. But work is work, and I think it will be very good. When Jean is talking about the car and technical matters he is very professional -- maybe more professional than people looking from outside might imagine. In those circumstances it may help our friendship to be closer together as part of our work.
Q. Was there a desire, on your side, to create an all-French F1 team?
AP: None at all. It has been very annoying to see the suggestion put forward that I wanted to create an all-French F1 team from the beginning. That has not been the case. I wanted to create a team based in France, because that is part of the challenge. But apart from me and some of our partners, we are not all French. Our sponsors want to generate international exposure, and they want to be more and more international. But it is absolutely not a desire to create something which is 100 per cent French, either in terms of drivers, engine or sponsors.
Q. Eddie, this race is an important one for you if you are to increase your points lead over Mika in the world championship. But this hasn't always been a lucky circuit for you, has it?
Eddie Irvine: No. Everyone keeps trying to say how important this race will be, but they are all important. Every Grand Prix carries the same number of points, and as long as we are still ahead after the last race, who cares what happens here? I don't care whether I score zero points here, just as long as I am ahead when we have finished the season at Suzuka. There is nothing more to it than that. We have a chance here, although I hear the weather is getting better -- which everyone says would favour the McLarens. But as we have seen in the recent past, our car doesn't behave too badly. You can't judge us on the basis of what happened in Hungary, where I had a problem with the differential virtually from the start of the race. We proved what we could do there in qualifying, and if it hadn't been for that problem I think the car's performance in the race would have been very similar.
Q. Do you know what your role inside Ferrari will be when Michael Schumacher eventually returns?
EI: Well, I assume I am going for the drivers' championship. I am leading the points at the moment, and Ferrari wants to win a championship. At the start of the season, Michael was the team's best hope of winning it, and it was logical for the team to work for him. Now, after Michael's accident and with me having won 30 points in the last four races, I guess it is logical to accept that I have a better chance of winning the championship. So things have changed a bit. But that is really not my decision, it is for Jean Todt to decide. I have to go out there and beat the McLarens anyway, so I just go along with whatever I am told to do. Not a lot has changed, really.
Q. Mika, you have never yet won this race in Belgium. Is that a problem for you, coming here again?
Mika Hakkinen: No, I don't believe it is a problem. I would say exactly the same that Eddie just did. There were a couple of other circuits where I hadn't won before, and it happened this year. I am here to do the maximum with the team, so let's see what happens.
Q. Is your campaign for the world championship going according to the plans you had set for yourself?
MH: Not really! I should be leading it by 30 points at the moment. But certainly the team has been progressing and the test we did at Silverstone last week was very good. The team's work and motivation are at their maximum at the moment, so I see no reason why we shouldn't perform well here, or in the other races before the end of the season.
Q. Are you aware of a safety inspection of this circuit by the drivers? Are you happy with their findings? MH: I know of some inspections, yes. I don't think you can ever be fully happy. There is always something you can improve.
Q. Ralf, this has been a special circuit for your brother: first F1 race here, first win here, etc. How do you feel about Spa?
Ralf Schumacher: This is a nice, challenging circuit. Last year was a bit of a mess, but still the race was very good for me and my team mate. This year I hope it rains again, because at present that is the only way we stand any chance of achieving a good finishing position.