CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta's final press conference, Part II

An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Barry Schmoyer and Carl Haas. Part 2 of 2 Q: Can you describe some of the pressures, if any, you feel going into Formula 1, expectations, all the politics? Cristiano Da Matta: Well, when I'm working...

An interview with Cristiano Da Matta, Barry Schmoyer and Carl Haas.

Part 2 of 2

Q: Can you describe some of the pressures, if any, you feel going into Formula 1, expectations, all the politics?

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, when I'm working with a team, I try to get isolated from the whole thing outside, try just to concentrate all I can in my work with the team, the performance of the car, my performance. I mean, just try to get the limit, try to find the limit, for myself, for the car, for the work we can do with the car, for everything.

I know there will be some pressures, as there always is in every kind of motorsport. But I'm sure the pressure I'm going to get over there is going to be nothing like the pressure I had for myself over here this year because from the beginning of the year, from day one this season, from the first session of spring training, we were running very strong.

I felt like this championship was mine to lose. I really felt like this. Of course, I never told anybody, but I was really feeling like this. When you have something you know that you have the equipment, you have the team, you have everything it takes to win it, it's just going to depend on you, there is a lot of inside pressure from yourself. I had to deal with that a lot this year because I knew I had everything to win the championship. It was like up to me to win it or not.

That pressure was very big, it was very big. I think I had no problem with dealing with it throughout the year. Not no problem, but I think I did okay (laughter).

I think there will be pressure from the press, from every side, but I think it's different. I think when you're fighting for a championship, it's something bigger. Now I don't think, being realistic, I'm going to be fighting for a championship next year. I think it's going to be a working year. I think we're going to improve what the Toyota Formula 1 team did this year. But definitely we're not going to be fighting for the championship. I hope I'm wrong, but being realistic, it doesn't look like it.

Just one of the things I always consider myself good at is to isolate all of the gossip, all of the pressure, everything that goes in the public area, pit lane. Usually I'm able to focus on my driving, my work, just forget about all those things. I think it's a little bit in my nature, too, because sometimes I don't care what a lot of people are saying. I think that helps me, too.

I hope the pressure is not going to do anything to me.

Adam Saal: A couple years ago when you and I were both in Indy Lights, doing the 1998 media guide, I put your picture in your blue and yellow uniform on the cover in Victory Lane, you won the championship. This year we were sitting down with the team, we needed a driver to put on the cover, we said, "We'll put Cristiano in his Texaco/Havoline uniform." That's twice where we've unintentionally predicted. We'll see if we can get you on the cover of the FIA Formula 1 media guide. Anything we can do to help you.

Cristiano Da Matta: Okay. Carl knows him quite well (laughter).

Adam Saal: We know another guy, too (laughter).

Carl Haas: Just sitting here thinking, I guess we're saying we're kind of proud of having Cristiano go over to Formula 1, that CART is somewhat of a development series for Formula 1. I can put it the other way around and say maybe Formula 1 is a development series for CART here. Whatever problems CART has or doesn't have, one of the things that I have to say, for a long time, the competition in CART is fierce and there are a lot of really good drivers. Some of those top drivers, under the right circumstances, in my opinion, I'm sure of it, would do very, very well in Formula 1.

I remember Nigel Mansell coming over here. He was the world champion. In 1993 he did CART for us here. He won the championship then. I guess I'm rambling. I apologize. Keep your eyes on Cristiano, because he's going to do very well.

Adam Saal: No rambling at all. We truly appreciate those comments. That's the core foundation of our beliefs here, too, at Championship Auto Racing Teams. Cristiano, go get them.

Q: Cristiano, before you made the announcement to go to Formula 1, you expressed you were agonizing over it, that your heart was really with CART. I'd like to get your perspective on what you see in CART next year, the direction it's heading, what you see for the future of CART.

Cristiano Da Matta: Well, I think I always see a healthy future for CART because I think it's a series, with the equipment you have, the level of speed that CART goes, that the Champ Car can go, the true performance, the horsepower, chassis, downforce, if you consider for the cost of the series, it's exceptional. I think there will always be a very, very strong option for many drivers and many teams that want to compete in this type of performance car, this type of level of competition. I think it will always be here.

I think just because the rules are so good, you sometimes have a team that has X budget competing against a team that has X plus Y budget. The difference in performance is almost none. It's just a lot more on the people work, a lot more on the driver work, a lot more on the teamwork, a lot more on the engineer, mechanics work. It's a lot more of a human series. The human work, the teamwork, there's a lot more difference than any other series in the world. I can say that for sure. I got no doubt about that.

I think because of that, it makes it very interesting for the race fan, for the drivers, because the equipment is so equal for everybody, to extract every little bit out of the equipment, and set up preparation terms for the drivers that he knows he's driving something very similar to his opponent. It's just a great way of racing.

Maybe for next year we will see this - I think these golden years that CART has been going through for the last five, six, seven years, where all the teams, drivers who get to a race weekend, there are like 15 guys able to win a race, like eight, nine, ten teams able to win a race throughout the season, you look back, always more than nine winners in one season, I think that maybe changes a little bit next year. We'll maybe see the difference between the teams and drivers being a little bit bigger. But I also think sometimes you have to go one step back to then go two, three, four, ten steps forward. I think that's what's going to be happening to CART next season.

I believe for the future, I mean, the possibility of success and to get back in this shape that CART is in right now, where all the teams, all the drivers, you get to the race weekend, you have no idea who is going to win the race, I think it's a very big possibility.

Because of all that, that's the reason why I support the series so much. That's the reason why I just think this type of racing is so great. It will always be here.

Adam Saal: Truly appreciated comments. They sound most sincere.

Q: You're going somewhere that's very different in atmosphere in relationship to the fans. Are you going to miss that in Formula 1, the contact with the fans, autograph sessions, the things that CART is very well-known for?

Cristiano Da Matta: I think the open paddock in CART is a great thing. It allows people to see everything from up close. Every time somebody brings up this subject, I always remember when I was not racing yet, I tried to go to a Formula 1 race, for example. I remember very well my experience the first time I came to watch a CART race, which was a race here in Homestead in 1996. Every time I would go to an F1 race, just see the cars on the track, never even dreamed to see the drivers. In CART I remember the first time I came over here in '96, I saw everybody.

I know for the drivers, sometimes especially when you are working, you're moving from the pit lane to the transporters, sometimes it's difficult having fans around. It's not difficult, but you usually want to have some more time to spend, you don't want to say, "Excuse me guys, I have to go." You want to have more time and you cannot do that.

For me I always think about that. I feel for the fans that don't get this at the other side, in Formula 1. I think I'm going to miss it. I think I'm going to miss it. I think it's something that's really good and I think we really have to do it the way we've been doing it right now, because I think it's the right way.

I just look at my experience when I think about this. I was so frustrated, not only by not seeing the driver, but I wanted to see at least the car from a little bit closer, not just going 300 kilometers an hour on the track.

I think this opportunity CART gives the fans is just unique. I don't think there's any other series in the world, at least on the top level that CART is in, that gives the fans this opportunity. I think I'm going to miss this.

Q: Carl, you're talking about how hotly you pursued Cristiano. There's a legendary story about how you actually came to Miami and were knocking on his door. I wondered if you and Cristiano could share those memories with us.

Carl Haas: That's true. I had a conversation I think with Cristiano right after the Chicago race. We met the Monday morning after the race. He had an obligation to Cal Wells at the time. It looked like Cal Wells was going to go out of racing in the CART series. I pursued Cal to release him, then I had some negotiations with Cristiano.

I did chase him very hard. That's a true story. I did take a flight down to Miami one morning, went out to lunch with him, gave him my assurance that we would put a good team under him, that we'd love to have him.

Things happen in racing. I'm very happy how it turned out.

Cristiano Da Matta: For me, it was a very easy thing to decide. At the same time, I was so concerned that I still had another year in my contract with Cal Wells by that time. I was very, very worried about that. Of course, in my position, I used to hear all kinds of things that maybe Cal wasn't going to be here the following year, all kinds of different things. Although from him, I would still hear that the team was having a good possibility of being around.

Of course, as a driver, what I wanted to do is to join Newman/Haas because that's what would have been the best for me as far as performance and opportunity to get results and everything. Because of all those things, I couldn't go and say, "I'm a hundred percent, let's go and do it." I couldn't say that to Carl. So I have to thank Carl for that, because he came after me. I think he knew I wanted to be with him. I think that kind of made the situation unfold a lot quicker than it should have.

I think it's the team owner's job, which Carl does very well.

Q: Tell us about the Paul Ricard test track for Formula 1.

Cristiano Da Matta: I had the opportunity to drive there when I did the test in Formula 1 in May. I was very impressed. I was very impressed with the track. I think what they have there as far as the track layout, it's good, but it's not what I call impressive. I think everything else, all the facilities, the work they did there with safety, it's really incredible. I'm sure you'll be able to see it. They don't have any grass around the track anymore. Everything is paved. It's just something that is good to go because from my point of view that's the future right there. It's just great to drive because it's just so good when you go to a place that you know you can push as hard as you want. Even if you go off track, whatever happens, you're not going to hit anything. It gives you extra good feelings about driving. It's a very good place to go out and try to find the limits of the car, your limits, everything. The maximum that can happen is you spin and flat spot the tires.

Q: Cristiano, there's been a lot of talk recently about CART being a feeder series to Formula 1. Can you describe what it was like jumping in a Formula 1 car compared to a Champ Car, whether or not you think driving in CART was a good training ground for you to move to Formula 1?

Cristiano Da Matta: No, I don't think CART is a training ground for Formula 1, as I see the series on the same level. How can you have a training ground for one series if you have drivers here that are better than some of the drivers in form Formula 1? I one hundred percent disagree with that. I really mean it. It's very easy to see.

Every time I got in a Formula 1 car, the speeds are very similar to the speeds we run. The acceleration, horsepower, cornering speeds, are all quite similar. Formula 1 has some advantages because of the weight and everything.

Overall, the performance of the car, if you look in a big window, the performances are quite similar. Of course, the two cars are very, very different to drive. Especially because Formula 1, I think it's the only race car in the world that has grooved tires. That makes a big difference. Tires are always the most important part of a race car as far as understanding what they do and knowing when they're on their best, knowing when they're going off.

The grooved tires, they work so differently. The approach you have to have for driving a car with grooved tires is quite different, too. The two cars are very different to drive, even though the speeds are similar, you're driving thinking, "It's not that fast, it's not so different," but the feeling is completely different. The feeling of what you have to do from inside the car, it's quite different.

Adam Saal: Thank you, gentlemen.


Part I

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Nigel Mansell , Carl Haas