Following is a transcript of a telephone hook-up with Australia's Formula One driver Mark Webber by Australian media on February 4, 2004, organised by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation ahead of the world championship season-opening 2004...
Following is a transcript of a telephone hook-up with Australia's Formula One driver Mark Webber by Australian media on February 4, 2004, organised by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation ahead of the world championship season-opening 2004 Foster's Australian Grand Prix to be held in Melbourne on March 4-7.
Host: Good evening to Mark Webber in Britain and good morning to everyone else in Australia. We have a lot of people on the line today and we won't waste time getting started. Mark Webber needs little introduction these days, except perhaps to say that as Australia's only modern Formula One star he is now preparing for his third season in F1, starting at the 2004 Foster's Australian Grand Prix.
Q: Mark, first of all about the car. We believe there have been some problems. How is it going?
Mark Webber: It's going well, actually. I think the problems have been fueled up in the press more than what we know about. The press know a lot more than we do at the moment, which is interesting, but we're going along pretty well. The tests in Jerez (in south-west Spain) next week and also in Valencia (in eastern Spain) the week after will be very, very important for us We've got two new cars (going) down there, and they will be all set for Melbourne. It's progressing along pretty well. We've got issues, which every team has at this stage of the year. The Australian Grand Prix date is always one that comes along very, very quickly, but everyone in the factory is confident at this stage.
Q: How happy are you with the support that you're getting from Jaguar at the moment? There have been rumors that other teams have been chasing you?
MW: Very, very happy (with Jaguar). I've never been closer to the team, we're working very, very hard together to get the best out of the car in the early parts of the championship this year, and we're focused very, very hard on the issues that need to be addressed from 2003. It's a huge challenge for me, as it is for any driver at any team, so I'm looking forward to the season, looking forward to getting down there in Melbourne, and we're looking forward to it.
Q: Bernie Ecclestone said a couple of days ago that Ford (the owner of Jaguar Racing) just can't go on with its restricted budget, and if it wants to compete with the top teams it has to get serious or not be in it. Is that too harsh, do you think?
MW: We have a smaller budget, clearly, to the big guns. There is no question about that. It's how you spend your money that makes the car perform well, and what we have at the moment is a very healthy budget to do our championship for this year - and what Ford do in the future no one really knows at the moment. I'm sure they're committed to making it work as best they can. I think I'm probably not in the position to talk about what Ford's involvement is going to be. Probably Bernie knows more than what I do about what they're up to. Time will tell.
Q: There was a lot of talk at the time when your very young teammate (20-year-old Austrian Christian Klien) was signed up to partner you this season. How has he been going in testing and is he going to be more of a test for you than Pizzonia (Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia) or (Englishman) Justin Wilson was last season?
MW: I think he will be. I think he's been testing very, very well. He has matured beyond his years. And you don't win in Formula Three if you don't know what you're doing - and he has won some very, very tough races - the Marlboro (F3) Masters in Holland, which is a very, very tough event, probably one of the toughest Formula Three races in the world. He's won that. So clearly (he has) a lot of talent, speed and determination there - and he is (gelling) fairly well with the team, which is very good, which is important. We're getting on well, actually. Probably the best I've got on with any of my teammates, so that's good. And I'm expecting that it will be a tough fight. It always is at this level. These guys are expecting a good challenge. Testing is one thing, racing is another, but as usual I will be focusing on myself.
Q: What are the goals for the team this year, in terms of what they expect to achieve and trying to achieve, and where does that fit with your goals as a Formula One driver?
MW: What we did last year was probably slightly above expectations. Certainly to finish in the top 10 of the driver's championship, we didn't really expect that. Finishing seventh in the constructors' championship was a bit of a late blow. If you looked at it, we chipped away at getting points, had a lot of breaks during the mid part of the championship, and where there was low retirement and they were tough races for us. And then you had things like, teams, Sauber potentially coming along and rattling a lot of points at wet races. Last year seventh, which was okay, but for this year we need to achieve a step further than that, for sure. We need to try to finish sixth. That's going to be tough with Toyota - they will be very strong. If we can keep them covered, that would be very, very good for us. It's pretty clear within the team what we have to try to do - and that's stay in the race with BAR and Toyota and those teams. Clearly the top four are going to be very, very strong. BAR looks strong. When you look at the testing when you go out there, there's actually not many weak teams. That's the game really, at the moment, and we will see when we get to Melbourne. I'm actually not aware of what is going on in (the northern) winter and we will see what happens in Melbourne. We're a massively realistic team, we're very critical of ourselves, and we will look at all the issues we need to address for Melbourne and hopefully we can do a good job down there.
Q: Just in light of what you said then, what are your prospects for Melbourne? How do you feel you are going to go?
MW: I think we will go pretty well. It's again very, very difficult to know; if we all knew what was going to happen it would be pretty boring, I suppose, but we know as much as you guys do at the moment, which is . it's going to be very interesting, I think. The top five are very, very tight at the front . we've seen Williams and McLaren and Ferrari, that's going to be a great battle, and with the guys like ourselves, Sauber, BAR, Toyota, us four there trying to pick up the scraps, so to speak. So that's going to be very interesting. Reliability is going to be crucial in Melbourne, it's a tough race, the date always comes up on you too quickly, we've got the one-engine rule, so we have to run with the engine from Friday onwards we use in the race. Once we feel that, that's it, so a lot of new things to the rules and qualifying - only the one day (of qualifying) so we've got a lot of things that teams have got to get their head around for the first event of the season. I predict that if we see the flag it will be a reasonable result for us.
Q: The atmosphere at the Australian Grand Prix? You're probably looking forward to it more than most F1 drivers. Do you like driving in Melbourne?
MW: Absolutely. It's the best race for me of the year in terms of atmosphere. It's probably not the best race for me in terms of off-track activities, I'm stressed a little bit, to be honest, but it is a phenomenal event. Whether you talk to the drivers or the engineers or the mechanics, they always love coming to Melbourne and they're so well looked after. The fans are very knowledgeable, they understand the situation that I've been in each year, they get behind me, and it is a great event. And I think Melbourne in general is a great sport - they get out and support it and we know it gets huge attention nationally as well. Great event for me. I'm very lucky. Others drivers like Kimi (McLaren's Finnish star Kimi Raikkonen), a lot of drivers, don't have a home Grand Prix. But I'm very fortunate that I do - and we have one of the best on the calendar.
MW: Well, two different categories to be honest. They're on the end of probably, I would think, a very strong phase - and I hope Michael wins the championship this year, I think to win seven (world titles) would be amazing, but it's going to be very, very tough for him. So how we compare to Michael? We don't really talk about Ferrari much in our factory. We talk about other teams which are closer to us. Clearly it's a different ball game, with the experience and development resources that Ferrari have under their belt. We can't buy that overnight, so I'm not really expecting to be shaping up to Michael in the championships as yet.
Q: Could you walk us through the new rules - how do you think they will affect you and the way the race weekend unfolds this year?
MW: Clearly the biggest one is obviously the one-engine rule - having to have an engine which is going to do the whole, complete event starting on the Friday. I think we're going to see limited running on Friday at Melbourne. There won't be much activity on the Friday, especially the first session; the second session you will probably see a lot of activity, because the track is quite dirty - and that's the same for any circuit in the world. Doesn't matter where we go, the first session is always a bit of a non-event. Teams will be very, very selective in their mileage, so they won't be doing a great deal on Friday. I could be wrong.
First of all, you will see that, and also we will see the test drivers being used to do quite a bit more mileage in front of the teams to get information on tyres and just where the surface is going. Then Saturday is going to be absolutely flat out. You're going to have everyone getting as much information as they can, even though the track is always traditionally a lot cooler on Saturday morning. It's nice to get the long runs in on Friday, but we only have one real qualifying session now as such, instead of what we had last year with two - with one being you can use what fuel you want in the first qualifying run, and the second qualifying run is the one for the grid. And that is obviously your starting field for the race there. So I don't think that's going to be a huge difference from last year, to be honest. Friday was a bit of a non-event in terms of qualifying (last year).
We've also got the 100kmh speed limit (in pit lane), which will have an interesting twist on strategy. So 10 places further back if you have an engine-related issue. There are certain parts of the engine which won't be counted as an engine change; it's the main parts of the engine which will be sealed. If you have some electronics and maybe black box or control panel issues, they won't be counted as an engine issue, but if you have a serious issue and you need to change the engine, then it will be 10 places further back on the grid. As far as I'm aware that's about it, unless you guys know anymore. That's about it in terms of changes. [Host's note: Mark omitted to say that the test drivers for BAR, Sauber, Jaguar, Toyota, Jordan and Minardi will be allowed to drive in Friday's two one- hour practice sessions].
Q: What about the car changes, like gearbox and traction control and stuff?
MW: Launch control, yes, that's out. We're basically doing more manual starts, so it's more in the driver's control now - so that's good. That's a useful thing. I think traction control is very, very difficult to police, so that's still legal. Talking about the areo changes which we have got . different engine covers and different rear wing end-plates. We are only allowed to run two rear wing elements in our rear wing package, instead of three, which we probably traditionally run at Melbourne. All of these things, I think for the person in the grandstand seats won't make a huge difference, but it probably will do - it's just more bringing specific costs down for those certain issues, I think.
Q: The speculation linking you to Williams doesn't seem to be going away, whether you like it or not. Is it a threat to team unity at Jaguar, based on every performance, if it actually happens to be a mediocre weekend for you at Jaguar that you are going to be moving closer and closer to Williams?
MW: Until somebody replaces Montoya (Williams' Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya) it's going to go on, whoever is going there. I'm clearly focussed on Jaguar and will be throughout the whole year. The boys in the team who are very, very close in terms of our professional relationship, they haven't mentioned absolutely zero about what my job potentially could be in the future. As far as we're concerned it's all systems go and in 2005 I will be at Jaguar. But to try to get some sort of answer, in terms of just the press and the momentum and the stuff that can be out there, whether it's Juan going to McLaren, and I think in this game they are professional people and it is a very, very intense industry, we know that each weekend we have to do the business, so it's in the back of everyone's mind really - and that's what the case will be. I mean, Juan is in a different situation. My stuff is a million miles away from that. But systems as normal and we will see what happens.
Q: What are the major differences between Jaguar's latest R5 model and last year's car? And if there have been any improvements, in what areas?
MW: The major differences are a lot of installation of the car and where we put the weight in the car and lots of things like that, which gives us more window for step-up, if you like, and to tune the car to circuits, so a lot tidier in places. The gearbox is different, if you like, a bit faster, hopefully leaner and meaner, and obviously the engine is slightly different as well, so the aerodynamics obviously totally being revised. They will be different for Melbourne. The issues we need to work on, what we're trying to improve on, obviously the tyre management or the tyre degradation situation was something we wanted to chip away at last year and we did make progress with it.
Again, I touched on the flexibility potentially with our weight distribution and things like that to try to help that take the load off the rear tyres. We want to try to chip away with that. Our control, whether it's traction control side of things, all of that is one of our strong departments, and that has gone very, very well over the winter - something which was very, very poor about 18 months ago and that has come in leaps and bounds. So we're just chipping away. The next few tests are very, very important, (indistinct) after Jerez to see where we really are, but Melbourne will be the final wake up call for everyone and see what we've got. Always got issues you want to keep chipping away on, but hopefully with the R5 we've addressed quite a few from the R4 and hopefully (that will) be enough to give us a good season.
MW: Yeah, we're very realistic. If you look at Jordan in 1998 and '99 they were giving the championship a run and things change. They clearly won't be doing that this year. We all have our different goals. Last year was clearly a season which worked quite well for us and it would have been nice to get a podium last year, but to get a consistent run of points was always very rewarding. We lead probably in terms of satisfaction for our job, very similar to what McLaren and Williams have done - finishing second or third for them is a bad day at the office. They've got a lot more to achieve in terms of their strike rate, so very difficult to achieve in terms of their wins. So for us it's also hard because you have different goals. Just got to assess your goals at the moment. Yeah, it is a little bit frustrating. Everyone wants to be a winner, everyone wants to win the next race, but you've got to remember what you've got.
Q: You spoke a little earlier about some of the teams that were going well in testing, and the BAR-Honda is one of those. (BAR's British driver) Jenson Button has predicted that they can probably score some podiums this year. Do you see that as a possibility for yourself and Jaguar, being on the podium at any race this year?
MW: We will need a reasonable amount of luck, to be honest to do that; I don't think we will be driving on to a podium, to be honest. It would be a nice surprise to have, but if you look at how bullet-proof the big guys are - McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and Renault - the level now of Formula One from the top teams in terms of everyone can make a reliable car, that's very, very easy, but the car would not be very quick and (would be) very heavy. In terms of what is out there now, in terms of the lap times, the lap times that they're doing and also the reliability of the car is very, very strong. If you are on a podium this year you (will) bloody deserve it and there might be a few races where you have a bit of a lottery, as we always do in one season, but we could be there to grab some of that. But I'm thinking it's going to be tough for us to drive on the podium if everyone else is finishing.
Q: You touched on the Melbourne track a little bit before. How does the Melbourne track shape up compared to others around the world?
MW: The surface is very, very good. It doesn't have a history of Spa (in Belgium) and Monaco and places like that, of course, because it's relatively new to the calendar, but it's a track which is extremely safe - very, very safe surface - which is very, very good for the drivers. They do a great job, the marshalling and the whole thing is exceptional, probably one of best in terms of the effort that's put in there. A driver always likes to see the attention to detail, and Melbourne does a lot of that, whether it's the curves or the grass, and the track is always in the best condition possible. It's a very, very good modern Formula One circuit. Very, very good, definitely in the top five, and it's a great track. In terms of organisation it's leaps and bounds ahead, very smooth as well, which drivers like. Bumpy surfaces are not very enjoyable in these cars. It's a good circuit.
Q: Harking back to the R5 again, you mentioned a couple of times that you have had a few teething problems or issues to sort out. Are you able to say what they are? And also your test schedule: do you get much chance to have a break between now and Melbourne?
MW: Yeah, I've got a break this week actually. I've just come back from Geneva, launching the new X-Type Jaguar Estate there and doing a lot of rally-crossing in the snow, which was good fun. Issues we've got: clearly just not enough mileage. Issues which . you want to get as much mileage on the car as possible, and we've just had a few snags which have caught us out and they're just small things: Installation, pipeage, a few things with brakes and stuff which stops you putting long runs on the car. That's the thing which you would like to be able to do. We had a good last day in Valencia with the car (last week), a lot of those issues were addressed, but we need to build more confidence with that, which I'm sure we can do in Jerez (next week). You can't run these cars half pregnant, they've got to be fully pregnant before we can run them properly. They don't work. So we're looking forward to the next few tests.
Q: A question related to drivers and the importance of sponsorship in modern Formula One. Do you think drivers that are the best drivers are making it into Formula One or do you think some drivers are missing out?
MW: I think some drivers have always missed out, no question about it. Eighty per cent of the guys on the grid are the best and there's a few guys who probably don't deserve to be there. Whether it's through the '60s, '70s or '80s we've always had guys who probably haven't been to the level of the guys at the front. Christian (Klien) is not a good example for that because, yes, he's brought some funding to the team, but the guy has blown away seriously quick peddlers in Formula Three. Christian has come from a very, very normal background, which is great, and they're very, very good people. And Red Bull (the Austrian energy drink brand that sponsors Klien) have plucked him when he's 16, so you can't take that away from him. It's always been in Formula One, always will be, especially now with the climates as they are. A lot of sports are like that, struggling a little bit, and they're looking to drivers to bring a little bit more funding to the teams. That's what basically they're going through at the moment.
Q: You've said that you're focussed on Jaguar until the end of 2005, but it's been reported that your contract has performance clauses in it. Should you be released from that contract due to performance clauses not being met, would it be you alone that decides your future or does Renault still have some influence on your decision?
MW: We will look at it. We've got the old crystal ball on the table and also the things we have got within our control, and we've get a good grip on actually the whole situation. First thing is Mark Webber has to perform, otherwise we don't have a problem at all because no one wants me, so I will do my best at every single race, and the next two years I'm planning to be at Jaguar. There's performance clauses in every driver's contract, I assume, and we hope that we have the best bloody season possible this year to look into 2005. We will make the decision together. Renault helped me massively to get into Formula One and have been absolutely brilliant throughout that, so we'll make that decision together and there is options for me to go there, to go to other places in 2007, 2008.