US GP: Button, Richards press conference

BAR driver Jenson Button and team principal David Richards press conference P. Kelly: Welcome everyone to the teleconference to the United State Grand Prix. Our guests today are Lucky Strike BAR Honda driver, Jenson Button, and the team's ...

BAR driver Jenson Button and team principal David Richards press conference

P. Kelly: Welcome everyone to the teleconference to the United State Grand Prix. Our guests today are Lucky Strike BAR Honda driver, Jenson Button, and the team's principal, David Richards. Before I introduce Jenson and David, I just want to give you some quick background on the United States Grand Prix. It is coming up next Sunday, September 28th, at 1 p.m. Indianapolis time. The first qualifying session is 2 p.m. Friday, and the second qualifying session is 1 p.m. Saturday. That is a new time for qualifying on Saturday, as we've had a minor schedule change on Saturday to better accommodate television for Europe.

This is the fourth annual United States Grand Prix on the 2.605-mile road course at Indianapolis. It's also the 15th of 16 Formula One races this year, and there's a heck of a championship battle going on. Michael Schumacher, the five-time defending world champion, is first with 82 points; 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Montoya is second with 79; and Kimi Raikkonen is third with 75. The Constructors battle is equally as tight with Williams BMW holding a 141-137 lead over Ferrari with just two races to go.

Before I open up to the question to Jenson and David, and I would like to give you some background on them. Jenson Button is in his first season with Lucky Strike BAR Honda. As a teammate to 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner, Jacques Villeneuve, Jenson is in his fourth season in Formula One. He is tenth in the standings this year with 12 points, and his best finish is fourth at Austria. Button came straight from British Formula Three to Formula One with Williams BMW in 2000. He drove for Renault in 2001 and 2002 before moving to BAR this season.

David Richards has a long and varied career in motorsports. He was an outstanding rally co-driver, winning the world championship in 1981 with driver Ari Vatanen, and after retiring from rallying, he created Prodrive, one of the world's leading motorsports and automotive technology businesses, in 1984. Richards became the chief executive of Benetton Formula One in 1998 before becoming team principal of BAR in December 2001.David, Jenson, thank you very much for joining us today. We appreciate it.

J. Button: Thank you for inviting is.

P. Kelly: Jenson, I'll open with a question for you, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask. You had a bit of a testing crash yesterday at Jerez in Spain. How are you feeling?

J. Button: I'm feeling fine. First of all, good morning to everyone. Yes, I had a bit of a nasty moment yesterday. I made a bit of a mistake at Turn 4 in Jerez, and I ended up in the barrel, which isn't good. I'm more annoyed with myself than anything else, because you know testing is very, very important for us at this time of the season, especially with such stiff competition where we are at the moment.

P. Kelly: I take it you'll be OK for Indianapolis.

J. Button: Yes, no problem. I've just bruised my knee slightly, but otherwise, yes, no problems.

P. Kelly: And how does the BAR Honda measure up for Indianapolis, and what special challenges does the circuit pose to the team and the car?

J. Button: I would say the circuit has got high- and low-speed corners. The infield is very, very slow speed. I think traction is going to be very, very important. It's very, very important in Indianapolis, and hopefully, we've got the correct tire for the conditions. We've been doing some testing in Jerez, and hopefully, we've found the tire that suits the circuit the most, but you never really know until you actually arrive at the circuit.

P. Kelly: David, if you could evaluate the team's progress this year, where do you think the team has improved, and what areas do you think need improvement and focus?

D. Richards: Well, there have been radical changes in the team since I arrived last year. We've reorganized the team completely. Geoff Willis has joined us as the technical director at sort of similar times, so it really has been almost start again. You have to look at this in some ways as our second year. We tend to measure ourselves as a benchmark against Ferrari, because they have the similar tires to us with Bridgestones, and when we took over about 2.2 seconds behind the Ferrari, and they were generally the pole sitters, and we've closed that gap down now to sort of under a second on many circuits. So it's been a quantum step in the last 12 months. Of course, we've still got a long way to go. As to asking where we're weak, well, it really is a case of a little everywhere. If you look at every aspect of the car, we still have improvements to make, and Jenson has been here for the day at the factory today looking at the designs for next year's car, and in fact, it's well progressed already and in each area, we can see significant potential for improvement.

P. Kelly: Candy, let's open it up for questions. I would remind everyone if you could ask one question, and then a follow-up, and if you have further questions, we can come right back to you in the order. So Candy, let's open it up for questions for Jenson and David.

Q: Hello. It's for David Richards. I just wondered, what is your feeling about, you said last week, you talked about having a race-off between Jacques Villeneuve and some younger drivers for the second driver's spot on the team, and I understand that Honda is not in favor of that. Where does that stand right now, and do you still feel that that's viable thing to do?

D. Richards: It was one of these suggestions. It's amazing in Formula One how you make one small, flippant statement, and you comment on things, and as the evening progresses, these things take on a life of their own. So we're talking about the potential for young drivers, and I believe passionately in looking for young drivers for the future and a young driver strategy. Clearly in that environment, that is something that we will be considering, and it's certainly one of the things, one of the ways that Jenson got in Formula One for that matter. But it was never intended nor would be an assessment against Jacques. If Jacques in the lineup, then that was not the intention.

B. Beacon: Where do things stand as far as Jacques being back with BAR next year? Is there any chance? I understood and there's another rumor saying that he has offered to drive at very low salary but with bonuses.

D. Richards: I'm not going to comment on the detailed discussions we're having. Suffice it to say that there are detailed discussions still going on, and in fact, I spoke to him only yesterday, and the situation is still wide open. There's no real time pressure for us at the moment, to be quite frank. I know the media would love to resolve this and like to get things settled, but the reality is we've got two races before the end of the season, and that's where our focus and concentration should really be. We then have a testing ban, and it's some time before we get into the cars again. So my focus now and the team's focus and Jacques' and Jenson's is really on getting the best result we can from Indianapolis and Japan two weeks later.

Q: David, you talked about where you get drivers, but can you talk about the role of some of the smaller teams. Minardi, for example, eight drivers in last week's race had come through their stable or were currently in their stable. Can you talk about the role those smaller teams play in developing young drivers?

D. Richards: It's a very good point, because there tends to be a big focus on the leading teams in the championship, and the financial pressures on the like of Minardi are sort of dismissed, and yet so many, as you point out, so many of the talents in Formula One today have come through the likes of the smaller teams. We have to find ways of ensuring that those teams survive, that they have engines at affordable prices, and you need that spectrum from the Ferrari right the way through the Minardi to make this the sort of exciting series that it is. So they do play a vital and important role. So I certainly recognize that.

Q: Jenson, in the last two years at Indy, you've finished eighth and ninth. What would you consider as successful finish this year?

J. Button: This year it's very important for us to be in front of Jaguar and Toyota, because they're our main contenders for the championship this year, fifth position of the championship. Personally, I would like to be in the top five. I think that is an aim, and I think that we need to be scoring points. Good points, not just picking up the last point. I think we need to be showing that we're capable of breaking very well. We've been a little bit unlucky over the last couple of races, but I think we can actually finish in fifth position or maybe sixth, or whatever. But I think we're looking very strong.

Q: Is it difficult to compete when you know there are a couple of teams out there that are really beyond your capability of overtaking?

J. Button: It is short term, but, you know, long term in Formula One, I think that we have a good chance of being one of the top teams, for example, Ferrari and Williams and McLaren. But it can be a little bit frustrating because all of Formula One drivers, we want to win. We want to be the best driver in the world, and that's sort of our dream. So it is a little bit frustrating, but then again, you need to work on it. Some people get into a winning car and they win races that way. Other people actually work with the team to progress, and that's what we're doing, and I think it's possibly the best way to do it.

Q: Do you look on these last two races, and particularly Indianapolis, as a forerunner as to what can transpire next year?

J. Button: I'm sorry, can you repeat that, please?

Q: I said do you look on Indianapolis and Japan as two races as a forerunner to what you can do next year?

J. Button: It is very important, I think, to be strong at the end of the season. It's a good starting point for next year, and I think that we are looking a lot stronger the last couple of races than we have midseason. So that's good. But again, a lot of work is going into next year's car, especially in the wind tunnel, which is great. I've been at the factor today, and I'm seeing so much going on. Everyone is very optimistic. So the next two races are very important, but I think next year's car is very different, and we're looking forward to it.

Q: One other question, what are the things you like best about the Indianapolis circuit, and what is it you dislike?

J. Button: The best part is probably the banking. It's only time that we race on banking in a Formula One car, and it's a great feeling. The angle is not huge, but it's a lot of fun. It's also great racing on the Indianapolis circuit. There's been a lot of racing there in the past, and it's very exciting to actually be in the whole arena. It's fantastic. The worst part is probably the slow corners. The slow happens because they're very, very sloped, and probably not our best corners in Indianapolis. I think that high-speed corners are possibly better for us then.

Q: David, can you talk about the testing situation for next year? And to backtrack, could you give me a sense for how much you participated in the Friday session this year, and do you think that next year, those Friday testing sessions at the racetracks will be maybe expanded or else more prominent?

D. Richards: It's very much a matter for debate at the moment, and we've got the Formula One commission meeting on the third of October, in fact, and I'm sure that's going to be one of the main topics for discussion. I think that if the testing on Friday was opened up a little bit more, today they have two hours, half past eight to half past 10 in the morning, and quite honestly, the track tends to be a bit dirty then, and it's cold. It's not an ideal time to get any representative testing done. If it was a little bit more than that, it was perhaps later in the morning as well when the temperatures were up, we would seriously consider doing that next year, and it's very much under consideration from our point of view.

Q: How much would that cut back normal testing?

D. Richards: The point of it is that you agree, if you take on that testing on the Friday morning, you agree to restrict your testing outside, though, during the season, to only 20 days, or it's 20 car days in fact, so if you run two cars, that would be counted as two days. So it's quite severe restrictions. I had a meeting with Frank Williams about it last week, and we both agreed that if they were to go to four hours on a Friday and make it 30 days, both of our teams would sort of sign up. So I guess there's somewhere in the middle we might end up settling for next year, and I think it will be in the interest of everybody, because I think the amount of testing we all do at the moment, it at times can be a little bit pointless and certainly very expensive.

Q: Just to clarify for us, because we're at Indy-car testing and NASCAR testing, how much testing then have you done this year or will you have done by the end of the year?

D. Richards: To give you an idea and put it in perspective, the week before Monza or 10 days before the Monza race, we were down at Monza at the track for three days, and between the cars there, and we had four tests, four drivers, I think, didn't we Jenson?

J. Button: Three cars.

D. Richards: Three cars, four drivers, we did 5,000 kilometers -- what's that? Three and bit thousand miles, 3,300 miles, something like that. I don't know, how many days have you done this year, Jenson?

J. Button: Days? It's normally about two or three days every fortnight.

D. Richards: We don't allow to test the week of a race. That's part of the agreement we have today. So all the testing is done immediately after. So they're just finishing today a three-day test down in Jerez in the south of Spain, and there won't be many weeks during the season, once the season starts, where we don't do a three-day test. So add up all the days, and I'm sure it's here somewhere. It's not fresh in my mind, I'm afraid, so I can't give you the figures.

P. Kelly: Jenson, this is Paul Kelly. I have a question for you. When you came into F1 in 2000, right from Formula 3, you were probably the leader of the recent youth movement. It seems like a lot of younger talent has come into this series starting with you in 2000 and then Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, and even you can even at the podium in Hungary with Juan Pablo, Kimi and Fernando, the youngest podium in F1 history. Why do you think that the talent now, that the drivers, so many young drivers are coming straight into F1, leaping the traditional ladder and coming into F1 at age 18, 19, and 21?

J. Button: I think they're still doing the ladder. I did the same ladder as Michael Schumacher did -- I did a lot of the European go-karts for 11 years, and then Formula Ford and Formula 3, and then did Formula One, which is what they used to do. But then there's a period of about 10 years when they spend a lot more time in categories, but suddenly I think people have cut down the years and actually think it's better to be in a Formula One car either as test driver or as a race car driver, because you get so much more experience.

P. Kelly: David, your perspective on that?

D. Richards: I think it's a little cyclical. For me, it's a great sign when a sport actually does bring in young drivers and gives them the opportunity, and it's certainly a way of bringing a following to the sport, as well, and you're starting to see that now. For instance with my kids, who are a similar age to Jenson, and they are far more interested when they see drivers of that age participating. But as for the reason, well, I think it's just the sort trend at the moment, and hopefully, it will continue.

P. Kelly: Candy, let's open it back up to the panel.

Q: David, you know you beat Jean Todt in the World Rally Championships, and when you came into Formula One, you said you hoped to be a bane of his life for a few more years. You could do that here in the next two races, if you keep him from winning the championship. How do you look at it?

D. Richards: I wish you were right in that we would be challenging there and sort of in amongst that group, but we have to be realistic. When Jean went into Formula One in Ferrari, he took on a colossal challenge, and I remember at that time spending a few moments with him during those years. I think it was five years or four years, certainly, before he hit any real success there, and the problems he encountered getting there, and he's someone I admire for his tenacity and the way he's gone about it. How long he's going to stay there, I'm not quite sure, but I hope he's there when we've got our team up there running at the front and we can challenge together.

Q: Are you going to have that same tenacity?

D. Richards: I've got that tenacity, I can assure you.

Q: David, there are so many, it seems like every place you're going to - well, not every place, but a lot of places you're dealing with the tobacco laws. What can you do as a team to kind of prepare for a day when you can't have tobacco sponsorship, and do you think that day is really coming for Formula One?

D. Richards: There's no doubt it's coming for Formula One, and you've got to remember the tobacco companies themselves are almost self-legislating. They have made a voluntary agreement themselves to terminate their involvement in sports sponsorship from the end of 2006. Whatever governments do, whatever the sport decided, they've done that themselves. So we have to prepare for that. By coincidence here at the factory yesterday, at BAR, we had a conference on intellectual property, and one of the areas we are looking at at the moment is diversifying and using some of the intellectual property we developed in the team and commercializing it in other areas, whether it's in electronics, whether it's in aerodynamics, and just utilizing that to gain revenues for other sources. We're obviously looking at a whole raft of ideas now as we think the conventional notion that racing teams could rely upon stickers on the side of their cars and the excesses of tobacco industry have gone forever. We have to be far more creative in the way we work with partners now. We have to work a lot more business-to-business opportunities, and they're there. The opportunities are really there. We're in difficult times at the moment, but I feel very positive and confident that over the next three years, we will have developed a lot of robust ideas and business opportunities that will see our team certainly sustained a long time into the future.

Q: David, you were talking about the future. Formula One is talking about going into China, possibly India, Bahrain. How is the development coming and what about Bernie Ecclestone, how many years can he still be the leader?

D. Richards: The question of Bernie is on everyone's mind. Clearly, he has to come up with a succession plan. Even Bernie is not going on forever, but he's in great form at the moment, and he's coming up with lots of new ideas and plans, and he's come up with some great things for the sport in recent years. So this drive to really globalize Formula One is very important. It's been far too much European-centric for the last few years now. I think that the move to China is a great step forward. I met the Indians who are over at Monza last weekend, and again, some of these circuits that we're going to now, I don't know, Jenson might comment on the circuits. We've got some great new circuits coming on, and I think the old circuits are wonderful and nostalgic, but the new circuits certainly provide spectacle and an opportunity for overtaking. I know, Jenson, you want to comment on that.

J. Button: It's very challenging on the new circuits, and the good thing is it's the same for all of us. We don't have more experience. One person doesn't have more experience than the other. So it's good, and also the circuit designing seems to be much better for overtaking, so again, it's better for the viewers. So hopefully, we can win in every area.

Q: Jenson, next year the race is going to be held in Indianapolis in June. Do you like a fall race here, or do you know anything about Indianapolis in June?

J. Button: Well, hopefully, it will be nice and warm. Should be. For the time of the year, I think it's going to be a very busy period for the Speedway because they've got the Indy 500. Is it two weeks after?

Q: Right.

J. Button: So they can have a very busy period. But I think whatever time of the year for us, it's going to be a pretty exciting race.

Q: The crowd here is always one of the largest on the whole circuit. Is that appreciated by the drivers?

J. Button: Definitely. The first time I came to Indianapolis, it was the most amazing feeling because the stands are just huge compared to a lot of stands in Europe, and going down to the first quarter, I mean you're obviously concentrating on your driving, but all you could see was flashing lights from cameras. So it was pretty amazing feeling, and it was great to see so many people there enjoying the sport.

Q: Do you have any desire to drive the oval itself in the other direction?

J. Button: Probably not in a Formula One car, no.

Q: I mean in an Indy car, possibly.

J. Button: In a NASCAR, it would probably be quite good fun. I think I'd enjoy that very much. It's something very different, but I think I'd enjoy it.

Q: Jenson, last week in Monza, all I heard from the Williams, McLaren and Ferrari teams is that Indianapolis favored them. Depending on which team you were talking to, it favors them. Does that circuit, not as a competitor, but as somebody can look at this a little bit objectively, does it favor one of those three big teams or the other in this champion hunt?

J. Button: It's a very difficult one, but if you're looking at Hungary, I mean Hungary is the same sort of circuit infield. You've got a lot of big corners, you need to have good traction, and in Hungary, the Williams and McLaren seemed to be quite strong. So I think looking at that, they've got the upper hand, but again, there's a couple of high-speed corners there, which maybe Ferrari will be quicker on. It's a very difficult one, and I don't think we'll really know until Friday qualifying.

Tracy Novak: Paul, this is Tracy from BAR. I'm afraid these gentlemen have other team engagements to get to this evening, so if we could just have one final question.

P. Kelly: OK, that would be terrific. Curt, did you have any further questions.

Q: No, we're good. We'll see you boys next week.

P. Kelly: Jenson, David, we sure appreciate you participating in this call, and we wish you the best of luck next weekend at Indianapolis. Thank you, gentlemen.

D. Richards: Thanks. We're both looking forward to being over there again.

J. Button: Thank you.

P. Kelly: And that concludes the call everyone. We appreciate it. We will have a transcript of this available, and we will distribute it to the USGP media e-mail list, and we'll also it on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media site. Again, thank you for your participation, and we look forward to seeing you next weekend at the United States Grand Prix.

-ims-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Jacques Villeneuve , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Ari Vatanen , David Richards , Jean Todt , Bernie Ecclestone , Paul Kelly
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Minardi