US GP McLaren press conference

Wolfgang Schattling (DaimlerChrysler Motorsport Communications): "I would like to say a hearty welcome to you all, media colleagues from America and some European, on behalf of Mercedes-Benz and our partner, Exxon Mobil, to inform you about...

Wolfgang Schattling (DaimlerChrysler Motorsport Communications): "I would like to say a hearty welcome to you all, media colleagues from America and some European, on behalf of Mercedes-Benz and our partner, Exxon Mobil, to inform you about what we think about Formula One and why we are all here, and to answer all your questions.

First I would like to introduce you to Ron Dennis, chairman and CEO of the TAG/McLaren Group, twice world champion Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, his teammate, and Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.

Afterwards, my colleague, Mark Norris, from McLaren marketing, and my press colleague, Ellen Kolby, will give you the microphone to ask questions. So I would like to start immediately with Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug to give some basic statements."

Norbert Haug : "We're happy to be back in Indianapolis. Mercedes-Benz has been here, has a great history here. We won the 500 back in 1994, together with the Penske team with Al Unser (Jr.), so we have a good connection from our side to Indianapolis. I personally like this stadium very much. It will give a good impression when packed on Sunday, and it's really a great atmosphere. I think this is a big step forward for Formula One to be here. We haven't had a race here since Phoenix in 1991, so it's great to be back. We're looking forward to a fantastic race. Tony George and his whole staff have done a fantastic job really preparing the race track in the way they did. This is a very special race track. We've never had, during the course of the year, where half of the race track is an oval. We're going to drive the other way around, which is very special. I think it's very demanding for the driver, certainly from technical side. There has to be found a compromise. There is a very high speed on the oval part of the race track and comparably low speed in the inner sector, in the infield."

Ron Dennis : "Good morning. We too share a history here, not only at Indianapolis, where we've won three times as a brand, but also numerous Can-Am championships and other racing activities. McLaren isn't new to America and America isn't new to McLaren. Certainly this is the first time we've been here with Mercedes as a brand. And we're enjoying, at the moment, a reasonably high level of success. We have a narrow lead in both championships, and we're focused on winning both of them. This is a new challenge to come to a new circuit. We've done a lot of preparatory work, and hopefully we'll be sufficiently competitive to win, because, as a racing team, that's what we exist for is to win. A good one liner is 'coming second is always the first of the losers,' and that is something that we very much run our group of companies by. But certainly, the grand prix team, where here to win, and if we don't we've failed.

So, as you would anticipate, you'll see a very focused group of people through the weekend. Having said that, every opportunity (we have) we'll make ourselves available. We know American motor racing is somewhat more accessible than grand prix racing. You shouldn't misread that. It's not that we're a hostile, unfriendly group of people, it's just that were very concentrated on our job. It's really tough to win in grand prix racing. There is really no room for compromise, so you need some pretty focused individuals. Don't misread our position. You shouldn't think we're being arrogant as an organization, or arrogant as a group of people. It requires a lot of effort to win."

Q: How do you prepare for a circuit never been to?

Dennis: "There are several parameters. This particular circuit has a challenge because there are very high speed and low speed corners, and that's going to require a very robust tire. Bridgestone has done an incredibly good job for us. We've won two world championships with Bridgestone, and we're leading this championship, and we'll continue with them in the future. It's hard assimilating the circuits. We do a tremendous amount of simulation. We have 20 engineers that do nothing but simulation. We're also going through extensive simulation on what the car's behavior is going to be predicting, the optimum parameter, gear ratios, etc. I can't give you details, because that is something can't share with the world. Obviously we try to lead the rest of the world with our simulation techniques, and I feel very prepared for this event."

Q: When Mercedes was here in 1994-95, you didn't think it would be another five or six years before you would return, did you?

Haug: "When we were here in 1994 and 95, and last time we came in second, I never thought about it the possibility that we would have Formula One here in the future. This is a completely different ball game. I think we need not discuss the problem between the Indy Racing League and CART right now, but obviously we would have loved to continue in Indy. This is called the home of motor racing, and it has a great tradition, so we're fortunate to come back with Formula One.

In 1994, it was a very good feeling to win here, but I didn't think about being back until 2000 with Formula One. But now it is even better that we have achieved it. Bernie Ecclestone, Tony George and the whole team did a good job in negotiating the deal in having at least a five year period to be here. This is a big step for forward for Formula One, because we need a country like America to be integrated into the calendar."

Q. Mika and David, talk about Indy. Is this a special place at all, or just another venue?

Coulthard: "To have a true world championship, you have to be in America. We're very excited about that. We cover most of the other countries in the world, so to have this race in Indy, which, obviously anyone who knows about motorsport, or event those who don't follow it, they would distinguish Indy with motor racing. We're so delighted to be here. I went to the track yesterday, and it looks like they've done a good job with compromises with between the long straight bits and the short chutes, which I think is what you call them here, and the road course in the middle. I'm curious to drive that on Friday."

Hakkinen: "It's interesting to be here. I haven't seen the circuit yet. I'm looking forward to seeing it, the circuit and atmosphere at the circuit, to see how many people will come to see a grand prix. I'm sure it's going be great."

Q: Does the compromise of the circuit dictate a medium downforce package or have simulations prescribed otherwise?

Coulthard: "Medium is a broad word. It's certainly not a circuit where you run a really low downforce. It's not as high speed as you might imagine. We expect a high terminal speed of something in excess of 200 mph in cornering, so you've got to bear in mind, its not 200 mph in a straight line, it'll be 200, 210 mph. That's not a very low downforce circuit. We exceed, on several circuits, 220 mph. That gives you a feel for the speed. The characteristics are unusual. The tire will play significant role in the characteristics of how you set the car up."

Q: Let me ask about the configuration of the course. Speculation has been raised that it might allow for a lot more passing than some other courses, because of the configuration and more banking, than F1 cars are used to?

Dennis: "We do anticipate overtaking will be possible. You might say 'Isn't that motor racing? Should you be so surprised?' The fact is we have a very different nature of racing than the characteristics of racing you have here. NASCAR, and, to a certain degree, CART, are strategic in that you're constantly trying to judge the yellows, and of course, yellows don't play any role at all in grand prix racing. And therefor, overtaking has to occur through better pit stop strategy because you're balancing the influence of fuel load and tire degradation. Fuel load dropping off makes the car go faster, and tire degradation makes the car go slower, so you're balancing those two parameters to determine your pit stop strategy."

Q: What would it mean for you to win here?

Coulthard: "Before, there were always grands prix that I thought were big ones, Monte Carlo, the Italian Grand Prix, the British Grand Prix. I think we have another one because of the history Indy has in motor sport. You want to win here no matter what the Formula. That's a little bit extra than the 10 points you get for a win. It will be a special feeling for whoever wins."

Hakkinen: "This time of year, you know, I'm focusing for the championship very extensively. I'm thinking about winning a race and not which circuit it's going to be. Coming to the U.S. after many years, it's great to be here. I'm sure there will be special feelings after the race, but for the moment, I'm just thinking about going flat out and trying to get best possible result."

Q: There is the possibility of rain for Sunday. Do you see that being a great equalizer for race?

Hakkinen: "We're normally good in wet conditions. Usually it doesn't matter. We're good in wet, so I don't see any problems."

Coulthard: "We don't like getting wet, though. I don't think anybody does. But it shouldn't affect our performance at all."

Q: In American racing, multiple teams are usually at the front of the pack. What makes you and Ferrari clearly superior?

Dennis: "The first thing, and not to be derogatory to CART, it's just statement of fact, most of them are driving the same car/engine combinations. Very often the only difference is the engine. The only meaningful performance advantage is you need a significant horsepower differential. CART largely comprises Reynards. It is a one-make formula, with a slight difference in engines.

In grand prix racing, you have to make your own car. And there are companies such as ours, Ferrari and Williams that are totally vertically integrated. That means we make everything. That gives us speed of reaction and quality control. We control our own destiny. Mercedes-Benz has a similar strategy. They are one of a few companies that manufactures each component of the engine. We don't have suppliers. We are our suppliers. That allows us to have a very focused approach. Ferrari has a comparable approach. In any sport as challenging as ours, it's not a surprise that one or two teams have strong positions. It's like Pete Sampras in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf. There are other sports that have sporting individuals or sporting individuals coupled to complex sporting equipment. And, of course, there is nothing more complex than a grand prix car. It's many thousands of components. It's not a golf club or tennis racquet or a pair of skis. And that's why grand prix teams are exactly that, they are teams. And I'm sure both David and Mika would agree that they wouldn't go too far sitting in their underpants on the grid. They need a competitive car and a competitive team, and that's what we try to provide them with."

Q: The season is almost over, there are three races to go. What do you want to get out of these last three races?

Hakkinen: "Winning is everything. That's what we're looking for. I don't know what else to say to that."

Coulthard: "Of course the goal is to try to win, and be consistent and finishing races."

Q:  Manufacturer interest in taking participation in ownership of Formula 
One,  what is Mercedes interest in that?

Haug: "There are some big changes coming. We have to be prepared for the future. That does not mean the manufacturers will try to change radically. If you are involved in F1, and I have to point out, F1 gives Mercedes a lot of positive things, you have to make sure this platform is working in the future. That is basically the background of it. The background is not we want to get money, we want to be important, we want to be the main decision makers. I think the system is quite good to have a great future. I think it's quite obvious, in 2002, eight major manufacturers will be involved in F1, four of the top five world wide. Only GM won't be represented. This is a completely new ball game. We want to promote our brand, Mercedes-Benz. And if you look at figures in the states, we sell three times as many cars in the states as four or five years ago, and twice as many world wide as when we started with McLaren in 1995. We sold roughly 500,000 cars then, and now it's over a million and still growing. There has been a big change in the company. We have very attractive products, very young products, and sporty products. F1 helped us worldwide to promote these cars, and the same applies to our partner Exxon Mobil. For example, they showcased their products. They showed they are competitive. They showed they can help improve performance of the car. Ron already pointed out Bridgestone, that situation helped as well. The real background of F1 is it is a great platform world wide to showcase your abilities."

Q: Are you surprised Bobby Rahal is going to run an F1 program?

Dennis: "I'm not surprised. I've known for a few weeks. You expect to keep your finger to the pulse in grand prix racing. I've known Bobby for many, many years. He was competing in Formula Two in the early 70s when I was starting one of my first Formula Two teams, so I've known him a long time. One of the things I've seen is what a perfect gentleman he is. That's going to be an ingredient we welcome in grand prix racing, because it is quite a ruthless formula to be in. Another gentleman will be an asset to the sport. He has good technical understanding, good business judgment. In many ways, you might say, 'well, would you rather him not join because he's going to make Jaguar better.?' The answer is no. It's better to have more and more competitive teams. That makes it a more enjoyable sport. As Norbert pointed out, there are seven more manufacturers, and of course, there are many other multinational companies, such as Exxon Mobil, our very important technology partner, and all these partners are there to enjoy the halo effect of grand prix racing on their products. Him joining Jaguar, they're going to be strong. He brings many positive qualities to grand prix racing. So we look forward to welcoming him to grand prix racing."

Q: David, as a Scotsman, there is a long lineage of Scottish racing heroes at the Indy 500, Jim Clark , Jackie Stuart, guys you looked up to. What does that mean to you?

Coulthard: "Unfortunately, Jim was killed before I was born. I was born in 71. And Jackie retired a couple of years later. My experience comes from watching the videos more than first hand experience. But I had an association with Jackie through his son's racing team for a number of year in lower formulas. Obviously, through that I had great insight into what we have today and what they had in the past. But nonetheless for a small country, we have quite a history in grand prix racing. And I'm trying to add to that tally."

Q: Mika, is this any easier since you've won the world championship before?

Hakkinen: "Not really, no. It's always very difficult. In 1998, the first time, that was special. Everything was a new an experience, and different situations. We did it in 1998, it was magic. In 1999, it was still even harder. I knew what to expect. I had more knowledge, more understanding of what your body is going to feel, what performance the car will be at different circuits. There was more pressure on myself and the team to repeat. Now 2000, it's tough again. It's tough on me, for all of us on the team, but that's a positive thing. You have to understand in your mind that the season is long, it's not just one or two races, its 17 grand prix races you have to fight through. And you have to really adapt your mind and your body in that way so you don't burn out halfway through the season. The last five or six grand prix races of the season, that's when you need it. And I'm not young anymore, you know, so it's getting tougher too."

Q: Michael Andretti's struggles in Formula One, is that an example of struggles any American would have in this series?

Hakkinen: "Everybody is different. If one driver makes a mistake you can't say every driver would make a mistake. If you would bring more American drivers into Formula One, I don't think it would be a negative thing, I think it would be a great thing. I'm sure they could do a fantastic job. But they need to change in a big way their life and their mentality, and their preparation to be on a grand prix team and in grand prix racing, because, I believe, from what I have heard, it is completely different here from us."

Haug: "With Bobby Rahal coming to F1, there will be a closer link to states in the future. I think American drivers will develop in that direction, and probably they'll take another route, maybe racing in Europe for a year, in Formula Three for a year in Germany or England or whatever, and then come to F1. I could really see that happening in the next five years, and I think that has to be the plan."

Dennis: "Norbert hit the right target. No driver can climb into F1 and immediately be successful. You need to go through the European preparatory forms of racing. Michael came to our team when we had the most sophisticated racing car ever made. We were reprogramming the suspension several times through every corner. It was a complex process to optimize the car, to learn the circuits, to learn to drive the car, to learn to optimize it with the engineers. And it was really quite a handful for him. It was very difficult for him to come to terms with that. As apparent in his performance post that period, he is a competitive racing driver. How competitive he would be in F1, you would never know until you put him back into it. But he did try in a very difficult period in grand prix racing, before some of the technology that we excelled in was banned buy our governing body, but that is Formula One."

Q: What are your individual approaches to learning a circuit you've never been on?

Coulthard: "I try and follow Mika."

Hakkinen: "I was going to say I try to follow you."

Coulthard: "Usually it takes 10 laps to get a feel for the braking points for a track, sometimes less, depending on how tricky the corners are. And my experience from going around the track for a couple of laps was that there are couple of sort of blind, long corners that are sort of difficult. Obviously we've studied the data back at the factory, and looked at the map, and I have a sort of a visual of where the track goes. I just need to put that together with the balance of the car, and then the track. One thing that is slightly unusual here that will help us is we have more tires available for the first day of practice because of the nature of the banking and the oval. So each team has got extra tires to use. At a normal race we tend to use one set of tires the first day. We'll have two sets available tomorrow, so we'll be doing a lot more laps."

Q: Mika, what is your perception of Michael Schumacher as a competitor, and how has that developed or changed over the last three or four years?

Hakkinen: "It's quite a personal thing. I don't want to tell you."

Dennis: "The best perception is, he likes Michael Schumacher when he's in his mirrors. And Michael is fiercely competitive, we all know that. The worst thing you can ask a driver is an opinion about another. You either get a load of gobbly-goo that means nothing or you're going to get the truth, which gets them into trouble. Better to say nothing."

Q: Is there less pressure here than racing in Europe because the spectators don't really know who you are like they do in Europe?

Coulthar: "I think, actually, I'm not really aware of the spectators. I'm thinking about myself, the car or the team. The spectators are only on the parade lap or after the finish. I know from my experiences going to a couple of Champ Car races, that they are very enthusiastic here, similar to fans in Britain, in Germany or Italy, where they are passionate about racing.

It's nice coming here, where you are not recognized. In Europe, we are quite recognized. In America, less so. So I enjoy the opportunity to just walk around like everyone else. Primarily, I'm a fan of motorsport who gets the best seat in the house because I get to go racing. It's very hard to stand back and try to appreciate something when you are constantly being asked to sign something. Whereas yesterday at the track I could take in the whole atmosphere of the amazing stadium that Indianapolis is, and people probably look at me as if I'm one of the track workers. It was very nice. I actually wonder why I wasn't doing any work."

Hakkinen: "The fans aren't going to bring me any pressure to drive faster or to make a better race or something. After the race, certainly people are going to recognize some drivers. David and me, we're going to make sure that we're fast and enjoy this weekend."

Haug: "I think we are absolutely convinced the spectators, and I heard 220,00 or 225,000 tickets are sold, which is an enormous achievement for the first grand prix in nine years in the states, I think they are going to enjoy it. The concept the organizer found is really great. You still have that oval racing feeling, but you have the infield. You have a great view. I think in particular people will like the sound of the engines. This is completely different from what has run around here. If you look at the Brickyard 400, and you hear the V8 engines, this is roughly 8,000 or 9,000 revs. And the Indy cars are probably 14,000 revs. These Formula One cars and the normally-aspirated engines are much more (revs), and it's going to be a very special sound. So, I think people will enjoy the show as a total, and wait until after the race. I'm sure they're going to recognize some names. I don't think it's fair to expect our drivers to be as popular as Jeff Gordon or the great motor racing heroes here, but it's going to make a big impact. I'm absolutely convinced its going to be a great show."

Q: Mr. Juergen Hubbert said in an interview that, in his opinion, you concentrate on one driver for the championship in the last few races. Do you agree with that?

Dennis: "It was an opinion of Mr. Hubbert, and not one that I would ever contradict. We are a grand prix team and we live to win, and the first objective is to win. And until the circumstances prevail that require us to exercise our contractual rights, which we've had from the first grand prix, then we won't exercise them. So both Mika and David, both of whom I've spoken to in preparation for this race, are expected to try to put the car on pole position and both are expected to try and win the race. And David especially, no one should be under any misconceptions, he has not lost the world championship. Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen could touch in the first corner and put themselves out. And in that situation it is absolutely essential that David is there to win. So I don't want David to sit on the grid or start practice with the view or objective to come second. He's there to win. We expect him to win. We want Mika to win as much as we do David. And if circumstances unfold that require the team to make a judgment on the outcome of the race, because we are in the closing stages of the world championship, then the team will affect that judgment and exercise that right which it has had from the first grand prix. Now, as I've said many times, in 10 years, the team has only had to step in and instruct the driver three times, I think, and no more than once or twice in the previous 20. It is something we try to avoid at all costs because that is not motor racing. And so, first of all, Mr. Hubbert is right, because we're here to win the world championship. But the drivers race to win. David is expected to try to win, try to put it on pole and try to win, and there are many circumstances that could unfold that him winning will be an essential ingredient in the outcome of the world championship. He could find himself with a race win if Mika and Michael park it, and that could put us in contention with two drivers to win the world championship. David's world championship is definitely not over. He should not have that mindset. We're a strong, focused team, and we'll behave as a team as and when it is necessary."

Q: Mika, when you look at yourself as world champion, how do you divide the credit among your skill, discipline and the car and the team?

Dennis (answering for Mika): "You need everything. You have to be the best at everything. If you are weak in any area you are not going to win. Cutting it into segments is immaterial. I'm not answering for these guys, but it's a simple answer to a complex question. You can't separate it. There isn't a single area you can be weak and expect to win."

Hakkinen: "That's exactly right, it is impossible to separate those three things. All are extremely important."

Q: At other Formula One races, the feeling is you race for the pole on Saturday to have the best chance to win Sunday. Is that the situation at Indy, or is it different here?

Dennis: "Pole is always important. But it is important here from the point of view of avoiding any first lap accidents. That's much easier to do from the front. Regarding the outcome, I don't think it is that critical here, as long as you are up on the front two rows. The win is going to come from the front two rows. That is my opinion."

Schattling: "Thank you for coming."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Michael Schumacher , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Michael Andretti , Bobby Rahal , Norbert Haug , Jim Clark , Al Unser Sr. , Tony George , Bernie Ecclestone
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams